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A history lesson

Commentary: What Everyone Should Know About Reconstruction 150 Years After The 15th Amendment’s Ratification



Many African Americans made education a high priority after the Civil War. Photo: National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about Black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six decades after the time of enslavement. To me, this comment underscored how closely Americans associate black history with slavery.

While shocked, I knew this mistaken belief reflected the lack of time, depth and breadth schools devote to Black history. Most students get limited information and context about what African Americans have experienced since our ancestors arrived here four centuries ago. Without independent study, most adults aren’t up to speed either.

For instance, what do you know about Reconstruction?

I’m excited about new resources for teaching children, and everyone else, more about the history of slavery through The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” But based on my experience teaching social studies and my current work preparing social studies educators, I also consider understanding what happened during the Reconstruction essential for exploring Black power, resilience and excellence.

During that complex period after the Civil War, African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. I share the concerns many writers, historians and other scholars are raising about the shortcomings of what schoolchildren traditionally learn about Reconstruction in school. Here are some suggestions for educators and others interested in learning more about that time period.

Reconstruction amendments

As most students do learn, the U.S. gained three constitutional amendments that extended civil and political rights to newly freed African Americans following the Civil War.

The 13th, ratified in 1865, banned slavery and involuntary servitude except for the punishment of a crime.

The 14th, ratified three years later, granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all people born in the United States, as well as naturalized citizens – including all previously enslaved individuals.

Then, the 15th Amendment asserted that neither the federal government nor state governments could deny voting rights to any male citizen.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870. The anniversary is a good opportunity to learn about how the amendment was supposed to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

African Americans celebrated the 15th Amendment’s ratification. Photo: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

African American politicians

What few history and social studies classes explore is how these changes to the Constitution made it possible for African American men to use their newfound political power to gain representation.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator, represented Mississippi in 1870 after the state’s Senate elected him. He was among the 16 Black men from seven southern states who served in Congress during Reconstruction.

Revels and his colleagues were only part of the story. All told, about 2,000 African Americans held public office at some level of government during Reconstruction.

White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, Black voters and legislators. They thus made the accomplishments of African American politicians even more impressive as they served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence.

The first African American members of Congress were elected after the Civil War. Photo: Currier and Ives/Library of Congress

Black activist women

African American women technically gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. However, their constitutional right was limited in many states due to discriminatory laws.

Mary Church Terrell, an educator, fought for the rights of women of color. Photo: National Archives Docs Teach collection

Many Black women were activists and women’s suffrage movement leaders. Through public speaking, prolific writing and developing organizations dedicated to racial and gender equality, they fought for equal rights and dignity for all.

Among the Black women who were activists during Reconstruction were the five Rollins sisters of South Carolina, who fought for female voting rights; Maria Stewart, an outspoken abolitionist before the Civil War and suffragist once it ended; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first Black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper, one of the first Black female lawyers in the country and an advocate for granting women the right to vote.

Other women of color who played key roles in the suffrage movement included Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights advocate who raised awareness of lynching, and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women.

Higher education

Before the Civil War, many states made teaching enslaved individuals to read a crime. Education quickly became a top priority for Black Americans once slavery ended.

While northern, largely white philanthropists and missionary groups and the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, did help create new educational opportunities, the African American public schools established after the Civil War ended were largely built and staffed by the Black community.

Many new institutions of higher education, now called Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs, began to operate during Reconstruction.

These schools trained Black people to become teachers and ministers, doctors and nurses. They also prepared African Americans for careers in industrial and agricultural fields.

Public and private HBCUs founded during Reconstruction and still operating today include Howard University in Washington, D.C., Hampton University in Virginia, Alabama State University, Morehouse College in Georgia and Morgan State University in Maryland. These colleges and universities train a disproportionate share of black doctors and other professionals even today.

Morehouse graduates from the class of 2013 celebrated in the rain when President Obama delivered their commencement address. Photo: Pete Souza/Official White House Photo

Historical experiences

Storytelling, multimedia experiences and trips to historic sites and creative museums help get people of any age interested in learning about history.

Depending on where you live, you may want to embark on a family outing or school field trip.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has a new permanent exhibit on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, contains artifacts from the Reconstruction era. It’s also making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the names of formerly enslaved individuals following the Civil War, available online.

Another option is the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

I also recommend watching the PBS documentaries about Reconstruction by the scholar and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. and reading the young adult book Gates co-authored with children’s nonfiction writer Tonya Bolden about the era. Gates has also compiled a Reconstruction reading list for adults.

In addition, the organization Teaching for Change curates a booklist on Reconstruction for middle and high school students. And the Zinn Education Project Teach Reconstruction Campaign offers a variety of resources including readings, primary sources and even lesson plans.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.‘s documentary series delves into the history of what happened in America after the Civil War.

An incomplete transition

As the renowned Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois observed, racist laws and violent tactics in many states actively limited Black freedom.

“The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery,” he explained.

This was by no means voluntary. Intimidated and threatened by Black enfranchisement and excellence in the era of Reconstruction, white supremacists attempted to enforce subordination through violence, such as lynching; and in systemic ways through Jim Crow laws. African Americans continued to assert their civil and constitutional rights as activists, politicians, business owners, teachers and farmers in the midst of white supremacist backlash.

