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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 54 Segregation and Integration in the Appalachian Coalfields:
McDowell County Responds to the Brown Decision

By Alice E. Carter

Volume 54 (1995), pp. 78-104

On September 27, 1957, about 150 students gathered before classes outside Welch High School in response to a rumor that racial integration, now in its second year, had led officials to cancel all school social events for that year. The eight black students attending the previously all-white school went home, and the protesters marched from the school grounds through town, shouting slogans such as "No niggers in our schools." By 10:30 a.m., most demonstrators had returned to classes. The principal condemned the protest at a special all-school assembly, where he quelled the rumor and assured students that social activities would continue as before. Three days later, the focus of student discontent shifted to Hemphill-Capels Junior High, about two miles outside of Welch, where four African-American students had enrolled for the second year. Approximately fifty students left their classes and attempted to make a protest march to Welch High School. They were turned back by police and most returned to school by mid-morning. A similar but smaller demonstration took place at Hemphill-Capels the following day, but there was no apparent activity after that.1

Gary High School, about twenty miles from Welch, enrolled its first black students in 1958. A former biology teacher recently remembered the first day of school that year:

"I can recall so vividly that one day, that first day. The assistant principal was female. A lot of white kids were in front of the gymnasium yelling `two, four, six, eight, we don t want to integrate' led by one of the stupidest kids in the world, absolutely. And the assistant principal was a very intelligent lady. She rang the bell about ten minutes early. Everyone went to class. That was the end of that."2

These events apparently comprised the extent of public protest against school desegregation in the central Appalachian county of McDowell, West Virginia. Although the county school board only complied with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling after prodding and a threatened lawsuit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), its acquiescence to NAACP demands apparently met no opposition from whites in the county. No groups formed to fight school integration and there was no movement to establish segregated private schools. In 1956, with little fanfare, African-American students in McDowell County enrolled in previously all-white schools for the first time.

Several historians of the early central Appalachian coalfields emphasize the relative absence of racial animosity there. In particular, David A. Corbin s Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922 maintains that conditions in southern West Virginia created a militant working class relatively unaffected by racial divisions. According to Corbin, the coal-based economy provided few opportunities for interracial economic competition, and oppressive employment practices in company towns united black and white miners in opposition to their employers.3 The degree to which whites in McDowell County took school desegregation in stride suggests that Corbin s characterization of early race relations in the coalfields still generally held true in the 1950s.

Yet this characterization explains neither the initial foot-dragging of the county school board nor the protests that eventually erupted. Most importantly, it cannot account for the fact that McDowell s schools remained essentially segregaed until the mid-1960s. Concentrating on periods of labor militancy, Corbin and others overlook the extent to which interracial cooperation in the central Appalachian coalfields operated within a larger framework of racial separation and white domination. Joe W. Trotter s Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32 offers a more extensive account of black life in the coal industry than does Corbin. Trotter s work clearly establishes that from the 1880s blacks and whites lived in different neighborhoods, worshiped in separate churches, and attended segregated schools. Although both races worked the mines, joined the picket lines, and shared the hardships of the company towns, whites reserved for themselves the paths to higher-paying mine jobs.4

African-American life in McDowell was shaped by more than segregation, discrimination, and interracial working-class militancy. Blacks drew on a variety of resources, including their cultural traditions and power at the ballot box, to create strong community institutions which provided a sense of belonging, opportunities for leadership, and means for spiritual and material improvements. Foremost among these were churches, fraternal organizations, and professional associations. By the 1950s, schools had also become vital institutions in the African-American community. The schools did more than educate and socialize black children; they gave leadership and social opportunities for adults through organizations ranging from women s scholarship societies to band and athletic boosters. Assemblies, sports events, and graduation ceremonies brought together blacks of different generations and from diverse parts of the county. African Americans in McDowell today speak with pride about prominent alumni from their county s black school system, and annual high school reunions continue to draw hundreds from around the country.

The story of school desegregation in McDowell County unfolded within a context of interracial working-class cooperation, de facto and de jure segregation and discrimination, and vibrant black community life. The board s initial reluctance to comply with the Brown ruling reflects the long-standing distance between the races as well as a tradition of white leaders ignoring black interests. The lack of opposition to the admission of a number of black students into white schools indicates that years of blacks and whites working and fighting together to unionize in the coal towns inhibited significant interracial animosity. The decision of most African-American families to stay within the black school system reflects an appreciation for the role of these schools in black community life equal to the fear of white resentment. A combination of factors, then, kept McDowell County schools essentially segregated until 1965, the year complete integration became a requirement for federal funding.

McDowell in the 1950s was in many ways a typical central Appalachian coal county, distinguished from its neighbors mainly by its racial composition. With an African-American population of 24 percent, it had the greatest concentration of blacks of all the southern West Virginia coal counties. Only three other southern West Virginia counties had percentages of black populations in the low teens, and the neighboring Virginia counties of Buchanan and Tazewell had populations that were less than 1 and 6 percent black, respectively.5

Most whites and blacks in McDowell lived in small towns, or "coal camps," found in the scarce areas of relatively flat land carved out by creeks or the narrow Tug Fork River. Coal camps generally contained a post office, one or two stores, and several rowsof identical, often two-family, houses owned by the coal companies. Even in the 1950s, only a few had running water. The commercial towns of War, Keystone, Gary, and Welch, the largest with about six thousand people, dotted the county. A variety of retail, entertainment, and business establishments operated in these towns with a sizeable middle class of both races.6

In 1950, the coal industry employed 18,016 people, about 65 percent of McDowell s working population. Mechanization, however, was reducing the number of mining jobs. By 1960, the number of people in the coal industry would drop by over half and the county would lose about 28 percent of its population. Nevertheless, coal s dominance in the economy continued; in 1960, the industry still employed 7,488 of the county s 15,232 workers, or 49 percent of the work force.7

The public school system, like the coal industry, played a very important role in the lives of McDowell County residents. Over twenty-four thousand children attended McDowell s segregated public schools in the early 1950s. Each of the county s five magisterial districts had a white high school and a black high school except the Sandy River district, where the number of African-American pupils was too low to support a high school. African-American students from the Sandy River District town of Isaban on the Mingo County line had a two-hour bus ride to the nearest black high school in Kimball. A student who graduated from Kimball High School in 1958 remembers teasing these students: "We used to laugh about how they d get home at night to Isaban in time for their mothers to hand them some sandwiches through the bus windows, and then the bus would head on back to Kimball."8

A five-member, all-white, elected school board had authority over McDowell County s school system in the 1950s, manifested through George Bryson, who had been county superintendent since the mid-1930s. Bryson had two African-American assistant superintendents who oversaw the black schools. Compared to the wide disparity between black and white schools of other southern states, McDowell County s separate systems were remarkably similar in quality. Black and white teacher salaries were based on the same pay scale, and the course offerings and student-teacher ratios in the high schools, as reported in the annual West Virginia Education Directory, were comparable. Inequalities existed, however, with black schools generally less well equipped, and frequently the buildings had previously been used by white students.9

Although interscholastic athletics provided important social occasions for both white and black communities, the only newspaper in the county provided racially skewed coverage. The Welch Daily News devoted entire pages to high school sports, but printed photographs only for events at the white schools. The prestigious all-county football and basketball teams, chosen annually by the Welch Daily News staff, consisted only of white athletes.10

In many ways, McDowell County of the 1950s differed greatly from the places commonly associated with school desegregation and the civil rights movement. Although blacks and whites lived in separate neighborhoods and patronized segregated restaurants and theaters, they worked closely in the mines and sat side-by-side on public transportation. For the most part, McDowell County residents seemed more concerned with the future of the region s coal industry than with maintaining or breaking down racial hierarchies. The 1954 Supreme Court ruling would not present an assault to a way of life.

