ACKNOWLEDGING AND DENOUNCING, ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA, THE CITY’S ROLE IN FOSTERING THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY AND PERPETUATING RACIAL SEGREGATION, AND FURTHER, COMMITTING TO THE PURSUIT OF INITIATIVES THAT PROMOTE DIVERSITY AND END DISCRIMINATION, PREJUDICE, AND INJUSTICE, AND FURTHER RECOGNIZING JUNETEENTH INDEPENDENCE DAY IN THE CITY OF WHEELING
WHEREAS, hundreds of thousands of African people were forcibly brought to the territory that is now the United States between 1619 and 1808; and
WHEREAS, from the first European settlement in 1769 through 1865, the institution of slavery existed within the area presently constituting the City of Wheeling, West Virginia; and
WHEREAS, Africans forced into slavery suffered indignities that are unimaginable today, often being brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, stripped of their names and heritage, and torn apart from family members when sold at auctions under the cruelest of public spectacles; and
WHEREAS, for a number of years during this period, Wheeling was a major regional hub for the sale of slaves to nearby industry and to markets in the lower South, with weekly auctions of enslaved African people conducted in the Wheeling Market House, which sat upon the site now occupied by Market Plaza; and
WHEREAS, according to the 1860 Census of the United States, there were 100 men, women, and children living in Ohio County as the property of other local residents; and
WHEREAS, notwithstanding the outcome of the Civil War, the legal abolition of slavery in the newly formed State of West Virginia, and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution more than 150 years ago, a system of racial segregation known as Jim Crow arose across many sections of our nation, including the State of West Virginia and the City of Wheeling; and
WHEREAS, these Jim Crow laws, which in some cases existed until the 1960s, were designed to separate African Americans from their fellow citizens, to suppress and intimidate their exercise of basic rights—including voting, and to frustrate their educational and economic opportunities for advancement; and
WHEREAS, while there is no metric by which to measure the cumulative effect of the institutions of slavery and Jim Crow laws on the lives of African Americans subjected to them, there can be no doubt that the consequences of these evils continue to manifest themselves today throughout American society; and
WHEREAS, it is time for the City of Wheeling to acknowledge and denounce the role that it played in fostering the institutions of slavery and Jim Crow and their attendant evils; and
WHEREAS, as the City of Wheeling commemorates this the 250th year since its founding by re-examining and retelling its history, it must neither purge nor minimize the role it played in the enslavement and segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them; and
WHEREAS, the City of Wheeling has in modern times enacted civil rights protections to outlaw discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness, disability, familial status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and veteran status, we must acknowledge that these and other efforts have not fully eradicated the vestiges of slavery and racial segregation from our community and that efforts to strive for equality and equity and opportunity in all areas of life for African Americans in Wheeling must persist; and
WHEREAS, despite the stubborn legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, Wheeling’s African-American community has made—and continues to make—rich and meaningful contributions to Wheeling’s cultural and civic life; and
WHEREAS, Juneteenth Independence Day celebrations have been held in cities and states across the Nation to honor African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures; and
WHEREAS, 45 States, including West Virginia, have designated Juneteenth Independence Day as a special day of observance in recognition of the emancipation of all slaves in the United States.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Mayor and Councilmembers of Wheeling, West Virginia, in City Council assembled, that:
ADOPTED this 18th day of June, 2019.
/s/Glenn F. Elliott Jr.
Mayor of Wheeling
There are so many thank-yous in order for this wonderful re-dedication ceremony, but in the interest of time I shall make no effort to be comprehensive. I do, however, need mention a few:
Thank you to Wheeling Heritage, the Ohio County Commission, the Wheeling Park Commission, and the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation for your contributions to this project.
Thank you to current City Council as well as the Council preceding it for efforts and contributions as well.
And thank you to the many local historians and civic-minded patrons who made the case for this relocation—none more so than Margaret Brennan.
Thank you as well to Marc Harshman, who has now twice taught me that it is not a wise thing to follow him at any speaking engagement.
Today is a special day for me, not only as an opportunity to pay respect to those who gave their lives in service to our nation, but also to play a small role in the re-dedication of this magnificent work of art that was erected in honor of those who died in our nation’s most internally divisive conflict. No State played a more dispositive role in that costly Civil War than ours which was born of it. And no City altered the course of that consequential history more than ours which gave rise to it.
