Hip-hop styles not a bad thing, Beckley store owner says
When a friend gave Robert Simmons a copy of a special section of the Aug. 26, 1950, Beckley Post-Herald several years ago, he knew it was important to preserve the old newspaper.
“It was a special section titled ‘Progress of Negro Race in Raleigh County,’” the Beckley man said. “It contains many stories about the black community in Raleigh County at that time.”
The local newspaper’s tribute to progress in the African-American community in Raleigh County in 1950 also featured outstanding black citizens and focused on the productive things they were doing in society.
“There are stories about the success of Stratton High School and its principals and teachers and other historical and statistical stories. It brought back many memories.”
The advertisements in the special section depicted black-owned businesses and businesses that marketed their products and services to the black community.
“It was a different time period. Everything was segregated,” Simmons recalled. “There was a white grocery store and there was a black grocery store. There was a white auto mechanic shop and a black auto mechanic shop. For every business they had for white people there was usually a similar business for black people.”
Among the ads for black-owned and operated businesses were White’s Chicken Box, Jackson & Sons Funeral Home, Morton Drug Store, Central Cafe, Grover & Sons and New Way Cab, just to name a few.
“There was a hotel, dry cleaners and many others,” Simmons said. “Some of them are still around, but most are gone now.”
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The African-American population in Raleigh County in 1950 was estimated at 14,000, according to the newspaper. In 2004, the number of blacks in Raleigh County dropped to approximately 6,700, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The coal mines were very labor intensive in the 1950s,” Simmons said. “As time went on, mines became mechanized and shut down. When many of the coal mining jobs began disappearing, so did a lot of the population, both black and white. My daughter is in Florida because it offered her better opportunities.”
Simmons, 61, said he remembers attending Stratton High School, Beckley’s secondary school for black students.
“It was a very good school,” he said. “The teachers didn’t take any stuff from students.”
The newspaper report said the black-only school was given the highest rating in the state.
Simmons said the special section of that newspaper is so important to him because it attempted to change the stereotypes many whites attributed to black people.
“The images and stories presented in this newspaper contradicted the views of some white people who were trying to prevent integration and equality,” he said.
Smith has been an instructor for federal mine inspectors at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy near Beckley for the last 30 years.
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Today, some black-owned and operated businesses are still thriving here.
Chuck and Tammy Bentley are an interracial couple who own and operate Urban Stylz in the Value City Center in Beckley.
“We both grew up in this area,” Chuck Bentley said. “I went to Independence High and my wife went to Woodrow Wilson.”
Bentley says he is trying to show the community that hip-hop styles are not a bad thing and are very popular among both black and white youths. The store sells the latest in hip-hop clothing and jewelry.
“We urge everyone to come and check us out,” he said. “We operate this store the correct way and we treat everyone equal.”
The store opened three years ago.
“We had our struggles in the beginning,” Tammy Bentley said. “We have a lot of regular customers now from all races.”
Chuck Bentley says he also wants to be a role model for black youths in the community who think owning their own business is impossible.
“We want the young black kids to have someone to look up to,” he said. “I always wanted to own my own business. I drove a UPS truck for 12 years before my wife and I realized our dream.”
Bentley said many of the young black men here don’t have positive influences in their lives and live only for the day.
“That is why black history is so important for many young black children,” he said. “If they understood the struggles that many black people went through so that people like myself could even own a business, it might be an inspiration to them. It should be taught more than just one month.”
Bentley said his biggest inspiration growing up was his mother.
“My mother owned Big Loafer, the restaurant in the Crossroads Mall, and now owns Hot-dog Express down in Sophia,” he said. “She was a great role model for me growing up. It has to start at home.”
Tammy Bentley said she teaches her children not to judge someone by their race.
“There are good and bad people in all races,” she said.
In addition to Urban Stylz, other black-owned businesses like Ritchie & Johnson Funeral Home, Moss’s Auto Electric Corp., Dow’s Packette, Tammie’s Beauty Salon, Sans Hair Loft, Ollies Store and others continue to be successful.
“If you have a dream to open your own business one day, then follow that dream,” Chuck Bentley said. “That’s what I did, and if I can make it, so can anybody else, regardless of their race.”
— E-mail: email@example.com
Many black-owned Raleigh County businesses have disappeared since 1950, but some are still thriving, despite the large African-American population loss over the past 50 years
Hip-hop styles not a bad thing, Beckley store owner says
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