The people of the southern West Virginia coalfields have a long and turbulent history of being robbed of the fruits of their labor.
As the nation entered into the industrial revolution, roughly a century and a quarter ago, the limitless resources of West Virginia’s coal and timber seemed irresistible to many of the nation’s wealthiest companies.
The late Matewan resident, Joseph P. Garland, stated that his grandfather, who was illiterate, was tricked into giving up 1,666 acres of the family’s land for a single shotgun.
“They’ve [southern West Virginians] been robbed, raped and cheated out of their land,” stated Garland.
Observing this problem, William MacCorkle, West Virginia Governor, warned the state legislature in his inaugural address on March 4, 1893, that “the state is rapidly passing under the control of large foreign and non-resident landowners.’’ He cautioned that ‘‘the men who are today purchasing the immense acres of the most valuable lands in the state are not citizens and have only purchased in order that they may carry to their distant homes in the North the usufruct of the lands of West Virginia.’’
Over a generation passed before the strong and proud residents of southern West Virginia would, county by county, be successful in casting off the bonds of twentieth century American slavery. Their journey to freedom came at the price of blood, which flowed through waters from Paint Creek to the Tug River and down the banks of Blair Mountain.
Today, the workers of West Virginia are again being robbed of their labors, though this time, not by large corporations hundreds of miles away, but by their own neighbors, by their relatives and by the countless number of generational welfare recipients and false claimants soaking up the state’s treasury.
Coal may no longer be king in West Virginia, but along the banks of the Tug River, it is the only industry that pays, besides the legal field — the only businesses which seems to be flourishing in downtown Williamson.
As a native of southern West Virginia and one who loves his home deeply, the reality is that the mountain coalfield region is in crises and it isn’t just because the mines are all closing — it’s because the number of qualified workers is dwindling, a victim of elicit drug use and generational dependence on others.
Money that should spent on better roads, economic development and sustainable industries is instead being paid to support perfectly capable people to sit at home and do nothing.
Evidence of this was seen firsthand last weekend, when I walked into a local grocery store and the teller, without any prompting began dividing my items between the things which could be paid with food stamps and which things couldn’t.
With so many people with so much time on their hands, it’s no wonder why drug use, murders and robberies are so disproportionately high in my hometown — idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
Today, the working people of West Virginia’s coalfields are fewer than ever and more exploited than ever. Yet, as history has proven, they are proud and will not serve as servants forever.
Click LIKE to share this article with your fiends on Facebook!