West Virginia Day: Mountaineers have rich heritage to celebrate

Saturday is West Virginia Day, the birthday of this wild and wonderful state we call home; and a chance to remember who we are.

We celebrate that 157 years ago we were admitted to the Union as our own state, after breaking away from the state at the heart of a fight for an institution we Mountaineers understood must come to an end.

As hopes for statehood grew, Wheeling native Thomas Johnston wrote to Waitman T. Willey, a Morgantown lawyer who was serving as a U.S. Senator representing what was then the Restored Government of Virginia:

“I hope to see the day that the new state will be a free state.”

Indeed, that is what West Virginia became.

Our heritage is not a simple one. We are smart, tough, capable people … who do not like to be told what to do. Often the only part on which all of us can agree is that “Mountaineers are always free.”

And so, we are both the state born six months after the Emancipation Proclamation because it remained loyal to a Union that was fighting for survival against states hoping to preserve slavery; and the state in which, 100 years ago, coal miners rose up in the largest armed insurrection since that Civil War, in Matewan and on Blair Mountain to fight for their own rights and make their demands known. They fought the system for what they hoped would be a better future. Most of them went on to become the United Mine Workers and United Steelworkers of America.

We are a state of immense pride and immense challenges. We are the Mountain State, yet those mountains sit atop riches that have kept the lights on for a century — helped many to prosper — while we faced generations of economic struggle. We are surrounded by unsurpassed natural beauty — truly national treasures — and an unbearably ugly plague that is feeding on those who have succumbed to the struggle.

We stand for what is right, but we can be better. Sometimes change comes with loud cheering; sometimes it comes with growing pains.

But we will keep growing, keep getting better, keep working to overcome our challenges, keep fighting for what is right — because that is what we do. It is who we are. We are Mountaineers, and on this West Virginia Day we remember we are –ALL of us — always free.


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