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April 4, 2006

A personal and professional commitment to social justice

BY KENTUCKIANS FOR THE COMMONWEALTHMembers of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth mourn the passing of one of Kentucky’s most prominent citizens, Barry Bingham Jr. When KFTC was organized 25 years ago, Kentucky’s coal industry was even more politically and economically dominant than it is today. Across the coalfields, landowners were mistreated, the local environment was often devastated, and residents fought against the systematic non-enforcement of the law.The Louisville Courier-Journal, at that time being run by Barry Bingham Jr., was one of the only places citizens could find honest and complete information about the impact of coal in Kentucky. Articles, editorials and investigative series about the coal industry and especially the ravages of uncontrolled strip mining told the true stories of the plight and fight in eastern Kentucky. Mr. Bingham saw Kentucky as one large community and maintained bureaus across the state, including in the coalfields, reporting even the toughest stories.After the sale of the family media business, Mr. Bingham became a philanthropist and an active supporter of many worthwhile organizations and causes, including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.  With his wife Edie, Mr. Bingham lent his resources and his insights to support the development of an informed and active citizenry, a healthy democracy, and a safe environment for every county in our state.Though our relationship with Mr. Bingham spanned nearly a quarter century, some of our fondest memories are the most recent. Last fall, already struggling with health issues, Mr. Bingham joined with 15 other Kentucky writers for a two-day tour of eastern Kentucky to witness mountaintop removal mining. As our guest, and with the other writers, he lunched on the side porch of Daymon and Betty Morgan’s home at the head of Bad Creek, he flew over mining sites in Perry County, and at a public meeting one evening, he listened attentively to the testimony of eastern Kentuckians battling some of the worst abuses of the modern coal industry.Throughout the tour, Mr. Bingham exhibited a deep respect for the experience and point of view of the community members that he met. He asked questions, both friendly and challenging, and listened carefully to the answers, digging for the truth and simultaneously honoring the local residents’ perspective and story. He revealed an obvious curiosity about the things around him, from the corporate ownership of Kentucky’s major mining companies to the kind of camera used by the photographer on the tour.And finally, at the end of the tour, Mr. Bingham communicated a fierce determination that we should not leave the scourge of unfettered surface mining to our children and grandchildren. In an editorial he wrote after the tour, he called on all Kentuckians to help halt the destruction of a whole region of our beautiful state. And in the last month, he initiated the planning of another mountaintop removal tour so others could learn about this issue.When he could have been home resting on his own substantial mountain of personal achievements, Mr. Bingham was instead acting to protect Kentucky’s mountains and mountain communities. His willingness to speak out for what is right and against what is wrong has been witnessed by many Kentuckians. We are grateful that he sought just as fervently to give that opportunity to others. His good works set a high standard for personal and professional commitment to social justice and shared progress that will continue to benefit Kentuckians for years to come.