With the latest voter suppression efforts restricting access to the ballot box for voters of color and the resurgence of racist violence and vitriol today, DuBois’ words sound eerily familiar. At the same time, it’s reassuring to recall how quickly formerly enslaved African Americans made their way to schoolhouses and public offices.

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Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies, West Virginia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A history lesson

Two Decades Of Resistance: Coal River Mountain Watch Takes Stock At 20



Volunteers swim in Peachtree Falls after cleaning up trash in the nearby creek. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

This article was originally published by Ohio Valley ReSource.

Coal River Mountain Watch’s history of resistance to mountaintop coal mining is plastered across the wood-paneled walls of the group’s modest office in Raleigh County, West Virginia.

Framed photos, many of demonstrators being handcuffed, dot the walls. In the back of the building, a floor-to-ceiling length tapestry depicts the “true cost of coal” as envisioned by an activist volunteer group that created it. Pollution spews from a coal-fired power plant. A stream runs dirty. Anthropomorphic creatures take the place of humans.

Photos depicting Coal River Mountain Watch’s history of grassroots activism hang in the office. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

“Look for somebody with a bullhorn,” said Vernon Haltom. The current co-executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch is animated as he searches the tableau, his salt-and-pepper beard bobbing up and down. Near the bottom right-hand corner he spots an ant wearing a hard hat and carrying a bullhorn.

“I think of that one as Judy Bonds,” Haltom said. “She was a person with a bullhorn.”

The “insect Bonds” is surrounded by other activist creatures; a salamander holds a miniature wind turbine and bees flit around. This hive of activity is a tribute to the grassroots network of activists that formed in Appalachia in the 1990s and 2000s, largely to raise awareness of the health and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. The practice, which requires blowing the tops off mountains to reach the coal below, has disturbed an estimated 1.5 million acres, an area roughly the size of Delaware, and buried thousands of miles of streams.

This animation shows the expansion of surface mining’s footprint (displayed in yellow) from 1985 to 2015 for a 31,000 square kilometer sub-region of the study area in West Virginia and Kentucky, and has county boundaries visible. Credit: SkyTruth

Coal River Mountain Watch and Bonds were central figures in the movement.

“We had a lot of cross pollination of ideas and various tactics and things that we’ve tried and done in varying levels of success or frustration over the years,” Haltom said. “So many of these things are things that Judy Bonds had to say.”

A coal miner’s daughter and waitress at a local Pizza Hut, Bonds and her family were the last to evacuate from her own hometown of Marfork Hollow, which was surrounded by mountaintop removal. In 2003, she was awarded the Goldman Prize, often referred to as the green Nobel.

In her acceptance speech, Bonds spoke of using activism to break coal’s deep ties in Appalachia and to seek a better way of life for those living in the communities neighboring mining.

“Organize, educate, motivate, mentor young children,” she said. “Children take back your earth.”

Coal River Mountain Watch’s headquarters in Naoma, West Virginia. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

For the last 20 years, those have been the tenets of Coal River Mountain Watch, said Vivian Stockman with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up when you’re right in the middle of it and that’s what Coal River Mountain Watch has been doing for its two decades of existence,” she said.

A simple wooden sign hangs above the office entrance with the group’s logo and a motto: “Remembering the past, working for the future.” As the group hits the 20-year mark its leaders are taking stock of accomplishments, some painful losses, and the work ahead.

‘True Activist’

The group counts some hard-fought victories in its 20 years of existence, including securing a new campus for Marsh Fork Elementary School, which was previously located in the shadow of an active mining operation owned by Massey Energy.

An earthen dam and impoundment sitting above the school was permitted to hold 2.8 billion gallons of liquid coal waste. The waste pond and dam were constructed by the same mining company that was responsible for a similar impoundment in Martin County, Kentucky, that failed in 2000, sending millions of gallons of slurry into two tributaries of the Tug Fork River.

A coal silo near the old Marsh Fork Elementary School. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

In addition to the active mountaintop removal mine, the school was also near a coal silo and railroad line. Concerned advocates feared students were being exposed to coal and silica dust as well as diesel emissions.

While some children reported illness, others in the community were concerned the school could close and students would be sent elsewhere.

Coal River Mountain Watch’s playbook included protest, letter-writing campaigns and the use of the legal system. To raise awareness around Marsh Fork, In 2006, one of the group’s members, Ed Wiley, walked from Charleston to Washington, D.C., to raise the issue to West Virginia’s Congressional leadership. Ultimately, a new campus was approved in 2010.

A photo of Judy Bonds inside Coal River Mountain Watch headquarters. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

While some of the group’s tactics in courts and protests were confrontational, other actions sought cooperation. Bonds made some unlikely allies, like Mike Caputo, an organizer with the United Mine Workers. The two teamed up to reduce the weight of coal trucks. The over-sized vehicles barreled down steep mountain roads, killing at least 14 people over a two-year period. Caputo, now a delegate in West Virginia’s Legislature, said Bonds was dedicated to her community.

“Even when we disagreed, I miss her dearly,” he said. “You look up the word activist and you’ll see Judy Bonds’ picture beside it, because she was a true activist.”

