N.C. Gerrymandering No Laughing Matter

Rep. Destin Hall’s vigorous defense of Republican gerrymandering causes stunned laughter from audience at NAACP forum in Lenoir

LENOIR, N.C. – Destin Hall, Caldwell County’s representative in the North Carolina General Assembly, was greeted with stunning, uproarious laughter from the audience at the NAACP candidate forum on Oct. 6 when he vigorously defended the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts.

Despite repeated court rulings that the gerrymandering is unconstitutional, Hall said otherwise. Fortunately, his remarks were recorded on video, which you can see here.

And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.” – Destin Hall

He was asked by an audience member, “What would you do to fix the gerrymandering problem in this state?”

Hall responds, “So in my opinion, partisan redistricting is what the Constitution calls for.”

NC Nothing comparesHe then continues speaking, making unsupported claims of gerrymandering being historically constitutional, and essentially arguing that those opposing the GOP’s efforts in Raleigh are sore losers.

He also proudly states, “This is actually a topic I know something about.”

That’s because he, no doubt, like every Republican member of the General Assembly, saw no problem with drawing maps to exclude minorities and members of the opposition party. Hall’s comments that gerrymandering is legal is laughable, as you will obviously see in the video. More chilling though, is that Hall did what the GOP is becoming expert at. Telling the big lie.

He concluded his remarks by saying, “And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.”

The audience wasn’t buying it, as they responded with uproarious, spontaneous laughter.

Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter, but one can understand why the audience laughed in his face; it’s better than crying. Ironically, he smiles in response, either clueless or arrogant. The latter wouldn’t be surprising, as shortly after Republicans took control of the N.C. General Assembly in 2011, courts ruled they gerrymandered districts along racial lines. Then, earlier this year, by their own admission, Republicans were again found to have gerrymandered districts unconstitutionally, this time along party lines. Indeed, if you will look up the phrase North Carolina unconstitutional gerrymandering on the Internet, you will discover at least 86 articles written about these and other cases since the 2010 takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly by Republicans, including this one that ranks our state just above Cuba as a “deeply flawed democracy.”

NC State MottoThis can be reversed though. Early voting begins next Wednesday, Oct. 17. It is time for our state’s leaders to live by its motto – “To be, rather than to seem.” The Republican Party in North Carolina clearly doesn’t believe that.

I think our people do though. If you agree, you might want to take a look at Hall’s challenger, teacher Amanda Bregel.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018


Amanda Bregel Looks to Represent Caldwell County in NCGA

Fourth generation teacher motivated by concern for students and families, enjoys strong volunteer support

LENOIR, N.C.Amanda Bregel, a teacher of English and Caldwell County Studies for sophomores at the CCC&TI Early College High School, is looking to unseat Destin Hall in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). Hall represents House District 87, which includes all of Caldwell County.

Amanda BregelBregel, a Democrat and quick learner supported by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, is undaunted by the task of trying to unseat a Republican incumbent in Caldwell County, where the GOP enjoys a significant voter registration margin. Referring to questions about her experience to challenge Hall and serve if elected, her answer could be that of any teacher: Anybody that can successfully manage a classroom of 20 students, work a 12-hour day and have a 10-minute lunch break can handle just about anything. Indeed, Bregel has proven she does indeed manage a classroom well, for she has been Teacher of the Year and earned a Teacher’s Fellowship.

Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all teachers. In fact, her great-grandmother taught in a one-room school house. She emphasizes the importance of being a lifelong learner, so it’s not surprising that she had many thoughtful insights when I sat down with her earlier this week for the following interview.

Q: Why have you decided to seek this office?

A: I am running to stand up for my students and families because I spend everyday to help the children in our county. My fellow teachers and I do what we can to provide for the children with so little. I realized I could help them not only in my classroom, but also another way – by influencing the laws that impact our students. I have the knowledge about our needs and want to have influence on the state budget, as 50 percent of the state’s budget goes to education and 65 percent of the budget for Caldwell County Schools comes from the state.

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: If elected, what would be your legislative priorities?

A: People. I am focused on supporting people, so I’m focused on education, healthcare, and rural support. We must also ensure that we have a transparent state government.

I would vote to expand Medicaid to help with the opioid crisis and address many of the health issues, such as cancer rates. To me supporting the rural community means paying attention to NCDOT decisions early and speaking up when laws favor big business. This means supporting environmental protections since so much of our county is rural, natural beauty.

Q: What would be your priorities for public schools, community colleges and our universities?

A: I will pay attention to their legislative priorities. I know the legislative priorities of CCC&TI and Caldwell County Schools (workforce development and teaching assistants, calendar autonomy, and money owed from the state). I support Governor Cooper’s initiative to make North Carolina a Top Ten Educated State by 2025 – emphasizing early childhood education, increasing enrollment in pre-kindergarten, improving our high school graduation rate and increasing the percentage of adults with a higher education degree. Although I work at the Early College High School, I do not believe all high school students in Caldwell County need to be enrolled at a four-year university after high school. We need to give teachers the breathing space to create relationships with students-at all levels so they can get to know children and help students figure out their strengths and possible career path. Apprenticeship programs are something so many businesses in this area are interested in, so why aren’t we developing these programs?

