She Took On Big Coal: Mining Crisis in Appalachia

The making of an unlikely activist.

By Tamara Jones
Photograph: Photograph by Matt Eich.

Gunnoe’s son has enlisted in the Navy and is leaving for boot camp in Michigan the same month his son—Maria’s first grandchild—is due. He and his stepfather have been busy outside lately, digging. Back at the house Gunnoe points to a rectangular hole nearby. “That’s where the foundation is going,” she says, beaming. Her son is building a house on this land his mother refuses to abandon. And when Gunnoe’s daughter is ready to start a family of her own, the original home will go to her. Maria and her husband will relocate somewhere else in the county, as parents and grandparents here often do, letting the young ones start out right where they were raised, Gunnoe explains.

“This belongs to them,” she says simply.

Tamara Jones is a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Originally published in the April 2010 More.

  • To read about the tensions pulling activist Maria Gunnoe’s community apart: Battle for Appalachia

* To view photos of the ravaged mountains above Maria Gunnoe’s home: Blasting Through Appalachia

  • To learn more about the ecological effects of mountaintop-removal mining: Scientist Warns of "Permanent Damage" to Appalachia Ecosystem

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