University President Suzanne Shipley led a group from Shepherd University for a tour of historical sites in Charles Town related to the rich African American heritage of this area. I was pleased to join her and Dr. Keith Alexander from the History Department, and Christana Johnson, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success. We toured three historic sites and came away with a better appreciation of the work being done by our hosts, members of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society, to save these sites and interpret them to visitors as part of the Jefferson County African American Heritage Trail.
We were invited to visit the sites by Mr. James Taylor, Mr. George Rutherford, Mr. James Tolbert, and Ms. Linda Ballard who acted as our guides. The Byrd Center for Legislative Studies recently conducted oral history interviews with George Rutherford and James Tolbert regarding their relationship to Senator Byrd and the senator’s efforts to help preserve Fisherman’s Hall, one of the sites we visited. Even though Senator Byrd passed in 2010, an appropriation he earmarked for Fisherman’s Hall in 2009 is still helping with the restoration of this important building. Work was still going on in the final phase of the building’s restoration at the time of our visit.
Our tour was only a small part of the Jefferson County West Virginia African American Heritage Trail. A handsome brochure is available for download for those who want to see more.
As the brochure states, “African American history in Jefferson County, West Virginia, cannot be separated from American history.” This is true. The only way to fully understand the broad contours of American history is to see it all as part of a fabric, intertwined and inseparable. The story is so much richer, exciting, and revealing when we embrace the whole thing.