Is West Virginia the New Alabama?

Posted: May 20, 2008 in Democrat, Morgantown, Obama, Politics, racism, Sarah Einstein, West Virginia
Tags: , , , ,

I was once married to a man who had grown up in Birmingham right next door to Bull Connor. Though by no means supporters of Connor’s reactionary politics or his famously brutal methods, my husband and his family had still done all the neighborly things people do: brought in the mail when the Connors traveled, baked them fruitcakes at Christmas, invited them to neighborhood cook-outs. While the nation watched Bull Connor turn fire hoses and attack dogs on unarmed demonstrators, my future in-laws smiled and waved a neighborly “Hello” to him when passing on the street. Anything else would have been rude, my former mother-in-law once told me.

My ex-husband and I fought about this through out our marriage; he staunchly insisted that there is never anything wrong with being polite, and I never stopped believing he had shirked his moral obligation to throw bricks through the Connors’ windows every morning on his way to school.

So I do not know how I am supposed to act now that I find West Virginia has somehow become the last bastion of racism that speaks out loud and doesn’t even know it’s supposed to be ashamed. There isn’t a single villain here, a person at whom to throw bricks… literal or rhetorical. There is only a sadly gullible citizenry. An unchanging understanding of a world that is made of nothing but change.

I am at a loss. I hope you are not. I hope you have ideas and hope and a list of things for me to get working on right this very second to make this better. I am willing to spend my time, my money–or maybe some other thing, some thing it hasn’t occurred to me to offer up but that you know will do some good– to make this better. Because I didn’t know it was this bad. I would have told you “West Virginia isn’t a traditional strong-hold of racism, the Union made sure of that, because as long as there were men who would cross a picket line, no strike would hold.” I would have told you “Where everyone is this poor, skin color doesn’t mean so much.” And I would still tell you, “I was one of the few Jews growing up here, and I can’t remember ever experiencing anti-Semitism.” So I don’t understand what has happened here.

But I am grateful to Robert Byrd, who leads us even when we do not want to be lead.

  1. inktarsia says:

    Maybe folks in WV aren’t afraid to speak out what they honesty think, instead of cloaking it in something else. My immediate thought is to take to the streets: grab a can of spraypaint and go for a walk. Introduce some Hill Haiku.

  2. kathyrhodes says:

    I’m at a loss, too. I was very surprised. I’d think the generation after the 1960’s would be a little more enlightened, but apparently not. I could scrape up a few cans of spray paint and take to the hills with you and Sherry!

  3. sarahemc2 says:

    I don’t actually think this is going to be fixed in any way by spray paint or marches or even sit-ins at lunch counters, much as that is my preferred means of protesting these days, particularly if they have good pastrami. I’m afraid this is going to take big, grown-up solutions like improving the roads, the school systems, and access to things like the internet and decent jobs.

    This is from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

    “Did she know, I wondered, that a Cherokee mountaineer invented the first syllabary of modern times? That a Jewish publisher from Knoxville and Chattanooga resurrected The New York Times in 1896 and set its course for world acclaim? That a self-proclaimed “radical hillbilly” trained the shock troops of the civil-rights movement at the Highlander Folk School and reintroduced an African-American spiritual, “We Shall Overcome,” as its anthem? That the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pearl S. Buck, was recognized at the awards ceremony for her biographies about her West Virginian family?” — “They Came Down From These Hills and Made History,” Jeff Biggers

    We, like Southerners, like to be proud of our history. If they were teaching it to us… and they aren’t, we don’t know any more about Blair Mountain than we do about Harper’s Ferry… we would be better people.

    Surely someone out there knows Morris Dees and can get him to come save us?

  4. Mike Mullen says:

    I agree we need Morris Day. To quote that prophet of the 90’s,

    “You don’t know “Jungle Love?” That shit is the mad notes. Written by God herself and sent down to the greatest band in the world: The mother-fucking Time. ”

    Even New Jersey should celebrate its contributions to society. So don’t forget we get to claim BOTH Morgan Spurlock and Jesco White.

  5. sarahemc2 says:

    Not Morris Day, Morris Dees… founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center!

    Okay, Mike, no more posting after drinking for you! Sheesh, Morris Day.

  6. Mike Mullen says:

    Hey, I wasn’t drinking…normally I would not care about setting that straight, but I did operate on two people a couple of hours after I posted that, so I need it to be clear.

  7. Sarah says:

    Two people? You’re an OB/GYN God!

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