West Virginia state government s reaction to the 1954 Brown decision created a favorable climate for compliance but gave county school boards the latitude to respond to the ruling as they saw fit. Within a week of the Supreme Court announcement, State Superintenden of Schools W. W. Trent, acting on a request from Governor William Marland and State Attorney General James Fox, sent all county boards of education a memo calling for "immediate reorganization and readjustment of schools to comply with the Supreme Court decision." The communication did not, however, specify the procedures or timetable for compliance. One month after the Supreme Court ruling, the attorney general ordered state colleges that had not already done so to drop all racial admission barriers. That fall, 182 white students enrolled in the previously all-black West Virginia State College in Institute, and by the fall of 1955, blacks attended all of West Virginia s formerly white state colleges.11 Twenty-five of the state s fifty-five public school systems began to integrate their schools as early as the fall of 1954.12

The McDowell County Board of Education, claiming to be responding to community sentiment, did not move so rapidly. Board members first discussed desegregation in an August 1954 meeting, but citing the desires of "prominent leaders among both the Negro and white races," postponed any action on integration until the Supreme Court s expected Brown II implementation ruling. The following April, an unnamed assistant county superintendent summed up the cautious sentiment of the board in his noncommittal response to a Charleston Gazette survey on integration: "There has been no desire, demand, or interest in the integration issue," he wrote. "It s awfully hard to answer about possible problems of integration protests. They could come."13

The Supreme Court issued its Brown II ruling in May 1955, calling for integration to proceed with "all deliberate speed." The McDowell school board responded with caution. At an August 1955 meeting, the board arranged for the desegregation of school bus routes "wherever convenient," but it also crafted a policy statement certainly designed to discourage black interest in integration and to assure white families that their school system would be largely unchanged:

"The McDowell County Board of Education does not plan to take the initiative at this time to make any changes in the organization of the schools from the program in effect last year. This Board is fully cognizant of the ruling of the Supreme Court relating to segregation in the schools and does not intend to disregard it as we interpret it. If parents, for good reasons, desire that their children be changed from schools attended last year, such requests will be taken under consideration in keeping with physical and instructional facilities available. From general information obtained in numerous informal talks and conferences, we find but little interest among parents, Negro and white, in changing from schools last attended. We believe that to force children to leave their schools, where school pride, traditions, and sentiments have been established and attend other schools against their wishes would disrupt their education and cause undue resentment. The physical facilities for the schools in McDowell County are of such size and in such locations to not permit much transferring and continue to give the best instruction. It is the belief of the Board that all children in the county can best be served at this time by making as few changes as possible and we believe that the large majority of parents share this opinion."14

Page one of the following day s Welch Daily News gave a detailed report on the board meeting in an article entitled "County Board not to Take Integration Steps Now."15

Although the policy statement referred to conversations with black parents and community leaders, board members had evidently not conferred with Robert Ross, president of the McDowell Branch of the NAACP. Within days of the board s announcement,Ross called a meeting of the NAACP s executive committee. He probably realized the organization had little legal recourse to force the board to adopt a different integration plan. In fact, the stated policy of considering individual requests to transfer was technically in compliance with the Brown II ruling as it would be interpreted by federal district judges for years to come.16 Nevertheless, on August 23, members convened at the War Memorial Building to black veterans in Kimball and created a nineteen-member education committee to meet with the Board of Education the following week.17

At the August 29 meeting, the NAACP education committee presented a list of complaints. The list included the board s failure to appoint a citizens advisory committee to consider integration and its failure to encourage discussion of the issue among teachers. Either of these actions, the statement contended, would have revealed to the board an interest in integration. The committee called for "immediate concrete steps leading to early elimination of segregation in the public schools." Board members and the county superintendent responded that their policy as it stood represented a concrete step toward desegregation and that they had always intended to appoint a citizens advisory committee.18

The board may or may not have been honest about its plans to establish an advisory committee, as board minutes show no discussion of this issue until the meeting with the NAACP. Following the departure of the NAACP committee from the meeting, the board moved to appoint citizens advisory committees for each of the county s five magisterial districts. In late September, the Welch Daily News announced the membership of the committees and the board s charge to consider the "building needs of McDowell County Schools, further steps that may be taken toward integration or consolidation, curriculum needs, teachers salaries, and any other needs affecting the education and welfare of the pupils in McDowell County Schools." The committees, with a combined membership of over one hundred, included several members of the NAACP education committee and a few other prominent McDowell County blacks.19

While no classroom integration took place in the 1955-56 school year, limited integration occurred elsewhere in the system. Boys of both races shared a bus across the county from the War area to their segregated vocational schools near Welch, and several black and white football teams rode the same buses home after practice. Neither board minutes nor the Welch Daily News indicates that there was any form of opposition to this.20

The advisory committees worked throughout the fall of 1955, meeting with ministers, Parent-Teacher Associations, and business and civic organizations. Welch Daily News articles suggest that the meetings focused less on integration than on increased teacher salaries and new buildings. The announcements for the meetings always listed "teachers salaries, building needs, and integration" as the agenda, but news coverage indicates that discussion centered on the first two items only. For example, in January 1956, black and white representatives of the Big Creek Advisory Committee spoke to the Kiwanis Club in War, urging a letter-writing campaign to the state legislature on behalf of increased pay for teachers.21 Salary increases and new buildings had less potential for divisiveness than integration, and by avoiding the integration topic, active opposition to implementation of Brown did not become an issue. Yet this tactic had the effect, if not the purpose, of limiting African-American demands. lack members may have feared pressing for significant integration lest they jeopardize teacher pay raises.

Finally, in February, three members from each of the five citizens advisory committees formed a committee on integration to make recommendations to the board. The committee s suggested policy, which the board adopted with no modifications, differed from the existing policy only by providing a clear procedure for blacks to transfer to previously all-white schools:

"1. RESOLVED: That the Board of Education of McDowell County adopt the principle of integration of public schools in compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective with the commencement of the September 1956-57 term; that all public schools in McDowell County shall therefore be maintained on an integrated basis, and that no child or student of school age, resident of McDowell County, shall be refused admission to any public school of McDowell County on account of or by reason of race or color. . . .

"2. Parents desiring to change their child or children from the present school now being attended to another school for the beginning of the 1956-57 term shall make an application prior to the ending of the 1955-56 school year in the month of May, 1956."22

The board now had a clear procedure for students to transfer to new schools, and, more importantly, it abandoned the discouraging language contained in its August 1955 statement. Of course, the policy was far from an embrace of integration. The board made no provisions for placing students who were entering the school system for the first time; members probably assumed that African-American first graders would continue to enroll in the traditionally black schools. Likewise, the policy offered no provisions for desegregating school faculties. The initiative for desegregation was to come from individual black students choosing to attend traditionally white schools.

