America's Most Endangered Mountains - Benham and Lynch KY on Black Mountain| 4mins
Director: Appalachian Voices | Producer: Appalachian Voices
Focus Years: 2009 | Country: United States
Benham and Lynch are nestled in Harlan County at the foot of Black Maintain, Kentucky's highest peak. Established as "coal camps" in 1911 and 1917 respectively, they were towns built to support the coal mining operations of two corporations: the Wisconsin Steel division of International Harvester and the U.S. Coal and Coke Company. (Coal camps were towns where every building, home, school, and store was owned by a company. They typically paid the workers in script that could only be used at the company store.) Benham and Lynch were "captive" mines. Neither had to rely on the fluctuations of the coal market to sell the coal they mined. To maintain a stable workforce, these coal companies provided a better quality of life than found in most coal camps. For example, by the 1940s, approximately one-third of the graduates of Benham High School had completed at least one year of college. In 1945, Lynch's population of 10,000 was reportedly the world's largest coal camp. Today, with one-third of the residents being African-American and many others tracing their ancestry to Eastern Europe and Italy, Lynch is one of the most diverse communities in Appalachian Kentucky. As the years passed, the coal companies sold their property in the towns to town residents, but kept ownership of the surrounding mountains (and the coal in them). As larger machines were invented, coal mining methods transitioned from underground tunneling to mountaintop removal. In the past two decades, Harlan County residents have joined together to protect the upper parts of Black Mountain from logging and mountaintop removal. During the most recent event in 2007, local residents drew on the expertise of local United Mine Workers of America members, the Lynch City Council, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and the Kentucky Resource Council to successfully prevent coal mining activities under the Lynch water system. Currently, the residents of Benham and Lynch are concerned about a proposed 692-acre strip mine threatening the towns and their efforts to develop cultural heritage tourism. Many are also working to develop renewable energy resources and are looking at ways to reduce their energy consumption. To support Carl and his community, contact Kentuckians for the Commonwealth at (606) 878-2161 or www.kftc.org. KFTC works with people to organize in their home communities across Kentucky, helping everyday community members become extraordinary community leaders.