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Judy Bonds


Activist Julia “Judy” Bonds (August 27, 1952-January 3, 2011) was born Julia Belle Thompson in Marfork Hollow, Raleigh County. Like generations of her family, Bonds spent most of her life in the Coal River Valley region of West Virginia, and she knew the hardships of growing up in a coal mining region. Bonds’s father, a coal miner, died of black lung disease. As a single mother, Bonds made a living by working in convenience stores and as a waitress and a restaurant manager.

In the late 1990s, Bonds, a grandmother, became concerned about the polluted water and dust that filled air around her home in Marfork Hollow. In 1998, Bonds joined Coal River Mountain Watch, an organization opposed to mountaintop removal. In 1999, Bonds left Marfork Hollow because of the mining activity.

Bonds accepted the position of outreach director of Coal River Mountain Watch in 2001. She fought mountaintop removal by organizing protest rallies, filing lawsuits, and speaking out against coal companies in general and Massey Energy in particular. Taking great pride in her roots, Bonds, in a commanding voice, espoused her Appalachian identity in all her speeches. In 2003, Bonds received the Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight against mountaintop removal. Bonds’s efforts inspired thousands and turned a local issue in West Virginia and Appalachia into a national cause. With other activists, Bonds appeared in a number of documentary films such as Coal River, Coal Country, and Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal & the Fight for Coalfield Justice.

Bonds died of cancer in Charleston at the age of 58.

Written by Henry Franklin Tribe


  1. Shirley Stewart Burns, Mari-Lynn Evans, and Silas House, eds.. Coal Country: Rising Up Against Mountaintop Removal Mining. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2009.

  2. Silas House and Jason Howard. Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

  3. Obituary for Judy Bonds. The Washington Post, January 4, 2011.

  4. Obituary for Judy Bonds. The New York Times, January 15, 2011.

  5. J.W. Randolph. Julia “Judy” Bonds: Saying Goodbye to an American Hero. The Appalachian Voice, February/March 2011.

  6. Michael Shnayerson. The Rape of Appalachia. Vanity Fair, May 2006.