LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 10, 2017) — University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) will celebrate the environmental protection efforts of West Virginia's “Dustbusters” with the dedication of the Pauline Canterberry Papers. The collection documents the work of Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller to defend Sylvester, West Virginia, from coal dust pollution caused by a nearby processing facility.
The public is invited to a dedication program and exhibition viewing from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, in the Great Hall of the Margaret I. King Library Building. At 4:30 p.m., Shannon Bell, associate professor of sociology and environmental and sustainability studies at UK, will present her lecture “Laughing Through the Struggle: The Sylvester Dustbusters’ Fight Against Big Coal.”
Bell interviewed Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller, who together were known as the "Sylvester Dustbusters," numerous times during her field research in Boone County, West Virginia. Chapter two of Bell's first book, "Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice," tells the story of the successful resistance effort that Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller led against coal giant, Massey Energy. Her talk will draw on her interviews with these two inspiring women.
The Pauline Canterberry Papers document the efforts of Canterberry and Miller to defend Sylvester from coal dust pollution caused by Massey Energy's Elk Run Facility. The collection contains photographs, safety reports, topographical and permit maps, and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection studies on the waterways surrounding Elk Run. Also included is legal information regarding a civil suit against Massey Energy and Canterberry’s artifacts from the Coal River Mountain Watch: a chunk of coal, a dated plastic bottle used to collect sludge water for testing, and paper towels used to wipe coal dust from the inside and outside of a Sylvester house.
UK SCRC is pleased to offer access to this invaluable resource for environmental activism, Appalachia, social justice and historical research. “The Canterberry Papers add to the rich resources found in the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection which was founded in 1977 as part of an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grant to provide support for classroom study in Appalachian studies,” Associate Dean Deirdre Scaggs said.
The SCRC also holds a collection of letters Pauline Canterberry sent writer Ann Pancake regarding mountaintop removal and coal mining. Pancake provided the following biographical information on Canterberry. "In 1998, Elk Run Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, enlarged a coal processing plant immediately beside the small town of Sylvester, where Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller both owned homes. Elk Run operated with uncovered belt lines and uncovered coal stockpiles, and soon Sylvester, downwind, was coated in coal dust: homes, businesses, churches and the elementary school were all affected. Canterberry and Miller began a long fight to protect the property, health and well-being of Sylvester’s residents. They joined others petitioning the WV agencies and legislature to enforce laws the Elk Run processing plant was violating. The two also documented and monitored the dust in Sylvester by taking videos and photographs and by gathering coal dust samples, causing them to be known as the 'Dustbusters.'”
After a successful lawsuit, Massey Energy was required to pay damages and fees, clean the streets and yards of Sylvester, and install dust monitoring systems. Canterberry and Miller continued their activism by monitoring dust and area streams, hosting journalists and other activists, and speaking against mountaintop removal mining and the devastation in the southern West Virginia coalfields.
Shannon Bell is an associate professor of sociology and environmental and sustainability studies and is also affiliated faculty in the Appalachian Studies Program and the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at UK. She is author of two award-winning books: "Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed," which was published by University of Illinois Press in 2013, and "Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia," which was published by MIT Press in 2016.
UK Libraries SCRC is home to a collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press, the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center, the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection, the John G. Heyburn Initiative and ExploreUK. The mission of the center is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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