March for Minden re-enacts 1989 march

A welcome sign in Minden. (Chris Jackson/The Register-Herald)

A re-enactment of a 1989 march for the contaminated Fayette County community of Minden set for Saturday, June 8, is drawing an internationally recognized environmental rights figure and the same civil rights group that worked with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For the family of the late Lucian Randall of Minden and others, the march at Minden will also commemorate Minden residents whose lives were lost to cancer and will honor the local people who pushed the federal government in the 1980s and 1990s to offer aid to residents of Minden, where workers at the now-defunct Shaffer's Equipment Co. had dumped the carcinogenic industrial chemical PCB on the ground, sprayed it on the roads, handed it out for use as fuel and improperly stored it in mines surrounding the area, according to Shaffer's workers.

There have been three clean-up efforts in Minden by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and none have fully removed the contamination.

In May, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that Shaffer's would finally be added to the National Priority List (NPL) of Superfund sites, clearing the way for more studies and more federal money.

Minden Community Action, the grassroots group which arranged the Saturday march, said that it is important for the community to march to to honor Minden residents like Randall, Larry Rose, Sue Workman and others who were the first wave to actively push the EPA to help the community.

"I would like to encourage everyone to come and march and show their support for the community, the cause or even in remembrance or honor of someone they may know from Minden," Annetta Coffman, a Minden resident and member of Minden Community Action, said Friday. "This (march) is a very important stepping stone for Minden to show that even after 30 years, we haven't given up on justice for our town and will continue to fight for what we deserve, which is to be relocated to a clean, safe environment.

"No one can assure us 100 percent that a fourth clean-up will be the final clean-up and that we can live safe, without worry of anyone else dying from cancer related to illnesses due to PCBs."

Dr. Ayne Amjad and Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, have pushed state health officials to keep a more accurate count of cancer deaths in the state, after Minden residents and the late Dr. Hassan Amjad have counted an extremely high number of deaths among current and former Minden residents.

State health officials report that the cancer death rate in Minden is much lower, according to official record-keeping, and that state statistics that showed Minden residents dying of cancer at twice the rate of others in Fayette County were not statistically reliable.

The march has also drawn Lois Gibbs, "the mother of Superfund," to Minden. Gibbs, a primary organizer of the Love Canal Homeowners Association that forced federal officials to take note of deadly contamination in Love Canal, N.Y., in the early 1980s, Gibbs visited Minden in 2017 to oppose a multi-million dollar, state-supported sewer project that is being conducted in Minden by the City of Oak Hill and Thrasher Engineering, a company owned by Republican gubernatorial candidate Woody Thrasher.

The sewer project aims to clean the New River and Arbuckle Creek, but Minden residents have said they are getting sick from contaminants in the soil that are becoming airborne due to construction. Residents of the working class and racially diverse community say they also live in constant fear of additional PCB contamination so that Oak Hill residents may have a better sewer system and the state tourism industry may flourish.

Gibbs joined Minden residents in opposing the sewer project, calling it "criminal."

The Highlander Research and Education Center, an Alabama organization which trained "the mother of civil rights" Rosa Parks, will have a presence at the March for Minden. 

Local award-winning jazz musician and entertainer Doris "Lady D" Fields will perform for marchers. 

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A photo of the late Lucian Randall at the original march, pushing a barrel of the type used to store PCB oil at Shaffer's, appeared in The Fayette Tribune in 1989. Randall was a core member of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, the activist group that started the fight against toxic PCB dumping in the 1980s and 1990s.

Randall is seen pushing a barrel in images and videos of the original March for Minden in the original march.

Randall's sister, Queen Esther Wallace, 83, said that Randall was a family-oriented coal miner who loved to sing. After falling in Arbuckle Creek and becoming ill, he became concerned about PCBs contaminating the waterway.

He conducted a large amount of personal research on PCB after becoming ill with what he believed was caused by PCB exposure. He would later join the Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, writing countless letters to government officials. He was a leader of the 1989 march.

When asked what Randall would think of the 2019 march, Wallace said her brother would "be right in it" if he were alive.

Randall lived at the home of his relative, Percy Fruit, prior to his 1995 death. Like Randall, many in the Fruit family lived close to Shaffer's and developed cancers, including fatal cancers.

Eddie Fruit, Percy Fruit's brother, will be pushing a barrel in today's march to honor Randall, according to a press release from Minden Community Action.

“The work they started, we are still fighting for," said Eddie Fruit in the press release. "Lucian was caring enough to walk for better living for people in Minden.

"My mother worked for Shaffer’s. She died of cancer. My three brothers all had cancer," he added. "I just have to put my faith in God to push me on down the road.”

The march begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at 1574 Minden Road, the old Company Store in Minden.

Organizers on the Facebook page said that a motorcade of vehicles will follow marchers, ensuring that those who cannot walk the entire route may participate in the march. 

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