The front page of the Welch Daily News on February 22 described the previous night s board meeting along with the surprising news that T. G. Nutter, Charleston attorney and president of the West Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, had filed a federal suit against the McDowell County Board of Education. It is unclear if Nutter was aware of the board s new policy or if he filed the case at the request of the county branch of the NAACP. Nutter told reporters the following day that he was seeking a court order only to reinforce the board s new policy, although in an April 30 letter to Gloster B. Current, director of branches of the NAACP national office, Nutter described a specific grievance:

"There is not so much difference between our points of view. . . . In fact, I think they heard that we were going to file suit and they were trying to beat the deal. My real objection to their resolution is that they state that those who want to change their present enrollment must make application to the Board before May 28. That is done with a subtle purpose, feeling that there will not be many Negroes who do so. I feel rather confident that the court will agree with us."23

Nutter s prediction was correct, and in a pre-trial settlement of the suit, the Board of Education agreed to Federal District Judge Ben Moore s suggestion that the May application deadline be dropped.24

Despite this agreement, a series of articles in the Welch Daily News indicate a lingering antagonism between the county NAACP and the school administration. On May 3, the paper s lead story described the settlement of the NAACP suit but presented only the board s point of view. The story opened by noting that the board had agreed to "eliminate a stipulation adopted solely for the purpose of making better adjustments in the school system." This "stipulation," referring to the May application deadline, was only identified in the eighth paragraph of the rticle. Furthermore, the story quoted a black advisory committee member who predicted there would be "no stampede" of black students to the white schools and in doing so probably sent a negative message to African Americans who may have been interested in changing schools. The next day s paper carried the NAACP position, in the form of a statement by its education committee chairman L. Z. Wright. Wright argued that the May 3 article was misleading, reiterated that no application would be required for students wishing to change schools, and reminded readers that students could enroll, with no advance notice, in the school of their choice during the first week of the 1956-57 school year.25

On May 8, two Board of Education seats were at stake in county elections. The winners by a landslide were A. B. Carr, the only incumbent whose term had expired that year, and Frank Watson, vocal chairman of one of the district advisory committees.26 Integration did not surface as an issue in the election, and the matter disappeared from the news and the board s agenda until the opening of the next school year. In August 1956, several weeks before school began, the new board made the following announcement in the Welch Daily News: "Schools are no longer to be designated as white or Negro.

. . . Pupils may enter the schools most convenient . . . [to them]. . . . Unless future circumstances make it necessary or . . . desirable, no pupil will be compelled to change . . . school[s]."27 As the board had agreed in the May settlement with the NAACP, no advance application would be required for students to change schools. In other words, pupils could enroll in the school of their choice at the beginning of the fall term.

That month the board also met with a group of African-American parents from the town of Wilcoe who planned to send their children to the white elementary school there. These parents had complained to the board the previous winter that their children s school bus could not get under a bridge and they had to walk part of the way to school. The board made no objection to the parents plan and suggested that the Wilcoe school, scheduled to be enlarged, turn its auditorium into a classroom.28

"Integration Goes Smoothly in McDowell County Schools" headlined the Welch Daily News on August 30.

"McDowell County schools opened for the 1956-57 school term today, operating on an integrated basis for the first time in the history of the county. But, as far as the Daily News could learn at noon, integration was having little or no effect. Despite many rumors being circulated in Welch, there were no reports of agitation or violence from any school. Reportedly the most serious situation was in Adkins district, where 32 mothers met at the Board to protest Negro children taking desks at Thorpe Elementary."29

Superintendent Bryson reported to the paper on September 12 that 230 black students now attended previously all-white schools, and nineteen white children had transferred to the formerly all-black Tidewater Grade School.30

The only apparent problem during the first year of desegregation involved a bizarre incident which resulted in a short-lived white boycott of the newly integrated Vivian Elementary School. A black mother, for unknown reasons, reportedly assaulted a white student on the street with a safety razor, inflicting minor injuries, and a group of white parents kept children home for several days in protest.31 Passions cooled and for the remainder of the 1956-57 school year, neither board meetings nor the newspaper addressed desegregation or any problems associated with it.

The second year of integration in McDowell County witnessed a few disturbing developments. Student protests at Welch High School and Hemphill-Capels Junior High sent the handful of black students attending these schools home for the day. Eugenia Parr Burroughs, one of he African-American students attending Welch High School in 1957, recalled the incident in a recent newspaper interview:

"When I came to school on Monday, I saw that somebody had spray-painted the word `white' in big letters all over the front of the school. I was very naive back then. There were a bunch of people standing outside the school and some of them were hollering `two-four-six-eight, we don t want to integrate.' I just kept walking to the school. It wasn t that I was brazen, it was just that I didn t understand what was going on.

"When I got to my locker I found that the other black students had been told not to come to school that day. I looked outside and I could see 200 or more people hollering about getting rid of niggers. I was terrified.

"I had to go outside to get to algebra class and I had to push through a big crowd. I remember the instructor trying to teach the class but the chants kept getting louder and louder.

"When that class was over the principal came to me and apologized for what was happening. My parents sent me a message saying they wanted me to stay in school but I decided it would cool things down more if I went home. A few minutes later a police car came to drive me home."32

The protests at both Welch High and Hemphill-Capels Junior High died down within several hours and were never discussed at any school board meetings. More disturbing was the arson at Berwind Junior High, Superior-Maitland Elementary, and Welch Grade schools in February and March 1958. There is no strong evidence, however, to link these fires with the integration issue. Superintendent Bryson acknowledged to the Welch Daily News that he had received a "threatening letter" regarding the arson, but he would not reveal its contents. These fires resulted in extensive damage but were set at night and caused no personal injuries. Records do not indicate whether these schools were integrated.33

Despite the school board s open admission policy, segregation remained essentially intact in McDowell County s schools in the first decade following the Brown decision. In 1960, for example, Gary still had two segregated high schools, one employing an all-white faculty, the other an all-black faculty. Likewise, Kimball High School, which Eugenia Parr Burroughs left to attend Welch High School in 1956, continued to enroll most black students in the area.34 While actual integration remained limited, the ease of eventual compliance with Brown in McDowell County and in West Virginia in general led many civil rights leaders to cite the state as an example for others to follow.35 By 1957, the number of black students attending integrated schools in McDowell County was four times greater than in the entire state of Virginia in 1959, the year the Supreme Court struck down that state s massive resistance laws.36

Enlightened leadership in state and county government provides some explanation for the relative ease of the county s initial compliance with Brown. Moderate leaders failed to counter the inflammatory segregationists in many parts of the South because of white anxiety about altering the region s caste system. Racist demagoguery had limited political potential in West Virginia, given that most counties had very few blacks or none at all. Yet even the more heavily black southern counties proved unfertile ground for agitators. In 1958, R. J. Wilkinson, Jr. of Huntington conducted a write-in campaign for the United States Senate under the "States Rights" label. He focused his efforts on the southern counties but found little reception for his ideas. Eventually, he threw his support behind the Republican candidate and modified his opposition to Brown: "We believe that all of our state laws relating to the subject of segregation should be enforced until amended or repealed in proper legal fashion, and that, if repealed, provision should be made for deciding such issues as to whether to have segregation or integration on a county level. . . . I see no reason for having segreated schools in most of West Virginia."37

Ultimately, understanding the county s response to Brown requires looking not only at leadership but at the structure of the county s race relations as well. McDowell County s Civil War history provides little explanation for the county s race relations. While southern West Virginia was predominantly Confederate and some slaveholding had existed, the native population, which had only been several thousand in the 1860s, was a small minority after 1890. The tens of thousands who migrated to the area in search of work in the newly opened coal mines beginning in this decade overwhelmed antebellum residents customs by the twentieth century.38

The social and racial arrangements in McDowell County in the 1950s were shaped largely by the labor market of the early coal industry. During the first fifty years of industrial development in McDowell, from 1880 to 1930, the demand for labor often outpaced the local supply.39 Coal operators recruited southern African Americans, eastern and southern European immigrants, and native white Appalachians. To attract southern blacks to West Virginia, operators guaranteed economic, political, and educational opportunities denied African Americans in their native states. The mine operators, who were usually Republican, successfully fought repeated attempts by the West Virginia Democratic party to disfranchise blacks and institute strict Jim Crow laws.40 In doing so, Republicans simultaneously protected their most loyal constituency and maintained the state s attractiveness to southern African Americans. For similar reasons, operators used their political influence to secure funding for black schools.41

The operators efforts proved successful and blacks left the South for the coalfields by the thousands. Between 1880 and 1910, the African-American population of McDowell County rose from a mere three persons to almost fifteen thousand. By 1930, over twenty-two thousand blacks lived in the county.42 A 1919 letter from black union organizer George Edmunds published in the United Mine Workers Journal stated blacks had come to southern West Virginia seeking a "man s chance in the world; a chance to educate their children, to exercise the right of the ballot, and in short, they are looking for true American citizenship."43 The labor market of southern West Virginia made these goals largely attainable. African Americans sent their children to modern, publicly funded schools, participated actively in local politics, and elected members of their own race to local school boards, law enforcement offices, and the state legislature.

