Invisible Roots and Legends Exhibit Opening This Week

Bolling School

The exhibit “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African American History in Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia” will be held at the Cooper Gallery, 122 East Washington Street, Lewisburg, WV from September 20 to October 4, 2014.  The exhibit will begin with an opening reception from 5-8 on this Saturday, September 20 and be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 11-5 and Fridays from 11-6.

This exhibit has received tremendous interest and support from people all over the country.  Exhibit Curator Janice Cooley said, “I talked with Kalonji “Butch” Mwanza, once a resident of Leslie, WV and who now lives in New Mexico. He is excited that we are doing this.  I have also spoken with many past residents of Greenbrier County, in Ohio, Michigan and other places, who are glad this is being done.”

 Carol Haynes, noted historian of local African American genealogy, has been asked to attend the opening reception.

The exhibit will consist of a collection of photographs and artifacts, from post-civil war to today, of African Americans who have contributed to the growth and development of this area in business, religion, education, sports, politics, and entertainment as well as general family life. It will also highlight a few individuals who were born and raised in Greenbrier County, left the area and are making significant impact in various areas such as the U.S. Government, the Arts, etc.

The exhibit is free to the public and the photographs, many of which have been donated just for this exhibit, are not for sale.

 In addition, on Friday, September 26, from 6-8, Exhibit Curator Janice Cooley and Greenbrier Historical Society Archivist Jim Talbert will co-host a round table discussion of an in-depth history of Greenbrier County and African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley. 

Cooley said, “I hope to build on the content of this exhibit, with the help of the community and those who come to see it, and to present a larger exhibit in 2016.  In addition to the Greenbrier Historical Society, Carnegie Hall has expressed an interest in partnering through the use of their exhibit space and perhaps adding some performance events.”

Item of the Week – Registry of Free People of Color

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Item of the Week: September 12, 2014
This ledger is a Registry of the Free People of Color in Greenbrier County, West Virginia from 1846-1864. Discovered among the documents in the Court House Collection, this ledger contains the names and descriptions of free African American individuals residing in Greenbrier County.

Excerpts from the Registry will be on display in the upcoming exhibit “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley, WV” which opens at the Cooper Gallery in Lewisburg on September 20th. The original ledger can be viewed in the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Archives and transcriptions of the register are available for purchase.

 

Blue Sulphur Springs: Three Generations of Care

Dustin Sears uses a weed eater to trim grass at the Blue Sulphur Spring pavilion.

Dustin Sears uses a weed eater to trim grass at the Blue Sulphur Spring pavilion.

When someone does something for which they receive little or no compensation, it is often referred to as a “labor of love.”  That is certainly the case for the Sears family who has been mowing the grass, bush hogging the rough areas, and weed eating the fence row at the Blue Sulphur Spring pavilion this summer.

Three generations of the Sears family—Larry, Brad, and Dustin—have been working hard to keep up with the grass.  They had a bit of a break in July when the weather was unusually dry but are making up for it now as Mother Nature seems to think it is spring.

Dustin said, “We went all out for the 4th of July.  We trimmed everything!” Grandfather Larry reminded him to look out for snakes as he used the weed eater.

Friends of the Blue Committee Chair Alex McLaughlin said, “We are really grateful to the Sears family for their work this summer.  It helps all of us to imagine how the Blue will look when it is finally restored.”

The restoration of the Blue is an on-going project of the Greenbrier Historical Society and donations are needed to further the work.  While all possible grants will be applied for, most grants require a 50% match and so private contributions are very much needed.  To support the Blue, tax-deductible contributions can be made to the Greenbrier Historical Society or “like” Blue Sulphur Springs on face book and donate with a credit card or paypal account.

Invisible Roots and Legends: African American Religious Traditions

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A Sunday School class at Shiloh Baptist Church in Alderson, WV built in 1879.

Enslaved Africans transported to the New World beginning in the fifteenth century brought with them a wide range of local religious beliefs and practices.   In a world turned upside down, these slaves clung to some semblance of normality through the religions they knew.

