This year’s political picture reminds me of one of the most turbulent times in American and Logan County history when civil unrest across America was front page news everywhere and political fighting of Democratic factions in Logan County was prominent, compared even to the Vietnam War.
I am speaking of the year of 1969 when a great many things of interest took place, both on the national and local levels. The events of that year included young people rioting against the Vietnam fiasco and the Black Panthers’ uprising contributing to racial violence, particularly in cities like Chicago, Illinois. Yes, the events of President Richard Nixon’s first term in office were unpopular with the younger generation that included millions of people who in 1971 would be given the freedom to vote when the minimum voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 .
I suppose with young men under the age of 21 getting their guts blown out in jungles they didn’t belong in, the United States Congress thought it a good idea to let those same people cast ballots for or against those men and women who decided their fate. In West Virginia and some other states, even the legal drinking age was lowered to 18.
With Nixon under great pressure to end the war, George McGovern, whom I will refer to as the Bernie Sanders of yesteryear, was courting the new and younger voters, mostly at colleges and universities across the nation. I even remember McGovern coming to and speaking at Marshall University.
The year of 1969 comes to mind because I was an impressionable 15-year-old high school kid, who read The Logan Banner on a daily basis and rarely missed the evening TV news — it being the first time a national audience was able to see the real carnage of a devastating waste of men, women and children. These daily news accounts would lead to a nation divided, somewhat similar to America today.
It also was a time when the news media were being criticized by the government, particularly by Vice President Spiro Agnew. In a live 1969 televised event, Agnew criticized television network news coverage, specifically those comments that followed Nixon’s report to the nation on the Vietnam War.
Aiming his criticism at the Washington Post and New York Times, Agnew told an Alabama crowd, “The American people should be made aware of the trend toward the monopolization of the great public information vehicles and the concentration of more and more power over public opinion in fewer and fewer hands.”
Agnew, the front man for President Nixon’s disfavor of the media, would resign from office in 1973, the result of bribery and income tax fraud while previously serving as the governor of Maryland. Gerald Ford was named to replace Agnew and then would become president when Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate investigation. The country was a political mess.
In Logan County, there was a political battle from hell transpiring in 1969, although there were some positive actions taking place, as well. For instance, A.R. “Rudy” Marushi had been named principal at Logan High School and he immediately set about to settle a matter with the Secondary Schools Activities Commission, which had suspended Logan High’s football team for the 1968 season and prevented all other school teams from participating in post-season action that year because of the playing in 1967 of star running back Edward Lee, who had previously been declared ineligible by the SSAC.
“We’ll settle it one way or another,” Marushi said. “I don’t want to go before a court or a Board of Review, or see the school and students punished any more than they have been.” Logan later also would pay $6,387.74 to the SSAC for expenses incurred by the organization.
While the Logan sports community was licking its wounds, the battle was brewing as to which direction Corridor G was to be constructed in Logan County. At a cost of $6 million a mile, property owners did not want the highway built on the proposed route along W.Va. 10, and consequently, the project was almost nulled, all because of the 8.9 miles under scrutiny between Pecks Mill and Holden.
Because many homes in the residential sections of Aracoma, West Logan, Justice Addition and Mitchell Heights would have to be relocated, Gov. Arch Moore would later succumb to political pressure and agree to the rerouting of the road connecting Charleston to Logan and Williamson.
As some soldiers were returning home from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins, others like Wilson Butcher of the Harts area and Jacob Herald Jr. of Airport Road near Chapmanville were being honored for their heroic actions in the undeclared war. Butcher received the Bronze Star for gallantry, and Herald the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military award, for his action on May 6, 1968 in Vietnam. The 1965 graduate of Logan High crawled to within 20 yards of a well-entrenched Viet Cong force and took out the enemy with two well-placed hand grenades, all while his buddies were under fire and pinned down.
Even though plans were being made to build the Ralph R. Willis Vocational Center at Three-Mile Curve, Island Creek Coal Co. was dedicating the property to be named the Bill George Memorial Little League field at Whitman, and the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. depot on Dingess Street was being designated as the City of Logan administrative building, there was also bad news on the local and national level.
Two Logan High School students, including potentially one of the best basketball players ever at LHS (Fred Blackmon, a junior), would die Sept. 30 in an automobile mishap, after they were in a vehicle that struck a rock wall near a Switzer bridge. Lawrence Hoover, 19, was later determined to be the driver of the vehicle that was involved in a drag race.
Also succumbing the very same day as a result of a heart attack was former Logan Police Chief Roy Platt, who had served in that capacity from 1951 through 1956 and from 1961 until 1968. Platt died while visiting the police department that was then located near Holland Lane in Logan.
While the 3,000 acres of Youngstown Mines Corp. at Rum Junction was being dedicated (the mine my father would eventually retire from), it simultaneously was announced that two tunnels had been constructed by the company under the Guyandotte River. The Banner headlines also would read: “Hippies Charged With Murder of Actress, 6 Others.” It was the beginning of the end of a guy named Charles Manson.
Locally, the PRIDE, Inc. organization and its 42-member Board of Directors were battling the Logan Board of Education to decide which agency would operate the Head Start Project that had started with PRIDE in 1965. Playing leading roles in that debate were Dr. Mark Spurlock of the school board and House of Delegates member and PRIDE Executive Director Ervin Queen.
Meanwhile, Logan Circuit Judge Harvey Oakley was engaged in hearing a petition to ouster two county commissioners (Okey Hager and Earl Thompson) for alleged misconduct, malfeasance in office, incompetence and neglect of duty.
At the same time, politics was at its finest as attorney and former state senator Bernard Smith had filed a petition to impeach Assessor Tom Godby for, among other things, taking payoffs from coal company executives. After five full days of impeachment hearings, Judge Oakley ordered Godby removed from office for official misconduct, malfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty. The day after the hearing, the county court would name Triadelphia area Constable Ralph Grimmett as Godby’s successor.
Without naming all of the political players involved in this 1969 mess, allow me to present some local history in telling you that the youngest man ever to serve as a constable in Logan County was back then appointed to that position by the county court. Twenty-two-year-old Joe C. Ferrell, a former West Logan police officer, was named constable following the resignation of Garland Counts.
It was also in June of the same year that Justice of the Peace Ezra Butcher and a woman at his Godby Heights home were murdered. The woman’s 10-year-old daughter was spared. Controversy still surrounds those two deaths.
Yes, important things happened in 1969, including the first men walking upon the moon, Black Lung legislation finally being passed for the nation’s 140,000 coal miners, and even the Reds’ Pete Rose winning his second National League batting title. However, 1970 was on its way with even more surprises. Here’s what the January 1970 Logan Banner headline would read:
“Kanawha Grand Jury Indicts Barron, Sen. Bernard Smith.”
Wally Barron had previously been governor of West Virginia, while Smith, who had led the impeachment charges against Godby, served as Barron’s Welfare Commissioner. Both would spend time in prison.
Can you believe 1970 would prove to be even more interesting?