The origins of the West Virginia Day state holiday can be found in the tragic controversy over slavery in the United States that inexorably led to the American Civil War. The original Virginia constitution passed in 1776 granted the vote to white males who owned fifty acres of land or twenty-five acres of "improved" land. This provision not only disenfranchised the slaves but also the poor white farmers who dominated the population of the western half of the state.
In the face of growing discontent emanating from those poor farmers, additional constitutional conventions were held in 1829 and 1850, but the rich plantation owners would not concede much to their poorer neighbors. In 1850 while males in Virginia aged twenty-one and older finally did get the vote but the rich planters slipped in a tax "reform" which stipulated that land would be taxed at full face value unless the owner also had slaves. Disenfranchisement for West Virginians was replaced by an unequal tax burden that added to their already impoverished state of life.
When the Civil War broke out in 1860, a group of West Virginians separated from the main body of Virginia proper and declared themselves to be the "Reorganized State of Virginia." This group sided with the Union against the rest of Virginia which followed the Confederacy. Unfortunately, the division of Virginia into two separate entities would become even more complicated before it was resolved.
When President Abraham Lincoln passed a new statehood bill in 1862, fifty West Virginia counties approved the measure and a new state was formed called West Virginia. The Reorganized State of Virginia continued to exist, however, in one form or another until the end of the Civil War when the group challenged the legitimacy of the new state of West Virginia. Before all was said and done, the federal government had to intervene. The controversy was not resolved until 1871, but in the end West Virginia remained a valid state, separate and distinct from Virginia proper and the Reorganized State of Virginia ceased to exist.
The West Virginia Day holiday, held on June 20th honors the convoluted origins of the state of West Virginia. Like many such state holidays, the West Virginia Day is virtually unknown outside the confines of the state itself. West Virginia Day is the official state day of West Virginia and communities hold various observances to commemorate the historical significance of the West Virginia Day.
West Virginia Day and the history behind the commemoration are but one of the lingering remnants of the tragic War Between the States that not only tore the nation apart in 1860 but left the United States with lingering (but bitter) regional animosities and unresolved (and equally bitter) racial tensions. To many of the state's citizens, West Virginia Day and the Civil War itself seem to be little more than ancient anachronisms, but for other West Virginians, both the war and the origins of their state continue to hold deep emotional and political significance which they recognize with reverence and historical awareness.