I think a teacher’s perspective is needed on the floor of the House. Right now, they can just look out the windows at teachers as they did earlier this year. With teachers in office, they will have to listen to people with experience in the classroom.

Q: Do you support term limits for legislators?

A: No. Term limits can be seen as a way to limit the people’s vote. The people aren’t choosing their representative if he or she is being forced to retire. What I really believe that legislators who have been in office should be doing is “building a bench” as they say or finding and strengthening the next generation of leaders instead of staying in office for so long. You don’t want all of your experience leaving office and leaving only the lobbyists, full of knowledge about their cause and no cap on their number of years in the job, ready to influence new politicians. I do support more voter education and new legislation on campaign finance and transparency.

Q: If you were to give a “The State of North Carolina” speech, what would you say?

A: The North Carolina Constitution directs the governor come to the legislature to “give to the General Assembly information of the affairs of the State and recommend to their considerations such measures as he shall deem expedient.” Right now, what would be really expedient is to support the people. We can only really support the people by working together. North Carolina is represented equally by both political sides. We should be a beacon of bi-partisanship. We must praise examples of bi-partisanship, reach out and stop blaming each other’s parties.

Q: What is your vision for Caldwell County and North Carolina?

A: My vision for Caldwell County is a place where we can preserve our heritage and natural beauty while also providing people with the tools and support they need to thrive. I want us to keep growing and improving. I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life. My vision is a county where these hard-working visionaries have the tools they need from the state and county to complete their projects and we can foster partnerships to benefit the people.

Q: There is no denying that the furniture industry was the primary driving force in Caldwell County’s economic development during the 20th Century. However, it also created a mono-economy that essentially caused great distress to the county in the 1990s because of NAFTA and other trade agreements passed by Congress. What can you do in the North Carolina General Assembly do to insulate communities throughout our state from this happening again?

A: This ties into the education question because we need to emphasize a diverse education and completing a program that trains you for a job in our area. We must adopt Skills-Based approach to fulfilling workplace needs. There are jobs available here, but can we house people so they live in Caldwell and invest here? Can we train them to fill those jobs and be able to provide for their families? We can if we keep using incentives from the state to bring in businesses like the building reuse program, which has been used in over 30 projects since 2006 and the OneNC Fund from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Q: From its inception, when Lenoir was known as Tucker’s Barn, music has been an important part of the city’s culture and growth. Doc Watson was heavily influential in the city, and the city and county has and continues to produce hundreds of musicians (as demonstrated by the success of the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase and Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention). Are you committed to champion and fund the arts community in the NCGA? How?

The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

A: Yes. Arts in schools is a big need. We must protest when cuts to arts come up. We need to recognize the impact the arts have on our state’s economy. The creative industry contributes to North Carolina beyond our economy. Value creativity is essential to our quality of life, appreciation of our heritage, and pride in our community identity. The arts, history, and libraries are integral to our strong education programs and unique sense of place. So, I will strongly support the North Carolina Arts Council.

Q: About 20 years ago, the EDC brought in local consultants to help the county after the furniture industry abandoned it. One of the key points these outsiders identified was the appearance of the county, in particularly abandoned buildings. Yet still today, there are dozens of large abandoned factories and other businesses. It would seem this problem has been kicked down the road during that time. What can you do in the NCGA do to mitigate the effect of so many shuttered and dilapidated buildings and businesses?

A: A lot of our vacant buildings are superfund sites, so I support economic cleanup and environmental protections. They are dangerous and are health, safety and environmental concerns. I am proud that the City of Lenoir is working to get grants to clean up superfund sites. Still, vacant buildings are a concern, especially since it costs so much for a city to demolish a site and that’s taxpayer money for a site owned by a business or person. I’ve learned it costs about $10,000 just to demolish a vacant home.

As a member of the NCGA I would vote to re-fund the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and reinstate regulations that were rolled back the last few years. We can follow the lead of towns in other states that are using grants from environmental groups to knock down vacant houses. We can also capitalize on technology to find abandoned buildings and owners. We must make businesses responsible for the messes they make so that 50 years down the road the next generation isn’t dealing with the problems we are creating today like we are.

I tell my students that Caldwell County is a special place because there are so many people here working so diligently to improve daily life.

Q: Western North Carolina continues to grow as a tourist destination. What can you do in the NCGA do to ensure that it is a community that not only benefits from this growth, but helps facilitate it?

A: We should not always indulge the tourism industry right away. They don’t always have the best intentions for small towns like ours at heart. I will do all I can to make sure projects like the 321 superstreet doesn’t leave Caldwell behind. Becoming more involved with the NCDOT however I can is going to be a big priority. Communities know their needs, so as the representative I should vote for ours, not along party lines. Protecting our environment also helps with Western North Carolina tourism.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like voters to know that I have not asked?

A: Yes. I know as a teacher you never know what your day is going to bring. I’m not used to having a lunch break. I work every moment of my day for other people. Teachers work a 12-hour day. I will work!

Also, as a teacher I am a constant learner. You can only be a good teacher if you are constantly learning. The same is true with our state representative.