Bonds died of cancer in 2011. After two decades of activism — some of which elicited threats to members’ lives and personal safety — today Coal River Mountain Watch had yet to see its primary goal of ending mountaintop removal mining realized. And while the plight of the Appalachian coal miner remains a politically hot touchstone, nationally, the spotlight on mountaintop removal has faded.

“It’s been tough lately because a lot of people think mountaintop removal is over and they don’t really grasp why we still do this,” Haltom said.

He said donors have shifted their priorities to other causes, which has resulted in fewer resources. Coal River Mountain Watch’s staff has scaled back. And while it’s an asset to be on the ground, the nonprofit also faces fundraising challenges due to its isolated location.

The group was central in securing a National Academy of Sciences study into the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining. In 2017, it was abruptly canceled by the Trump administration. The organization has also lobbied repeatedly for the passage of the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act, which would bar mining until a health study is done. The bill received a hearing in the House in 2019, but otherwise has had little traction in Congress.

Still, in recent years, research has validated many of fears about the health impacts of mountaintop removal. Studies show a correlation between mountaintop removal and high rates of cancer, lung disease, and birth defects in neighboring communities.

“The blasting dust is deadly. I mean it’s silica,” Haltom said. “We’ve known silica is a killer, but for some reason people think that Appalachians are immune to it.”

New research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released this month shows surface mine dust contains more silica than does dust in underground coal mines. The findings come at a time when the most severe form of black lung disease, once thought to be nearly eradicated, is surging in Central Appalachia.

Volunteers, including Coal River Mountain Watch Co-Director Debbie Jarrell, clean up trash along Peachtree Creek. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

Next Generation

While the work may be harder, Coal River Mountain Watch is still doing it. At their solar-powered headquarters, the group models possible alternatives to coal mining, such as hemp farming and beekeeping. And they’re instilling in a younger generation a passion for the mountains around them.

To mark its 20 years, Coal River Mountain Watch hosted a creek cleanup. Dozens of kids and adults crashed through Peachtree Creek gathering bottles, plastic bags and even a kid-sized swimming pool. After more than an hour of tough work, volunteers took a dip in Peachtree Falls.

At a barbecue after the cleanup, volunteers munched on hot dogs and burgers. Watching children play in the nearby creek, Haltom reflected on Coal River Mountain Watch’s legacy.

“I think we’ve come a long way in helping people understand there’s a better way of living, you know,” he said. “Don’t treat your community like it’s a disposable item.”

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A history lesson

Welcome to the Greenbrier, the Governor-Owned Luxury Resort Filled With Conflicts of Interest



The Greenbrier Resort. Photo: foxtail_1/Creative Commons

Gov. Jim Justice is West Virginia’s richest man and owns its most storied resort. When lobbyists and state agencies book there, he profits. Here’s how the governor, dubbed “Big Jim,” became West Virginia’s little Trump.

On a sunny Monday afternoon two and a half years ago, Jim Justice, the wealthiest man in West Virginia, took the oath of office as the state’s 36th governor.

Standing at the base of the Capitol steps in Charleston, he assured his fellow West Virginians that his vast business empire of coal mines, vacation resorts and agricultural companies — many of them regulated by the state agencies he would soon control — posed no conflicts with his new job.

“I want absolutely nothing. Nothing,” Justice said. “I don’t want a thing for me or my family in any way. All I want is goodness for this incredible state and its incredible people.”

Today, Justice’s coal mines are inspected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, agencies whose top employees the governor appoints. And his casino is regulated by West Virginia’s Lottery Commission, another agency under the chief executive’s control.

The Greenbrier represents only a slice of Justice’s holdings, estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.5 billion. But the iconic resort’s outsized role in West Virginia politics has made it an unparalleled ethical thicket for the governor.

Before taking office, Justice benefited from a number of state agencies, as well as special interest groups, using his resort to host marquee meetings, retreats and conferences. In 2015, the state spent more than $260,000 there. So, to avoid conflicts of interest as governor, his administration says it imposed a “moratorium” on state spending at The Greenbrier.

But a Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica investigation has found that Justice continues to profit from state business, with agencies spending more than $106,000 at his resort since he took office. The Tourism Office features The Greenbrier in a state advertising campaign that launched last year.

Meanwhile, some of West Virginia’s most powerful trade groups are increasingly picking up the food and lodging tabs for lawmakers, as well as top state agency officials subject to the administration’s spending ban, according to a review of lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the state Ethics Commission. Outlays from the state Chamber of Commerce, for instance, more than tripled during Justice’s first year in office.

And as The Greenbrier has faced serious financial pressures, from a major flood and a legal battle with insurers, Justice has used the power of his office to help ensure its survival.

Last year, as the state’s chief executive, he decided to include The Greenbrier in a federal “opportunity zone.” Intended to help underdeveloped communities, the designation makes new investments in the targeted area eligible for lucrative tax breaks.

At the same time, Justice and Greenbrier officials sought additional assistance from Greenbrier County, where the resort has long been the largest employer. Working together, they pressed county commissioners to set aside more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to finance or jump-start projects related to The Greenbrier. The proposed upgrades range from a new laundry to a long-planned ski area.

The governor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with Justice, but queries were referred to a spokesman for Justice’s companies.

In a prepared response to written questions from the Gazette-Mail and ProPublica, spokesman Richard Cullen Jr. said, “Mr. Justice has every right to have business interests as governor and he will continue to demonstrate great sensitivity to ethical considerations.”

