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In 1891, the state legislature authorized the creation of West Virginia State College, the second institution of higher education for African Americans in West Virginia. In 1939, the college became the first to offer a Civilian Pilot Training Program that open to African Americans. Carter G. Woodson served as a dean at the college in the 1920s. Woodson is often credited as "the Father of Black History" for his role in creating scholarly organizations, journals, and traditions such as Black History Month.
Backstory and Context
West Virginia State College was one of the seventeen schools created under the authority of the second Morrill Act. The expansion of this act in 1890 allowed support to states that chose to create and fund higher education for African Americans. In 1891, the school offered only high school certification and vocational training. However, the institution's curriculum expanded quickly to include a two-year college degree and certifications for teachers. The college of education was the largest program and many of the graduates became teachers throughout the region. By 1927, the college offered enough liberal arts degree programs to attain accreditation. Two years later, the state of West Virginia recognized the school as a four year institution and changed its name to West Virginia State College.
From 1920-1922, Carter G. Woodson, who is widely regarded as the "Father of Black History," served as the Dean of the called West Virginia Collegiate University. On September 11, 1939, West Virginia State College President John Warren Davis received approval from the Civilian Aeronautics Authority in Washington, D.C., to establish a Civilian Pilot Training Program at the college, the first African-American college in the country to do so. In the summer of 1940, West Virginia State College became the first black college to enroll white trainees into its flight program, a precedent for integrating the military. Among those enrolled were George Spencer Roberts, who became the first African-American appointed to the United States Army Air Corps.
In 1951, the school began the process of racial integration. Following the state of West Virginia's decision to abide by the United States Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, the number of white students at West Virginia State College grew rapidly and the majority of the students at the college were white within a few years. In 2004, West Virginia State College reached university status and offered graduate degrees in biotechnology and media studies. Today, graduate degrees also include law enforcement and education and the institution is known as West Virginia State University.
Although 78% of current students are white, West Virginia State is still considered a historically black college. Student life of campus is described as "white by day, black by night" which means that although most of the students who attend are white and mostly commute, most of the students who live on campus are black students. Although the majority of the faculty and students are not African American, the University strives to uphold the school's tradition of racial uplift.
Along with Carter G. Woodson, West Virginia State has employed numerous influential scholars. For example, Naomi Garrett of the Department of Modern Languages served the institution from 1947 to 1972. During these years, Garett's foreign student program received national acclaim. Garrett’s parents were both educators and books filled their South Caroline home. She earned her MA from Atlanta University and Ph.D. in French from Columbia University. Prestigious fellowships from the Ford, Rosenwald and Fulbright Foundations and Columbia University permitted her to pursue doctoral and post-doctoral work in France. Her research included a study of francophone African poetry at the Bibliotheque National Paris.
At this time she met and forged relationships with many French and Caribbean writers. An outstanding scholar and teacher, Dr. Garrett has received numerous awards for her teaching and service and her published articles and book reviews are numerous. Her retirement from West Virginia State College after a long and distinguished career led her to assume distinguished professorships at Denison University, Rhode Island University and the College of Charleston, West Virginia.
"West Virginia State University." Black Past.org Remembered & Reclaimed. University of Washington, n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. . Romero, Patricia Watkins, Carter G. Woodson: A Biography. Ann Arbor, University Microfilms International 1986. 1971 Doctoral Dissertation (copy can be found at http://www.marshall.edu/special-collections/#gsc.tab=0) Goggin, Jacqueline, Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. Baton Rouge Louisiana State University Press 1993 Vertical Files Box # 73 (Rivers-Tug TO Schools-Middle) Folder: Schools-Desegregation (#1) 6/13/1954 Charleston Gazette article "Integration of Races Not Really New At Prejudice-Free Institute School". Located in Marshall University Special Collections. Vertical Files Box # 73 (Rivers-Tug TO Schools-Middle) Folder: Schools-Desegregation (#2). 2/5/1984 Charleston Gazette article "Brown case's impact on rights to be discussed". Regarding presentation at college. Located in Marshall University Special Collections. Vertical Files Box # 73 (Rivers-Tug TO Schools-Middle) Folder: Schools-Desegregation (#2) 8/23/1980 Herald-Dispatch article "NAACP alleges schools discriminate". College mentioned. Located in Marshall University Special Collections.
South Carolina African American History Calendar. Naomi Garrett, PhD. Accessed February 02, 2017. http://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/naomi-garrett-phd/.
"West Virginia State University." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=81413.