This work would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and institutions through the years. I began the initial research for the volume while a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida’s graduate program in religious studies. Early stages of the work were supported by a Gibson Dissertation Fellowship, generously funded by donations from the Gibson family. I also received a Scholarly Research Fellowship from the Kentucky Historical Society in 2009, which allowed me to delve into the KHS oral history archives, particularly the “Blackey, Kentucky Oral History Project” and “Coal in Kentucky: Emergence of an Industry” collections. As part of the fellowship I was able to offer a short presentation on my research at the KHS, and the staff who attended provided very useful comments and feedback on the project. I am very grateful to the KHS staff for their help and support. For this research I also examined oral histories at Eastern Kentucky University, the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University, the Harry M. Caudill Collection at Berea College, and the Anne and Harry Caudill Collection at the University of Kentucky. I am thankful to all of the Special Collections staff at each location for their assistance and support of this research.
Members of my dissertation committee at the University of Florida also helped guide and shape the research and argument of this work. I am thankful to Bron Taylor, whose guidance in the classroom shaped my scholarly trajectory and whose friendship has helped me negotiate the often challenging waters of academia. Taylor’s work studying religious values among North American environmentalists provided a useful model for my own research among activists in Appalachia. Anna Peterson’s influence is also evident throughout this work, particularly her focus on applied ethics, eco-justice, and consideration of the material and embodied dimensions of religious life. Her work untangling the complex relationships between religious values and environmental practices has been particularly useful in guiding this project and shaping my research questions. David Hackett and Jack Davis also pushed me to examine historical trajectories of Appalachian religion and activism. I am grateful for their assistance throughout this project. John (p.224) Bickle, head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Mississippi State University, generously provided further resources as I continued my research. I am grateful for his support.
Along with these academic advisors, I am thankful to all of my friends in Florida and Appalachia for their continued support of me and my work. At the University of Florida, Lucas Johnston, Brad Ackroyd, Gavin Van Horn, Sam Snyder, and Robert Perdue all helped make the whole challenge of graduate school much more enjoyable. In Appalachia, numerous people provided assistance and support for this work. I am particularly grateful to Allen Johnson and Sage Russo, both of whom helped me connect to other individuals and activist groups across the region. I am also thankful to Bonnie Swinford, who helped introduce me to activists across the region and whose expertise on Appalachian environmental issues and movements helped shape my research and analysis. Beyond her intellectual guidance, I am thankful for Swinford’s friendship as I worked through the challenges of field research on such a contentious issue. Lou Martin also has been a supportive friend and colleague through much of the research and writing process. Martin provides an inspiring model of an engaged scholar who applies his expertise and knowledge to help individuals and communities in need. I thank as well my colleagues at Mississippi State University, who through conversation helped me shape my argument and who provided support and motivation as I developed the manuscript. I also must thank my family, who first inspired my love of nature in the woods and hills of Arkansas.
I am grateful to those individuals involved with the Place Matters series and the University Press of Kentucky as well. Chad Montrie first introduced me to the Place Matters project at the 2012 Appalachian Studies conference. Conversations with Montrie and Dwight Billings convinced me to submit my work to this special series, which I believe provides an excellent setting for this research. I thank Montrie and Billings for their guidance and support through the development of the manuscript. I am very grateful to Ashley Runyon and Patrick O’Dowd at the University Press of Kentucky, who worked patiently with me as I prepared the volume. I also appreciate the efforts of Derik Shelor, whose keen editorial eye greatly improved the work, and the comments from UPK’s three anonymous reviewers. Their challenges pushed me to refine my argument and arrive at a final volume that, I believe, is much stronger for their guidance.
Finally, I thank the people of Appalachia who welcomed me into their homes and communities, generously shared their stories, and patiently (p.225) endured my many questions. This book would quite literally be impossible without them, and I hope that it accurately reflects their concerns and experiences and in some small way helps them in their efforts to preserve their homes, communities, and ecosystems. I would like to particularly acknowledge the influence of three individuals in this work. Judy Bonds was the first person I formally interviewed for this project. I approached her after she had given a public talk in North Carolina. She was surrounded by a number of people, each asking questions or providing their own detailed solutions to North American energy issues. Shy and somewhat intimidated, I patiently waited for the crowd to die down. After several minutes, Bonds caught my eye and announced to the group surrounding her: “I need to go, this young man has been waiting to ask me a question for several minutes.” Bonds was a truly inspiring figure, and her welcoming act toward a nervous Ph.D. student motivated my continued efforts to understand the resistance to mountaintop removal.
Larry Gibson was also very influential for my work. I traveled to Larry’s home on Kayford Mountain several times throughout this research project, always feeling welcomed by the place and the community. Larry was a lively defender of his place and people. While some might have found him controversial and pugnacious, I was inspired by his tireless efforts and refusal to soften his message for mass audiences. It was at a picnic on Kayford Mountain, as well, where I first met Sid Moye. Sid often stood out with his red bandana, pipe, and bright smile. I always looked forward to catching up with Sid when I traveled to Appalachia for research. Upon meeting again after several weeks or months away he often wanted updates on my life, to which he would inevitably respond with playful jokes at my expense. His joy was infectious and always a welcome part of any meeting or event. Each of these individuals was more than just an interview subject; they were also my teachers and all shaped my work in ways that they may have never known. I am forever grateful to have met them. (p.226)