West Virginia Black History Locations
Twenty significant West Virginia locations related to Black history.
Storer College was the first African American college in West Virginia. The institution had been established by the Free Will Baptist church as a school for runaway slaves during the Civil War. In 1867, Storer was incorporated by the state as a teacher school for African Americans under the leadership of the Rev. Nathan C. Brackett. Storer educated over 7,000 students in its nearly ninety-year history including many prominent educators, lawyers, doctors, and politicians. The Storer College campus is now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anthony Memorial Hall is the most prominent building on campus and, like many of the Storer buildings that stand today, is used as an education center for the National Park Service.
This was the first home to be built by free slaves following the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation in Hampshire County, WV.
Darkish Knob is an imposing hill in Parsons, WV that many locals believe to be haunted by a young slave girl who fell to her demise here. During Civil War times, many runaway slaves traveled through what is now West Virginia on their way to find freedom. The Underground Railroad ran through Parsons, and a small hidden refuge was placed at the base of Darkish Knob. Supposedly, a young girl lost her way trying to find the hidden shelter and fell to her death on the rocks below. The Cheat River at the base of Darkish Knob washed her away, but locals still claim to hear her cries on the anniversary of her death.
As the Black population of Monongalia County grew rapidly in the early 1900s, local Black educator and leader Dewey Cox led an effort to establish a large, permanent high school for local African American students. Dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1938, Monongalia High School served as Monongalia County's only African American high school until 1954, when the county school system was integrated. The school provided both education and a sense of community to African American families in Morgantown and the surrounding areas. The school was also a significant source of employment for Black teachers, many of whom were not retained by the school district after integration.
Kelly Miller High School, located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, was established in this location in 1903 as a school for African American children. The school was named after Kelly Miller, an African American scholar. Kelly Miller High School closed in 1956 when integration began to take place and the Kelly Miller student body was absorbed into other public high schools. The school's namesake, Kelly Miller, was the first African American to attend Johns Hopkins University. The Kelly Miller School building now houses the Harrison County Board of Education. Today there is a Kelly Miller Foundation administered by alumni, and provides scholarships to students in need.
The Federal-style brick structure at the confluence of Tom’s Fork and Meathouse Fork outside of New Milton, West Virginia was originally the home of Jepthah Fitz Randolph and his family. After marrying Doddridge County native Deborah Sutton in 1836, Jepthah and his new wife moved to Milton, Wisconsin in 1844 before returning to this area the following year and constructing their new home some time in the next decade. Because they were Seventh Day Baptists, a denomination that staunchly opposed slavery, the Jepthah and Deborah were noted local abolitionists. Their opposition to the institution went so far, in fact, that the couple provided their home as a haven for runaway slaves fleeing to freedom in the north as part of the Underground Railroad. After serving in this capacity until the American Civil War, the Fitz Randolph House remained Jepthah and Deborah’s home until their deaths. It continues to be privately owned today.
Dedicated in 2017, this marker commemorates the life of professor and principal Charles William Warfield Sr. Born in Harper’s Ferry in 1870, Warfield devoted his life to training Black teachers and educating Black children in this West Virginia. Warfield served as a professor of English at Storer College and Bluefield State College until 1917, when he became a principal of a new African American school in Buckhannon. At the dedication ceremony, Buckhannon mayor David McCauley indicated that there was no educational opportunity for African Americans in the city prior to Warfield's arrival. Records of Black education in West Virginia challenge this statement, as Black children were able to attend area schools that were established in area communities such as Weston that date back to the early years of Reconstruction. Carter Woodson's research indicates that E. L. Morton was the principal of a school for African Americans over a decade prior to Warfield's arrival. Although the mayor's statement claiming that there were no schools for African Americans prior to 1917 is inaccurate, he is correct to credit Warfield and other teachers who created better opportunities for Black children and families in Buckhannon.
During the 1880s, school leaders in Ceredo approved the construction of a small frame schoolhouse for African American children that operated until the 1930s at this location. The school was one of several in Wayne County that were attended by African American children during the era of segregation. The schoolhouse also served as a church and meeting place for members of Ceredo's African American community. School officials decided to close the school sometime in the early 1930s. The closure of the school was not a result of integration, as state law prohibited interracial education prior to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board, but rather owing to declining enrollment. This change was the result of African American families moving from the community, with the majority of those families deciding to move to nearby Huntington. After the closure of this school, the Ceredo School Board paid to operate a bus that transported the remaining African American students to schools in Westmoreland and Huntington. The schoolhouse was later converted into a private residence, and was destroyed by fire in the early 1970s.
This small frame house was home to Memphis Tennessee Garrison, a leader in the African American community who served as one of the vice presidents of the NAACP. Garrison spent the majority of her life living in rural Appalachia. After teaching in a one-room school in Gary, West Virginia, she retired to Huntington. She worked to secure resources for schools, supported local civil rights initiatives, and became a vice president of the NAACP. Garrison lived at this home from the 1950s until the 1980s. During those years, she opened her home to many in the community. She also used the home to host numerous meetings where leaders of the African American community came together to discuss their challenges and propose solutions. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2017 and is being preserved by community leaders who hope to turn the home into a community museum.
Carter G. Woodson, known to many as "the Father of Black History,” was born to former slaves and worked in the mines of West Virginia before graduating from Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. Woodson believed that educating the populace about Black history had the power to transform society, improve race relations, and benefit people of all races. Woodson was educated in the segregated public schools of Huntington, West Virginia, and became the principal of his former high school after completing a teacher certification program at Kentucky's racially integrated Berea College. He went on to earn a M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Woodson founded Negro History Week in February of 1926, and his efforts to grow this annual celebration of Black history and culture led to the creation of Black History Month. Woodson also created the Journal of Negro History and the scholarly and community organization known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. These institutions, together with his scholarly and popular books, journals, and articles, provided a platform for educating others about African American history with works written by Black and white scholars. Woodson was among one of the first scholars to research and publish works on slavery from the perspective of the enslaved.This statue was commemorated in 2003, and is said that Woodson's line of sight is directly pointed at the first location of Douglass High School.
This statue was built to honor Katherine Johnson, an African American woman who was a mathematician for NASA. Her calculations made it possible for the United States to put the first astronaut into space. The statue was placed at her alma mater, West Virginia State University. The revealing ceremony was held a day before her 100th birthday, on August 25th 2018.
Mattie V. Lee was the first African American woman physician from the state of West Virginia, and was heavily involved in efforts to provide housing for female students and as a center for social events. The Mattie V. Lee house was established in 1915 as a safe haven for African American girls who relocated to Charleston, WV in search of employment. Historically, the home served as a social, religious, and cultural center, as well as helping in the process of residents becoming employed. Today the Mattie V. Lee Home is an addiction treatment center for the Prestera Center.
Elizabeth Harden Gilmore was a Charleston funeral director and a pioneer in the civil right movement in West Virginia. Gilmore was a leader and one of the founders of the local chapter of Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) that led sit-ins throughout Charleston. She also worked to secure the admission of African American Girl Scouts into the previously all-white Camp Anne Bailey. Gilmore led the first sit-in against the Diamond Department Store’s lunch counter in Downtown Charleston. Thanks to her leadership, the store opened the lunch counter to African American patrons in 1960. In 1988, Gilmore's home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Efforts continue to restore the home and operate it in a way that honors Gilmore's legacy.
Named for former slave Henry Highland Garnet (1815- 1882), Garnet High School served as one of three Black high schools in Kanawha County, WV. As most schools did, Garnet High School provided a vital cultural tie to members of the community it served. Throughout the era of segregation Garnet High School provided an excellent education for its students despite the limitations which developed under the "separate but equal" system. The school produced many notable alumni including the Reverend Leon Sullivan, medical pioneer John C. Norman, Jr., and television personality Tony Brown. Ivin Lee, the first woman to head a police department in West Virginia and the Executive Director of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission is also a graduate of Garnet High School. Today Garnet is utilized as a career center, a WV exemplary school.
Located in Malden, West Virginia, African Zion Baptist Church is the oldest African American Baptist church in the state. Prior to the Civil War, thousands of slaves labored at the saltworks of the Kanawha Valley, many of whom remained in the area when the war ended. African Zion Baptist Church was organized by freedmen in 1852, and initially operated out of the home of its founder, Reverend Lewis Rice. In 1865, a temporary church building was built with the aid of General Lewis Ruffner, before the church relocated to its current location in 1872. The historic building is best known as the boyhood church of Booker T. Washington, one of the most influential African Americans of the twentieth century. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located next to a reconstruction of Washington's boyhood cabin.
Despite being considered one of the greatest industrial disasters in United States history, the events at Hawks Nest Tunnel remain remarkably unacknowledged in the development of American labor. As the country sank into the Great Depression, in 1930-1932 a three-mile long tunnel from was dug through the heart of Gauley Mountain in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia by Union Carbide corporation to divert water to a hydroelectric plant, and at the time the project was considered an engineering marvel. Lax safety standards and a disregard for worker welfare, however, caused the death of hundreds of workers from silicosis. Despite later legislation that set precedents in mining and safety standards, Union Carbide avoided any real consequences in the investigation that followed.
Camp Washington Carver, named for the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, was home to the very first African American 4-H camp. Constructed between 1939-1942 it was built by the Works Progress Administration to provide educational services to Black youth in West Virginia similar to those provided to white students at Jackson's Mill 4-H Camp. It was managed by West Virginia State College as part of its extension programs and in 1979 the camp was acquired by the WV Department of Culture and History. It is now home to events such as the Appalachian String Band Festival.
Tuberculosis was a national epidemic that affected people of all races, but African Americans in West Virginia and other states were rarely able to secure treatment at local hospitals. In order to serve these patients while maintaining a system of racial segregation, the West Virginia legislature created the West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium in 1917.
A monument to African American folk hero John Henry was dedicated in 1972 and stood at this location for over forty years before it was relocated to the new John Henry Historical Park on the other side of the tunnel. According to legend, John Henry was born a slave in the 1840s but was freed after the war. The story has transformed over the years and many still cling to the mythical story of Henry defeating a steam-powered drill in a battle of man vs machine that continues to resonate with those fearing changes due to technology.
The Kimball War Memorial building was dedicated in February of 1928 and is reported to be the first war memorial in the nation to be built in dedication to African American veterans. The building was home to the American Legion Post, named after Luther Patterson, the first African American soldier from McDowell County to die in combat during World War I. A decrease in the population of McDowell County and little upkeep led to the deterioration of the Kimball War Memorial, and a fire destroyed nearly everything but the supporting structure in 1991. After many years of effort and raising funds, the Kimball War Memorial has been restored and is now open for events and tours.