Julia Belle Thompson Bonds, known as Judy, would have
been 60 years-old on Monday, August 27.
The former Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch died in January last year.
She was known to some as a trouble maker, but others as a hero for a better
She was passionate about protesting mountain top removal along Coal
River in Raleigh
County and across the county. But
perhaps her most publicized protests were against mining activity around Marsh
In 2009 Hollywood actress Darryl Hannahstood shoulder to shoulder with environmentalists as they were greeted by
chanting Massey Energy employees at the entrance to a mining site. Massey was a mining company purchased by
Alpha Natural Resources that owns several underground and surface mines along Coal
They were protesting mountain top removal and the mining
activity surrounding Marsh Fork Elementary. Two coal silos sits about 235 feet
from the school.
Many of the protestors were members of Coal River Mountain
Watch a group led by Judy Bonds, at the time.
“This school is literally what is wrong with the coal
industry today,” Bond said.
“When you have a preparation plant using chemicals
and ammonium, ammonium nitrate is stored there and ammonia. When you are blasting right behind this school on 2,000
acres of mountain top removal site and you have a 2.8 billion gallon sludge dam
the package is here at this school.
“Exactly what is wrong with coal mining today is here right
here at this school.”
Bonds was slapped in the face by a woman wearing coal
miner’s stripes during this protest. Judy’s daughter Lisa Henderson says death
threats were common and remembers protests in which her mother was spit on.
invited us into her home shortly after her mother passed away of lung cancer in
“This is one of the things that she was most proudest of,” Henderson
says as she goes through a box filled with newspaper clippings, and pictures,
precious to her mother.
She picks up a clipping from her mother’s first protest about
the silos’ location next to the school in May of 2005.
“The first time my mom was arrested,” she says as she fights
“It says two arrested after
protesting Massey facility near a school and that’s when it first come up about
the impoundment behind the school and the concerns with the silo and they were
wanting to build a second silo at the grade school at Marsh Fork Elementary.”
Judy Bonds grew up an underground coal miner’s daughter up a
hollow in Southern West Virginia. As an adult, Henderson
says Massey Energy, bought out her neighborhood to mine on her homeland.
“I think in ways all that fueled her like you wouldn’t
believe,” she said. “The thought that somebody else was going to have that
feeling was going to be pushed out of her home and have that feeling,” Henderson
said as she wiped a tear from her eye.”
In February of 2010 the West Virginia School Building
Authority was still evaluating how each submitted school construction project
would impact the health and safety of students. The Authority wasn’t sure if
the safety of students at Marsh Fork Elementary was threatened by a sludge dam
that sits 400 yards away, or if the neighboring coal silos were hazardous to
the kids to justify more funds.
But on April 5, 2010
the small unincorporated towns in the area found themselves once again in the
national spotlight when twenty-nine men died at one of those then owned Massey
Energy mines. National and international media outlets camped out at Marsh Fork Elementary as they reported the tragedy.
Later that month, the School Building Authority allotted$2.6 million toward a new school, but still not enough to complete the
However, the coverage of the UBB
disaster caught the attention of the Annenberg
Foundation. The group donated $2.5 million toward a new school.
That, combined with a gift from Massey Energy, money from the Raleigh
County School Board and the School Building Authority was enough to build a new
school, a considerable distance from the silos.
“She was ecstatic about it,” Henderson
said. “I had a friend of mine tell me one time at my workplace one time your
mom and those protesters aren’t getting anything done what are they getting
accomplished. Well that’s what they got accomplished.”
Bonds’ dream of moving students to a new facility will soon
become a reality as construction workers paint, hammer, and build the new Marsh
Assistant Superintendent of Raleigh County Schools David
Price guides me on a tour through the construction site and explains that
technology is just one part of the facility that will be state of the art.
“The serving line where students will enter both hallways as
you can see and here’s the serving line and you can see how the kitchen is a
sunken kitchen below the cafeteria floor where the serving line is. The cooks
and the students will be at eye level as the cooks serve our students there’s a
ramp that goes into the door so it’s a very unique setup.”
Price says completion is on schedule for December.
“We’re looking at right after Christmas break maybe semester
change,” Price said.
Price is new to the job so he wasn’t around during the
protests, but is familiar with the story.
“I’m from that part of Boone County, Whitesville,” he said,
“so you know basically that is the Marsh Fork area and I know how big this is
for this are and for this community to have such a great facility to meet the
kids needs because it’s been a long time since Marsh Fork has had something
really new that’s sitting here to serve our needs.”
The view from the new school is different. It’s mostly
mountains with historical significance. Behind the building are a family
cemetery and the burial site to a veteran of the War of 1812.
“This is a beautiful site and when it’s all completed it’s
going to be a place that the people of the Marsh Fork area and Big
can be very proud of,” he said.
Price says the school is truly a project that represents the
community coming together.
As Lisa Henderson continued to go through family
photographs, she noted her ancestors helped to build some of the first roads on
“This is a picture of when they were doing it with the horse
and the mule by hand,” she proudly said.
And like her distant ancestors, her mother Judy Bonds helped
to pave the way for change.