“You cannot further the brotherhood
of man by inciting class hatred.”
– William J.H. Boetcker
with Fast Cars
“In West Virginia, the most vulnerable
people we have are people who get up
every morning and go to work.”
– Joe Manchin
CLASS and RACE
remixed by Kendall F. Person
originally published as
Fear & Loathing in Detroit West Virginia
The Coal Miners of West Virginia
The first explosion was in 1886, 131 years ago. Thirty-nine people were killed in Newburg, and year after year, the coal mines of West Virginia never stopped erupting, and the body count continued rising. In 1907, a calamity of explosions rocked Appalachia, in what must have appeared as mockery, as each successive event – nearly unbroken – claimed more lives than the one before, including a December finale: the Monongah explosion blew 361 West Virginians sky high. But coal was a necessity around the nation; a hazardous occupation, but a “good job” and an honest, yet cruel living.
“Hypocrisy is the mother of all evil and
racial prejudice is still her favorite child.”
– Don King
The Great Migration
The American Civil War remains unparalleled, the magnitude in lost lives, takes a moment to sink in. 620,000 Americans, inclusive of 40,ooo former slaves, died in the battle to hold this great union together, and at long last end the hypocrisy in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
The deep South was humiliated by the loss and had convinced themselves, that owning slaves was their right. So they held onto their ideology for dear life, weaving a bitter hatred in the fabric of the land, and pushing it down through generations. The Yankees may have defeated them, but Confederacy lives in the soul. The former African slaves would become the niggers of Jim Crow: a segregationist rule of law, so ruthless and degrading, and applied with such intensity, I imagine the only difference, was the weight of chains.
In 1924, the passing of the Immigration Act limited the number of immigrants, coming into the nation, cutting off the flow of Eurpoean workers, just as America thought they needed them most. Led by Ford Motor Company, the mid-sized city of Detroit Michigan was transformed into a booming automobile industrial mecca with nearly 90,000 jobs created in Dearborn alone. And finally, Black Americans were allowed access to the idea of the American dream. An entirely new workforce was created, by people who were already there. By the millions, during The Great Migration, the Negroes would leave the dirty south behind and headed north, in hot pursuit of the the good life, or at least a fair and equal one.
Advanced Black Lung Cases Surge in Appalachia
courtesy of National Public Radio
The theory that all White Republicans and even those that voted for and support President Trump are racist is a myth, born of a bygone era, that should have been buried when Robert E. Lee surrendered. West Virginia, for street cred if needed, was so adamantly against slavery, that when Virginia joined the Confederacy, West Virginia would break ranks and remain with the Union Army, becoming the only state to secede another state during the civil war.
And the belief that the root cause of the challenges faced by inner cities are the result of lazy and violent Black Americans is equally untrue, because they too died in the civil war, and survived the Middle Passage – in which millions of African people did not. From the south to all points north, east and west in pursuit of happiness; to own a home and raise a family and enjoy the fruits of their labor called the good life.
Distortions of truth survive, when it is in the best interest of the ruling class. Also known as the Boogeyman Theory and – on a more personal level – the blame game – Divide and Rule is a governing technique, that keeps the masses suspicious of one another, allowing the ruling class to hold onto power unchallenged, right in the middle of the world’s greatest democracy. And because of our own personal unwillingness to listen to the other side of the story, for fear of learning something that forces us to analyze our politics, our religion and even family bonds, and sometimes, it is way too much work. So we remain in our make believe bubble, pretending to follow God’s song, hoping to hear something – anything – in the news, that justifies the us against them mentality. We exhale, then quietly drift right or left, but further away from a united nation.
In West Virginia, Wall Street moved in, and the West Virginia leaders were seduced by power or greed or reluctance, but no matter the poison, it is a distinction without a difference, because they have never had the best interest of the people at heart, no matter how many times they say it. West Virginia is not just one of the poorest states in the Union, but rank at the bottom in higher education and number one in drug-induced deaths. So instead of building a diverse economy, the mines became generational. And all the while the explosions continued their near annual rampage. After so many years of working underground, black lung cases surged in the Appalachian Mountains. But with a straight face and right to this very day, the civic leaders tell their population to get ready to go back underground — even though it is literally killing them, right before our eyes.
When the Worker’s Unions brandished true power, and actually fought tooth and nail for the blue collar workforce, West Virginia would be scorned; treated nearly as bad as the Negroes of the south, only they were the whites of Appalachia. In a game of coal that reached all around the world, billions of dollars was trading hands but none of it trickled down into the homes of West Virginians.
No demands were made to share in the wealth or for safer working conditions. Instead, they bargained away everything for the best possible health insurance (West Virginia is the only state to lose population due to no immigration and deaths outnumbering births). In 2012, Patriot Coal (an irony jackpot) held down the fort, when the money ran out and the EPA demanded they clean up the polluted soil. Perhaps if they had known the truth about Detroit, West Virginia would not have followed their leaders down a rabbit hole. Not only did they lose their jobs, but the $400 million dollars in pollution liabilities, and ultimate bankruptcy, wiped out the health insurance, just as black lung disease surged.
Upon arrival and settlement, the dream remained out of reach for the newly minted Yankee Black Americans. The high paying jobs and affordable home loans, did not find the Black workers as equals, not even in Detroit. Ghettos began to form, out of necessity for the working class Negro. The wealthy white managers and executives, addressed the combustible issue by moving to the suburbs and pretending the pot was not boiling over.
But in 1967, Detroit exploded into one of the most destructive riots the nation had ever seen, before or since (less Rodney King). No leadership existed to heal a city, and address the needs of the Black constituents before poverty and crime and dependency became entrenched. Instead, the ruling class left Detroit for dead and 61% of the population would slowly disappear, creating the most segregated region in the whole wide world, bested only by South Africa’s Apartheid. It was not just the bodies and the blight, but when White Detroit departed, they took the money and even the keys for good measure. Everyone of us who was alive, from the state and federal government coffers to the richest philanthropist, to the run of the mill activists, just stood back and watched, without even the decency of yelling timber, as the richest country on planet earth allowed its 4th largest city to fall, and then pointed fingers as if it was somehow their fault.
Battling Blight: Detroit Maps Entire City
To Find Bad Buildings
courtesy of National Public Radio
There is reason to believe that the life we lead will never change. For the city of Detroit and the state of West Virginia, what do they believe as a collective identity? West Virginia, the only state to secede from a Confederate state, but their only identity is tied to the coal mines. Have they never dreamed of instilling education and an artistic independence, and an imagination that says to them to think big? And what new plans has Detroit imagined so that law enforcement and community works in tandem. And is the arts in every form, understood by the leaders of its transforming abilities that is empowering, and does more to bind strangers together, as we have politicized the pureness from sport.
The fear and loathing of Detroit West Virginia, are based on who we have been told we are, and how we identify ourselves. We must know the history and understand the struggle, and the failed leadership that has allowed or perpetuated Detroit’s fall from grace and West Virginia staying in its place. But imagine, the inspiration and the legacy our generation can contribute to history, if the nation’s most dangerous city and most uneducated state turn their fortunes around, allowing America to reconfirm its greatest, without tearing anyone down. The Neighborhood proved it can be done, but it takes a collective belief in the collaborative journey.
Above the Clouds/UNHINGED created by Kendall F. Person
How Big Coal summoned Wall Street and faced a whirlwind
Shifting Fortunes, Reuters Investigates
The Great Migration, eblaze
Laura Mine, Old Photographs of Miners
ETA Vetoes mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia,
McClatchy DC Bureau
WV Mine Disasters 1884 to Present
Civil War Facts, Civil War Trust