This unique labor situation, which minimized interracial job competition, influenced white behavior. White miners did not see blacks as threats but as necessary allies in the fight to check employers power. Although African Americans occasionally came to the area as strikebreakers, they were more often united with white miners in militant labor activities.44

An interesting pamphlet from 1912 indicates that a great cultural gulf had emerged between the coalfields of Virginia and those of West Virginia. A Virginian from neighboring Tazewell County ventured into Keystone, noted for its lively red-light district. Using the pen name "Virginia Lad," he published his observations in a tract titled The Sodom and Gomorrah of Today. First he commented on the lack of segregation laws:

"One curse to the Republican party in this state is their opposition to the `Jim Crow Law.'. . . It is a national disgrace that th negro is permitted to ride in coaches with white ladies. The negroes always endeavor to get in the first class car and rush back into the coaches where the white women are riding. They come from the mines in their dirty clothes, the grease almost frying on their faces and with repulsive odor caused from excessive perspiration, they crowd into the cars and seat themselves near, or sometimes beside the white ladies. Their presence is very objectionable and repulsive to any white person with any degree of refinement."45

The author was also appalled that black police could arrest whites in Keystone and that black men commonly patronized white prostitutes:

"In thinking of this I am reminded of the days just after the close of the Civil War as described in the `Clansman.' . . . I have heard a negro man in conversation with another saying he had spent the night with one of the white girls in [these brothels]."46

The "Virginia Lad" lived fewer than sixty miles from Keystone but was accustomed to quite different racial customs. Across the state line in Tazewell County, Jim Crow laws forced African Americans to use segregated transportation and stripped them of electoral power.

Although southern West Virginia certainly provided more opportunities for African Americans than could be found in Virginia, it would be wrong to exaggerate the level of racial integration and equality in the region. Black and white miners intermingled while eating lunch, picking up their equipment, and riding shaft elevators and underground rail cars, but they showered and changed in segregated bath houses and went home to separate neighborhoods. In a 1953 study of race relations in southern West Virginia, a white miner explained the difference between below- and above-ground social relations:

"I eat with 2 or 3 niggers every day (in the mines). I don t object to doing it, in fact I never thought about it much. I don t say that I would go to a nigger s house and eat and I don t say I would let one come to mine to eat, but that s different. As far as I am concerned, eating with a nigger on the job is just like working with him; he s there, he has to eat the same as I do, so I don t pay attention to it."47

A black miner interviewed for the same study gave only a slightly different response:

"As for eating with a white man on the job, it don t seem to bother him any and it don t bother me. As long as I tend to my business and he tends to his, they s no kick coming. As for having a white man to my house for dinner, I never have and I have never thought about it too much. I reckon it would be all right and he would be welcome to come, but I don t know as I would invite him unless he made it known first that he wanted to come."48

Interviews conducted some forty years later paint a similar picture. The daughter of a white miner recalled:

"There was an insidious prejudice . . . kind of like a cancer; it was there growing but not knowing it was there. . . . My dad had black friends that he worked in the mines with. Sam Johnson he used to talk about in particular all the time. When I started developing consciousness in college about it, and my friends would say yes you are prejudiced, then I was upset with myself and I didn t want to see that, as a Christian. . . . But what I realized is as much as my dad talked about this old Sam all the time and as close as they were -- they d meet on the street like two old buddies -- Sam Johnson was never in my house nor were we in theirs."49

Unlike the men, women had few opportunities to interact across race lines. The coal-based economy offered limited employment for women, and just over 10 percent of both races worked outside the home in 1950. Unlike in the South, where black women tended the children and cleaned the houses of middle- and upper-class white families, there were few domestic workers in McDowell. As children, boys of both races played ball together, but girls had few contacts with those not of their own skin color.50

The small size of most McDowell County towns precluded the total separation of the races, but residential and social separation were generally the rule. Housing for blacks stood at the end of town and was usually inferior to housing for whites. The races had separate company-sponsored recreation facilities; however, in at least one instance, the spare room of a white Church of God housed the black recreation hall.51

One man recalled growing up in a loosely segregated environment:

"Our communities at that time [the 1950s] were segregated. You may have a small coal camp. I lived in one by the name of Elkhorn. It was sort of like the blacks lived on one end of the coal camp, the whites maybe lived on the other. . . . And it was the type of thing where from the time we were old enough for our parents to let us go out on our own a little bit, this particular little ball field was where we all met. So we grew up basically playing ball together every day, this type of thing. We used to have segregated competitions a lot of times. . . . It was a big community thing. The blacks would play the whites in a Sunday football game, you know, all of us would meet down at the ball field at two o clock and the blacks would play the whites from the time we were eight or nine years old. You know the days we didn t have enough to show up we would mix and everyone would play with whoever."52

Many people remembered attending the Pocahontas Movie Theater in Welch, where African-American patrons sat in the balcony and whites sat below, and eating in restaurants that provided separate areas for each race or traditionally served only one race. The Rotary Club of Keystone built a playground for white children only. Local buses and trains, however, had mixed seating.53

Although African-American schools were important sources of pride to blacks in the county, they were less well funded than white schools. Old buildings vacated by white students housed the black Excelsior and Kimball High schools. Former students and teachers of the African-American schools remember using books and equipment that had been discarded from white schools. The black Prunty Trade School contained only outdated tools that had to be shared by an entire class and offered instruction only in welding, drafting, masonry, and auto body repair. In contrast, the white McDowell Vocational School provided each student with an equipped work space and taught more advanced technical skills such as metalwork, woodworking, electronics, and machine and auto mechanics.54

Job assignments in the coal mines suggest discrimination, with more opportunities open to whites. Before mechanization in the 1930s, men of both races had equal access to high-paying machine cutting jobs, but blacks rarely held supervisory positions. Mechanization further stratified job opportunities, and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) failed to fight the disproportionate number of black layoffs. A 1953 study of employment patterns in a southern West Virginia mine showed no African Americans in the five highest job categories, which included not only supervisory positions but also the high-paying electrician and machine operator jobs. Both races were represented in low-skill positions, but these were the first to be eliminated by new technology.55

Focusing exclusively on race relations poses the danger of overlooking other important aspects of African-American life in McDowell County. Despite the lack of upward mobility in the mines, a large black middle class emerged. African-American professionals came to McDowell County in great numbers between 1888 and 1930, attracted by the spending potential of the wage-earning black population, the political opportunities provided by black voting power, and the relative lack of white resentment against them. Black lawyers, dentists, doctors, and educators, many trained at top black colleges and universities, provided services not only for the black population but for whites as well. As an African-American lawyer from Welch observed, "when I came to West Virginia, this was the only county where a black could practice law on equal ground." African-American political power in southern West Virginia secured professional opportunities in local school administrations, state colleges, and state institutions for the handicapped. From 1910 to 1940, one of the most successful early black families, the Whitticos, published The McDowell Times newspaper, the masthead of which proudly proclaimed their county as the "Free State of McDowell."56

African Americans of all economic classes in McDowell County drew on their individual and community resources to take advantage of the opportunities available and to mitigate the effects of racial discrimination there. One important arena for blacks was politics. From 1914 to the present, the West Virginia House of Delegates has almost always included a black McDowell County representative. Working within the county s Democratic and Republican party organizations, African Americans also served as sheriffs, justices of the peace, and city council members.57

