Southern West Virginia Workers, More Exploited Than Ever



    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.

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    1. This article is very informative but is missing a few key ingredients relating to welfare and poverty. Williamson is not only funded by the legal field but also medical.

      The payscale is so low in the Tug Valley area an individual cannot rely one one job but must have two and sometimes three. Employers will argue the cost of living is lower but I dispute that statement. Merely compare gas prices, food, personal property taxes, auto inspections, tags and insurance to name a few.

    2. I live in wv and I work my but off. I still have to rely on food stamps to get by. The wages in this state suck.

    3. This is exactly why I left the coalfields.its a wonderful place to live but jobs are few and far in between and scale is lower than other states. No money there to be made

    4. I was born and raised in Williamson.I miss walking to the pool in west end from east end.i miss pizza from the walnut room (BEST EVER) . I do love my hometown.

      • Have you been to McDowell County lately? Drive through Northfork and Keystone, then come back and tell us what you think then. The reality is that the “people from Appalachia” have been so worried about how they appear to the outside world to even deal with their own problems. The place is burning to the ground because of drug addiction and generational welfare recipients and you’re worried about how the writer is making the place look to the outside world.

        • Mario…the drug abuse, etc., has nothing to do with people not dealing with their own problems and worrying more about their image. You should learn a little more about the history of oppression and exploitation of the area and realize that these things are just symptoms of a much larger disease brought on by out of state corporations who have used and abused the state of WV for over 150 years. When you are a people who have been used and beat down for so long you begin to lose hope and many in southern WV have lost hope and just do whatever it takes to make ends meet or at the very worst escape reality of things like mountains behind their homes being blown up, poisoned water, toxic air, black lung, mine explosions, and the poverty and suffering brought on by a mono-economy purposefully set up by out of state companies and the politicians they buy off. So before you go blaming the people for their “problems”, maybe you should look at the bigger picture and instead of pointing your finger, maybe lift it to try to give people hope again.

    5. Thank you for the focus of this article. From my point of view, most of your talking points “hit the nail on the head”. Yes, our elders were taken, by those with more education and a more deceitful character. Most Appalachians choose to take a person at their word, and our grandfathers were no different. The power of the coalfields certainly made a big difference in the lives of many-for a spell. During these times many families lived above their prior means. Now, as before, many are faced with the unsettling pangs of poverty. When people are poor and in need of basic life supports, their principles come in second, behind survival. And it does seem like it is “too easy” to qualify for our state or federal support. However, without this support system so many of our children would go without food and shelter. Having said that, I too realize how many of our strong and youthful citizens refuse to take responsibility for little more than their next drug connection. And this phenomena has touched the lives of ALL of us. No jobs, low self image, illness, failure at every turn, it seems. No sign of a light at the end of the tunnel-and no resources in place to help us deal with the reality of our lives. It’s a hundred miles to the nearest mental health facility. And we live in the United States of America. We should not have to give up our loved ones because they don’t know how to cope with their life circumstances. We should start here, to save our people, our State.

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