My continued research into Black residents in West Virginia prior to it becoming a separate state in 1863, and after 1863 continue to uncover some interesting facts that various historical societies in Marshall, Ohio, Brooke and Hancock Counties that make up the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia are never interested in, or will purposely seek to downplay at every turn, as if Black residents played no role at all in the development of the region.
What amazes me is how these Black residents managed to sustain themselves before and after emancipation, building some legacy for their own descendants, legacies that were often lost after Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s went into effect and effectively destroyed any gains made prior to those enactments.
With the obstacles of daily life, fraternal, church and community involvement gave these residents a sense of self, a support system that provided the positive encouragement needed to continue on, and the resolve to succeed as best possible despite the adversity.
A major obstacle in research is finding documents and verifying information. Here in West Virginia, that has been an especial challenge as many records about Black fraternal groups, churches or communities have often been destroyed and at times simply thrown in the trash as no one saw any value in such records at all.
Fraternal groups such as Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Order of Eastern Star and Elks all thrived in the Black community at various points after emancipation and well into the 1980’s, but all met with demise at varying points as employment or economic opportunity would always have negative effect on Black communities sooner, and in a much harsher manner that would require a migration to other areas of West Virginia or neighboring states that allowed for economic opportunities to sustain individuals or families.
The other anomaly that I continue to run across are the number of families that were able to pass as white due to physical appearance, which precipitated and required a need for relocation to begin their life anew it seems in some cases.
One family in my research relocated to West Virginia from South Carolina in the early 1900’s, seeking that economic opportunity I spoke of earlier in this post. That particular family patriarch was well-respected by several generations after him due to his personal conduct my research has uncovered.
I AM fortunate that there are still persons alive able to provide me testimony of firsthand interaction with this man, and the positive role he played in his family, church, fraternity, as a business owner and in his career employment punching a time clock, something that many Blacks after emancipation chose to do in an effort to build something for later generations and descendants.
I will continue my project(s), and keep posting updates until I have finished products to share.