African Americans formed a variety of religious, social, fraternal, and professional associations in McDowell County. The financial contributions of black miners and their families built and beautified churches throughout the county. McDowell s black Baptist ministers founded the Flat Top Baptist Association in 1896, and black physicians established the Flat Top Medical Association in 1906. Black fraternal organizations included the Elks, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, and the Golden Rule. Women s groups included the Ma-So-Lit Club and Les Modernes. Fundraisers conducted by these and other organizations collected money to build a black veterans memorial after World War I. This building provided a meeting place for many African-American groups and a prom location for the county s black high schools. McDowell County blacks also founded explicitly race-conscious groups. Marcus Garvey s United Negro Improvement Association had chapters in the towns of Capels and Coalwood between 1915 and 1932. A group of McDowell blacks founded the county s first NAACP chapter in 1921 in Gary, and a branch in Keystone soon followed.58

The public schools touched the lives of most black families. The first school for African Americans opened in 1890, and by 1914, a black secondary school was under construction in Kimball. Principals of the black secondary schools formed an organization called "The Schoolmen" and met monthly to discuss concerns ranging from interscholastic events to principals salaries.59

While the main society page of the Welch Daily News excluded blacks, "colored news" columns from various towns reported marriages, visitors, social events, and church activities. For example, "Welch Colored News" covered events in the black churches, chronicling the competition between different women s fundraising committees. The area of African-American life most often covered in the paper was school activities. Practically every edition contained news on the reults of black athletic events, honor roll inductions, teacher-training activities, or PTA and student government elections.

The vitality of African-American community life in McDowell played an important role in the county s response to the Brown ruling. Black churches, voluntary organizations, schools, and neighborhoods provided crucial resources to the entire black community. For most black students, losing these resources to venture into the largely alien and potentially hostile white schools was not worth the cost. African-American support for integration coexisted with a strong commitment to black community life. Positive as well as negative forces kept most African-American students in their traditional schools throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

By the third year of integration in McDowell County, the failure of large numbers of African-American students to transfer to integrated schools frustrated T. G. Nutter, president of the West Virginia State Conference, NAACP. He expressed his disappointment in opening remarks to the conference s 1957 annual convention. Reporting on the progress of integration across the state, he said that "the only discouraging factor was that in some counties Negroes are not taking full advantage of the integration program." In 1958, Nutter charged that those who chose to remain in all-black schools were a "disgrace to the group."60

McDowell NAACP members P. G. Howard, D. T. Murray, and L. Z. Wright shared Nutter s frustration. In a report delivered at the 1958 state NAACP convention, they blamed both the black community and the white school administration for the slow pace of integration in McDowell County. In particular, they cited the following:

"(1) Past local conditioning of parents resulting in the development of basic complexes and negative attitudes on the subject of, and the participation in, public school integration. (2) Negative interest manifested by the Board of Education and its administrative staff of McDowell County on the subject of public school integration. (3) The reluctance of Negro pupils in the Junior and Senior High age category to pioneer and to meet a new challenge in a brand new environment. (4) The influence of Negro teachers on Negro parents and pupils to maintain the old standard of separate schools."61

Gloster B. Current, director of branches for the NAACP national office, echoed the West Virginians concern about the lack of integration in McDowell County. He forwarded the McDowell report to NAACP president Roy Wilkins and attached suggestions on how to address the problem. Like the West Virginians, Current considered black attitudes to be partially responsible for the low numbers of black transfers to white schools: "All of this points up the importance of our giving consideration to a program to counteract not only the arguments of the opposition but to inspire our own people to become more aggressive in the present fight."62

Recent interviews with former African-American students and parents suggest, however, that the NAACP s frustration was misdirected. As long as the dual system was intact and faculties segregated, many African Americans felt they had legitimate reasons to stay in the all-black schools. Some students desired to remain in the schools their parents or older siblings attended, where they had established social ties, knew their teachers, and where members of their own race were football stars, cheerleaders, student government officers, teachers, and principals. But accompanying these positive forces was the fear that teachers and students in predominantly white schools would treat them with hostility at worst or indifference at best.

A woman who attended Welch-Dunbar Junior High until it closed in 1965 recalled her decision not to change schools when given the opportunity: "My mother asked me if I wanted to change schools, but I said no, I thought I wasn t ready. . . . I don t know why other kids went. We didn t miss them." She expressed resentment about the final merging of the black and white schools:

"We felt short-changed and angry. . . . We always looked forward to going to Dunbar School because our parents went to Dunbar School and graduated and then they went to Kimball High and graduated. So that was our goal and we wanted to do that too. . . . At [the newly integrated Welch Junior High] there were no black teachers, no role models. We lost all that. We had black history at [Dunbar] school, when we went over there, there was none."63

Another woman remembered staying at Elkhorn Junior High rather than switching to the predominantly white Elkhorn-Northfork. "I didn t know anyone who had done that so it just wasn t something to consider."64 One mother recalled that her children stayed in the black schools through the early 1960s:

"I don t think my daughter would have wanted to [switch], you know, because they had their little friends and they want to hang out with their friends. . . . And my son was quite happy. He never did think about going over though I guess he could have. He was in the next to the last graduating class. See they had their friends, and they had their football and basketball and they just were happy where they were. . . . I thought they were getting a very good education where they were and well, we ve had a lot of successful black people that graduated from the black high schools around here who are doing very well, from this small community where we re living. So there was no reason, so no, we never did talk about it and we never did think that we should, and discipline was very good in the black high schools and in the junior high schools too."65

Similarly, one father who was an active member of the local NAACP kept his children in the all-black schools. "If blacks had entered the white schools under what you re calling freedom of choice," he noted, "they would have been run out."66 A Kimball High School alumna from the class of 1958 shared the following recollections with a former coach at one of the black high schools:

Alumna: "I didn t really know about the choice until . . . just a minute ago."

Coach: "Yeah you did, you just didn t take advantage of it. You knew there had to be a choice, how do you think those other kids went. . . ."

Alumna: "What I m saying is maybe you know it but you really didn t think about it. Maybe that is what it was. I don t know."

Coach: "I think you just probably made a choice to stay where you were."

Alumna: "Because as I recall black students who went didn t have such a good time, I mean, they didn t have an easy time."

Coach: "Well, you expect that. It s not right but you knew it s going to happen. . . . Things that happened? Yeah, I remember they had a prom, and they had it at the [U.S. Steel] country club and the blacks couldn t go, and I mean blacks that had enrolled in the school."67

Another man recalled staying at Kimball High School until it closed: "I never thought about transferring. The kids that went tended to be the doctors and the lawyers kids, they didn t fit in at Kimball either. We used to wonder how they were doing. Of course my brother went to Northfork before they integrated but he liked adventre."68

The observation that blacks who left their traditional schools were "the doctors and the lawyers kids" may have been accurate, although the majority of professional families kept their children in the traditionally black schools. Some of the pupils who transferred during the period of voluntary integration have been identified in interviews as having lived in the black elite Court and Beech streets neighborhood of Welch. But the mother whose children stayed at Kimball High School lived on Court Street and was the wife of a prominent lawyer, and the NAACP member who sent his children to Excelsior rather than to Big Creek High School made a comfortable living as a successful insurance salesman.