Over time many converted to Christianity, making it their own by combining it with their remembered traditions, beliefs, and practices.  Prior to emancipation, African Americans organized their own “invisible institution” in the slave quarters and inside family homes.  It was here that the spirituals, with their double meanings of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, developed and flourished.

After emancipation, more recognizable and formal churches were possible.  One such church is Shiloh Baptist Church in Alderson, WV which was built in 1879 specifically for African Americans.  Others include John Wesley Methodist Church and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Lewisburg each of which have unique and illustrious histories.

These churches and several others in the Greenbrier Valley became a place of refuge for African Americans where they were free to worship and socialize and build a community of strength as Christians.   They continue to be a main focal point in the community for African Americans.

Mrs. Opal Jones, long time member of Shiloh Baptist Church in Alderson, said, “The churches in the Greenbrier Valley were very important.  Church was the first avenue, besides home, where you received instruction on how to conduct yourself, your manners, and how to treat others.  It was a primary source of socialization and education.  Black teachers were usually Sunday School teachers and had added influence on the children’s learning.”

African American religious life in the Greenbrier Valley will be one of the tracks of the exhibit “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African American History in Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia” which will be held at the Cooper Gallery, 122 East Washington Street, Lewisburg, WV from September 20 to October 4, 2014.  The exhibit will begin with an opening reception from 5-8 on Saturday, September 20 and be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 11-5 and Fridays from 11-6.  It will consist of a collection of photographs and artifacts, from post-civil war to today, of African Americans who have contributed to the growth and development of this area in business, religion, education, sports, politics, and entertainment as well as general family life.  The exhibit is free to the public and the photographs, many of which have been donated just for this exhibit, are not for sale.

On Friday, September 26, from 6-8, Exhibit Curator Janice Cooley and Greenbrier Historical Society Archivist Jim Talbert will co-host a round table discussion of more in-depth history of African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley.

 

Item of the Week – New Archival Documents

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Item of the Week – September 5, 2014
Today, Walter and Nancy Jackson of Virginia donated several items to the Greenbrier Historical Society’s archives (pictured here with archivist Jim Talbert). The items were owned by Nancy’s grandfather Aubrey Overton Smith of Beckley, West Virginia. The first is a record of witness attendance and mileage at the Sweet Springs District Court, 1970 to 1809. The second is a copy the “Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia 1973-1806″ owned by John Matthews.  The final item (not pictured) is a ledger of marriage records from the 1850s from Raleigh County.

To see these archival items or other historical documents, visit the Archives and Library, located in the North House, 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, West Virginia. The Archives is open for research Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm.

Item of the Week – Gatewood Gown

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Item of the Week: August 29, 2014

Worn by three generations of one family, this dress was made for Hannah Moffett Gatewood in 1842 for her wedding to John Woods Warwick. On June 27, 1906, Hannah’s granddaughter, Georgie Pendleton Ligon wore it when she married William Blakely King in Clover Lick. In 1932,Hannah’s great granddaughter Louise Jackson Coyner also wore the dress. It was the oldest dress on display in the Greenbrier Brides Exhibit at the North House Museum. Tomorrow, Saturday, August 30th is the last day to see the exhibit. The North House Museum will be open from 10am to 4pm.

 

Invisible Roots and Legends: African American Education

EDUCATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS: THE STRUGGLE TO ATTEND SCHOOL

Earl C. Clay, Sr., Principal of former Bolling High and Elementary School

Earl C. Clay, Sr., Principal of former Bolling High and Elementary School

 There is an old joke, likely in all cultures and times, about the older folks trying to impress the younger ones with how hard they had it when they were young.  One version goes, “When I was young I had to walk to school barefoot, through the snow, and uphill both ways.”

From April 7, 1869, when the Board of Education for the township of Lewisburg acquired a building for the purpose of a free school for African American children, to the rocky course of actual integration in the 1950s this struggle was all too true.

And in the end, it was people who made the difference.  People such as Professor Edward A. Bolling who, in a biography posted on the WV Archives and History site, was noted to have been an educator in this area for over 40 years.  He was born in Greenbrier County on November 28, 1860 on the eve of the Civil War.  He grew up in Richmond and was graduated from Morgan College in Baltimore, MD.  In 1877, after teaching in Richmond for four years, he returned to Greenbrier County where he was appointed principal and teacher at the Lewisburg Colored School.