Amanda for NC House jpgWant to know more? Visit:


 © Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Monday Musings

Views on relevant stuff by the Curmudgeon-in-Chief

LENOIR, N.C. – Well, didn’t we have an interesting week last week? So, lets start with the obvious …

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin Tosses Principles Aside – Again

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School several years ago, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin promised to work towards reasonable controls regarding access to guns, such as background checks at gun shows. That is until the NRA reminded him who was who in the zoo. So, he caved in, clearly more concerned about re-election than the lives of children.

Joe Manchin


Well, he’s done it again in voting to seat Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court. Manchin briefly achieved his objective – his poll numbers improved a bit in his re-election bid again Tea Party tool Patrick Morrisey. That won’t last though. He has betrayed the Constitution and spit in the face of women.

Manchin has made a terrible misjudgment. He thinks that by siding with Donald Trump – who visits West Virginia regularly to campaign for Morrisey – he will be re-elected. He won’t. Nor does he deserve to be.

His “family tradition” has not been to help the people of West Virginia. His daughter, Heather Bresch, is the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the company that raised the cost of EpiPens by 400 percent. She would not have that job if not for her dad’s connections and a questionable resume. West Virginia University cast doubt upon her claim that she had a master’s degree from the state’s flagship university. You can read about it all here.

Manchin has a net worth of over $3 million and has investments in the coal industry. In light of today’s report that we are literally killing the world (and hence ourselves) because of our addiction to fossil fuels, his wealth and ties to the coal industry reveal a man devoted to one cause – himself.

WV State sealPatrick Morrissey – like all Tea Party tools – is not good for America. They are the modern version of the Flat Earth Society.

Nevertheless, it’s time for the voters of West Virginia to retire Manchin. He certainly does not represent the people or state motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Indeed, the opposite is true. He is a slave to power; as such, he has betrayed his calling to represent the people of West Virginia.

Missing the Greatest Generation

I am again reading “The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections” by Tom Brokaw. The follow-up to “The Greatest Generation,” Brokaw said the second book came about because of “ … the avalanche of letters and responses touched off by that (first) book.” The generation of my late mom and dad truly was our nation’s greatest. What made them so? A common purpose. A belief that good must triumph over evil, but to do so requires tremendous sacrifice by people. It doesn’t just randomly happen.

My generation has, in short order, undone much of the miracles performed by our parents. We are not the greatest country in the world. Not even close. As we see in this iconic scene from the TV show “The Newsroom” starring Jeff Daniels, “It sure used to be … (but) America’s not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

We have failed our parents. We have failed our nation. We won’t sacrifice because we don’t even agree anymore what the United States stands for. As Abraham Lincoln said two years before being elected president, “A nation divided against itself, cannot stand.”

We owe our parents – and our children and grandchildren – more than “working for the weekend.” Leisure has its place. However, it can quickly devolve into apathy, especially if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the toys and gadgets we accumulate.

Enough. It’s time for us to grow up. That means we are going to have to fight evil just like our parents did. Only this time, the enemy is within – in the Oval Office. The first challenge is to recognize the evil. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking. The second – and this is imperative – is to challenge and defeat Donald Trump peacefully and constitutionally.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call mom or dad to seek their wisdom. But, there are no telephones in heaven. However, Tom Brokaw has done us a great service in capturing their voices and the sacrifices they made without complaint. I suggest you pick up a copy.

On the Brink

On the Brink of EverythingSpeaking of books, one of my dearest and oldest friends makes sure my library continues to expand. So in my mail last week was, “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old” by Parker J. Palmer. I have just begun reading it, and it’s slow going because of the time spent underlining sentences, circling words and writing notes in the margin. In it, Palmer writes, “When young and old are connected like the poles of a battery, the power that’s released enlivens both parties and helps light up the world.”

I can testify to that. Most of my friends are in their 20s and 30s, introduced to me by our 30-something children. They brighten my world. They challenge my thinking. They respectfully listen!

However, there is darkness in the conversations. They are concerned about the future. Again, as we learned today, we are on the brink of extinction if we don’t address climate change. Hence, we might be well served to ponder this insight from Palmer: “But isn’t it possible we’re on the brink of flying free, or discovering something of beauty, or finding peace and joy”? Though he is referring to our last season of life, he could just as easy be referring to our nation; we are indeed, “on the brink.” My artistic, musical and philosophical young friends understand that. They, as a lot, remain hopeful.

I, however, can’t say the same. Experience or pessimism? I don’t know. I would like to believe that the optimism in Palmer’s outlook is applicable to our current national crises, and is well-founded. That, however, requires the end of tribalism and an embracing – not just tolerance – of the “other.” There are few signs of that though. Still, I look for the signs of us being on the brink of a revival of civility and cooperation. But I do so with quite low expectations.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. 

The Spirit and Beauty of Ireland coming to North Carolina Foothills

Caldwell Art Council’s newest exhibit ‘Double Vision: Artists in Ireland’ opens Friday

An additional exhibit, ‘Correspondence: A Postcards Show,’ is included; sales benefit the CAC

LENOIR, N.C. – Two exhibitions and an artist talk are opening at the Caldwell Arts Council (CAC) this Friday, Oct. 5.