For much of the past two and a half years, the governor has weathered public scrutiny as his businesses wrestled with state and federal regulators over fines and penalties, with vendors over missed payments and with tax officials in West Virginia and other states over delinquent corporate taxes. But as Justice prepares to face voters again next year, the intermingling of The Greenbrier with West Virginia government is causing growing legal and political headaches.

“It’s wrong,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who supported Justice in 2016 but split with him when the governor switched to the GOP less than a year after taking office. Manchin attended the inaugural ball and his political committee donated $2,500 to the event, although he now condemns Justice’s decision to use his own resort.

“It’s called public service, not self-service,” Manchin said. “This sort of stuff is not who we are.”

Complicating matters, in March, prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section issued a subpoena for state Commerce Department records concerning the administration’s dealings with The Greenbrier. Weeks later, investigators subpoenaed more records, this time from the state Department of Revenue and its Tax Division, about the resolution of a multimillion-dollar tax debt related to the governor’s businesses.

Justice has denied any wrongdoing.

“In an organization as big as our organization, you’re surely going to be able to find something that doesn’t look right or whatever,” the governor said during an April news conference. “But I promise you to God above … you’re never going to find anything that Jim Justice has purposely done to benefit Jim Justice.”

The Greenbrier Resort owner and chairman Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club on Friday, July 2, 2010 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. AP Photo/Evan Agostini for The Greenbrier Resort

“The Emerald City”

James C. Justice II grew up in Raleigh County, not far from The Greenbrier, and still lives in nearby Lewisburg, just a 15-minute drive from the resort. Born in 1951, he came of age during the height of the Cold War, a time when the federal government was secretly building a bunker beneath The Greenbrier, where the nation’s leaders would shelter in the event of a nuclear attack.

Justice’s father was a coal operator and, as a teenager, Justice played golf at the resort. He told his friends it was like Oz, the Emerald City, according to a 2011 interview with The Washington Post.

Justice joined his father’s business in 1976, when he was 25, and expanded into farming corn, wheat and soybeans. When James Sr. died in 1993, his son took charge.

“Over the next 15 years, Jim launched a massive expansion of multiple businesses which included significant coal reserve expansion, Christmas tree farms, cotton gins, turfgrass operations, golf courses, timber enhancement and land projects just to mention a few,” his official biography says. According to the governor’s office, Justice is now the largest farmer east of the Mississippi, with holdings in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The most visible expansion of Justice’s empire, however, came in 2009, when he purchased The Greenbrier, one of the nation’s top luxury hotels. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 700-room resort has hosted 27 presidents.

Hit by a global recession after several years of expensive renovations, the resort was in financial peril. Its longtime owner, railroad company CSX Corp., laid off half the staff and filed for bankruptcy, disclosing in its court filing that the property had lost $90 million over the previous five years.

Marriott International had agreed to step in, but Justice also saw an opportunity.

He had recently sold much of his family’s coal holdings to the Russian firm Mechel in a transaction valued at more than $568 million. The billionaire quickly cut a deal to pay CSX $20 million for The Greenbrier and give Marriott a $7.5 million “breakup fee.”

The move instantly raised Justice’s profile, turning the president of a privately held family coal operation into a bit of a celebrity. The Gazette-Mail named him “West Virginian of the Year,” largely because it credited him with saving The Greenbrier.

Within months of his purchase, though, Justice turned to the state for help. Specifically, he wanted $8 million to lure the PGA Tour to his resort for a new professional golf tournament. He argued that such an event would draw thousands of visitors and a giant television audience. Keith Burdette, a former state senator who was then serving as state commerce secretary, balked at the amount Justice was seeking. “I just said, ‘No, we can’t do that,’” he recalled in an interview.

In this Sunday Aug. 1, 2010 file photo, Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice speaks on the 18th green after play ended for the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Justice, the well-known owner of The Greenbrier resort, admits there’s a certain price to pay for being “the goodwill ambassador for the state.” Photo: Steve Helber/AP Photo, FILE

Still, in 2010, the state ultimately kicked in $1 million and, the next year, it began a lucrative sponsorship that gave state officials access to blocks of rooms and seats on the 18th green, perks that could be used to help woo potential new businesses to West Virginia. Over the next five years, West Virginia contributed an additional $9.3 million to sponsor the popular tournament, according to a review of state spending records and documents that were turned over to a federal grand jury.

Later, Justice’s company successfully lobbied for additional assistance, supporting new state tourism programs that qualified The Greenbrier for up to $15 million in tax breaks. The money served to offset the cost of resort improvements, including an NFL training camp facility and a championship tennis stadium, but the exact amount it received won’t be known until December, when a new disclosure law takes effect.

“America’s Resort,” a Political Liability

Tucked into a valley where the rolling foothills and farmlands of Virginia meet the mountains of West Virginia, The Greenbrier resort has been a central character in the region’s economic and political story for nearly two centuries.

The first large hotel was constructed in the 1850s, becoming a popular playground for, as the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd once put it, “the great and the near-great.” The Rev. Billy Graham, Bing Crosby and Babe Ruth were guests. Among the regulars were prominent politicians, judges, diplomats and socialites.

