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West Virginia's Birthday Recalls A State Born Of Civil War
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West Virginia's Birthday Recalls A State Born Of Civil War



One hundred and fifty years ago, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union. Born in the middle of the Civil War in l863, the state was created by patriots who didn't want to join the Confederacy - no mean feat considering the political climate of the time. So, as West Virginians celebrate their sesquicentennial - yes, that is a real word - we are joined by Joe Geiger. He's the director of the West Virginia State Archives. Mr. Geiger, thanks for being with us.

JOE GEIGER: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Happy West Virginia state birthday.

GEIGER: Thank you so much. We're real excited to celebrate our 150th anniversary as state.

MARTIN: So, for those of us who weren't paying that much attention in school, remind us exactly how and why West Virginia came about?

GEIGER: Well, largely because of the Civil War. I firmly believe that without the Civil War, we wouldn't have a West Virginia. Western Virginians believe that they didn't get enough funding from an eastern-dominated legislature for internal improvements, for education and things like this. And also, the economy was different in western Virginia. In terms of slaves, only 4 percent of Virginia's slaves were in present-day West Virginia. So, you would naturally assume that there was an opposition to slavery in western Virginia, and indeed there was. But this was largely due to economic and political reasons, not moral ones. Essentially, what happens is the government of Virginia, when they secede from the United States of America, it leaves that government vacant. And what these folks do in Wheeling, these people who are so determined to remain loyal to the Union, is they try to find a way to deal with this. And the first thing that they do is create a Union government, a replacement government, for Virginia. In the end, this is going to be the key to West Virginia statehood. Because, according to the Constitution, in order for a new state to be created from an existing state, that existing state has to give us permission.

MARTIN: For people who have never been to West Virginia, what are West Virginians like?

GEIGER: Well, West Virginia's the kind of state where you walk down the street and you speak to every person that you see. You make eye contact, you smile, and I understand that if you do that in New York, you might be looked at a little strangely. So, people care about one another. They take care of each other. We've had certainly different disasters and tragedies in our history, and the first thing that you see in response in West Virginians banding together to help one another.

MARTIN: Joe Geiger is the director of the West Virginia State Archive. Thank you so much for taking the time.

GEIGER: Thank you.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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