“Double Vision: Artists in Ireland” will feature North Carolina artists Jean Cauthen and Diane Pike. Cauthen, a professor as well as a painter, is from Charlotte. Pike is from Denver.

The other exhibit, “Correspondence: A Postcards Show” is an artist invitational with each exhibiting artist creating one or two works of art utilizing a 4” x 6” substrate, with all sales of postcards artwork benefitting the CAC.

Oct 18 exhibit Cauthen on left Pike on Right

Jean Cauthen (left), and Diane Pike painting in Ireland. Courtesy photo.

The exhibitions begin with an artist talk by Cauthen at 4:30 Friday afternoon, followed by a reception hosted by the Lenoir Service League from 5 to 7. In her talk, “From Studio to Suitcase,” Cauthen presents the pleasures and humorous perils of art travel. With examples of Degas in New Orleans and Monet in Venice she explores the effects of travel on an artist’s body of work. In her own work, she demonstrates how Irish Scones, Guinness, and Pub Theatre have swayed her own dubious artistic choices.

Cauthen holds an MFA in Painting and Drawing from James Madison University, a BFA in Painting and Drawing from East Carolina University, and a BA in Writing and Editing from North Carolina State University. She has 20 years of college level teaching experience including courses in Painting, Art History, and Creativity. She also leads groups to Italy for landscape painting and Art History. Cauthen is currently and adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she teaches Painting, Drawing, and Art History.

In an artist’s statement, Cauthen offers a testimonial to the influence of the Olive Stack Gallery residency upon her art. If follows:

There is not a single Olive Stack Artist who does not conclude their residency believing that the town of Listowel may be the most magical place on earth! The warmth of the residents, the beauty of the streets, surroundings and Olive herself serve as inspiration and balm for any creative spirit. 

Artists reside in a cozy, beautifully appointed apartment situated above the gallery and in the center of the bustling town. One of the great joys of the month is to merely sit with a cup of tea overlooking the ‘small square,’ In this spot, dubbed “window theater,” you can watch as shops open and life bustles through the streets. 

It has been my great fortune to be able to count many of those who bustle through as ‘good friends.’ The luxury of having a month-long stay is the opportunity of working daily to grow your artwork. As a plein air painter, every session of painting the streets of Listowel or the Cliffs of Ballybunion, builds on the previous session. Upon return to the studio (part of the apartment), I can place the artwork on the ledge and see progression and clear areas to work on during the next painting session. Also, with a month of work, I did not consider each work as precious, knowing I would be back that next day to have another ‘go’ at it. With this, I felt free to take risks and try new approaches. 

Because of the residency, Ireland and Listowel have become a part of my own yearly rhythms. After three years of returning to Listowel, I must consider whether I teach, paint, tour, or simply ‘hang out’ with my -now-friends, is my only question. Whether I return or not is not even a question. This is what the Olive Stack Residency has meant to this little painter.

Pike was born in Iowa and moved to Boulder, Colo. at an early age. Boulder was home for 50 years until the Lake Norman area became her residence in late 2008. Pike graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1975 with a focus on graphic design and printmaking. She took her first painting class in 2002, learning the Henry Hensche tradition – The Art of Color Seeing – studying the effect that light has on color. This approach fuels Pike’s paintings and infuses them with saturated color and abstract shapes. She paints full-time at her Lake Norman studio and teaches several workshops a year throughout the United States and Ireland. She is a Signature Member of Plein Air Artists Colorado and of the Pastel Society of Colorado, and a member of the Piedmont Pastel Society in North Carolina.

Caldwell Arts councilThe exhibitions continue through the end of November. The Caldwell Arts Council presents the arts in all its forms to the people of Caldwell County. Located at 601 College Avenue in Lenoir, the Caldwell Arts Council is open Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Courtesy submission. 

Monday Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief

Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot

LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …

Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?

In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.

Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.

Mon rant 1 sharon-mccutcheon-665638-unsplash

I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.

It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.

So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!

Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un

George Barrick

Lt. George M. Barrick Jr.

Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.

What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:

Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).

You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.

WV State sealNorth Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?

Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”

Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).

Easier is not Always Better

This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence. 

“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn. 

But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Catholic Committee of Appalachia Calls for Full Investigation of West Virginia Diocese

In wake of Bishop Michael Bransfield scandal, group calls for ‘specific, achievable actions’

CCA also claims that Archbishop Lori cannot be trusted to be an impartial investigator

By Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va. – As the Roman Catholic Church reels from new revelations of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, thousands of Catholics from various corners of the church have loudly demanded the mass resignation and/or dismissal of U.S. bishops in order to “clean house.” In the midst of this turmoil, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston offered his resignation to Pope Francis, not as penance, but in the manner customary for bishops who have reached the age of 75. (Bransfield turned 75 on September 8th.)

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in a matter of days and appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore as temporary administrator of the Diocese. Further, the Vatican charged Lori with the task of conducting an investigation of Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults.

