Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

We are now almost three weeks into 2021. I, for one, am glad to put 2020 behind me. Personally, the year just passed, like all years, had some high points. But looking back, based on the events which happened both regionally and nationally it is not difficult to say “good-bye” to 2020 and to hope for better things in 2021. 2020 was a census year. While the results of the latest census won’t be known for a few weeks or months yet, they will determine how Congressional Seats will be apportioned among the states. In my lifetime, I have been witness to a decline in number of WV house seats which has been dramatic. West Virginia has gone from 5 to 3 seats. But for a little longer period of study, 1930 to 2000, essentially my parent’s life time. West Virginia lost three seats, Ohio six and Pennsylvania a whopping fifteen. All told it shows a large population shift away from the Northeast and Rustbelt and to the South and West of the country. Most of the gain was in just three states California plus thirty three, Florida plus twenty and Texas plus eleven. It is possible that West Virginia will drop to two US House Members following the release of the 2020 census results. If so it will be up to the state legislature to re-define the boundaries of the districts and our next election will determine who is eliminated, if all choose to run for re-election. That can become a political version of the children’s game of musical chairs. I remember having THE ONE Congressman from Alaska as a luncheon partner, at some obscure event. He calmly explained to me that his position was more important than that of a US Senator, because Alaska had two Senators, whereas he was unique, one-of-a-kind. Let’s hope West Virginia does not come to that, now or in the future.
As I write this ahead of our printing deadline, I am reminded that it is a Holiday. January 18 this year is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In some ways it is almost easy not too much notice the holiday in a state as white as West Virginia. Most recent population estimates have the state at 93.1% White, 3.7% Black or African American and 3.2% other meaning two or more races, Asian, Native American. Other than isolated circumstances it was also difficult to notice events involving Black Lives Matter or the protesting of monuments to the Confederacy occurring in the state in 2020. Initially, the few that did occur were in Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown and Fairmont. By late May and early June there had been peaceful protests of some size locally, in the communities of Wheeling and Weirton. However, by late August and into September peaceful protesters began to be outnumbered at rallies by groups claiming titles like the Mountaineer Warriors Alliance. Berkeley Springs was an example of this where several hundred counter demonstrators met thirty to fifty BLM protestors allegedly to assure that no one disrespected the American Flag. To me it is unusual for leaders of the counter demonstrators to allege that purpose while many of their followers were carrying Confederate Battle Flags. Perhaps the height of controversy was when a group of State Senators demanded that WVU return a portion of its funding because some or all of the football team had BLM stickers on their helmets, which the Senators called “hate speech.” WVU did not comply with the request. As far as I can determine, from a review of news accounts, all of the BLM protests and counter-protests in the state of West Virginia remained peaceful. That is exactly the way Dr. King would have wanted them to be.
One other subject of national controversy during 2020 dealt with the removal of statues and other memorials to Confederate Generals and soldiers. There are two schools of thought in this regard. One is that they are commemorating heroes no matter the side on which they fought during the Civil War, and that to tear them down is to deny history. The counter argument is that these monuments symbolize the oppression felt by formerly enslaved people, and when erected were intended to be coercive. Research indicates that West Virginia has twenty-one such monuments, many of which were dedicated to Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who was born in what was to become West Virginia. There were Generals in the confederate armies who were born and raised in Northern States, and there were some Generals in the union armies who were born in Confederate Territory. I may explore the issue of our state’s civil war statues dedicated to the confederacy in the near future
Lastly, 2020 is gone but despite mask efforts COVID19 is still with us. As I write this, there have reportedly been 24 million cases and 398,000 deaths from this disease in the US. West Virginia has reported 109,000 cases and 1,776 deaths as of January 17. Our numbers are not out of line with a statistical count for a state which has about one-half of one percent of the U.S. population. Hancock County reports 2,318 cases, again not way out of line with what would be its proportionate share of the state’s cases based on West Virginia’s population. It does seem as though West Virginia has its act together with vaccines. We will see what happens. Hopefully, I am able to write this column at the beginning of 2022 and can do so without reporting COVID19 as a continuing problem.