Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on low census participation in West Virginia:
How many people live in West Virginia? How many people live in McDowell County?
Those are good questions. It’s the job of the Census Bureau to answer them, and so far the process has not worked well.
A poor response rate to this year’s census questionnaires combined with a method that favors urban areas over rural ones plus a temporary shutdown of door-to-door surveying caused by the coronavirus could mean West Virginia’s population will suffer a severe undercount when final numbers are released this fall.
As reported by Caity Coyne in this past weekend’s editions of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Herald-Dispatch, West Virginia’s response rate to the 2020 census trails a majority of the country.
Only 53.3% of West Virginians have completed the census, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Alaska, Maine, New Mexico and Puerto Rico have a lower participation rate.
If the response rate doesn’t increase, West Virginians have a lot to lose, said Carey Jo Grace, an organizer with Our Future West Virginia, who is leading the group’s census campaign.
“West Virginia is one of the states that is most heavily dependent on federal funding, and a lot of that funding — roughly $7 billion or so — is, right off the top, based only on our census data and our population and demographics recorded by the census count,” Grace said. “If we don’t count every person, we lose out on real dollars. There’s a real effect.”
As of June 26, Jefferson County had the state’s highest percentage of census participation, with 68.1% of residents there responding. McDowell County, with 22.5% responding, was last in the state.
In McDowell and other rural counties, areas not easily accessible make door-to-door visits difficult, Grace said. Those areas also tend to have limited internet access, which further complicates the effort since this is the first time the census is being conducted mostly online.
Limited internet access is a problem. Tied in to that is that West Virginia’s population tends to be older than the national average, and many older people just don’t use the internet as much as younger people.
In McDowell County, hundreds of census mailers never made it to residents, as the federal agency used physical addresses — which in many rural communities aren’t used for mail — instead of post office boxes. Census mailings do not contain the resident’s name, just an address.
This all adds up to a problem whose effects could last until the next census in 2030. Nationally, more is at stake than the disbursement of money through federal programs. The census determines how many members West Virginia and other states will have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade. And that is the basis of each state’s number of votes in the Electoral College for the election of the president in 2024 and 2028.
Inside states, the census determines how legislatures apportion districts. In West Virginia, that means the House of Delegates and the State Senate.
Bottom line: If you want your area to have influence and access to programs that help people in need, make sure every person is counted. Time is running out. Your state and your community need your cooperation.
The Intelligencer on access to high-speed broadband in West Virginia:
Working and learning from home this spring made many Americans familiar with the online world. All too many lacked the experience, however, because they do not have access to high-speed broadband service.
That is especially a concern in areas such as ours, which are largely rural. As we reported, some school districts, desperate to link up online with homebound students, resorted to “mobile hotspots.” They were vehicles, sometimes school buses, outfitted with wireless networking equipment and driven from point to point to allow rural students internet access for a few hours a week.
Federal officials have pledged for years to do something about the tens of millions of Americans who lack access to broadband service. The coronavirus epidemic lent new urgency and emphasis to that.
But understanding the extent of any problem has to be a first step in rectifying it. There is evidence many in Washington do not comprehend just how serious the problem is.
You can get an idea of Federal Communications Commission officials’ view of the challenge by visiting the agency website that purports to track internet access throughout the nation. It is at broadbandmap.fcc.gov.
Well, you can check the map if you have access, which many people in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio do not.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been hounding FCC officials for years about their unrealistic perceptions of broadband access, especially in West Virginia. He has resorted to enlisting high school students to help him show what the situation really is in some areas. A few weeks ago, a group of Lewis County High School students collected data Manchin says proves the FCC coverage maps are incorrect.
Manchin is right that the FCC cannot help people get broadband where they live if the agency thinks they have it already. That lack of reliable information needs to be corrected, or many people in areas such as ours will never get the high-speed access to the online world that has become vital.
The Register-Herald on calls to change the name of a local school honoring Woodrow Wilson amid similar actions nationwide:
Now is your time, Beckley, to mark a new beginning too long in the waiting. It is time to remove the scar of a racist and segregated history that reflects poorly on this City of Champions and, simultaneously, reach out to Black voices here that for too long have been dismissed or simply and conveniently ignored.
On June 27, the state of Mississippi and Princeton University, separately, showed the temerity to confront the false heroes and hateful symbols of our shared and ignoble history, embrace a new day and pave a way that all can travel.
Princeton will remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges. The school’s governing board decided that the former president’s “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” Princeton’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said in a statement, according to various news reports.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a Republican-controlled Legislature decided that its state flag – the only state banner left in the country with an overt Confederate symbol – would be replaced.
The concurrent messages, from one of our nation’s most elite universities and the darkest recesses of the old South, were clear. It is time to stop hating and to fully wrap our arms around the founding principle of our nation that all are created equal here in America – and all should be treated as such in all manners of life.
Now, it’s Beckley’s turn to take a small step in that same direction. Woodrow Wilson High School needs to be renamed.
Woodrow’s history of how it came to be is not all that complicated, but does provide a casebook example of institutional and systemic racism.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that school segregation based on race was unconstitutional. Slow to react and resistant to change, Beckley school and civic officials got around to integrating its separate white and Black high schools, Woodrow Wilson and Stratton respectively, in 1967.
The new school would adopt all of the history, culture and preferences of the old Woodrow – same name, same mascot, same school colors.
Even Woodrow’s old athletic trophies were saved and are now prominently displayed. Likewise, many white athletes from back in the day are immortalized in the Woodrow Wilson Hall of Fame. Not so for those athletes at Stratton High. And their trophies? Good luck in locating them.
Despite all of that, Black students at the new Woodrow overcame and excelled. In addition to class valedictorians and student body presidents, in addition to homecoming queens and quarterbacks, in addition to earning their diplomas and heading off to some of the nation’s finest schools, Blacks at Woodrow distinguished themselves by any and all measures.
And, yet, they always walked in the shadow of a U.S. president who did not believe whites and Blacks belonged on equal terms. Wilson all but nationalized the Southern view of politics, turning the federal government, for decades, into an instrument of white supremacy. As president, he had overseen the resegregation of federal government offices, including the Treasury Department. In a meeting in the Oval Office with a civil rights leader of the time, Wilson said, “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit.”
As president of Princeton, according to a New York Times story in 2015, the Virginia-born scholar discouraged a Black prospective student from applying, calling it “altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton.” His textbook “A History of the American People” referred to Reconstruction-era efforts to free the South from “the incubus of that ignorant and often hostile” black vote.
Just four years ago, confronted with campus protests, Princeton trustees voted to keep Wilson’s name on the campus building. But times are different, now – and opinions are shifting quickly underfoot. The majority of Americans side with the Black Lives Matter movement and recognize social and economic inequities along race lines. We see the vast differences of how minorities and whites are treated in the hands of justice. The recent killings of Black men and women have served as tragic reminders.
We can’t change the system if we don’t first acknowledge that the system is all messed up. Folks all across the country, from Princeton, N.J., to Jackson, Miss., are now owning up to the facts.
Beckley needs to step forward, too. We have delayed this moment for too long. But a new day, a new opportunity, has arrived.
There is so much that is messed up in these turbulent times, but this is one thing that we can fix together. Let’s give the largest high school in southern West Virginia a name we can all take pride in, that we can all support.
The time is upon us. Let’s stop being dismissive to what is so painfully obvious.