Jeannie headshot

Jeannie Kirkhope

The swift acceptance of Bransfield’s resignation and subsequent investigation is not surprising. Abuse allegations have haunted Bransfield, resurfacing most recently during the criminal trial of Catholic priests in Philadelphia in 2012. But more, Bransfield’s lavish lifestyle and flaunted political allegiances marked his episcopacy with signs of clerical privilege and entitlement that are the root cause of abuse by members of the priesthood, including sexual misconduct.

As lay leaders who represent many Catholics in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, we certainly welcome a full investigation into any alleged sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield, both during and before his time as Bishop. We also urge an investigation into the unresolved allegations of past behavior while working in a Philadelphia high school and into his time serving as a senior cleric in Washington D.C. under the leadership of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including any knowledge Bransfield had of McCarrick’s abusive behavior.

Nevertheless, we have serious reservations as to whether Archbishop Lori would be an impartial party to head up such an investigation, having been Bransfield’s guest at a “Red Mass” celebrated for lawyers and government officials in January 2017. Ordinary lay Catholics and women religious from the state should be an integral part of any internal church investigation. Most importantly, beyond a church investigation, all files related to allegations against Bransfield must be turned over to the proper civil authorities.

Michael Iafrate headshot

Michael J. Iafrate

Those familiar with sex abuse in the Catholic Church know that Bransfield’s alleged actions are likely the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Catholics gathered at St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling to discuss the abuse crisis. Comments given there by diocesan spokespeople (including diocesan attorney James Gardill) signaled deeply entrenched defensiveness, denial, and an accusatory posture toward “the media” as supposed “persecutors” of the Catholic Church. The claim was repeatedly made that this diocese has not been affected by sexual abuse as “other dioceses” have. Claims that minimize abuse have almost always been proven false, most recently in the Diocese of Buffalo where the opening of diocesan secret archives revealed over double the previously self-reported number.

Church and civil investigations must go beyond Bransfield and open the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston itself to deeper scrutiny. In the strongest terms possible, we urge the Diocese to implement the following specific, achievable actions:

  • publish the names of credibly accused abuser priests, religious, and lay pastoral workers on the diocesan website (dwc.org);
  • willingly open diocesan records related to sex abuse to State and/or Federal authorities before any inevitable forced investigation takes place;
  • apologize for the past statements of diocesan spokespeople which accuse secular media of inventing and/or exaggerating the severity of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church;
  • denounce the continued scapegoating of gay priests relative to sexual abuse; and,
  • establish a permanent system for diocesan staff and clergy to speak up without retaliation.

The legacy Bransfield leaves to West Virginia is uncertain, and ambiguous at best. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s handling of the allegations against Michael Bransfield will shape the church’s legacy as well, speaking volumes about what kind of church we want to be and whether we really want to break with the destructive and abusive clericalism of the past. Together with other concerned Catholics, we raise our voices in faith and in hope for truth, transparency and accountability in the church we love, and for the justice and healing of her abuse survivors.

© Catholic Committee of Appalachia, 2018. Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate are the Co-Coordinators, Catholic Committee of Appalachia



First Bands of Rain from Florence Arrive Softly in WNC

Deceptively gentle rain, light wind gusts first indicators of monster storm

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – The first bands of rain from Tropical Storm Florence began dropping gentle rain and rustling trees with light wind gusts shortly after noon here today.

Still, forecasters at Ray’s Weather Center point out that the likelihood of heavy rain tonight and tomorrow along with life-threatening flash flooding remains. Rainfall amounts could range from 2 to 10 inches, with areas south and east of the Blue Ridge Escarpment most at risk. This includes the northern half of Caldwell County.

Today, however, felt much like a spring rain, so I got out to take a few photos during the “calm before the storm.”

Do not be deceived though. Take all of the precautions that emergency preparedness officials issue. Remember, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.


Flowers at the J.E. Broyhill Walking park soak up the first raindrops from Florence


The ducks found the park pretty much to themselves

Hibriten Mtn

Clouds swirl around Hibriten Mountain

Walking park lake

Gentle rain falls on the lake at J.E. Broyhill Walking park


Wheeler’s Book a Colorful Appalachian Narrative

Many stories, but one theme – relationships are everything

LENOIR, N.C. – Recently, as I wrote, I had the opportunity to hear Billy Edd Wheeler of Swannanoa, N.C. tell one story after another, many which are straight out of his book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly’s poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale to Writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Wheeler CoverThe title’s a mouthful, but it’s appropriate, because so is every page; one sometimes wants to take a breath for Mr. Wheeler as he – with the wide-eyed excitement of a child – takes you on his journeys. An excellent story-teller – whether through songs, poetry, plays, books or simply sitting on a stage – Wheeler’s tales and songs have universal appeal. Some for their humor, some for their somber reality, and some because of Wheeler’s genuinely positive outlook on life. It seems he has been determined – whether consciously or not – to learn from every traumatic life event how to survive, even persevere.

From his simple beginnings in the deep hollows of Highcoal, W.Va., to his journeys through Nashville, New York and other places near and far and then settling in Swannanoa, Mr. Wheeler teaches an important lesson – a successful life is relationship-based. Every story Wheeler tells of his next step of success, is also the story of the person(s) that helped make that step possible.

