New Book Looks At The “Two Virginias”

by Gene Marrano

Michael Abraham

Michael Abraham has long been interested in the two Virginias: the differences and similarities between Virginia and West Virginia, which was born in the Civil War era over the issues of secession and slavery. Thus, Abraham has written and published his second book, “The Spine of the Virginias: Journeys along the Border Between Virginia and West Virginia.” The book is a non-fiction look at the people, history and culture in the border counties of Virginia and West Virginia.

In “Spine” we encounter people and places in small vignettes, as Abraham interviews everyone from maple syrup producers to miners, senators, lawyers and doctors. He describes the region as having a patina that is a “pall of resentment, resignation, affection, divided loyalties and constitutional ambiguities.”

West Virginia was created just 73 days after a South Carolina militia attacked Fort Sumter, ushering in the Civil War. That’s when what Abraham describes as a group of railroad executives and politicians from 27 Northwestern counties in Virginia met in Wheeling, laying the foundation for a pro-Union state, the nation’s 35th.

Despite his desire to see the country remain whole, President Abraham Lincoln, ever the pragmatist, according to Abraham, welcomed in West Virginia. Still, the only Civil War monument he came across in a border West Virginia county (Union) honored locals who fought for the Confederacy.

Abraham hopscotches back and forth on each side of the border, telling tales from towns like Bluefield, Paint Bank and Strasburg along the way. “I’ve always been intrigued by West Virginia and the relationship between the [two] states,” says Abraham.

“While Virginia is often seen as cavalier, the [birthplace] of presidents … West Virginia has always had this hillbilly, mountaineer, Rodney Dangerfield of states, ‘can’t-get-no-respect,’ kind of image. How did that emerge? How did that happen?” he asks.

Abraham calls West Virginia “homespun,” with “good American values,” that haven’t changed much in over a century. Yet his book puts the spotlight on many accomplished people that poke holes in any myth that all West Virginians are indeed hillbillies.

Abraham was also intrigued by the fact that West Virginia is the only state formed from another (Virginia) without the parent state’s consent.  “The only successful example of secession in America, and it was approved by Lincoln – who was fighting a war to prevent secession.”

Welcoming West Virginia to the fold also meant Lincoln picked up two senators and a congressman sympathetic to the Union cause. “[Lincoln] was a brilliant tactician in terms of his politics,” notes Abraham, “but the southerners were furious about it.” Virginia was in no position to defend that part of the state, thus West Virginia was born. “I just got real intrigued by that – the relationship between the two states.” He found more commonality then differences in the border counties – including their distaste for goings-on in the remote capitals of Richmond and Charleston. They include “a lot of very talented people,” notes Abraham, “it’s my way of helping people take a look at themselves.”

Abraham, a Christiansburg writer, has previously released a novel, “Union, WV,” and is about to publish another non-fiction piece, “Harmonic Highways: Motorcycling Virginia’s Crooked Road.”

“The Spine of the Virginias” is available at www.bikemike.name and Abraham says it can be found at Rams Head bookstore in Roanoke.

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