Dylann Roof’s Rebel Yell (Politico Magazine)

It’s been 150 years since the Civil War ended, but the Confederacy never really went away. It just got reabsorbed, more or less intact, back into the United States. And today the fight is still going on. Indeed, in some ways—ironically thanks to social media—the nation is more segregated and disunited than ever.

The last battle of the Civil War ended at Palmito Ranch, Texas, on May 13, 1865, and yet many more battles have been fought since then. Reconstruction was marked by racial terrorism, the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the return of former Confederates to government leadership in the South, where they set about writing laws to disenfranchise blacks and keep them a few pegs down the societal ladder, if not quite in the chains they wore as slaves. Even when Jim Crow segregation laws were eliminated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Civil Rights movement in the past half century, the spirit of the Confederacy endured in the hearts and homes of many in the South.

Read more about the persistence of the Confederacy and what how it relates to last week’s Charleston shooting in my story at Politico Magazine.

Dr. Harry Wilson: Gun control debate likely off the table (Roanoke College)

The 2016 presidential election is more than a year away, but aspiring candidates already have started the debate on everything from taxes and the economy to immigration and foreign policy.

In next year’s pivotal race for the White House, every issue is in play—with the likely exception of gun control. Unless there’s a mass shooting that garners national attention between now and Election Day, says Harry Wilson, a nationally renowned expert on firearms politics and policy, the question of gun control likely will remain off the table.

In his new book, “The Triumph of the Gun-Rights Argument: Why the Gun Control Debate Is Over,” Wilson, Roanoke College professor of public affairs and director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research (IPOR), explains why the issue essentially has been decided for at least a generation.

Read more at the Roanoke College news archive.

Urban vibe: 6 great Virginia mountain cities (Life Outside)

For Life Outside magazine, I profiled six Virginia mountain towns, with details on outdoor to-do’s, competitions, nightlife and cool overnights from rustic to ‘luxe.

Each city includes listings for a big outdoor lure, another outdoor lure, a competitive event this summer, recommendations for restaurants and overnight accomodations, and a bonus item.

Read my profiles in the summer 2015 issue of Life Outside.

The Great West Virginia Divorce (Blue Ridge Country)

Spring, 1861: Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, new President Abraham Lincoln mobilized the Union army and Virginia joined the wave of southern states voting to secede from the United States.
Delegates to the secession convention from northwest Virginia, who had opposed the split from the U.S., quickly left Richmond and returned home. As the war hit Virginia over the next few months, Union troops experienced early success in what is today West Virginia. The gains established the reputation of Union Gen. George McClellan, who subsequently left the front when he was handed command of the Army of the Potomac. It also gave those northwest Virginia delegates the opportunity to meet in Wheeling for two conventions and begin the process of forming a new state.

One obvious question loomed over the proceedings: Where should the delegates draw the boundary between Virginia and the new state? The answer involves railroads, slavery, troop movements during the war and, as always seems to be the case, politics.

“There was a group that wanted West Virginia to be reasonably small,” says historian Kenneth Noe of Auburn University. “They weren’t eager to go much farther than Charleston. There was another group that really wanted all of western Virginia down to North Carolina and Tennessee. Practically, it became a question of what could they actually control.”

Those decisions made by a small group of northwest Virginians in the 1860s continue to affect those who live in the mountains along the West Virginia border today.

Read more in my story for Blue Ridge Country about on how Virginia and West Virginia split and decided where to draw the lines that separate the two states today.

This Democratic coal baron wants to be the next governor of West Virginia (Grist)

For a half-decade now, Republicans have slammed Democrats running for office in Appalachia for propagating a so-called regulatory “war on coal.”

They may find it considerably more challenging to make that argument stick against Jim Justice, owner of the largest privately held coal company east of the Mississippi River, who announced last month he’s running for the 2016 Democratic nomination for West Virginia governor. The only West Virginian in the Forbes 400, Justice is worth an estimated $1.69 billion.

Justice is not to be confused with another wealthy West Virginia coal baron, “Dark Lord of Coal Country” Don Blankenship, the former Massey CEO who will soon be tried on charges that he conspired to skirt safety regulations at Upper Big Branch mine, where a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners.

Justice too has a reputation for ignoring mine regulations, but he’s built up a positive reputation in the state in other arenas. His public images feel contradictory in a way that eludes easy caricature. (The Justice campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.)

In eastern West Virginia, Justice is beloved for buying the historic Greenbrier, a luxury resort that famously served as Congress’ personal fallout shelter, out of bankruptcy. He established a PGA event, the Greenbrier Classic (Tiger Woods is among the golfers competing this year), and built a $30 million training facility for the New Orleans Saints on the Greenbrier grounds. Justice invests lots of his time in youth sports; he’s been president of Beckley Little League since 1992 and has coached boys and girls basketball for 30 years, racking up 761 wins and 156 losses. He’s donated millions to charities such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Cleveland Clinic, and Marshall University.

At the same time, Justice’s coal companies, some inherited after his father’s death in 1993, have racked up millions in fines for labor, safety, and environmental violations. In November, NPR reported that Justice owed nearly $2 million in overdue fines.

Justice’s outsized profile means that announcement of his gubernatorial candidacy last month attracted notice from national press — more than might otherwise be expected for a first-time candidate.

Read more in my profile of Jim Justice at Grist.

Floyd County: a community of entrepreneurs that sticks together (Roanoke Business)

Scott Pierce worked for Sherwin-Williams in Greensboro for 15 years before he cashed in his 401(k) and in 2011 moved with his wife Cassie and their two children to Floyd County, Virginia.

Eight months later, Scott and Cassie Pierce started a business making kombucha, a fermented tea that’s become popular as a pick-me-up packed with probiotics. They brewed at a kitchen in Willis and distributed their kombucha through regional farmers’ markets and the Harvest Moon health food store and Good Food Good People, both independently owned Floyd businesses selling local products.

Today, Buffalo Mountain Kombucha sells its products in Roanoke and the New River Valley. Earlier this year, the Pierces raised a little more than $16,000 on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website. They will use the money to more than double their production from about 130 gallons to about 300 gallons per week, and they’re negotiating with retailers in North Carolina and the Washington, D.C., region.

The secret to their success?

“Quite honestly, the Floyd community sticks together,” says Cassie Pierce. “We support each other and lift one another up. That made it so easy” when it came to the Kickstarter campaign.

Buffalo Mountain Kombucha is one of many small independent businesses based in Floyd. Of the 15,528 people who live in the county, according to the U.S. Census, about 1,200 are self-employed. That’s more than double the state rate, says Lydeana Martin, Floyd County’s community and economic development director.

That figure doesn’t include part-time enterprises, whether it’s trading products grown on a homestead, repairing musical instruments or providing childcare. Floyd County is chock full of farms, some of which sell commercially and others which operate solely within the region’s burgeoning barter system.

Read more in my Floyd community profile in the June issue of Roanoke Business.