Though clearly a motivated, talented and determined individual, Mr. Wheeler’s story is not one of self-reliance; rather, it is an account of the importance of learning from elders and working to establish and maintain lifelong relationships. There are dozens of stories of his friendships with famous people, perhaps most notably Chet Atkins and Janis Ian. There are far too many too name, but Mr. Wheeler’s view of the Nashville music scene – whether from a golf course or recording studio – provides fascinating insight into how the artist’s work must always be balanced with marketability anxieties. Because of raw talent and a congenial personality, Mr. Wheeler has aptly negotiated both worlds. Hence, his book reads like a textbook for the musician aspiring to write or perform at the highest levels.


Billy Edd Wheeler

It is also simply a narrative of a remarkable life. Mr. Wheeler’s artistic endeavors have often been interspersed with leadership positions with numerous organizations. His endless curiosity has ensured that he had multiple vocational experiences and opportunities. Those, in turn, informed the next steps in his life. In short, he has been a determined steward of his time and talents. He certainly values leisure, especially at 85, but throughout his life has never turned down a challenge.

Those interested in nearly century-old recollections of life in the coalfields of southern West Virginia will value Mr. Wheeler’s tales from his childhood, even the unpleasant ones. The challenge of bouncing from place to place during unstable periods in his childhood, and how he was determined to pave his own path through it all, is inspirational for readers of any age.

At the end, he thanks several people, including his wife Mary, “… for adding humor to the project by telling people I’m writing a book of fiction and calling it a memoir.” I suspect there is truth in both; that’s what makes for a great story-teller. Besides, one of the sweetest – and sometimes orneriest – thread through the book is the story of the lifelong love-affair between Billy Edd and Mary. They wouldn’t still be married after 55 years if either lacked a good sense of humor.

It’s worth a read to decide for yourself whether it’s fiction, a memoir, or something in between. You can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain, N.C.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

North Carolina Law Enforcement Wrong to Target Pipeline Opponents

It is Duke, Dominion and EQT that are terrorizing people

By Michael M. Barrick


Myra Bonhage-Hale, then of Alum Bridge, W.Va. holds signs with questions she had for Console about pipelines. This “activist” eventually moved out of state.

RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit has conducted a “threat assessment” of opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which is scheduled to be built in eastern North Carolina, according to North Carolina Policy Watch: “State Bureau of Investigation unit prepared “threat assessment” of Atlantic Coast Pipeline protestors.”

According to the article, “The state’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC), warned law enforcement officials that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could attract “violent extremists” who are opposed to the natural gas project in North Carolina … .” If approved, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run more than 170 miles through North Carolina roughly parallel with I-95 east of Raleigh.

The law enforcement analysis could not be more misguided.


Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County, W.Va. He became an “activist” to protect hundreds of acres of his pristine land.

There are terrorists involved in fracking and related pipeline development – if that’s the word the law enforcement wishes to use – but they are not the opponents to the pipeline; rather the ones terrorizing people and the environment are the corporations building the pipelines. These include Duke Energy of Charlotte, Dominion Resources of Richmond, and EQT of Pittsburgh. The latter company is the primary developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), another controversial pipeline being built through West Virginia and Virginia.

The ISAAC would be well served to listen to this excellent interview of Ellen M. Gilmer, a legal reporter with E&E News by West Virginia Public Radio. Gilmer offers an analysis of the court battles involving both pipelines. One listening to it will see that pipeline opponents don’t have to resort to “terrorism.” Why? They are enjoying many victories in state and federal courts. Victories, in fact, that for now have shut construction of the pipelines down.

Opponents are not wide-eyed radicals and Gilmer knows it. How do I know? In 2015, I gave her a tour of the area in northern West Virginia where both pipelines originate. While living and reporting from there, I was covering construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering line, a 36” diameter, 55-mile pipeline. Because it did not cross state boundaries, it did not need federal approval. Nevertheless, the pipeline’s builders were terrorizing people along the entire route.


Justin McClain (L) listens as his father, Robert talks about the damage to their crops done by the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline

As I took Ms. Gilmer around, I introduced her to the people most impacted by that project and introduced her to others whose land is threatened by the ACP and/or MVP. You’d have to ask her yourself, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t meet anyone that could be construed as a terrorist.

But, this is what she did see (or hear about because of time constraints):

  • A farmer in Doddridge County whose crops were destroyed because of improper erosion controls upstream during pipeline construction
  • Sick people throughout Doddridge County
  • The local newspaper is owned, literally, by gas and oil company owners
  • Citizens injured and killed by industry trucks
  • Residents leaving the state

These are just but a few examples. There are several more links at the end of this article. However, one moment stands out for me. It was at an event where the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement teamed up to intimidate local citizens simply curious about the pipelines as they were first announced. It was then that I knew the fix was in. The corporations got to the legislators, who then pressured law enforcement. Now it’s happening in North Carolina. It is beyond unnecessary – it is chilling.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also leaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

Failed erosion control 1

Failed erosion control on construction of Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline in West Virginia Photo by Autumn Bryson

Pipeline construction

Fracking and pipeline construction are inexorably linked. Without fracking, there is no need for a pipeline. With fracking, all the risks associated with pipeline construction serve only to aggravate the impact of the process. So, there are many good reasons (see next section below) for people to oppose the ACP and MVP. The ACP is the longest, at more than 600 miles, terminating in Robeson County, N.C.