Eugenia Parr Burroughs, who left the black schools during voluntary integration, explained her decision to enroll in Welch High School in a 1986 interview commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of school integration in the county. Like those who chose to remain in the black system, Burroughs s decision reflected personal concerns, and her recollections indicate neither a particular stance on integration nor the "pioneer spirit" that NAACP leaders were looking for. "Even back then I wanted to be a nurse and to do that you had to have a class in Latin. Kimball didn t have such a course so I went to Welch. I didn t want to have to ride a bus from Welch to Kimball every morning but the main reason I transferred was simply because of the Latin."69

The NAACP s efforts to accelerate integration were thwarted by the school board s voluntary desegregation policy and the organization s inability to convince black students to transfer to white schools. Another major obstacle was the school administration s inaction on integrated facilities and faculties. For ten years after the Brown decision, enforcement throughout the United States was generally in the hands of federal district judges responding to suits against particular school boards by groups of black parents. The judges almost always ruled that a district was in compliance once a token number of black students attended white schools. In many of these districts, blacks gained admission to white schools only after clearing deliberately constructed bureaucratic hurdles.70 McDowell County, through voluntary integration, was technically in compliance with Brown and the NAACP had no grounds to resort to legal action. The lack of interest in voluntary integration reflected not only blacks fear of white hostility or reprisal but their desire to remain part of the African-American school system. As throughout the South, voluntary desegregation which kept black and white facilities and faculties separate resulted in little actual integration.

The most notable development in the McDowell County school system in the early 1960s was the dramatic decline in enrollment caused by emigration that began a decade earlier. Between 1950 and 1960, McDowell s population decreased 28 percent, from 98,887 to 71,359. By 1970, this figure fell again to 50,669. The decline coincided with massive job losses brought by long-term changes in the coal market and mechanization.71 The African-American population decreased at an even greater rate than did the general population. In 1950, 24,128 blacks lived in McDowell County. By 1960, this number had fallen to 15,913 and a decade later was only 9,083. Within twenty years, the county lost over 62 percent of its black population.72

There are varying explanations for the greater exodus of blacks than whites during this twenty-year period. Ronald Lewis, in Black Coal Miners in America, builds a case for discriminaory layoffs in the mines. Darold Barnum, in "The Negro in the Bituminous Coal Industry," maintains that African Americans departed in greater numbers because the coal industry offered them fewer opportunities for upward mobility. Barnum agrees that layoffs in the mines may have been discriminatory but suggests that black out-migration would have occurred with or without these job losses. Blacks utilized their kinship ties to the industrial cities of the midwest and northeast and may have found it easier than whites to move from southern West Virginia once the coal boom had ended. This hypothesis is supported by Barnum s observation that once black families left mining areas they "stayed gone," while whites returned to Appalachia on weekends and whenever jobs reopened in the mines.73

According to the 1959-60 West Virginia Education Directory, forty-four all-black schools operated in McDowell County, with a total enrollment of over forty-two hundred students,74 representing 83 percent of the total black school-age population. Fewer than 17 percent of McDowell County s five thousand black school-age children attended integrated schools in 1960. While substantially more integrated than areas in southern states -- for example, fewer than 1 percent of Virginia s black children attended integrated schools -- NAACP leaders had hoped for a much higher percentage.75

High school students from Isaban continued to make the long bus ride past Iaeger and Welch High schools to the all-black Kimball High, and school administrators maintained segregated faculties. The Welch Daily News continued its "colored news" sections in the early and middle 1960s and only ran photos of sports events at white schools. Occasionally, African-American football or basketball players, who had transferred from black schools, played on the teams.

Ultimately, events outside McDowell County forced the consolidation of its school system. In 1961, a coalition led by the West Virginia League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Federal Civil Rights Advisory Committee, and the AFL-CIO successfully lobbied the West Virginia Legislature for the creation of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, which discovered in 1963 that eighty-eight all-black schools operated in the state. Prodded to address this problem, the State Board of Education held a June 1964 meeting with superintendents from the five counties still maintaining all-black schools. McDowell County School Superintendent George Bryson attended the meeting and indicated an extreme lack of awareness of the schools outside his county. Denying that his county was violating anyone s civil rights, he asserted that "we think we are doing exactly what the Supreme Court called for. We are as integrated in my county as any other county in the state."76

By the mid-1960s, the initiative on school desegregation had shifted to the national government. Under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, any school system practicing racial discrimination would be barred from receiving federal funds. Charged with enforcing Title IV, the Office of Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department acted cautiously at first. The failure of the act to define discrimination precisely led the offices to follow the direction of the federal court system which, in the mid-1960s, still considered districts using freedom of choice plans to be in compliance with Brown even if there was little actual integration. In accordance with this judicial precedent, the Office of Education announced in July 1964 that the Civil Rights Act did not call for integration but for desegregation, and districts employing freedom of choice plans that met certain basic requirements would subsequently qualify for federal aid.77

The wording of McDowell County s school zoning regulations changed subtly during 1964, possibly in response to the Office of Education announcement. For example, the regulations in early 1964 contained the following language:

"Superior-Maitland: pupils in grade 1-8 in Superior, Maitland, Belcher Mountain and Big Four to Big Four Wrecking Company on Route 52. Negro pupils have the option of continuing to attend Welch-Dunbar school except that those in East Superior community have the option of continuing to attend Superior East School."78

In November 1964, the school administration rewrote its regulations to delete the word Negro:

"Superior-Maitland: pupils in grades 1-8 in Superior, Maitland, Belcher Mountain and Big Four to Big Four Wrecking Company on Route 52. Those students who have been attending Welch-Dunbar school have the option of continuing to do so, except those in East Superior community who have been attending Superior East have the option of continuing to do so."79

In the spring of 1965, it became apparent to many observers that districts would have to do more than allow individual transfers to previously all-white schools. An Office of Education consultant wrote an article in the March 20 Saturday Review which suggested the office was reconsidering its position of voluntary integration. The author stated that the purpose of Title IV was to abolish all racially segregated dual school systems. Freedom of choice plans, in other words, could be only transitional policies.80

Shortly after the publication of this article, the board adopted a plan to begin merging the county s segregated school system. The black Excelsior High School would close the following fall with students attending Big Creek High School. Students from the black Gary District High School would attend Gary High in September, and the Gary District building would house an integrated elementary school. Furthermore, school buses would only take students to the school nearest their homes, and those who wished to attend the remaining white or black schools when another school was closer would have to provide their own transportation.81

The 1965 complaint filed by the West Virginia Civil Rights Commission with the U.S. Office of Education on the failure of McDowell and two other counties to integrate their faculties probably encouraged the board to complete the integration process. The following spring, the McDowell County Board of Education completely merged its two school systems. Kimball High School became an integrated junior high, and all tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders in the Welch and Kimball area were zoned to attend Welch High School. Similarly, black Elkhorn High School became an integrated junior high, and all former Elkhorn High students were sent to Northfork High. The board also consolidated a number of small elementary schools into larger, integrated facilities. In the fall of 1966, all African-American students in McDowell County, half the number in 1954 when the Supreme Court issued the Brown ruling, attended integrated schools.82 Pressure from new state and federal bureaucracies had finally overcome segregation in McDowell. Now African-American students could enjoy the fruits of integration. They could attend schools with modern equipment, participate in games covered by the Welch Daily News sports photographer, and students in Isaban would attend the more convenient Iaeger High School.

Unfortunately, consolidation of the segregated system took its toll on African-American educational leadership in McDowell County. Many African Americans in McDowell probably felt fortunate when they compared their situation with that confronting blacks throughout the South. Ellis Ray Williams remembered that when he was a teenager he felt superior to his cousins in Virginia because he went to Gary District High School.83 During segregation, each black high school had two blackcoaches, one for boys and one for girls. The merger of the black and white systems eliminated all but one black high school coach. Between 1964 and 1966, the number of black high school principals went from five to zero, and the total number of black principals fell from over twenty to six. Possibly the last official action taken by Joel Hight, long-time principal of Gary District High School, was to meet with the Board of Education about the fate of Gary District s newly purchased but now useless band uniforms that had been obtained after a fundraising drive by the Gary District Parent-Teachers Association. At a conference with a former Gary District teacher, the former president of the Gary District PTA, the principal of the newly enlarged and integrated Gary High School, and Superintendent Bryson, Hight arranged for the uniforms to be sold with the proceeds to go to the Gary High School Band.84 The dramatic loss in black educational leadership and school associations in McDowell County would never be recovered. While all blacks interviewed insist integration was the necessary and right thing to do, they regret the losses that accompanied it.

