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Posted at 12:43 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Remembering activist Judy Bonds

By Emma Brown
Emma Brown

"If coal is so good for us hillbillies, then why are we so poor?"

Judy Bonds, a West Virginia native who fought her state's most powerful industry, didn't mince words.

She was a waitress and a convenience store clerk who found her voice as an activist in her 40s, when a coal company began strip-mining the land around her family's ancestral home. Outraged, she began volunteering at Coal River Mountain Watch, a local grassroots environmental group.

"She came bursting thorugh that door like a linebacker," said Janice Nease, then the executive director of CRMW, in a 2003 radio interview. "You know, I would say, 'Now, Judy, when we go out into this hearing tonight, you know, say everything that you want to say. But don't tell them they're going to burn in hell.' "


It was her straight-talking indignation that earned Ms. Bonds the Goldman Environmental Prize, often called the Green Nobel. She went on to become executive director of CRMW, leading efforts to turn an obscure regional issue into one with a national profile.

Ms. Bonds died Monday of cancer at age 58. Her full obituary has been posted here, and remembrances of her have been popping up around the Web, including in the comments section on veteran West Virginia reporter Ken Ward Jr.'s blog and this tribute by the writer Jeff Biggers. They give a good sense of what Ms. Bonds meant to those who were part of her movement.

"We owe our children and grandchildren a livable Appalachia with mountaintops and streams," she once said. "We told our children to clean up their rooms but look at the mess we're leaving our children - just look at it."

By Emma Brown  | January 5, 2011; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown  
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Judy was truly an inspiring and vivacious voice at the Institute at the Golden Gate's Turning the Tide 2009. A great video of her talk is posted here: You will always be remembered in our work and our hearts, Judy.

Posted by: InstituteattheGoldenGate | January 6, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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