'Write About West Virginia,' She Said
(Laura Vecsey is a terrific news reporter; she proved it in two capitals of major states. She once almost bought a bit of land in a scenic portion of northern West Virginia that George Washington had surveyed. The other day Laura offered some friendly advice to her father, who was thinking about writing about the baseball post-season: “You know West Virginia; write about that.” So here goes.)
Joe Manchin was not in the spotlight when I was covering Appalachia in the early 70s.
The governor of West Virginia back then was Arch A. Moore, who later did 32 months for campaign corruption.
Manchin later became governor and is now a senator. Nominally a Democrat, he is doing his best to blow up bills that would protect the ecology and the people. He says his stance has nothing to do with the energy stock he divested. “It’s in a blind trust,” he often says.
The governor now is Jim Justice, allegedly the richest man in the state. Some governors might be concerned about the water supply or the bleak future of the coal industry, but Jim Justice spends much of his psychic energy coaching the girls’ basketball team in East Greenbrier, W.Va., far from the capital of Charleston. He also wants to coach the boys’ team in East Greenbrier, but school officials are thwarting that little whim of his. Stay tuned.
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West Virginia is not all grim coal camps and refuse from hilltop strip mining; the coal seams run out below the northernmost sector. One of my best friends recently spent a long weekend with three of her long-time girl friends in a remote cabin in the woods – had a great time, even though the fall colors had not yet arrived. She talks with great affection of her first couple of years in a West Virginia college.
* * *
The reason I love old-timey country music is from a few summers as a kid, spent in upstate New York, where you could tune in Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, the Carter family – clear as a bell, through the mountains, straight from WWVA in Wheeling.
* * *
One of my first trips to coal country was to report on Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen, who carried around slides of dead miners’ lungs – ravaged from years of work underground, inhaling coal dust. Some coal-company doctors used to tell miners that coal dust would cure the common cold, but. Dr Rasmussen displayed the grisly slides at public hearings or outside the headquarters of coal companies.
* * *
I also got to meet a member of the House of Representatives who cared – Ken Hechler, a World War Two vet, a New Yorker, and a writer, who settled in West Virginia and became an advocate of the miners, the poor, and ran for office – living to be 102.
Hechler had a protégé, Arnold Ray Miller, a working miner who had absorbed the inequities of the business. In 1972, Miller – backed up by volunteers, those dreaded out-of-state college students, ran for president of the corrupt United Mine Workers. I traveled around with Miller’s cadre during the campaign; after the 1970 murder of the Yablonski family in western Pennsylvania, the campaign was under close protection – insurgent watchmen outside hotel rooms, everybody armed.
Miller won the election in 1972, but nothing much improved.
* * *
In March of 1972, I rushed from Kentucky to West Virginia to cover the flooding of a valley, when a coal-mine refuse pond gave way in heavy rain, killing 125 people alongside Buffalo Creek, early on a Saturday morning. I interviewed next-of-kin and neighbors and learned that the company had sent a worker named Steve to bulldoze more earth onto the failing dam, high in the hills. That is to say, the company knew the danger but did not bother to warn the families downstream. My reporting helped inform a successful class-action suit, that did not bring back the dead.
* * *
The coal-mine carnage and the current conflict of interest by public servants would have been no surprise to one of the greatest figures in West Virginia history-- Mother Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland (home of strong women, I believe) Mary Jones left the potato famine for Toronto, lost her husband and four children, and became an advocate of organized labor in the U.S. – particularly West Virginia. (She often praised the valor of Black laborers.) To know more about her:
The people of West Virginia deserve better. In 2016, they voted, 68 to 26 per cent for Donald Trump, who soon abolished as many pro-ecology bills as he could. Many miners understand theirs is a dying industry. But guess who bellied up to Trump in the swarm after one of Trump’s first speeches? None other than Blind-Trust Manchin.
Where is Mother Jones when West Virginia needs her?
10/19/2021 08:40:48 pm
10/23/2021 11:52:47 am
Randolph: Wish I had known you when I was roaming the ridges. Although you may have moved further south of WVA when I was there.
10/20/2021 04:59:06 pm
10/20/2021 05:21:40 pm
10/20/2021 06:07:45 pm
Unfortunately, in this 50-50 split U.S. Senate, Joe Manchin has taken on an importance even above that of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He is willing and able to use his power, even if it is against his party's wishes.
10/21/2021 01:22:58 pm
Two years ago, I met the mayor of Huntington, WV, in connection with the nationwide opioids litigation. He was totally heartbroken about what the opioids epidemic has done to his community. I have to think the opioids crisis is one factor (among many) of the turn this country has taken over the last five years. The addiction and the devastation to communities, particularly in industrial and deindustrializing areas of the country has created a lot of despondency and perhaps greater receptivity to an authoritarian appeal. On top of that, the crisis has created a lot of room for the heroin trade to move in where opioid addiction rates are high, and a lot of that trade comes through cartels based in Mexico. I imagine some of the intensity of the response to Trump's anti-immigrant appeals is due to the experience with the Mexican cartels in these communities.
10/23/2021 11:57:52 am
Josh: yes, I somehow neglected to mention opioids. I'm no expert, but the prevelance of opioids in Southern Ohio, West Virginia, Eastern KY,
10/21/2021 03:01:56 pm
While I was In Wahington, W. Va. had two of the most powerful Senators, Majority Leader, and Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Robert Byrd and Chairman of the Public Works Committee, each steered funds to W.Va. Randolph was also interested in Disability issues, Randolph-Shepherd Vending Machine Act, aiding persons who were Blind, and Subcommittee on Disability for several years in the 70s.
10/21/2021 03:36:14 pm
sorry, Left out Jennings Randolph’s full name.
10/21/2021 04:13:27 pm
Ed and George,
10/22/2021 08:16:19 am
Nothing really substantive to contribute, but stories of coal mines remind me of one of my favorite Grateful Dead numbers, "Black Peter." It comes from the album Workingman's Dead, perhaps a play on words in light of the album's theme. Other songs there include Cumberland Blues and Easy Wind, featuring quintessential grateful dead men as characters (if one is familiar with the legend), downtrodden ordinary men living day to day and dying. For anyone who wants mood music as we ponder politics.
10/23/2021 10:46:59 am
Sen. Manchin reminds me of the boy in the schoolyard who takes his ball home when not getting his way.
10/23/2021 10:48:59 am
10/23/2021 11:49:52 am
Bonne journee....Actually, both of you are right. Alan's post reminds me of a family I know that was about half a mile from our house in Queens. The daughter (now a prof at Yale) would go in the yard and play with a ball, and sometimes it would go into the neighbors' yard -- upon which, the little boy next door would scoot outside, gather up the ball, and run inside, saying,"Nyah, nyah, it was on our property, it's mine now."
10/25/2021 04:59:19 am
10/27/2021 07:35:16 pm
Manchin represents his constituents and very well. He is not a Party guy. An instructive and quite beneficial read is George Washington's Farewell Address. He detailed why political parties were the scourge of democracy. He was aways the greatest of our Founding Fathers. His comments have been proven by our recent history, dead on correct.
10/27/2021 07:37:43 pm
10/27/2021 09:13:46 pm
Brian: it warms my heart to know you are out there, monitoring me.
11/18/2021 12:13:30 am
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.