Ergie Smith, head coach of the black Gary District High School in 1965, resigned in protest after being denied a coaching position at the consolidated Gary High School. Twenty-five years later, Smith ran for one of the two seats open that year for the Board of Education and received the second highest number of votes. The county commission refused to give him his seat, pointing out that there were already two members of the school board from Smith s district of Browns Creek, and according to state school law, no more than two school board members could reside in the same magisterial district. One of these members, however, was an incumbent in the middle of his term who had lived in the Big Creek district until weeks before the election. Smith sued the county commission in the West Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled that he had been unconstitutionally denied his seat on the board.85

By this time, the school system had fewer than one-third of the students it had when Smith coached at Gary District. Children in towns once zoned for Gary High, Gary District High, Kimball High, Welch High, Northfork High, or Elkhorn High attended Mount View High School, built on a reclaimed strip mine outside Welch. On their bus ride to the new school, students passed by the empty, decaying school buildings that many of their parents and grandparents attended.

The Supreme Court s 1954 ruling and McDowell County s response to it did little to unsettle racial arrangements there. The ruling failed to generate local white resistance or black interest in an integrated school system. Although the county NAACP had to push the school administration to permit voluntary integration, no organized opposition fought to keep the schools segregated. Once schools dropped racial barriers for admission, most students remained in their traditional schools and faculties remained completely segregated.

The region s traditional interracial labor cooperation certainly limited white mining families anxiety about racial mixing, and black political power gave the NAACP the clout to pressure the elected school board to acquiesce to its demands. That clout, however, was neither strong enough to force the integration of faculties before 1965 nor adequate to secure the continuation of black educational leadership once the two school systems finally merged by 1966.


1. Welch Daily News, 27 and 30 September, 2 October 1957; Southern School News, October and November 1957. Southern School News s account of the events at Welch High School differed substantially from that of the Welch Daiy News. According to Southern School News, the protest at Welch High School occurred on September 6, involved approximately four hundred students, and was followed by a school boycott that lasted several weeks. Interviews or local sources did not substantiate this version of the story, and the Welch Daily News s version is relied on here. The West Virginia correspondent to Southern School News was Frank A. Knight, a newspaper editor in the state capital of Charleston. While Knight s coverage of integration in McDowell County was very sketchy, this is the only situation in which the reports on McDowell County appear to have been incorrect.

2. Anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 19 March 1992.

3. David Alan Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1981), 61-87. See also Ronald L. Lewis, Black Coal Miners in America: Race, Class, and Community Conflict, 1870-1920 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1987), 121-64; Herbert Gutman, "The Negro and the United Mine Workers of America," in Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America (New York: Random House, 1977), 121-208; Daniel P. Jordan, "The Mingo War: Labor Violence in the Southern West Virginia Coal Fields, 1919-1922," in Essays in Southern Labor History, ed. by Gary M. Fink and Merl E. Reed (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977), 102-44.

4. Joe W. Trotter, Jr., Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1990). For an argument on the necessity of looking beyond sporadic periods of labor militancy in the central Appalachian coalfields, see Crandall A. Shifflett, Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1991), 113-43.

5. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population, 1950, West Virginia, Volume II: Characteristics of the Population (Washington, DC: GPO, 1952). The black populations of the other southern West Virginia coalfield counties were as follows: Boone, 1 percent; Fayette, 14 percent; Logan, 9 percent; Mercer, 11 percent; Mingo, 6 percent; Raleigh, 13 percent; and Wyoming, 6 percent. Kanawha County, with a black population of 20 percent, is not considered to be a coalfield county because of its domination by the city of Charleston.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population, 1960, West Virginia: General Social and Economic Characteristics (Washington, DC: GPO, 1961); Darold T. Barnum, "The Negro in the Bituminous Coal Industry," in Negro Employment in Southern Industry, ed. by Herbert R. Northrup and Richard L. Rowan (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1970), 28-43.

8. Southern School News, November 1955; West Virginia Education Directory, 1953-1954; anonymous interview with author, Welch, 13 March 1992.

9. Leander Boykin, "The Status and Trends of Differentials Between White and Negro Teachers Salaries in the Southern States, 1900-1946," Journal of Negro Education 18(Winter 1949): 41; Southern Education Reporting Service, Statistical Summaries, 20 January 1956; West Virginia Education Directory, 1953-1954; Joel E. Hight, "A History of Negro Secondary Education in McDowell County, West Virginia" (Masters thesis, University of Cincinnati, 1946), 46; anonymous interview with author, Bishop, 17 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Welch, 14 March 1992.

10. The Welch Daily News from 1954 through 1959 illustrates this skewed coverage.

11. Within a few years, whites constituted over half of the West Virginia State student body, and by 1974 almost two-thirds of the student body was white. See Elizabeth Chidester Duran and James A. Duran, Jr., "Integration in Reverse at West Virginia State College," West Virginia History 45(1984): 61-78.

12. Paul Franklin Lutz, "Governor Marland of West Virginia" (Masters thesis, West Virginia University, 1977), 58; Southern School News, July and Ocober 1954. Many of the counties that integrated in 1954 had small African-American populations that had been receiving separate instruction at considerable expense.

13. Minutes of the McDowell County Board of Education, Welch, 17 August 1954, hereafter referred to as Board of Education Minutes; Southern School News, May 1955.

14. Board of Education Minutes, 16 August 1955.

15. Welch Daily News, 17 August 1955.

16. J. W. Peltason, Fifty-eight Lonely Men (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1961), 99; J. Harvie Wilkinson, From Brown to Bakke (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979), 80-87.

17. Welch Daily News, 22 August 1955 and Board of Education Minutes, 29 August 1955. Minutes of all McDowell Branch NAACP meetings were destroyed by fire.

18. Board of Education Minutes, 29 August 1955.

19. Ibid.; Welch Daily News, 20 September 1955.

20. Board of Education Minutes, 6 September 1955. There is no indication from school board records, newspapers, or interviews that any black students applied to transfer that year.

21. Welch Daily News, 3, 7, 9, and 11 January and 2 February 1956.

22. Ibid., 4 February 1956 and Board of Education Minutes, 21 February 1956.

23. Welch Daily News, 22 February, 3 March and 3 May 1956; T. G. Nutter to Gloster B. Current, 30 April 1956, State Conference File, West Virginia Branch Files, Box C-164, Group III, NAACP Papers, Library of Congress, Washington DC, hereafter referred to as NAACP Papers.

24. Welch Daily News, 3 May 1956.

25. Ibid., 3 and 4 May 1956. Apparently, the Welch Daily News often used statements prepared by Bryson or the board as its only source for school news. Frequently, board minute books and the news articles on the meetings were identical.

26. Ibid., 9 May 1956.

27. Welch Daily News, 9 August 1956.

28. Board of Education Minutes, 24 January and 7 August 1956.

29. Welch Daily News, 30 August 1956.

30. Ibid., 12 September 1956.

31. Ibid., 25 and 26 September 1956 and Board of Education Minutes, 25 September 1956. None of the former students or teachers interviewed had any recollection of this event.