WV Archives and History site indicates that “For five consecutive summers, 1910-14, Prof. Bolling was one of the instructors in the State Summer School for colored teachers at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute. In 1915 he was granted a State Life Certificate by the West Virginia State Board of Education. This Board is composed entirely of white men who are among the leading educators of the State. This high honor has been conferred on only a comparatively few white persons and on only about ten colored men of the entire State. In Mr. Bolling’s own county of Greenbrier only two white and no other colored persons have been awarded this honor.”

Professor Bolling was so well respected that, in 1933, Earl Charles Clay, then principal, renamed Lewisburg Colored Junior High School as Bolling Junior High and Elementary School, after its original principal. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1939 and rebuilt and opened again in the fall of 1941.  In 1935, Bolling became a full twelve grade high school and was one of only four African American high schools in the entire State of West Virginia.

Earl Charles Clay was also impressive, having received his secondary education in the high school department of West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State College, and his college education in the same institution, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science in 1930. In the summer of 1940 he enrolled in Virginia State College to work toward the degree of Master of Science in Education.  (From the biographical sketch taken from his dissertation and transcribed by Carol Haynes.)

His father, Dr. Samuel Clay was a physician in Lewisburg.  Dr. Clay practiced out of his home on Walnut Street and had an office over the Pioneer drug store in downtown Lewisburg.

The “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African American History in Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia” exhibit which will be held at the Cooper Gallery from September 20 to October 4, 2014 will consist of a collection of photographs and artifacts, from post-civil war to today, of African Americans, such as the three above, who have contributed to the growth and development of this area in business, religion, education, sports, politics, and entertainment as well as general family life.

Sponsored by the Cooper Gallery, the Greenbrier Historical Society, and Curator Janice Cooley, the exhibit will present information and also encourage viewers to share information they may have about African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley before it is lost.

Closed for Labor Day

The Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum & Archives will be closed on Monday, September 1, 2014 for Labor Day. We will resume our regular operating hours on Tuesday, September 2, 2014.

We apologize for any inconvenience. If you are only in town for the weekend, please call 304.645.3398 to schedule a special appointment in advance.

Ogden Receives Certificates

Toni Ogden

Toni Ogden, Museum Coordinator at the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS), recently completed certification training with Northern States Conservation Center, one of the few schools in the United States offering advanced classes in museum topics. Ms. Ogden has qualified for the title of Collections Manager, having met the requirements for NSCC’s Certificate in Collections Management and Care.

The nearly three year course of study required completion of individual certificates in Registration, Cataloging and Storage of Collections; Preservation Environments; Disaster and Emergency Planning; Care of Museum Artifacts and Textiles and Grant Writing among other topics. For a final project Ms. Ogden created a Museum Handling Manual for the Greenbrier Historical Society.

Ms. Ogden said, “The past 15 years has seen a tremendous change in expectation of professional care and management of museum collections all around the world. It’s an exciting time to be a part of that community. Small museums across our country hold the collective history of our nation. As such, small museums are every bit as important as say, the Smithsonian. It is a privilege to work as we do as a public trust, preserving local heritage and the history of our material culture for the education and delight of generations to come.”

Ms. Ogden manages the North House Museum’s collection and exhibits, and with the assistance of the Mary Nickell Foundation, is the Director of Educational Programs at GHS. She also serves as Vice-President of the board of the Monroe County Historical Society and recently received a West Virginia Humanities Council grant to improve exhibits and displays in advance of the seasonal opening of their museum. Ms. Ogden represents Greenbrier Historical Society as a board member of the West Virginia Association of Museums.

Item of the Week: Morgan Wedding Dress

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Item of the Week: August 22, 2014
Worn by Mary Noel Morgan in her 1944 wedding to James Morgan. Mary’s family owned the General Lewis Inn when she met James who was visiting his mother in Lewisburg, WV during World War II. Mary and James went on to own the popular Inn for many years.

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