“This celebration is an effort, plan and inspiration to make an impact. Our attempt to connect history and what is happening now.” This quote by Juneteenth Event Coordinator Ron English turned to be a reoccurring theme throughout the four day celebration.
When the Tuesday Morning Group (TMG) noticed the lack of acknowledgement given to African Americans for their donation to West Virginia History they felt entitled to change that. After hard work spearheaded by event coordinator Ron English, the Tuesday Morning Group organized a Juneteenth Celebration.
The four day ceremony began on Sunday, June 16 at the WV Cultural Center in the Grand Hall. WV Musical Hall of Fame Ensemble brought us selections like Grandma’s House by Bill Withers. After Crystal Good brought us a beautiful poem it was time for our keynote speaker David M. Fryson, Esq. Chief Diversity Officer, WVU. He urged us to remember our roots and that WV has always been at the forefront, reminding us that while we are celebrating 150 years of history it is relative young in terms of generations. We must continue our work for the following generations just like our ancestors did for us.
TMG transitioned the celebration to Mary C. Snow Elementary on the west side of Charleston for Monday’s ceremony. They looked at The Black Presence in Politics for Social Change. Booker T. served as an example along with J.R. Clifford of what one or a group can do when they dedicate themselves to a purpose.
After two successful nights it was time for our featured Scholars to take the stage in WVSU Davis Fine Arts Building. Dr. Ancella Bickley, Professor Emeritus of English spoke to us and recollected about what it is was like growing up in West Virginia over the years. Dr. Charles Ledbetter define “experiment” from two point of views in a presentation around the Tuskegee Experiment at State College.
To build on what was becoming a grand experience we welcomed from Carnegie Mellon University home, Dr. Joe William Trotter, Jr. He told us “hard times and hardships have been a theme in Black WV but so has our race overcoming”.
To conclude the Juneteenth Events there was a Revival Celebration at First Baptist Church where Arley Ray Johnson would be the speaker. The congregation was reminded that our community walls are down and gates consumed with fire as referenced from biblical text. We were offered ways of correcting this for the sake of upcoming generations like strengthening the church and what we have left.
The keynote followed this up by urging us to stand up, change it and rearrange it. Johnson told the congregation they must be willing to say if it is your will God I will endure. God is looking for people to sellout to move.
Event coordinator summed it up best by saying “this celebration is an effort, plan and inspiration to make an impact. Our way to connect history and happenings now.” photo from Wednesday night celebration.
Established in 1890 under the Morril Act, there is no question West Virginia State Colored Institute now West Virginia State University is a pillar in the Kanawha community.
Tonight, June 18, as a part of Juneteenth celebration sponsored by Tuesday Morning Group this historical university will host an event focused on The Black Presence in Educational Achievement. There is no shortage of history from a local and national point of view when looking at this unique institution.
It was September 10, 1939, when West Virginia State College became the first of six HBCU’s to be authorized by the Civil Aeronautics Authority to establish an aviation program. The response of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper to the announcement of West Virginia State’s selection was a story that began with “What we have just witnessed is a miracle…supplemented by the far-sighted genius of men of action, backed by visions which have come true.” This explains how big this actually was.
The first pilot training class at West Virginia State College began on November 14, 1939. By January 1941, West Virginia State College had graduated several classes from their aviation program and were actively competing for authority to offer a commercial pilot’s course for the graduates of the aviation programs at the six historically black colleges.
The construction of the Army Air Field at Tuskegee Institute began on June 23, 1941. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was assigned to conduct the training. The first cadet pilot training class consisted of 13 members that included George Roberts and Mac Ross from West Virginia State College.
In a July 24, 1943 letter to President Davis, Mr. Evans states, “It is interesting to note from the press releases from Tuskegee Army Air Field, the increasing number of West Virginia State College graduates and students who are (joining the Tuskegee Airmen).”
During the course of (World War II), the Tuskegee Airmen lost 66 pilots killed in the combat zone. They destroyed or damaged 409 German aircraft, over 950 units of ground transportation, and sank a destroyer with machine gun fire alone, which was a unique accomplishment. However, their most distinctive achievement was that not one friendly bomber was lost to enemy aircraft attacks during 200 escort missions. This success was unique because no other fighter unit with nearly as many missions could make the same claim.
Consisting of many West Virginia State College graduates in command and support positions, the Tuskegee Airmen earned an outstanding record in and out of combat regardless of how it might be assessed. There are numerous examples like Tuskegee airmen that WVSU played a part in, including Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington and Leon Sullivan who even has a dormitory named after him.