32. Garret Mathews, "Some Jeers but Only One Day of Trouble," 30 August 1986 [title of newspaper not available], Clipping Collection, Eastern Regional Coal Archives, Bluefield, hereafter referred to as ERCA.

33. Welch Daily News, 11, 12, and 24 February and 3, 17, and 27 March 1958; Southern School News, March, April and June 1958; Board of Education Minutes, 25 February, 4 March, and 27 May 1958. George Bryson never disclosed the contents of threatening letter. None of the former students or teachers interviewed remember any of these fires.

34. West Virginia Education Directory, 1954-1955, 1955-1956, 1956-1957, 1957-1958, 1958-1959, 1959-1960.

35. Letter from Gloster B. Current, NAACP National Director of Branches, to T. G. Nutter, President of West Virginia State Conference NAACP, 2 October 1957, NAACP Papers.

36. Southern School News, October 1957; Benjamin Muse, Ten Years of Prelude: The Story of Integration Since the Supreme Court s 1954 Decision (New York: Viking Press, 1964), 187.

37. Southern School News, February and December 1958.

38. For a description of southern West Virginia during the Civil War, see Altina L. Waller, Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1988), 17-33.

39. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 64; Lewis, Black Coal Miners, 145. For a general history of the industrial development of central Appalachia between 1880 and 1930, see Ronald D Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1982).

40. John Alexander Williams, West Virginia and the Captains of Industry (Morgantown: West Virginia Univ. Press, 1976), 118-19, 127.

41. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 70. See also Carl V. Harris, "Stability and Change in Discrimination Against Black Public Schools: Birmingham, Alabama, 1871-1931," The Journal of Southern History 51(August 1985): 375-416. This article points to the role that industrialists in Birmingham played in maintaining higher levels of black education than those found in rural areas.

42. Trotter, Coal, Class, and Color, 19.

43. United Mine Workers Journal, 15 October 1919, quoted in Lewis, Black Coal Miners, 126.

44. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion; Lewis, Black Coal Miners; Jordan, "The Mingo War"; Gutman, "The Negro and the United Mine Workers of America."

45. "Virginia Lad," The Sodom and Gomorrah of Today, or the History of Keystone, West Virginia (n. p., 1912), pages unnumbered. See also Howard B. Lee, Bloodletting in Appalachia: The Story of West Virginia s Four Mine Wars and Other Thrilling Incidents of its Coalfields (Morgantown: West Virginia Univ., 1969), 203-08.

46. "Virginia Lad," The Sodom and Gomorrah of Today.

47. Jack French, "Segregation Patterns in a Coal Camp" (M.A. thesis, West Virginia University, 1953), 1-34.

48. Ibid.

49. Anonymous interview with author, Kimball, 19 March 1992.

50. Census of Population, 1950; anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 16 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Welch, 14 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Switchback, 16 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 16 March 1992.

51. French, "Segregation Patterns," 1-34; see also Ralph D. Minard, "Race Relationships in the Pocahontas Coal Field," Journal of Social Issues 3(1952): 32.

52. Anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 16 March 1992.

53. Anonymous interview with author, Welch, 8 January 1992; anonymous interview with author, Switchback, 16 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 19 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 16 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Keystone, 19 March 1992.

54. West Virginia Education Directory, 1953-1954; Hight, "A History of Negro Secondary Education in McDowell County," 46; anonymous interview with author, Bishop, 17 March 1992; anonymous interview with author, Welch, 14 March 1992.

55. Price Fishback, "Employment Conditions of Blacks in the Coal Industry," Journal of Economic History 44(January 1984): 606-07; French, "Segregation Patterns," 9; Barnum, "The Negro in the Bituminous Coal Mining Industry," 30; Lewis, Black Coal Miners, 167-90.

56. Anonymous interview with author, Welch, 8 January 1992; Trotter , Coal, Class, and Color, 145-75, 220-26; Lewis, Black Coal Miners, 153; J. S. Saundle, "The Rise of the Negro Assistant County Superintendent in West Virginia," Journal of Negro Education 15(Fall 1946): 621-27.

57. Trotter, Coal, Class, and Color, 217-37.

58. Ibid., 40-45, 178-91, 244-46; Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonel Andrew Donnally Chapter, McDowell County History (Ft. Worth, TX: Univ. Supply and Equipment Co., 1959), 102. The War Memorial Building fell into disrepair in the mid-1970s and burned in the early 1980s. Its outer walls still stand on the main street of Kimball.

59. Hight, "A History of Negro Secondary Education in McDowell County," 31, 45. Minutes of some "Schoolmen" meetings are in the possession of Elizabeth Scobell, Institute, West Virginia.

60. T. G. Nutter, Opening Address to Annual Convention of the West Virginia Conference of the NAACP, Fairmont, October 1957, and T. G. Nutter, Opening Address to the Annual Convention of the State Conference of the NAACP, Williamson, September 1958, both in NAACP Papers.

61. "Report of the McDowell Chapter of the NAACP," 13 September 1958, NAACP Papers.

62. Memorandum from Gloster B. Current to Roy Wilkins, et al., Fall 1958, NAACP Papers.

63. Anonymous interview with author, Welch,15 March 1992.

64. Anonymous interview with author, Northfork, 16 March 1992.

65. Anonymous interview with author, Welch, 19 March 1992.

66. Anonymous interview with author, Bishop, 17 March 1992.

67. Anonymous interview with author, Welch, 13 March 1992.

68. Anonymous interview with author, Welch, 18 March 1992.

69. Garret Mathews, "Some Jeers but Only One Day of Trouble." Burroughs is apparently the only student who left the black school system during the period of voluntary integration who still resides in the county. The frequency with which the Parr name appeared in the elite-oriented "Welch Colored News" column of the Welch Daily News in the late 1950s supports the observation that black transfers tended to be of the elite.

70. Peltason, Fifty-eight Lonely Men, 99; Wilkinson, From Brown to Bakke, 80-87.

71. Census of Population, 1950, 1960, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Population, 1970, West Virginia: General Social and Economic Characteristics (Washington, DC: GPO, 1971).

72. Census of Population, 1950, 1960, and 1970.

73. Barnum, "The Negro in the Bituminous Coal Industry," 52; Lewis, Black Coal Miners in America, 167-90.

74. In 1954, all West Virginia school systems ended the policy of identifying students, teachers or schools by race. The number forty-four was calculated by comparing the list from the 1959-60 West Virginia Education Directory with that from the 1953-54 Directory. This number assumes that there were no new black schools built during this time. The enrollment figure also assumes that no white students transferred to traditionally black schools after the initial transfers in 1956. Neither board minutes nor interviews indicate that any did so.

75. Southern School News, December 1961.

76. Douglas Smith, "In Quest of Equality: The West Virginia Experience," West Virginia History 37(April 1976): 213-16; Southern School News, January and July 1964.

77. Gary Orfield, The Reconstruction of Southern Education: The Schools and the 1964 Civil Rights Act (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1969), 63.

78. Board of Education Minutes, 7 March 1964, emphasis added.

79. Ibid., 23 November 1964, emphasis added.

80. Orfield, The Reconstruction of Southern Education, 87-92.

81. Board of Education Minutes, 27 May 1965.

82. Southern School News, February 1965; Board of Education Minutes, 22 March 1966. Several all-white schools, most of which were in the Sandy River District where few blacks lived, continued to operate after 1966.

83. Ellis Ray Williams, taped interview, ERCA.

84. West Virginia Education Directory, 1963-1964, 1964-1965, 1965-1966; Board of Education Minutes, 1 January 1966.

85. Charleston Gazette, 10 May, 25 June, 6 September, and 3 October 1990; Welch Daily News, 28 June, 6 July, and 14, 18, and 31 December 1990.

Volume 54Volume 54

West Virginia History Journal

West Virginia History Center