The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


February 25, 2006


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

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.”

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