Legacy of slavery leaves W.Va. with split personality

Three weeks hence, West Virginia will conduct a huge observation of the state’s 150th birthday. This sesquicentennial season is a good time to remember all the powerful forces that brought the 35th state into existence.

Oddly, you might say that slavery created West Virginia, as follows: If Virginia and the rest of Dixie hadn’t rebelled against the United States to preserve human slavery, West Virginia probably wouldn’t have severed itself from the Old Dominion. And America would have escaped the horror of the Civil War — the nation’s most tragic bloodbath — that launched the Mountain State.

Before the war, Tidewater Virginia’s agricultural economy rested heavily on slaves: nearly a half-million of them. But just 4 percent, 20,000, were used in the mountainous western counties — chiefly in Kanawha Valley salt works, Greenbrier County farming, and agriculture in the South Branch and Shenandoah valleys of the Eastern Panhandle.

The 1840 census found that Charleston was a rudimentary town of 657 whites and 415 slaves. Downstream from Charleston, a large slave plantation was operated by Samuel Cabell — who secretly made a slave woman his lifelong mate, had 13 children by her, was murdered by white neighbors, and left his rich bottomland to his illegal mate and offspring. Thus Institute became West Virginia’s largest black community.

Slave auctions were held in Charleston and various other Mountain State cities, one account says.

In 2009, state Episcopalians held a “Day of Repentence for the sin of slavery, racial segregation and racial discrimination in the Diocese of West Virginia.” The bishop said that, in pre-war Virginia, “80 percent of the clergy of the Episcopal Church owned slaves. So much of what we have today in the church was created on the backs of slaves.” It was an entirely different world in those days — and it caused the birth of West Virginia as mountain residents unconnected to slavery broke from the Tidewater.

Today, this state’s split personality can be seen in adulation of Stonewall Jackson, who hailed from Clarksburg and fought for slavery. Lakes, parks, resorts and schools are named in his honor, and his statue stands on the Capitol lawn. Lovely Ruffner Park beside Charleston’s Kanawha Boulevard is dedicated to Col. George S. Patton and his Confederate riflemen.

West Virginia’s heritage is a tangle.


— From the May 31

The Charleston Gazette





Stricter bidding requirements should help control costs

A decision to sharply limit the use of a secondary bid practice that has been blamed for wasting taxpayers’ money in West Virginia is a wise, albeit belated, move.

The administration of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week notified vendors tied to eight contracts used by state agencies to buy various goods and services that those contracts will be canceled at the end of this month. Beginning July 1, state agencies will be required to solicit and review formal bids for purchases over $25,000.

The move by Tomblin should essentially wipe the slate clean of using “secondary bids,” which allowed state agencies to tap existing statewide contracts and buy items from a list of pre-approved vendors without necessarily requiring vendors to compete for those purchases.

The practice had been used for a variety of state purchases, ranging from office furniture to computer equipment and services including technology consultants, moving and hauling, tree removal and recycling services, according to a report in The Charleston Gazette.

The use of secondary bids had come under fire in recent months, with auditors questioning whether the practice was legal under state law. Tomblin proposed a bill during this year’s legislative session to outlaw secondary bids, but it was killed in the House of Delegates after companies with statewide contracts complained it would cost them state business.

The move could indeed affect dozens of companies, particularly if they don’t submit the best proposals when new contracts are sought under competitive bidding. Conversely, an open, competitive bidding procedure could allow opportunities for other businesses that had effectively been shut out under the old procedures. Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the state purchasing division, emphasized that in discussing the move to cancel existing contracts.

She also made another important point: “More competition will most likely yield lower prices for the state,” she said. That seems like the logical outcome from a fairer, more competitive bidding process.

— From the June 3

Huntington Herald-Dispatch


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