By Lisa Shrewsberry
Jean Evansmore, too, has a dream. She, along with other community members of Mount Hope, decided the best way to commemorate the life of a man of vision and action like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to have a productive day “on.”
On Monday, more than just a break from the monotony of workaday and school routines, Evansmore will plan to plant. At 1 p.m. inside the modest but significant area she has designated to preserve the memories of the former all-black DuBois School and its graduates, she will join community members and WVSU Extension Agent Brad Cochran.
Together, they will outline plans for a community garden on property designated by the City of Mount Hope for the project.
Evansmore is expectant that those who gather at The DuBois on Main will represent the diverse culture of Mount Hope.
“People of all races and ethnic makeup are in Mount Hope. People still want to allow themselves to think in segregated terms about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I don’t allow myself to think that way about John F. Kennedy Day or George Washington Day. This is not about THEM. This is about YOU,” she states.
The former Van Burk parking lot behind American Hardware will transform into a fertile place to set aside differences and pool resources in ultimately providing a bounty of fresh produce for the community.
“Gardening brings people together,” maintains Evansmore.
West Virginia State University, she says, will teach those who come to the meeting how to build raised beds and beat the challenges the local soil and weather can sometimes present. The group will need irrigation know-how, donations of shovels and topsoil, pledges to sow and to weed, but most of all it will need dedicated members. To Evansmore, there is more than a perishable pepper to be tended in the garden.
“As opposed to people having their own private garden, in a community garden there is special interaction of the generations. This is how history passes from generation to generation — how we learn from each other rather than being in our own little space.”
Remarkable, how the little girl learned to appreciate and revere gardening, what she did in the warm weather months when she wasn’t allowed a milkshake at the counter of the local soda shops or to sit anywhere but the balcony in the old Mount Hope Theater. To the former student of segregated DuBois, which was open from 1919 to 1956 before becoming integrated Mount Hope High School, and to her peers, separation also meant inventiveness and initiative in the hills and “hollers” of Fayette County. “We would go to baseball games,” she recalls. Evansmore remembers the African-American coal miners gathering on fields in Scarbro and Carlisle on Saturdays, where she would often buy a hot dog. “We kept ourselves quiet and nice and we accepted and accepted. We didn’t make waves.”
From a time of few societal concessions are stories, and Evansmore has plenty to tell, she who developed her bearings for the way of the world in more exclusive times. There are frequent reminders of now invisible fences — memories posted on Facebook of places where she wasn’t welcome, an initial hitch of breath at a suggestion for holding a DuBois reunion dinner at a historically segregated restaurant — a place that would have, in her day, adamantly denied entry. “It grabs your gut initially,” the 73-year-old explains. “Then, you suck it up and go on in.”
She left West Virginia five days after graduating from then Mount Hope High School in 1958, living mostly in Rhode Island until establishing herself permanently back in Mount Hope in 2012, when she took on the DuBois on Main preservation project. Most of her collection comes from former DuBois students, like the copies of The Echo, the school newspaper, and mention of the sports teams’ successes and “Well-Educated Faculty” headlines from The Fayette Tribune. A collection of four trophies sits high on a wall inside as a reminder that not many relics are left from the years of achievement prior to the Civil Rights Movement. One of her proudest displays is the school plaque, found covered behind the large trophy case at the entrance of Mount Hope High. “All those years, students didn’t know that it was really DuBois High School they were in the whole time,” she states. Now she is extending an invitation for “living the dream” that she hopes will grow into an even prouder display — the garden.
“Doing nothing doesn’t appeal to me at all. There are many things you can do. This is about the community getting together and building. It’s about learning and helping — being able to say ‘I met someone today I didn’t know, who was full of information.’”
Other DuBois on Main Events:
DuBois “Campus” Walking Tour and All-You-Can-Eat Bean Dinner Fundraiser, Feb. 8, 1 p.m.
Beginning at the museum, patrons are invited to walk the campus — the basements, houses, churches and buildings — where African-American students attended classes for four years after DuBois was destroyed in an explosion in 1950. The new school opened in 1954 and became integrated Mount Hope High School two years later.
Proceeds of the dinner will go toward the continuing activities and improvements of The DuBois on Main and will include a variety of beans, breads and accompaniments.
For more information on the Community Garden event or the walking tour, call 304-578-7707.