What I would not give to have seen firsthand the dedication of this monument in 1883. The Civil War itself had ended less than two decades prior. The large crowd that gathered just one city block from where we gather today included veterans not only from that most recent war but from conflicts dating to the War of 1812. What a site it would have been to behold. And what a reminder it is to us today of the interconnection of Wheeling history with American history.
While the sentiments reflected on this monument are timeless, its original placement Downtown was not. For 60 years it sat atop the hill at Wheeling Park in a site rich in beauty but light on visitors. As a young boy I would ride my bike from my grandparents’ nearby home to the base of this monument and gaze in wonder. I knew not what those two sedentary men and one soaring woman had done to earn such distinction, but I assumed it to have been of consequence. I had no real appreciation of the role that my hometown—and indeed my home state—had played in defending the “union” referenced thereon. I just felt that whoever had put that statue there had wanted me to see it.
Years later, when I learned of its true origin and significance, it was not hard to find sympathy with the arguments of those committed to relocating it to Downtown Wheeling. A monument of this importance was meant to be seen. It was meant to teach, to cause us to reflect, to remind us that we must never forget the sacrifices of those who gave everything to preserve the liberties and freedoms we have long enjoyed. And where better to serve that purpose than precisely where we gather today—just several feet removed from the birthplace of our state, where this restored work of art can be seen, appreciated, and celebrated by residents and visitors for decades to come.
At the original dedication of this monument nearly 136 years ago, Mr. William Leighton, an English immigrant, glass worker, and poet took the stage to read a poem he had composed in its honor. Entitled The Price of the Present: Paid by the Past, this beautiful poem reads in part:
…May this carved granite, happily,
Proclaim our honored ones enduringly;
Or if time levels all that mankind rears,
May this fair stone endure as many years,
As the lone Sphinx has sat in Egypt’s sand,
Or as the oldest pyramid shall stand.
Let us hope, ladies and gentlemen, that this fourth stop on this traveling monument’s tour is its final one.
It is now my honor to introduce today’s next speaker. Randall Reid-Smith has served as the Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History since 2006—a tenure that has spanned three West Virginia governors and seen considerable progress made in our State’s embrace of the arts and its cultural heritage. Indeed, major improvements to our beloved Independence Hall were commissioned under his leadership, as was the placement of the Francis Pierpont statue just around the corner. We know that we are very lucky in the City of Wheeling to have such a critical friend in our State government.
Those who were here last year when the large pieces of this monument were first assembled onsite for their restoration had the opportunity to see another side of Commissioner Reid-Smith, who, long before his current appointment spent years in Europe as an opera singer. As a small crowd gathered around the site for the placement of the time capsule, eyes grew larger and ears delighted as the Commissioner delivered an enchanting a cappella rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was a delightful experience that I shall never forget.
Commissioner Reid-Smith, for nearly 136 years now the City of Wheeling has been charged with the custody and care of this priceless monument. At our next meeting of City Council, we will be voting on a resolution that formally transfers its stewardship to the Division of Culture and History, so that it may remain on this site for time immemorial as a reminder of the sacrifices that made our State and our nation possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.
I have had the privilege and honor to be Mayor of this magnificent city for a little over 2 ½ years now, and in the course of my duties have made many decisions. Some good, some perhaps not-so-good. But one decision stands apart for the simple reason that I do not think I could have done anything better. And that was my decision to recommend to City Council that we appoint Jay Frey to chair the Wheeling 250 Committee. Jay’s love of local history, his professionalism, and, frankly, his refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer made him the perfect conductor for this distinguished orchestra that has been tasked with planning a year-long celebration of all things Wheeling.
And I think a round of applause for Jay and his fellow Wheeling 250 Committee members is in order.
One example of Jay’s wisdom surfaced yesterday when we were discussing tonight’s event. He politely asked me to keep my remarks brief. A brilliant suggestion. I just wish he had done so before I finished the 38th page of my prepared remarks tracing through 250 years of Wheeling history. But we will save that gem for another day.
The truth is you cannot define what Wheeling is in any one speech no matter how lengthy or eloquent your words are. And even if you could define Wheeling for a moment, the truth is Wheeling continues to change with each passing day.
