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West Virginia Law Review


West Virginia, Appalachia, legal education, race, racism, Barack Obama


This Note focuses on legal education in the United States and West Virginia in particular. Discussions on race, racism, and American law should take place in every legal classroom where race is relevant to the subject being discussed as a way to bridge gaps between communities. This is especially true for the West Virginia University College of Law ("College of Law"), which sits in the third whitest state in the country. The College of Law is the only law school in the state, and a majority of students at the College of Law are white and West Virginian. Thus, at the College of Law, discussions of race and racism are imperative, as these discussions may serve as the first and only conversations that white students have had regarding the role that race plays in their lives as Americans and West Virginians. To facilitate this discussion, this Note provides a historical background on race and racism in Appalachia and West Virginia for context.

Part II explains the history of blacks and whites in the southern Appalachian region. While race in America is often examined in terms of black, white, North, and South, the place of race in Appalachia is unique, as the southern mountaineer was often too poor to own slaves. Moreover, unlike the plantation rich areas of the South, where blacks make up a larger portion of the population, the Appalachian Mountains were and are primarily inhabited by whites. Thus, in order to accurately understand race and racism in Appalachia, it is important to understand the unique lives of the Mountaineer and how the whiteness of the Mountaineer shaped race relations in Appalachia. Furthermore, Part II explains the cultural similarities between American blacks and Appalachian whites. The overall purpose of Part II is to provide both blacks and whites with a historical and factual context for conversations on race and racism in Appalachia.

Part III explains West Virginia's mixed and varied history involving race. Additionally, it explains how race, racism, and black invisibility have influenced West Virginia's secession, formation, and laws. The combined histories and experiences outlined in Parts II and III should serve as empathetic starting points for conversations in the legal classroom regarding issues of race, racism, and American law.

Part IV discusses my personal experiences with race and racism as a native of West Virginia. Primarily, this Note examines the most recent developments in West Virginia's race relations by discussing President Barack Obama's Democratic Primary run in the state. Part IV explains how the Democratic electorate in West Virginia openly declared to pollsters and reporters that they were unwilling to support a black candidate for the American presidency.

Part V examines why West Virginians were more openly racist than any other voters during President Obama's Primary-bid. Part V also explains how the overwhelming white population and lack of minority presence in West Virginia has allowed for white West Virginians to rely upon media stereotypes of blacks, as many West Virginia whites are unfamiliar with black persons.

Part VI explains that because the history of race and racism in America has always been tied to a legal system, the American legal classroom is the perfect setting for courses and discussions involving race and racism. Because of the legal nature of racism in America, law schools should be required to facilitate discussions on race in every legal classroom.

Part VII explains how a new generation of white West Virginians can begin to understand how race and racism impacts them and their black counterparts. In fact, Part VII explains that the openness and intimacy of the legal classroom offers the best place for discussions of race and racism in West Virginia. Lastly, this Note specifically focuses on the role of race and race based classes at the WVU College of Law.