Appalachian activist, hero Judy Bonds public memorial

Jan 11, 2011

Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea among singers and eminent speakers.

Beckley, W.Va.—Julia “Judy” Bonds, largely responsible for building resistance against mountaintop removal coal extraction from a local issue to a national movement, will be memorialized this Saturday, Jan. 15, at Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va. at 2:00 p.m. Bonds passed away Jan. 3 from cancer. She was laid to rest at a private funeral in Rock Creek, W.Va., on Jan. 5. The memorial service program includes singers Kathy Mattea, Shirley Stewart Burns, T. Paige Dalporto, Andy Mahler, and Jen Osha. Speakers include Bonds’ daughter Lisa Henderson, authors Denise Giardina (Storming Heaven, The Unquiet Earth) and Jeff Biggers (The United States of Appalachia, Reckoning at Eagle Creek), 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Maria Gunnoe, and other prominent activists in the movement to end mountaintop removal. The public is invited to this celebration of Bonds’ life and work.

Born Julia Belle Thompson on August 27, 1952 in Birch Hollow, she was the daughter of the late Oliver "Cobb" Thompson and Sarah Easton Hannah Thompson. She was preceded in death by a brother and sister at their birth; her parents; and a sister, Norma Jean Williams. Those left to cherish her memory include her daughter, her grandson, two brothers, three sisters, and many nieces, nephews, and close friends. Along with her passion for her work, she loved gardening, spending time with nature and her beloved family.

Known as Judy to her friends, she joined Coal River Mountain Watch to fight the mountaintop removal and sludge dams threatening her family and community, participating in demonstrations such as the 1999 reenactment of the march on Blair Mountain. Bonds would eventually become Executive Director of the group. In 2003, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. She has appeared in several documentaries, such as Black Diamonds, Mountain Top Removal, Burning the Future, Coal Country, and On Coal River; books such as Coal River, Plundering Appalachia, Crimes against Nature, Mountain Justice and Something’s Rising; and numerous magazines such as People, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Utne Reader, and O. In 2009, Utne Reader named her as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” along with such influential people as the Dalai Lama. Bonds was in constant demand as a speaker, and always eloquently and passionately told the story of her community’s struggle, whether to a handful of visitors, an academic convention, or an audience of thousands of young people. The story of her passing was covered across the country, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times.

Bonds inspired thousands and brought national attention to the movement to end mountaintop removal, always educating and recruiting. She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community. Bonds always made it clear that she worked for the lives, health and rights of the Appalachian people most impacted by mountaintop removal. She often said, “Stop poisoning our babies” and “Save the baby humans,” and she tied the fight against mountaintop removal to the global struggle against the climate crisis. To instill a sense of responsibility in her audience, she often ended her speeches with the Native American quote, “You are the ones that you’ve been waiting for.”

Mari-Lynn Evans, filmmaker of The Appalachians and Coal Country, said, “Judy Bonds was a true Appalachian heroine, and she was my friend. Like so many others, she inspired me and she changed the course of my life. I will miss calling her when I need advice, or just a good laugh. I will miss her voice but I know, as she did, that now there are thousands of voices because of her. In her memory, I will continue to fight the good fight to save our beloved Appalachia. I will fight and then I will fight harder.”

Bo Webb, longtime volunteer for Coal River Mountain Watch and close friend, said, “Judy’s passing from this mortal world shall serve as a call to rise. Her work will not be finished until we finish it for her. Although Judy has physically left our earthly world, let us acknowledge her spirit to live within each of us. Let us fill the void in our hearts with Judy’s strength of mind to fight on. Let her death serve as inspiration to hundreds of thousands of Appalachians and activists throughout our nation to unite in solidarity to demand the abolition of mountaintop removal.”

Musician and college professor Jen Osha, who compiled the CDs Moving Mountains and Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home, said, “Judy is my friend and hero, and she helped me often in my struggle as a mother and as an activist. If I was stressed out, it was time to have a little sit outside together away from the phone and computer and take a break. She always wanted to know that we were warm, had enough to eat, and always had time to ask about the little things that mattered.”

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, people donate to support the ongoing work of Coal River Mountain Watch, on the internet at or by mail at P.O. Box 651, Whitesville, WV 25209.