On March 31, 1863, Waitman T. Willey, one of the Mountain State’s first U.S. senators, wrote in his journal, “West Virginia is a Fixed Fact.”
West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center will revisit that assertion as they welcome the community to celebrate West Virginia’s 160th birthday June 20 at 1:30: p.m. in the Downtown Libraries’ Milano Reading Room.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill admitting West
Virginia to the Union on December 31, 1862. On March 26, 1863, West Virginia
ratified the revised constitution to include the gradual emancipation of
slaves. Lincoln proclaimed that West Virginia would officially be recognized as
the 35th state on June 20, 1863.
“The West Virginia and Regional History Center is excited to
mark West Virginia’s 160th birthday,” WVRHC Director Lori
Hostuttler said. “The day will honor a local history hero, showcase WVRHC
collections in an exhibit that tells the story of statehood, and feature a
speaker who offers new scholarship on the creation of the state. We invite the
public to join us and celebrate West Virginia’s unique history.”
The featured speaker is historian Dr. Scott MacKenzie,
author of “The Fifth Border State:
Slavery, Emancipation, and the Formation of West Virginia, 1829-1872.” MacKenzie
will discuss how slavery influenced the founding of the state.
“Contrary to long held belief, longstanding political, social and economic grievances did not motivate the northwestern counties to reject Virginia’s secession in 1861,” MacKenzie said. “I instead argue that its formation stemmed from the war and its main issue of slavery. Like the four other Border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, mostly conservative Unionists in northwestern Virginia heeded President Lincoln’s appeals to protect the institution and remained in the Union. They initially sought to form a new slave state. Yet, in early 1862, more radical Unionists took over the movement when Lincoln made emancipation a war aim. Their support for abolishing slavery led the President to reward West Virginia with its statehood.”
The program will also include a short ceremony to present Forest “Jack” Bowman with the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Historic Preservation Award.
Refreshments and birthday cake will be served at 1:30 p.m., and the speakers begin at 2 p.m. Immediately following the program, the WVRHC will open its latest exhibit, “West Virginia is a Fixed Fact,” which revisits the making of West Virginia with materials from the Center’s archival collections.
More information is available at wvrhc.lib.wvu.edu/events/west-virginia-day.