We were a strategic frontier outpost that hosted—in 1782—what is widely recognized as the last land battle of the Revolutionary War.
We were, during the 1860s, a stronghold of Unionists and birthplace of the only state born of the Civil War.
We were the state capital, not once, but twice.
As the 19th Century gave way to the 20th, we were an industrial and commercial powerhouse blessed with a strategic location, ample natural resources, and the unmatched ambition and skills of our workers and entrepreneurs.
Today, many of the architectural, cultural and social assets created in years past remain, offering a remarkable array of resources for a city of barely 28,000 people.
And these resources are being leveraged as the city’s current renaissance takes hold. As many of the banners you can see placed around town suggest, Wheeling does have a “bright future and treasured heritage.”
And through it all, perhaps most importantly, we have been—and we remain—a delightful community to call home.
So, in closing tonight, I would like to ask each of you to pause for a moment and imagine what it must have been like in 1769 when the Zane brothers—Ebenezer, Jonathan and Silas—exercised their land grant by tomahawk right and established the settlement that was to become Wheeling.
I’ve done a little research here, and my understanding is it was a glorious September day when Ebenezer, being a man of poetic talents, wiped the sweat from his brow and turned to his brothers Jonathan and Silas, proclaiming as follows:
Let this land be one where the hills bestow prosperity,
Where the river welcomes each and every day,
Where the seasons command ingenuity,
And where the streets shall always remain . . . one way.
But in all seriousness, thank you to the Wheeling 250 Committee, especially co- chairs Donna Glass and Tammi Secrist, for putting this spectacular event together. Thank you also to Ball Committee members Stella Boldrick, Saun Capehart, Mary Beth Hughes, and Paula McClure.
Lastly, let me end with a public service announcement. When discussing the scope of Wheeling 250 Committee activities with Mr. Frey and other committee members, a consensus quickly emerged that we should use 2019 not only to highlight Wheeling history, but that we should look for ways to leave something concrete behind for future generations. One idea quickly took root. An idea that has been kicked around for decades but never acted upon. And that is basically this: a Wheeling history museum. A central depository of artifacts, photographs, and stories to share the Wheeling experience.
Towards that end, representatives from the City, Wheeling Heritage, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Ohio County have agreed to co-fund a new position of Museum Project Manager to be charged with coming up with a realistic, achievable plan for making a Wheeling History Museum a reality. And it is my distinct pleasure to announce that Travis Henline will assume that position on January 14th.
Thank you so much for joining us tonight for this unforgettable event. Please everyone now raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the city we all love as we enter the 250th year of its existence.
Thank you Mr. [Philip] Stahl.
Thank you as well to the members of the Warwood Middle School Chorus for sharing their lovely voices with us today.
Thank you Pastor [Melvin] Williams for delivering our invocation today.
To Mr. [Mel] Blount, I just want to say what an honor it is to share the podium with you this afternoon. As a diehard Steelers fan who was born in 1971 and grew up thinking it was normal for one’s team to win the Super Bowl, I hope you know how much I appreciate the magic of those teams you played on. But even more impressive is the way you have used your post-NFL life to make a difference in the lives of so many young man across this country.
To Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger and the other men and women of the Wheeling Police Department, thank you for the invitation to today’s ceremony.
More importantly, thank you for what you do.
This event serves as a very stark reminder that from the moment each day when you put on your uniform, you do so knowing that whatever comes next could put your life in harm’s way. You understand that the occupation you have chosen necessarily presents risks that cannot be fully eliminated. But you also understand the sacred role you play in maintaining a free society founded upon the rule of law. We owe you our sincere gratitude for the pact you have made with the communities you protect and serve.
And as a City we have to hold up our end of the bargain. We have to give you the tools you need to keep us safe and—just as importantly—to keep you safe in doing so. We have to foster policies that drive investment and jobs into the neighborhoods we ask you to patrol. We have to work with our state, national, and nonprofit leaders to figure out solutions to the drug and mental health crises in this country instead of asking you to respond to the symptoms thereof. And we have to ensure that we are not relying on your law enforcement training to solve stubborn societal ills demanding our collective response.
To that end, I pledge to you my continued support for the Wheeling Police Department and to the men and women who keep us safe.