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West Virginia Day: Our history can be our strength

It has been 156 years since a little legal wrangling allowed the Restored Government of Virginia to approve the creation of a new state out of the northwestern counties of Virginia. When West Virginia was born — officially on June 20, 1863 — not all of the counties came along gladly. In fact some of the differences that were evident between the northern and southern parts of the brand new state persist, more than a century-and-a-half later.

Throw in yet another set of differences between the Eastern Panhandle counties and the rest of the state, and its a bit of a miracle we function as a single unit at all. But we do.

We do because one of the reasons for our statehood in the first place was a resistance to falling under someone else’s labels. At that time, those labels were coming from Richmond, and West Virginia refused to fall in line.

Mountaineers are always free. Free to be proud southern coalfield miners or cutting edge university medical and technology researchers; free to be weekend warriors commuting Monday through Friday to Washington, D.C., but spending leisure time off the grid in a cabin in the woods. Free to cheer for football teams wearing Old Gold and Blue or Kelly Green and White.

And we are free — it is essential we remember this — to evolve; to move past the traditions that served us well for a time, but now may be holding us back. For too long, West Virginia has been Almost Heaven much more for the out-of-state corporations who reap the rewards for the hard work of its people. For too long, we turned a blind eye to fraud and corruption — outright criminal activity — on the part of the politicians and bureaucrats in Charleston because “that’s just the way it’s always been.” For too long, we bought the idea that diversifying and expanding our economy was somehow a betrayal of our proud past.

The brave and resourceful men whose effort we remember today would scoff at such a notion. Imagine the ingenuity and courage it must have taken to break out of the mold to which they had been told they must confine themselves — to which the elites in Richmond hoped they would confine themselves.

We live in a state blessed with incredible resources. Sure, there are the ones that could power our nation for a century or two; but there are also the smart, strong, hardworking, men and women who keep West Virginia churning forward. They are no less creative and courageous than the folks who defied Richmond’s labels way back when.

Happy birthday, West Virginia. May we do right by you in remembering, Mountaineers ARE always free.

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