In April of 1863 the people who lived west of the Blue Ridge mountains began to talk about succession. Virginia had already succeeded from the Union and was now ready to succeed from itself. By June 1863 Mountaineers were part of Union once more and West Virginia was born. Our spirit is embodied in our state motto Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers Are Always Free.
West Virginia of course is most known today because of the coal that lights up the night and smelts the steel. But that’s not all we are.
We are the ones who still hold the doors open for a stranger at the store. One of my favorite stories about my fellow Mountaineers came from a local talk radio show when a woman called in to publicly thank two young men that helped her when she lost a load of laundry out of the open bed of her truck. She said that they never asked her name. They just stopped and started picking up her lost belongings.
Our wilderness is second to none. We have clean wild rivers that provide rapids for thrill seekers and shoals for those who just want wade through the water and fish or collect stones. We even have natural water slides to splash around in.
We are also the future. As I understand it, a plan is being formed to recover Rare Earth Elements from the waste of coal mining. We’re being told that not only will this mean a better economy but it will also help keep our beautiful environment clean.
I think about my ancestors that tamed the hills and valleys by the blood sweat and tears. My own grandfather who wore a carbide light on his head as he went into the deep dark mines and risked the mountain collapsing in on him as he fed his wife and eight children by pulling the coal out one shovel full at a time. He helped power the industrial revolution in a time when a lot of work was still done with a mule team. And in the very near future it’s very possible that a miner will sit in air conditioned comfort and supervise a team of robots that will mine materials that power the automation revolution.
I have to wonder what else the future of a free people might bring. But one thing I have a solid inclination to believe is that whatever else comes we will maintain a sense of who we are and never lose that independent spirit that conquered the Blue Ridge mountains.
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