“When you are free you need to celebrate, but celebrate within who you are.” This was just one of the great points Pastor David M. Fryson left with us yesterday at our Juneteenth kickoff. Remember your beginnings and the generations before you and keep pressing forward for the ones who will come after.
Growing up on West Virginia State College Campus, Pastor Fryson’s resume’ is nothing short of commendable. He has worked with Leon Sullivan, held national office positions and is the current Chief Diversity Officer at WVU but he says his greatest accomplishment was convincing his wife to marry him. He credits all his achievements to his partnership with her.
Growing up, Pastor Fryson was raised by two great role models who in his speech yesterday and our interview prior to, made sure to acknowledge. His mother, Dorothy Fryson who lived to see 102 years of age and his father David Fryson, Sr. taught him to persevere and the value of hard work. In his speech he left us with a quote “get education, do not let it get you”. He went on to say it is great to seek knowledge but it is important to remember where you come from. Needless to say Pastor Fryson is exemplifying this.
Also, in an interview with Pastor Fryson when asked about growing up on WVSC campus and in the era he did, how did it affect him? His response was subtle and straight to the point. State was more than place of school it is life. This is a prime example of keeping your values and remembering where you come from.
Yesterday, Pastor Fryson left us with a good piece of knowledge. He said “Remember West Virginia at the forefront, before Black History Month Carter G. Woodson was in Huntington, WV. Before the Niagra Movement there was a Harper’s Ferry Movement and before Booker T. and Tuskeegee there was Booker T. in Malden, WV”. Pastor Fryson was remarkable and left us with a charge. There were generations before who paved the way for us and we must do the same for those coming. We are the American Dream so lets keep moving forward.
On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but it was not enacted until 1863, the same year he issued a Presidential Proclamation that established the State of West Virginia. For Lincoln the major issue of the Civil War was preserving the Union. Ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who escaped the bondage of slavery to achieve status that granted him access to the President, constantly agitated Lincoln by insisting “Mr. President, this war is not about preserving the union, it’s about freeing the slaves”.
This alone serves to illustrate the role of slavery in the Sesquicentennial narrative. But there is another dimension of the story that connects the birthday of the State on June 20th with the celebration of Juneteenth on June 19th.
The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued January 1, 1863; but took two years for the news to reach slaves in Texas. Union General Gordon Granger pronounced freedom of enslaved blacks in Galveston on June 19, 1865. On February 3, 1865, West Virginia‘s first Governor, Arthur I. Boreman, signed an act which gave immediate emancipation to all slaves. West Virginia became the last slave state to enter the union and the first state to exit the Confederacy. It took a while before news of emancipation arrived in Texas just as it took awhile for slaves to become freed Mountaineers in the state of West Virginia.
The State Sesquicentennial agenda seemed to have overlooked these connections. Such an oversight though maybe not intentional still represents the marginal visibility of African Americans in the state’s population which tends to expand in proportion to the decline of the African American presence in the population of West Virginia – currently about 3.5%. Even if unintentional, this oversight in programming the State’s Sesquicentennial seemed a consequence in need of correction.
The Tuesday Morning Group (TMG) group, a collaboration of leaders from community based organizations in Charleston, is addressing this omission with a four day Juneteenth Celebration of the Black Presence in West Virginia. The observance of Juneteenth inspires resilience and pride among African Americans and has come to be recognized as a symbolic milestone in the American quest to form a more perfect union.
Identifying connections between events in 1865 and the state’s 150th birthday provokes inquiry on what kept hope alive for slaves in West Virginia and Texas when freedom was at hand but not in hand. Apparently, an enduring spirituality empowered their patience and persistence to keep “eyes on the prize” as emancipation was on the way.
In a moving speech given at this year’ celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday, Rabbi Victor Urecki told the story of Israel’s “feeling of freedom” on the night before their exit from slavery in Egypt. With loins girded, sandals worn and a staff in their hands, they waited for what had already arrived because “freedom begins not with the physical reality of freedom, but when people realize they can be free”.
The enduring message of the Juneteenth Celebration of the Black Presence in West Virginia in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial celebration transcends race, color and class. The audacity to hope is embedded in our nature and nourishes neurons in the biology of believers. Slaves in West Virginia and in Texas may have awakened to this awareness while waiting for an external act to confirm an internal reality. Hope is not a plan but it is a good thing, particularly in bondage situations where we discover the freedom we seek is already here.
Ron English, TMG Event Coordinator