The companies seeking approval to build the ACP have harassed land owners wishing to protect their land from the devastation that would be caused by the ACP construction, not to mention the potential danger it poses for those living alongside of it. Having learned of what the people along the proposed ACP route have endured in West Virginia and Virginia, it is clear that the people of North Carolina need political leaders who will defend them, not consider them threats.

Fracking impacts and risks (Or ‘A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking’)

Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:

  1. Public Health Issues
  2. Water Use and Contamination
  3. Radioactivity
  4. Air Pollution
  5. Waste Disposal
  6. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
  7. Misuse of Eminent Domain
  8. Climate Change
  9. Traffic Congestion
  10. Potential Earthquakes
  11. Industry Instability

The people experiencing these events and tactics do not sound like terrorists. They sound like people who are being terrorized.


A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime.

Crony capitalism

This is not new to the fossil fuel industry. A century ago, during the West Virginia Mine Wars, as the coal companies worked to keep the unions out of the coal fields, they hired Baldwin-Felts detectives to brutalize the miners and their families. The companies also ensured that local law enforcement did their bidding.

Perhaps the most famous of these “lawmen” was Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County, W.Va., during the Mine Wars. According to the West Virginia Archives and History website, “In 1921, he mobilized a small army of deputies – later formally organized into the militia by order of the governor – which met the union organizers in skirmishes at Blair Mountain on the Boone – Logan county border and in the Crooked Creek section. Thousands of shots were fired and much blood shed but there were relatively few casualties. Once source says 47 were killed and more than 100 injured.

“Mingo County then the center of organizing activity, was under martial law. Union miners in Kanawha heard rumors that their comrades to the south were being mistreated. That started their march south through Boone and Logan. On their way they planned to break down Chafin’s non-union stronghold. Their favorite marching song was “Hang Don Chafin to a Sour Apple Tree.’”

ISAAC’s snooping proves beyond any doubt that efforts by the fossil fuel industry to get the likes of Don Chafin to do their bidding here and now remains alive and well. 

The proper response – A moratorium on fracking

Clearly, despite industry claims, it has much to prove before we can consider fracking and related pipeline development safe. So, the only option is to operate according to the Precautionary Principle. The Science & Environmental Health Network says about the Precautionary Principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

Based on this definition, the only proper response is a moratorium on fracking. A moratorium remains in place only so long as the burden of proof has not been met. Should the industry, as some point in the future, demonstrate that fracking does not pose a threat to public health and the environment, the moratorium could be lifted.

OVEC child with bloody nose

Children suffering nosebleeds is just one public health hazard in fracking zones

Add me to the list

I’m a pipeline opponent. I’ve never pretended otherwise. My writing has been focused on holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the death and destruction it has caused in Appalachia and beyond. But, I’ve never touched a soul, never issued a threat, never trespassed, never polluted streams or any of the other numerous horrors the fracking industry has done.

What I have done is exercise my First Amendment rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Motivated and informed by my understanding of liberation theology, I have spoken and written against fracking and related pipeline development. I’ve been part of demonstrations of assembly. In short, I’ve been one of thousands of pipeline opponents who have legally and appropriately petitioned the Government.

So, if that puts me on a threat assessment watch list, then add me to the list and watch away. I’m quite familiar with the fossil fuel industry’s tactics. The ISAAC list is one I’d be proud to be on. But it won’t stop me or any other pipeline opponents. Why? Because we understand that it is time that the people – not crony capitalists – run our state and nation.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Curry Hedge and Johnson at conference

About 50 pipeline activists gathered peacably at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia gathering in April 2015 in Charleston, W.Va. Here, Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Other articles I’ve written about the Fossil Fuel Extraction Industry

ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Costs Outweigh Benefits, Claims Independent Study

Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Citizen Groups Organizing in Response to Fracking

Citizen Groups to Unite for Water Justice in West Virginia and Beyond

Clarksburg Newspaper Editorial an Affront to West Virginians

Dominion is a Bully, not a Community Builder

Ecological Monitoring Group Challenges Virginia Governor to be Transparent about Pipeline Deliberations

Environmental Scientists, Activist Applaud Mountain Valley Pipeline Ruling

EQT Letter Characterized as Misleading and Bullying

Factual Reporting is not Always Balanced

Feeding the Military Monster

FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

Fracking Forum a Time to Learn, Unify and Act

Groups Work to Bring the Public Voice into Gas Pipeline Projects

Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

Incompetence and Complacency Increase Dangers from Fracking

Is This Fair?

