West Virginia at 150: the African American Contribution

In conjunction with the celebration of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial, the Tuesday Morning Group, a faith-based collaborative network in Charleston, is sponsoring “The Black Presence in West Virginia” June 16-19 with four days of events in four locations throughout the Kanawha Valley.

Beginning with a program at West Virginia Cultural Center on Sunday, June 16, and concluding with a Juneteenth Spiritual Celebration on Wednesday, June 19, at the First Baptist Church of Charleston, the series of events will highlight the political, educational and cultural impact of African Americans on the state, according to the Rev. Ronald English, the project’s coordinator.

“We believe the celebration of our state’s 150th birthday is the perfect time to lift the veil and showcase the contributions African American have made to West Virginia,” the Rev. English said. “From Booker T. Washington to the Tuskegee airmen to current community leaders involved in ongoing struggles for justice, those contributions are a cause for celebration and reflection.”

 “The Black Presence in West Virginia” opens with a program in the Great Hall of the West Virginia Cultural Center on Sunday, June 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. David M. Fryson, chief diversity officer for West Virginia University, will deliver the keynote address.

The program also will feature instrumental music by the West Virginia Hall of Fame, which will pay tribute to African American artists in the Hall of Fame; presentations about the Hawk’s Nest tragedy and the John Henry Folk Legend, as well as poetry by noted Affrilachian poet Crystal Good.

“The Black Presence in Politics for Social Change” will be the topic for a Monday, June 17, event at 6 p.m. at the Mary C. Snow Westside Elementary. Attorney Tom Rodd will speak about statehood, civil rights and the famed African American attorney J.R. Clifford. Attorney Larry L. Rowe will discuss Booker T. Washington’s legacy of self-help. The Rev. Matthew Watts will moderate the program and present profiles on local civil rights heroes. The program will conclude with a video clip from “The Teacher”,  a documentary tribute on the life of educator Mary C. Snow.

West Virginia State University will host a Tuesday evening panel discussion of “The Black Presence in Educational Achievement,” in Davis Hall beginning at 7 p.m. Panel members include Dr. Ancella Bickley, former vice president of academic affairs at WVSU; Dr. Charles Ledbetter, vice chair of the West Virginia Archives and History Commission; Dr. Joe William Trotter, Jr., Giant Eagle professor of history and social justice at Carnegie Mellon University; and Ralph Miller, CEO of the Charleston Community and Family Development Corporation.

The activities will conclude with a spiritual celebration of Juneteenth, the day former slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were emancipated. The event is co-sponsored by the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance and will be held at First Baptist Church, beginning at 7 p.m. Featured speaker is Arley Ray Johnson, executive director of Advocates for the Other America.

All events will feature music and exhibits and are free to the public. For more information, visit us on Facebook – Tuesday Morning Group, on the website of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History at http://www.wvculture.org/wv150/juneteenth.html

For further information: email tuesmorninggroup@gmail.com.

Or contact:

Ron English, TMG Event Coordinator, (304-766-7295) nuronenghp03@aol.com

Deonta’ Landis, TMG Publicity agent, (919-808-0875) deonta@intuitivem.com


John Henry: Folktale or Legend?

Some say folktale and others say legend but no matter your classification you can not discredit the value in the story of the larger than life figure, John Henry.

“John Henry”, the ballad, tells the story of a steel-driving man who died in his race against the steam drill at the Big Bend Tunnel, near Talcott, West Virginia, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad around 1870.  Some think John Henry was a real person, a large African American man who traveled along the Atlantic Coast “driving a steel hammer” for the railroad.  

Construction of Great Bend Tunnel, under the Big Bend Mountain, began in 1870 and the lead contractor on the project was W.R. Johnson who paid some 800 to 1000 men and boys $1.25 a day.

As word quickly spread of this job opportunity, many ex-slaves and white Irish immigrants from the North Carolina and Virginia area came to Big Bend Mountain seeking employment.  Included in this migration of men and their families according to records was an ex-slave named John Henry.  

There has been interviews that says John Henry was a man of large stature.  Some accounts and records show that because of his skill set and large size he earned $1.75/day instead of the usual $1.25/day.

Whether or not we believe the ballad of John Henry, we shall never know the truth as a fire destroyed C&O Headquarters in the Late 1800’s.  Along with the headquarters, all documentation of Great Bend Tunnel’s costs, toll of lives, etc. went up in smoke.  

We do know though, a letter from W.R. Johnson, president of a coal company at Smithers by the same name, wrote Mr. Johnson that his father (Davidson) was an eye witness to a famous race.

The letter in part read: “My grandfather, Stephen Davidson, who worked on Great Bend Tunnel the entire time it took to build, was present and stood by and watch John Henry accomplish this unbelievable act of beating the steam drill.  And John Henry used two hammers; undoubtedly the handles were short.  Grandfather told me many times over about this feat.  He also told me that John Henry collapsed at the finish and was never able to work again.  The information I am giving you came from an eyewitness.” 

Whether this is true or not I will leave up to you the reader.  So we ask John Henry, Folktale or Legend?Image


As West Virginia prepares to celebrate 150 years of Statehood The Tuesday Morning Group invites you to celebrate 150 years of Juneteenth.  This year’s West Virginia Juneteenth celebrates the journey and achievement of African Americans in particular, the contributions made to West Virginia history.

Juneteenth festivities in Charleston will serve as a unique prelude to West Virginia’s 150th celebration by examining and remembering West Virginia personalities like John Henry, Booker T. Washington and Leon Sullivan.

Dates to Remember:

Sunday, June 16th, 4:00pm – 6:00pm will be our kick off at the West Virginia Cultural Center. 
The opening program will be focused around Hawks Nest Tragedy and The Plight of African Americans in the Labor Movement.  This event will also feature music and refreshments with a few surprises along the way. 

Monday June 17th, 6:00pm at Mary C. Snow Elementary will examine “The African American Presence in Politics for Social Change through J. R. Clifford and other fighters for equality and social justice.  Also, Harper’s Ferry: John Brown and Storer College will be amongst the topics. 

Tuesday, June 18, 7:00pm at West Virginia State University, Dr. Ancella Bickley will speak about A Cultural and Educational Perspective on Black Presence in WV.  This will be just one of the topics that will be visited along with Tuskegee Airmen and a special guest speaker. 

Wednesday, June 19, 7:00pm at First Baptist Church, a Juneteenth Revival Celebration sponsored in cooperation with the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance. 

Tuesday Morning Group comes together each Tuesday of the month to look at the African American community and the issues around Charleston WV.  We want to remember the donation made to West Virginian History by African Americans. 


For information visit our page on the West Virginia Cultural Site.  You can also find us on Facebook – Tuesday Morning Group.  Be sure to like our page for Juneteenth surprises you do not want to miss.  Or email us at tuesmorninggroup@gmail.com and we will respond promptly.Image