Today, The Greenbrier calls itself “America’s Resort.” Over the years, the sprawling property was redesigned to evoke Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic home. A standard room costs $300 a night.

Guests can bowl or play croquet, fish or go skeet shooting, ride horses or learn falconry. For decades, two of the state’s most powerful interest groups, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the West Virginia Coal Association, have used the hotel to host their annual meetings.

“The Greenbrier is great, and it’s one of those places that our people just look forward to going every year,” said Bill Raney, the coal association’s president. “It’s got a long, long history with this industry.”

Justice deepened the resort’s role in West Virginia power circles with the PGA Tour event, which became a key part of the state’s efforts to lure new businesses and jobs.

“There was virtually no recruiting effort that took place during those years when the company we were recruiting didn’t come through the door because of The Greenbrier Classic,” Burdette said.

But not everyone saw the merits of more than $10 million in taxpayer money going to a golf tournament. Early on, some Republican leaders tried to block state funding, arguing that it would be better spent on public infrastructure.

And the further Justice stepped into politics, the bigger a liability the golf sponsorship became.

In early 2015, Justice — a Republican for much of his life — changed his party affiliation to Democrat and promptly declared his bid for governor. He touted The Greenbrier as proof of his business savvy, but his primary opponents picked at the golf tournament, objecting to the state’s financial contributions.

Justice won the Democratic nomination anyway, and as he entered the 2016 general election, he rejected the public funding. “I refuse to listen to the Republican leaders beat up on me,” he said in a campaign statement.

But that didn’t stop GOP nominee Bill Cole. The Republican continued to pound away, saying the golf tournament was just scratching the surface of Justice’s conflicts.

“I think his interactions with state government are huge,” Cole told West Virginia MetroNews at the time. “I see in every aspect of his business, there’s troubling connections.”

Even as his candidate financial disclosure form listed a dozen agencies doing business with The Greenbrier, Justice dismissed the criticism.

Throughout the race, he seemed to double-down on his resort ownership. One campaign ad, featuring Greenbrier employees, touted his success turning the resort around. “He’s done so much for The Greenbrier,” a voiceover said. “Imagine what he could do for the state.”

Justice used the resort for two major fundraisers that earned nearly $270,000 for his campaign. Separately, he donated $223,000 from the resort to the gubernatorial bid, in the form of rooms, catering and entertainment.

That November, Justice won the election. The Greenbrier, however, was in trouble.

A series of strong thunderstorms had brought a major flood across the Greenbrier River Valley. Nearly two-dozen West Virginians died. Hundreds lost their homes and businesses.

The summer storms severely damaged the resort’s golf courses, the hotel and surrounding buildings. The casino was flooded. Work to sell more luxury homes in the nearby Greenbrier Sporting Club ceased, as did plans to construct a ski area for resort guests, hotel lawyers later said in court documents.

But Justice called on tourists to return. “We will not go quietly into the darkness,” Justice said when the resort reopened in July.

“The Biggest House in the State”

Five months later, as Justice transitioned to the governor’s office, he chose his resort as the site of his inaugural ball. He appointed his wife, Cathy, and his daughter, Jill, both of whom held positions with The Greenbrier, as co-chairs of the inaugural committee.

Nick Casey, a longtime Democratic Party leader and treasurer of the committee, said he briefly raised the issue of a potential conflict of interest with Justice and his family.

“I said, ‘Can we spend this money on somewhere the guy owns?’” Casey recalled in a recent interview. “But there weren’t any detailed discussions. He said, ‘No, we’ll do it at The Greenbrier.’”

Cullen, the Justice companies spokesman, noted that The Greenbrier is a “premier destination, not just in West Virginia, but the entire country,” and is “a big part of the state’s history and employs thousands of people.”

“Governor Justice is proud of that history and his family’s role in it,” Cullen said. “There was never a discussion about having the [inaugural ball] anywhere else.”

If anyone was troubled by the decision, few said so publicly at the time. Donations poured in to the committee, with Justice easily raising more than twice the amount his immediate predecessors had.

But privately, some prominent powerbrokers wondered about a potential conflict.

“I was like: ‘Isn’t that interesting? What is the reaction to that going to be?’” said Steve Roberts, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, which had endorsed Justice’s Republican opponent. Roberts said he considered not attending the inaugural ball. “But at the end of the day, this person is going to be governor for four years, and no one wants to be the one person who is left out.”

He added, “If I had the biggest house in the state and could have people over, I would do it.”

When The Herald-Dispatch newspaper, in Huntington, asked the Ethics Commission about the inaugural, agency staff members said the event fell outside their jurisdiction; the committee members weren’t public officials and they weren’t spending public money.

“A governor becomes subject to the [Ethics] Act when he is sworn in as a public official,” Ethics Commission Executive Director Rebecca Stepto later told the Gazette-Mail and ProPublica.

For Justice, that moment came hours before the Jan. 16, 2017, ceremony at the Capitol. Standing before dozens of spectators in the chapel at The Greenbrier, he took the oath of office just after midnight as his resort live-streamed the event on Facebook.

The Greenbrier’s Twitter account posted a photo of Justice with the hashtag “WVHistory.”

Over the next six months, as Justice served in the governor’s office, the inaugural committee paid his resort more than $800,000 for “entertainment and meals” at the ball.

The Gazette-Mail and ProPublica asked the Ethics Commission if those payments — made after Justice took office — constituted a violation of the West Virginia law that bars public officials from using their office for private gain.

“This is not a situation contemplated or covered by the Ethics Act,” Stepto said in an email response.

State law encourages inaugural committees to zero out their balances by giving to a charity or a special fund aimed at preserving the state’s historic Governor’s Mansion. Justice’s two predecessors, Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin, both donated tens of thousands of dollars of leftover money to the latter. Justice’s inaugural committee, however, chose another route.

It closed out its accounts on June 1, 2017, with a $113,000 payment to The Greenbrier.

Casey said the inaugural ball likely left the resort with uncompensated expenses. “I think they ended up saying, ‘How much do you have left?’ and they billed us for that amount,” he said.

Cullen, the Justice companies spokesman, would say only that The Greenbrier charged the inaugural committee “negotiated rates,” as he said it does “with any large event.”

“Even the Slightest Whiff of a Conflict Won’t Fly”

Two weeks after he took office, Justice sent a letter to all state employees, seeking to reassure the West Virginia workforce that, as a “full-time” governor, he was dedicated to public service.

“The last thing I want is a conflict of interest between my family’s business and state government,” the letter said. “Even the slightest whiff of a conflict won’t fly with me.”

In an arrangement that echoed that of Trump, Justice said he had put his adult children in charge of day-to-day operations. He also noted that he was exploring a blind trust. But Justice waved off any suggestion of selling his businesses, equating that with shuttering them. “It would mean good people would lose their jobs and that just wouldn’t be right.”

To be sure, West Virginia’s ethics law does not require public officials to divest from their business or financial interests, or to place their holdings into a blind trust; they simply need to report those assets on their annual financial disclosure forms. But historically, governors have taken the extra steps to avoid the appearance of conflicts. Both Jay Rockefeller, heir to an oil fortune, and Gaston Caperton, who owned one of the largest insurance companies in the nation, used blind trusts when they were governor.

Instead, Justice told state employees that he expected them to regulate his businesses like any other. “I assure you,” he wrote in his letter, “there is absolutely no expectation on behalf of the members of my family of receiving any special treatment.”

Two days later, in his first financial disclosure report as governor, Justice reported that The Greenbrier was still doing business with a handful of government agencies. State law prohibits public officials from having a financial interest in government contracts they control, so Justice administration officials said they issued a “moratorium” on state spending at The Greenbrier.

As a result, resort revenue from the state government dropped considerably. “If avoiding conflicts costs the family businesses money,” Cullen said, “they will opt for the ethical decision every time.”

But, according to a ProPublica and Gazette-Mail review of financial data from the West Virginia Auditor’s Office, more than two-dozen state agencies went on to purchase meals and lodging at the resort during Justice’s tenure, spending a combined total of more than $106,000. Colleges and universities accounted for nearly three-quarters of the amount.

Asked about the spending, Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, told the Gazette-Mail that the governor’s office would “re-educate” state agencies on its moratorium, but that it did not have the authority to regulate university outlays. The Ethics Commission seemed to agree, telling West Virginia University that, while college board members are appointed by the governor, they don’t serve at his “will and pleasure,” like other appointees.

Other potential conflicts soon emerged.

In June 2017, the West Virginia Commerce Department sought special permission to restart its sponsorship of The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament. The bid aimed to restore the public funding that Justice had rejected as a candidate the previous summer. In a letter to the Ethics Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, lawyer Josh Jarrell argued that, without a prominent role in the tournament, the Commerce Department would lose the kind of access it needed to attract firms to West Virginia.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the matter, he noted that the Commerce Department had “not received any requests or direction from the current administration to initiate any efforts” to seek the ethics exemption.

To obtain such waivers, agencies must show the public will suffer “excessive cost, undue hardship or other substantial interference.” Exemptions are more commonly approved for small-town governments, so they can, for example, buy supplies at a local store owned by a council member.

But when news reports emerged describing the administration’s effort to use state money to woo CEOs at the governor’s resort, Justice squashed the Commerce initiative.

“Since I am the governor and have a vested interest in The Greenbrier, I do not want to be involved,” Justice said in a news release. “There is no need to cloud such an important economic and promotional event for our state.”

Still, two months later, the Commerce Department returned to the Ethics Commission with another request. This time, it won approval to spend $5,000 for the registration fee to attend the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier; a portion of the fee went to the resort. Ethics officials, however, refused to allow state funds to be spent for government employees to stay or eat at the property.

Later, the Tourism Office won permission to include The Greenbrier in a new advertising program designed to promote the state’s hospitality industry. Private companies pay for membership and the state matches those contributions. Justice’s hotel soon became the program’s largest participant, kicking in $176,000 for the ad campaign in its first two years.

The Ethics Commission ultimately deferred to the Tourism Office’s argument that The Greenbrier was “key to promoting West Virginia and achieving its mission.” In addition to matching the hotel’s contribution, the agency features the resort as the opening image on its “Where to Stay” website.

“There’s No Point in Dancing Around the Goal”

In August 2017, when Trump came to Huntington, West Virginia, for a political rally, Justice joined him on stage. The governor — “Big Jim,” as the president called him — announced that he was again changing parties, to rejoin the GOP.

Justice told the crowd that he had gone turkey hunting and trout fishing with Donald Trump Jr. and visited the president in the Oval Office.

“This man and myself are not politicians,” Justice said. “We ran to get something done, and we gave up part of our lives. We ran because we want nothing. We ran as our Founding Fathers did years and years ago, to serve.”

Left unspoken was another similarity between the two businessmen-turned-politicians: Their forays into government brought personal profits. Much as foreign dignitaries helped the bottom line for Trump’s hotel in Washington, West Virginia special interests gave The Greenbrier its own boost.

In the Justice era, as government expenditures at the resort dropped, some of the state’s most powerful lobby groups are spending more to host government officials there, according to a Gazette-Mail and ProPublica review of lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the state Ethics Commission.

President Donald Trump, left, reaches out to shake hands with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, right, at a campaign-style rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va., Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, where Justice announced that he was changing parties to be a Republican. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

The Chamber of Commerce and the Coal Association have picked up the tab for a growing number of state officials to attend events at The Greenbrier. The list includes lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and key staffers in the governor’s office.

Over Labor Day weekend in 2017, for example, after the Ethics Commission warned Commerce Department officials not to spend state money on lodging and meals at the Chamber’s summit, the Chamber covered food for Woody Thrasher, the department’s secretary; Chelsea Ruby, its tourism commissioner; and two officials from its Development Office. (Thrasher, through a spokeswoman, said he didn’t realize the Chamber was paying for his staff’s meals.)

Other beneficiaries included Mike Hall, Justice’s chief of staff. The Chamber paid nearly $1,000 for his two-night stay at The Greenbrier. The group spent another $397 to cover one night for Austin Caperton, Justice’s secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection. In all, the Chamber doled out nearly $10,000 for 21 state officials to attend its annual meeting — more than three times more than in 2015, before Justice ran for governor.

Likewise, the coal association spent $3,600 for state officials to attend its annual meeting last year, more than twice what it spent in 2015.

These actions are entirely legal. While West Virginia law prohibits public officials from accepting gifts, it allows them to accept “reasonable expenses for food, travel and lodging” for a meeting where the official is a speaker or on a panel.

Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, said the same interactions between state officials and business groups happened under previous administrations, but the state paid the bills back then.

“We certainly can’t control where independent organizations decide to schedule their conferences,” Abraham said this week.

Lobbyists say the increased spending at The Greenbrier has nothing to do with Justice or his ownership of the resort.

“We just try to get people who have some influence over us and who our members might want to hear from,” said Raney, president of the Coal Association. “I can’t tell you there has been any change of mind.”

The Chamber agrees.

“There’s no point in dancing around the goal. The goal is to have a relationship with as many people who are making decisions about the state as we can,” said Roberts, the group’s president. “The ideal would be for the state to make those people available, but that has not been our experience.”

A Helping Hand for The Greenbrier

The 2016 floods precipitated an unraveling at The Greenbrier.

Justice and his hospitality firms became embroiled in a protracted fight with insurers over compensation for storm damage; they later alleged in federal courtthat the failure to pay $75 million in claims had pushed The Greenbrier to “near financial insolvency.” (The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on a technicality.)

At the same time, the resort struggled to find the money to sponsor The Greenbrier Classic, and it lost its prime Fourth of July placement on the PGA Tour schedule.

Amid the financial scramble, in May 2018, Justice announced a new effort that he said would “help to revitalize many areas across West Virginia.”

Opportunity zones were the result of Trump’s federal tax overhaul; governors in each state could select a certain number of poor census tracts, and investors who supported projects in those areas would be eligible for lucrative tax credits.

“This is more great news for our state,” Justice said, releasing a list of 55 opportunity zones.

Workers begin the cleanup of one of the golf courses at The Greenbrier resort in June 2016 after a flood. The flooding damaged the resort and prompted the cancellation of that year’s Greenbrier Classic. Photo: Steve Helber/AP

At the bottom of the first page was the city of White Sulphur Springs, the storm-ravaged home of The Greenbrier. Local officials who applied for the program are hoping it brings new shops and other businesses to a downtown area struggling to rebuild after the flood. But Samantha Jacoby, a tax analyst who has studied opportunity zones for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the designation could also benefit Justice and his resort.

Some sites in other opportunity zones, she noted, have seen rising property values and could have easier access to credit. And while firms that operate “sin” businesses, such as casinos and liquor stores, face restrictions, some have found loopholes. “It’s not, I don’t think, what was intended,” Jacoby said.

Cullen declined to comment on the governor’s selection.

That same month, Justice sought to advance a separate tax plan to boost the resort.

He wanted Greenbrier County to divert as much as $10 million in property tax revenue to help finance various resort projects, including a ski area and a new laundry. Because Justice owned the resort and the deal would need to be approved by his Commerce Department, he sought an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission.

But, in an illustration of how the governor’s administration and his business empire can work hand in hand to advance Justice’s corporate agenda, the governor did not write the letter.

According to public records and interviews, Greenbrier lawyers penned the request to the Ethics Commission and took it to the governor’s office, where staff copied it onto the governor’s letterhead, and Justice signed it. While Justice’s resort would benefit from the tax deal, the letter said, “the real winner would no doubt be the residents of Greenbrier County,” who would see a surge in jobs.

About a week later, Justice, withdrew his request. His note on state stationery was relayed to ethics officials by a Greenbrier lawyer.

The resort, however, forged ahead, with its executives seeking to enlist the help of local officials. Larry Klein, vice president and general manager of The Greenbrier Sporting Club, drafted a letter for county commissioners in support of Justice’s proposal — and then asked them to send it to the Ethics Commission under their own names. Much of the document’s language was taken verbatim from the governor’s aborted request.

The county officials declined to send the letter. They said they wanted to spend the tax dollars on other projects, like water and sewer construction, that would help average residents.

Commission President Lowell Rose, who owns a local construction company, said the decision was difficult.

“You have additional pressure you wouldn’t have if he wasn’t the biggest business owner in the area and also the governor,” Rose said.

The Feds Move In

Early in his tenure, Justice placed some of his smaller holdings into a blind trust. And a lawyer for the governor promised the Ethics Commission that Justice would soon add The Greenbrier, among other businesses, to the list, as soon as agreements could be worked out with various lenders.

But well into his third year in office, Justice has abandoned that pledge.

Abraham, the governor’s general counsel, now says a blind trust would be a “facade.”

Cullen added, “Placing The Greenbrier in a blind trust makes no sense because the Governor knows the family owns the business.”

Regardless, federal criminal investigators are looking into the administration’s interactions with The Greenbrier, especially regarding the golf tournament. Among the people whose communications were targeted in the March subpoena: Justice, his children and several resort executives.

The governor pledged to cooperate with the inquiry.

“I’ve always done the right thing in my personal life, my business life, my political life and every part of my life,” Justice said in a statement at the time. “The people of West Virginia know that I have always been an open book, so of course, I am fully cooperating with the investigation.”

At the same time, the governor faces mounting political opposition.

A leading state Democratic lawmaker has sued Justice for living in Greenbrier County, arguing that the West Virginia Constitution requires the governor to reside in Charleston. The lawsuit could be a vehicle to force Justice to turn over a variety of records, including his income tax returns, which, like Trump, the governor refused to make public during the 2016 election.

And Manchin, who continues to hint he will return from the U.S. Senate to seek another term as governor, is far from the only one-time ally who has turned on Justice. In April, Thrasher, Justice’s former Commerce secretary, announced that he would challenge the governor in next year’s Republican primary. Thrasher, owner of a large engineering firm with many state contracts, recently tweeted that, if elected, he would put his holdings into a blind trust.

“Public servants should make decisions 100% based on the citizens they are elected to serve,” he wrote, “and business interests should never be a factor.”

Justice is pressing forward, though, linking what could be good for The Greenbrier with what also would be good for West Virginia.

In late June, he signed a number of bills the Legislature had passed at his urging during a special session. The governor’s office said the package would “provide better opportunities for West Virginians.” Among the measures was House Bill 113, giving additional state tax breaks for investments in “opportunity zones,” like the one that includes The Greenbrier.

This article was originally published by ProPublica. It was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

Jake Zuckerman and Kate Mishkin, of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and Lylla Younes and Alex Mierjeski, of ProPublica, contributed reporting.

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A history lesson

Researchers Uncover History of Former W.Va. Coal Community



Scott's Run miner's children lined up for a meal in the 1930s. In reaction to this photo Scotts Run elders said, "There was a soup line or the blacks and there was a soup line for the whites, and that certainly proves it, how sad." Photo courtesy of West Virginia and Regional History Center.

West Virginia University researchers recently completed a year-long project exploring the history of a coal community in Monongalia County, using photos and oral history to create an exhibit.

Scott’s Run is a five-mile area that stretches along the banks of the Monongahela River, about four miles from West Virginia University.

Today less than 2,000 people live there, and the former towns in Scotts Run – such as Osage and Cassville – are all unincorporated.

But, in the early 1900s, the area was booming from the coal industry. Its main economic advantage was its proximity to the river, railroads and coal resources. But, by the 1930s during the Great Depression, like much of the country, Scott’s Run hit hard times.

School children at Osage, a town within Scott’s Run, with their Sunday school teacher in the 1940s. When researchers showed this photo to Scott’s Run elders one said, “As youngsters on Osage Hill we all played together. No difference in color. We didn’t know a difference until we went to school.” Photo courtesy of West Virginia and Regional History Center

Consequently, the community banded together, creating a family-like bond that still exists today.

“There’s this community that is a completely different world from what you’ve seen of Morgantown that has this history that’s very much the history of West Virginia,” said Kristina Hash, a professor of social work at WVU.

Hash was one of six researchers on the team that studied Scott’s Run. Other researchers included Catherine Gouge, Lori Hostuttler, Tamba M’bayo, Christine Rittenour and Tyler Redding.

The project was funded in 2018 through a grant from the West Virginia University Humanities Center.

Many photos were taken of the people of Scott’s Run during the Great Depression years, Hash said. Using these photos, she and her team documented stories from West Virginians who were children during the early years of Scott’s Run.

About a dozen of the original residents of Scott’s Run still get together every weekend. Hash said the sense of community is strong.

“People that had a really diverse community that lived in harmony that centered around coal and together faced major tragedy,” she said.

All the research was compiled into a video and an exhibit that has been donated to the Scott’s Run Museum where it will be permanently on display. The museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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