Jury in Pennsylvania Fracking Case Sees Clear Value in Lives and Property

Learning by Listening

Lewis County Resident Issues a Plea: Wake up West Virginia

Natural Gas Industry Moves from the Absurd to the Profane

Natural Gas Pipelines, the Drumbeats of War and Our Sense of Entitlement

OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

Poor Emergency Planning in West Virginia Puts Citizens at Risk

Proposed ‘New” Route for Atlantic Coast Pipeline no Better than One Rejected, Say Opponents

Putting Liberation Theology to Practice in Appalachia

Reluctant Activist

Seeking Dominion over His Own Land

Standing Their Ground

The ‘Deceived God’

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Virginia Officials Agree to Demands from Advocacy Group about Pipeline Deliberations

Voices out of the Wilderness

West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA

West Virginia Residents in Heart of Fracking Field Join in National Action

West Virginians and Pennsylvanians Standing in Solidarity Against Natural Gas Industry

West Virginia’s Top Story in 2015: People and Land under Assault

Why People Deny Global Warming Clues

WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

‘You Make Us Want To Leave’

Sweet Serendipity

Up close and personal with Appalachian legends

Note: This is the seventh installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

Wheeler Cover

Cover of Billy Edd Wheeler’s newest work

BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Considering the number of times that our family has seen Kathy Mattea in concert, it is a wonder that she does not have a restraining order against us. We behave, but we are enthusiastic. So, you can appreciate my delight at finding out that Ms. Mattea was going to be in Black Mountain this past Saturday at a legendary listening room, the White Horse Black Mountain.

My wife and I had a rare, impromptu opportunity to scoot out for a date, so I was snooping around on the web (it does have its value) and typed in her name. Up came up an event posting with this sign:

Wheeler Sign

White Horse Black Mountain marquee

Immediately, I realized this wasn’t “simply” a Kathy Mattea concert; in addition, there was going to be Appalachian story-telling. As the marquee said in shorthand, Ms. Mattea was going to be there to converse with Billy Edd Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler, 85, had written songs that Ms. Mattea used on her album “Coal,” released in 2008. Three of the eleven songs were written by Mr. Wheeler – “Red Winged Blackbird,” “Coal Tattoo,” and “The Coming of the Roads.” The lyrics to Wheelers’ songs (and the others) can be found here. You can listen to Ms. Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo.”

Indeed, when that album was released, we saw Ms. Mattea in concert. That is one of the joys of her albums and concerts. They are often thematic, but she doesn’t forget what other songs her fans love. In any event, when I looked at the lineup, I knew we were in for a treat even better than a concert. We were going to hear from Appalachian artistic legends – if I could get tickets.

So, I called and was fortunate enough to score two of the last tickets. Sweet serendipity was in play now, so I was beginning to have a peaceful, anticipatory sense of what awaited us.

My instincts or whatever you care to call them were spot on. Douglas Orr, the president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, moderated a conversation with Mr. Wheeler about his new book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Mr. Wheeler attended Warren Wilson on his winding path to Yale and a lifetime of writing hits for Appalachian legends. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wheeler has written hits for Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Kenny Rogers and others.

He now lives in Swannanoa, N.C., but like Ms. Mattea, is a West Virginia native. So, the conversation meandered between the history and music of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Allegheny Plateau that constitutes much of West Virginia. He and Ms. Mattea discussed with compassion and wisdom the complexity of singing about coal mining, alluding to the love/hate relationship that so many mountaineers have with coal. If you’d like more insight on that, read the “Coal” liner notes by Homer Hickam, another West Virginia native who grew up in coal country (Coalwood). He gained fame for his book, “Rocket Boys” about growing up in late 1950s West Virginia. It was made into the movie, “October Sky.”

White Horse Banner 938 b

It was a lovely diversion, much like slowly chugging down a gravel road is from the insanity of interstate driving. In other words, it was a great stop along the Hillbilly Highway. I suspect that if during your travels you happen to run into any of the folks we saw Saturday night, you will understand why I consider being called a hillbilly a compliment and a term of endearment.

Mr. Wheeler was understated – humble – in his responses, but he was also typically blunt, a trait not uncommon to West Virginians. Ms. Mattea, meanwhile also exemplified Mountaineer humility, demonstrating once again why we love her so. She is releasing her newest album, “Pretty Bird” on Sept. 7, though she’ll be previewing it on Mountain State at the closing of the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, W.Va on Aug. 11. She never once mentioned either the album or concert.

It was clear that she cared about one thing – letting the 200-plus folks in attendance know just what Billy Edd Wheeler meant to her and all of Appalachia.

High Coal WV

High Coal, W.Va. (top right hand corner) ©, 2015 DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer of West Virginia

So, all ears were perked as Mr. Wheeler talked about his youth in High Coal (or Highcoal, depending upon who is spelling it). Though now abandoned, it is seen on the map in Boone County, near the junction with Raleigh and Kanawha counties – the heart of the deep, dark coalfields of southern West Virginia. It is near here that the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred a century ago and where Bill Blizzard, Mother Jones and thousands of others risked their lives to unionize the mines.

Between stories, Ms. Mattea and the band Whitewater Bluegrass would play one of Mr. Wheeler’s tunes after he had shared the history of it.

Essentially, it was what was once a typical summer evening in Appalachia. No air conditioning, lots of tall tales, toe-tapping music on the front porch and – at our house anyway – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. 

Note: I have no quotes from last Saturday, because I was there to enjoy time with my wife, listen to story-telling and music, and drink beer. At that, I succeeded. However, I’m not good at multi-tasking, so I couldn’t take notes. So, I will eventually write a review of Mr. Wheeler’s book – between PBRs. Or, if you prefer, you can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain.