As we celebrate African American history month here in Southern West Virginia, we’re taking a look at some of our most prominent black leaders, and historical sites where you can learn more about the rich African American history of our region.
• Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Did you know the founder of Black History Month was once a Southern WV educator? The “Father of Black History”, Carter G. Woodson began Negro History Week, which today has grown into Black History Month. A statue of Woodson in Huntington, WV, commemorates his accomplishments as a principal at Douglas High School, the same school where he earned his high school diploma, as well as his remarkable strides in preserving African American culture and history for future generations.
Woodson was a historian and journalist, and was one of the first African American history scholars. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, the second black man to ever achieve this. He founded the Association for the study of African American Life and History, and the Journal of Negro History, which is still published today.
• “Opportunity to Honor” Exhibit
For an overview of our area’s black historical roots, the Greenbrier Historical Society and North House Museum in Lewisburg are honoring several of the region’s black historical figures with an exhibit to tell their stories. Delve into Aunt Laura’s tales of her former slavery, and meet Frank Page, the trainer of Robert E. Lee’s white horse.
The exhibit runs through March 9, and is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
• Booker T. Washington
A fiery speaker and polished politician, Booker T. Washington was a major influence on race relations in the south. Born into slavery and growing up in Malden, WV, he worked packing salt by day and pursued an education at night. He eventually became a U.S. Presidential adviser.
There is a historical marker in Malden honoring Washington. You can also see his boyhood home (or at least a restructured version of it) in Institute, WV. Institute is also the home of West Virginia State University, which Washington, an educator himself, had a hand in founding.
• Leon Sullivan
Born and raised in Charleston, WV Sullivan’s life course was set when a shopkeeper on Capitol Street refused to sell him a Coke because of the color of his skin. This event, which happened at age 12, ignited a passion for equality in Leon Sullivan. A Baptist minister and equal rights activist, Sullivan championed the idea of “self-help” for those who had never before had opportunities to advance themselves. He advocated training to help prepare African Americans to grab the new job options open to them and thrive in those positions.
• African American Heritage Family Tree Museum
In the museum located in the Town Hall of Ansted, visitors can learn about the life and culture of African-Americans living in Ansted from the late 1800s to the present day. The exhibit features William K. Rogers, coke oven supervisor; James Brandon, municipal judge; the Mt. Chapel Baptist Church; needlework of Fannie Jeter; and a rich and varied assortment of other items. The museum also houses Civil War relics and Elwood Maples’ Coal Collection.
The Town Hall Museum is open Monday through Friday from 8am until noon, then from 1pm until 4pm. Admittance is free, donations are welcome and appreciated. Call 304-658-5901 for more information or to schedule a group tour. Group tours can be scheduled for Saturdays.
• Kimball War Memorial Building
Located in McDowell County, West Virginia, the Kimball World War I Memorial was the first memorial built in the U.S. to honor African-American veterans of World War I. Today it is the only such memorial remaining.
The Kimball War Memorial was the focal point of community life for decades, serving as a cultural and social center. Over time, the declining coal industry led to shrinking employment, income and population. The building was abandoned and fell victim to a fire in 1991, leaving only the exterior shell of the memorial.
The building was placed on the National Historic Register in 1993, funds were raised and the memorial was restored. Today it is open for special events and tours.