I'm heartbroken about the passing of Julia "Judy" Bonds, my friend and also my hero. Judy, who lost her battle with cancer yesterday, was a strong and proud Appalachian who fought tirelessly to save her beloved Mountain State of West Virginia from the senseless destruction of rapacious coal companies.
As a visionary leader in the grassroots-led campaign to end mountaintop removal mining, Judy has inspired countless others in the coalfields and across the country by bravely challenging the industry that is responsible for leveling America's oldest mountains. She did this at great personal risk and financial cost -- and now she has paid the ultimate price. She will never be forgotten and her legacy will live on.
The Associated Press ran a story about Judy today. Jeff Biggers, noted Appalachian author and activist, offers how own moving tribute. Coal River Mountain Watch director Vernon Haltom, who worked alongside Judy in the fight to save her ancestral mountain from being blasted to obvlion by Massey energy, noted that Judy endured much personal suffering for her leadership, including physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community. Vernon is so right that she "will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend."
Take a moment to view some video of Judy in action, as captured by famed Appalachian documentary filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans.
Not that I would ever encourage the desecration of those sacred mountains, but if ever there were a Mt. Rushmore of anti-mountaintop removal leaders, a carved image of Judy would rest alongside her fellow Appalachian heroes Larry Gibson, Maria Gunnoe, Bo Webb, and Ken Hechler. They carry on her work in her honor -- and we all join with them to continue fighting the good fight.
I'll never forget the first time I met this feisty Mountain Mama. On one of my first trips to Appalachia to learn firsthand about mountaintop removal I attended a pro-mountain rally outside the state capital building in Charleston, West Virginia. The event was to encourage the governor to stop Coal River Mountain from being "removed" for coal in favor of installing a wind farm that would provide power and jobs while preserving the peak. That fight rages on. Anyway, I had long known about Judy's heroic exploits and I was excited to finally meet her. When I arrived at the event, there on stage was a fiery little woman wearing a hard hat and waving a bullhorn, leading the crowd in a chant: "We want wind! We want wind! We want win!"
I think, now, whenever the wind blows I'll think of Judy. And I'll know she's watching over us all as we keep up the pressure to save those mountains we all cherish. Thank you, "wild and wonderful" Judy.
Lastly, I'll just say this. Over the holidays I took a trip to Memphis and visited the incredible civil rights museum that sits alongside the motel where Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was in Memphis, on the eve of his tragic death, where MLK gave his profound and prescient "mountaintop" speech. I can't help but hear those words and think how fitting they are for our beloved Judy, and the noble cause she helped spark.
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"
Bless you, Judy Bonds, and God be with you.