A Civil Rights Tour of WV

On this page, we highlight some key historical locations around the state where you can learn about civil rights in West Virginia. This page is a work in progress, and we are working on getting more information to go with our locations. You can also download a map of these locations below (pdf)

Jefferson County

Jefferson County has a rich African American history.  John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry sparked the Civil War, and Brown and his men were executed in Charles Town.  Storer College, also in Harpers Ferry, was the first African American college in West Virginia. Storer College was founded in 1867 to teach former slaves how to read and write, but went on to become a four-year, higher education institution.


African American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and bandleader and singer Don Redman, were raised in the town of Piedmont in Mineral County.


Trail-blazing attorney and publisher J.R. Clifford was born near Moorefield in 1848; his parents were free African American farmers.


Martinsburg was home to early African American institutions, including the Destiny Baptist Church, Martinsburg Free Will Baptist Mission School, and Sumner Rainey School.


The town of Lewisburg has many early African American sites, including the John Wesley Methodist Church, Maple Street Historic District, Mount Tabor Baptist Church, the Old Stone Church, and three African American cemeteries. The John Wesley Methodist Church is one of the oldest brick churches in West Virginia and still has a mark from where it was hit by a cannonball during the Civil War. Although its early features included a gallery designated for slaves, after the Civil War it became an African-American Methodist church.


In the 1920s, an organization called the Watoga Land Association bought 10,000 acres in Pocahontas County to establish an African American community. The community was short-lived however, and by the 1950s the residents had left. Some of the original buildings can still be seen in the area, which is near Watoga State Park.


Western Virginians who remained loyal to the Union defeated pro-slavery secessionist forces in the first land battle of the Civil War in Philippi, in 1861.


The Scotts Run Settlement House near Morgantown gave aid to African American and immigrant workers during the Depression.  The Second Ward Negro Elementary School in Morgantown was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration.


The Weston Colored School began serving African American youth in 1882. Through its early years the one-room schoolhouse was the only option in the county for African American students, and with no school bus service available, education required significant effort from students and their families. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently used as a museum.


In the 1890s in Tucker County, teacher Carrie Williams taught the children of African American coal and coke workers, and won equality in pay and school terms.  J.R. Clifford represented Williams at her trial in the town of Parsons.


The West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium was built in Denmar in 1919; it is now a prison.


African American workers were a mainstay of the workforce at Weirton’s steel mills. The photo below is of a teacher and coach at Dunbar High School in Weirton, who also worked at the steel mill during the summer.


After a constitutional emancipation clause was adopted, West Virginia was created on June 20, 1863 at Wheeling’s Independence Hall


Huntington has erected a statue of the founder of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson.  Huntington also houses the African American leader Memphis T. Garrison’s home, the old state Colored Orphans’ Home, and Frederick Douglass Junior and Senior High Schools, formerly African American schools. The photo below is of the Huntington High School orchestra.


The Sumner School was the first free African American school south of the Mason Dixon Line, established in 1862 in Parkersburg. It now operates as the Sumnerite Museum and Community Center.

Charleston area

Artifacts of Booker T. Washington’s life can be found at his boyhood cabin, church, and school in the town of Malden.  A monument to Washington stands at the Capitol Complex in Charleston.  The former West Virginia State College (now University), a national leader in African American higher education, is in the Kanawha Valley town of Institute. The photos below are, from left to right, a block party in Charleston, Garnett High School students, and the statue of Booker T. Washington.


The town of Ceredo was founded by abolitionists, and became a Union stronghold and recruiting base during the Civil War. It is thought to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, although little physical proof has been found for this theory at likely safe-houses like the Z.D. Ramsdell house (pictured below).


Camp Washington Carver, located in Clifftop West Virginia, became the first 4-H Camp for African Americans in the United States, when it opened in 1942. The camp is on the National Historic Register and is currently used as a cultural arts center for the West Virginia Department of Culture and History.

Upper Kanawha

In the 1920s and 1930s, hundreds of African American miners were killed by Silicosis while building the Hawks Nest Tunnel.  There is an African American cemetery in Cedar Grove, and in Gauley Bridge the railroad station was built by African Americans.


Bluefield State College was founded in 1895. It was originally known at the Bluefield Colored Institute, and was meant to educate the children of African American coal miners in southern West Virginia. Over time both enrollment and academic programs expanded, until it became a 4-year college. In the 1930s, Bluefield received visits from cultural luminaries like Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington.


Near the town of Hinton and the Big Bend Tunnel is a statue of the legendary African American railroad worker John Henry, the “Steel Driving Man”.


The town of Kimball built the first monument ever dedicated to African American World War I veterans. Over 400,000 African Americans volunteered to serve in World War I, including 1,500 from McDowell County alone.