Lord, what trying times we live in. Between drugs and politics, this country seems to be (to borrow a term that I heard a lot while I was growing up) — “going to hell in a hand basket,” whatever that was supposed to specifically mean.
To be honest with you, I’m sick of all of it. The country is divided, and its people are being badly misled by members of both major political parties. They ought to be in some classroom reading “Winnie the Pooh” or “Jack and the Beanstalk” to kids instead of trying to convince the rest of us that they are capable of running our nation. Isn’t it absorbing that millionaires (and most of them are) always want to do so much for their fellow citizens?
Anyway, let me recommend the reading of two books that in a strange way coincide with each other, although its authors, who come from different age groups and probably have never met, both hail from Logan County.
“Enough,” which is a book written by Tony Hylton, the son of a former Logan Banner news editor, is an interesting account of what a good newspaper reporter and editor goes through in a politically controlled county where those in power never want the truth revealed. In the book, the newspaper building is burned to the ground in an attempt to keep it from publishing the facts.
The trials and tribulations of the newspaper business, which today could even be applied to the news media in general, are clearly relevant to the positive outcome of the small town featured within the book. Righteous determination and political connections of the narrative will remind you of such places as Logan, Williamson and Madison-Danville back in the day when politics ruled in every walk of life, way more so than today.
“Don’t Tell ‘em You’re Hungry” is a well-written true account of growing up in extreme poverty that author Kathy Manley delivers in a way that even the poorest of the poor can empathize with. What makes this book so absorbing for me is that, as a child and then teenager, I lived right beside Kathy in our coal camp community that was located directly across the road and a couple of railroad tracks from Island Creek Coal Company’s No. 16 store.
I previously described the store as the concrete “home” of the “Porch Sitters.” Kathy and I also graduated together from Logan High.
Her account of going with her peg-legged father (John) to beg on the streets of Logan, or to blackberry pick to make money, or from her excursions with him to secure scrap iron that they tossed into the old paneled truck she referred to as the “Blue Goose,” are affixed in my brain as I fondly recall John and his Blue Goose that once took me and my mother to a doctor in Logan.
Kathy writes of her parents (John and Rosie) coming to Logan to see John Kennedy when he was campaigning for the presidency in 1960.
Kennedy was awe stricken by the poverty he encountered, especially in southern West Virginia, and, after becoming the first ever Roman Catholic president in America — the son of one of the richest men in the world — he never forgot what he had encountered in West Virginia, a state that was 95% Protestant.
Kennedy’s success in West Virginia paid off, as in his first act as president, he doubled the surplus food allotment for the poor in our state and then extended the welfare benefits for the needy, began the food stamp program in West Virginia, and drastically increased the amount of federal aid sent to the place where skeptics had wrongly predicted his primary and general election defeats in 1960.
In his first three years as president, he boosted West Virginia’s rank in defense contracts from 50th to 25th and helped the state to obtain new buildings and to improve the state and national park system. For those who don’t know, Chief Logan State Park and the current Logan County courthouse are the direct results of President Kennedy’s affection for Logan Countians.
The North-South interstate highway (Interstate 79) was included as part of a federal highway system because of the man who had traveled the many narrow rugged roads in various hollows of the mountain state during his important presidential campaign.
Some West Virginians even believe the completed road project to be his greatest achievement for the state.
For me, it wasn’t an interstate highway project that drew my attention. It was the election of 1960 itself. Even as a small child, I loved watching the television news, despite there being just one clear black-and-white channel that could be viewed — thanks to a thin plastic encased line that was strung all the way to the top of a nearby mountain where it connected to an aluminum antenna, which picked up the television transmissions from Huntington or Charleston.
I was just a kid when I first went to the election grounds at Verdunville Grade School in 1960. I was then and I remain fascinated with politics and elections. I have never missed an election day of being at Verdunville since I was 7 years old.
When I turned 18 in October 1971, I bought a ticket for a Trailways bus ride from Huntington to Logan, where I registered to vote and then headed right back to school. I came home every election day just to exercise my right to vote, when I was a student at Marshall University.
Here’s the thing that may shock some folks. When I first registered to vote, I did so as a Republican. From all of those years on the election grounds watching Democrats buy the votes from willing participants — using both liquor and money — as I harmlessly stood by waiting for a free hot dog and sodas as an Election Day teenager, I became convinced the Democrats were the “bad guys” when it came to politics. After all, what few Republicans that were around never tried to buy a person’s vote; that is until Arch Moore Jr. sought the governor’s seat.
Watching all of this illegal action for years caused me to want to change things, to seek college, and to intelligently return and rid Logan County of these awful corrupt Democrats whose “hired hands” literally voted people behind closed curtains, most of them being paid afterwards by outside grounds workers who got the signal to pay from poll workers. I just had to do it — as a Republican, my childhood hero having already been Sen. Barry Goldwater, a 1964 unsuccessful presidential candidate who was beaten by Lyndon Johnson in one of the biggest landslides victories in U.S. history.
Somewhere along the way, before I even turned 20 years old, I realized there were no local Republican candidates to vote for when I went to the polls. It also dawned on me that those Democratic poll workers who had been stealing people’s votes for all of those years were doing so because the Republicans were allowing it to happen. Suddenly, it was like “Duh.” The Republicans poll workers that are required in every precinct were bought and paid for, too. It was they who allowed the dirty work.
Dumbfounded and a little depressed, I switched my voter’s registration to Democrat. At least the Dems had candidates on the ballot in the primary election.
The general election meant very little, unless it was a presidential election because there were few, if any, Republicans on the ballot in November. Whatever Democratic candidates won in May were usually unopposed in the general election.
The connection between the books “Enough” and “Don’t Tell ‘em You’re Hungry” I’ve previously mentioned is that I was there on the election grounds at Verdunville Grade School every election as Kathy’s parents stood around waiting for the highest bidder for their votes. There’s even a picture of Rosie and John standing on the grounds that is featured in a 1971 book written by Lester “Bus” Perry, a book titled “Forty Years of Mountain Politics.”
Even Kennedy’s help for people in the coal fields wasn’t enough to stop the tradition of vote buying. It was simply a quick way for some people to get needed money.
The poorer one was, the more likely that person, or entire families of voting age, would sell their votes. For some, it was like Christmas in spring.
Politicians desire to hold political offices for various reasons — some good, and others not so good. Logan County’s political history from the early 1900s onward will not read well on the political tombstones of time.
Just like it is displayed in the fictional tale of the book “Enough,” power, greed, sex and money all are factors when it comes to Logan County’s political past. And now, I must ask, how will future chapters of our local history read? Should it be fiction or non-fiction?
I feel a bit strange anymore. You see, from the time I was a kid running around the muddy coal camp alleys of 16 Camp with a spray paint can spraying the chemical letters “AUH20 for President” on people’s cinderblock fences way back in 1964, I have been fascinated with politics and always thought I could make a positive difference in our society, even after the ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater became a loser.
I have fought many battles to achieve my political position in the realm of Logan County government, and despite what some people may believe, I only want to see Logan County to become a better place to live and for people to visit.
Logan County has so much more potential than what some people know, or even want to believe.
For now, I will simply leave you with this thought from my former childhood political hero, Barry Goldwater, who once caused me to get lead paint on my hands:
“Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.”