The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 14, 2013

‘History on Main’ program set for Saturday

Another piece of Fayette County’s black history will be discussed Saturday at a “History on Main” program sponsored by the DuBois on Main Museum and Community Center in Mount Hope.

Danny Wright — historian, Fayette County circuit clerk and DuBois on Main board member — will give a presentation on black politics in Fayette County from 1896 to 1918.

“I think many Fayette Countians don’t realize the rich black political heritage that we have,” he says. “Only 33 years after statehood, Fayette County elected the first black in West Virginia history to the state legislature in the person of Christopher H. Payne.”

Digging through newspapers for information about Payne, Wright was surprised to find that the media in his home county didn’t even mention the historical event. Only one paper in Wheeling acknowledged Payne’s race.

Wright will cover Payne’s political career, as well as those of James Ellis, an Oak Hill attorney; H.H. Railey; and John V. Coleman.

According to Wright, all four men were Republicans and served just one term each in the House of Delegates, except Ellis, who was elected three times.

DuBois on Main President Jean Evansmore says “Lawyer” Ellis was well known in the Greentown area and some Fayette Countians still remember him or his reputation.

Fayette County elected the first, second and third black political leaders to the state Legislature.

Wright says the reasons for this are many. For one thing, the county had a large black population to start with — around 14 percent at one time.

“You’ll have to come down on Saturday to find out the rest,” he says.

The program runs from 1 to 3 p.m. at 116 Main Street.

“History on Main” is a series of DuBois on Main programs in February commemorating local black history.

Later this month, the museum will reveal a new exhibit, “The Bowles Family,” which introduces visitors to William and Annie Bowles, who lived on Mound Street in Mount Hope and taught in black schools.

The couple, born in the late 1800s and married in 1912, left behind some interesting memorabilia and documents related to Fayette County’s black history.

The Bowles exhibit opening runs from 1 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 23.

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