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African American Communities in West Virginia

West Virginia is home to nearly 60,000 African Americans. The African American community has a rich and diverse history in West Virginia dating to the early settlement period prior to the Civil War. Some of the older communities include those in the Eastern Panhandle and around Charleston. The majority of African American communities in the state originated during the coal mining boom in the late 1800's and early 1900's. After the Civil War, many blacks left the Southern states for work in the coal mines of West Virginia. This period of relocation gave rise to many of West Virginia's older rural black communities as well as contributing to the growing communities in the larger cities.

West Virginia is currently home to a vibrant African American population with strong regional communities and numerous statewide organizations reflecting a network for all aspects of black culture. Individuals and groups are actively involved in the promotion of African American heritage through organizations, community events, and festivals throughout the state. In West Virginia there are African American historical societies, heritage museums, and traditional music festivals as well as community action groups, performance ensembles, academic research facilities, and arts organizations. This report provides merely an introduction to a few of the many facets of the diverse African American community in West Virginia.

Spiritual life is a significant element of the black community and an important part of the history of the black community in West Virginia. Church life has been a major focus for as long as the black communities have existed. As a source of both unity and heritage, the churches provide opportunities for spiritual and social activities which regularly bring family and community together. Important church functions include day-long Sunday programs, weekly socials, and annual homecoming celebrations which provide a weekend of events for the extended church community. Most black churches have Men's Days and Women's Days which include a special Sunday morning service, a meal shared with the church community, and an afternoon of socializing. Gospel music is an important part of church and community, and West Virginia is home to several nationally recognized gospel performers and festivals. African American churches in many communities throughout the state are involved with activities encouraging positive race relations and cross-cultural awareness.

African American cultural organizations throughout the state host activities associated with Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day, Kwanzaa, and other celebrations of African American heritage. Many black communities have clubs that are both service and social organizations, providing additional opportunities for the community to celebrate and share its heritage. Several communities have museums dedicated to black history in West Virginia. Throughout the state there are a number of festivals celebrating black heritage, history, and community, including the Black Heritage Festival in Clarksburg, the African American Jubilee in Wheeling, and the John Henry Festival in Morgantown. These events attract people from a wide region and are strong representations of the local and statewide communities. In addition to these larger festivals, there are regional celebrations throughout the state for events like Juneteenth Celebration, Kwanzaa, Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, regional homecomings, and celebrations honoring local historical figures.

The largest contemporary African American populations are in the Metro Valley in the vicinity of Charleston and Huntington, and in the New River/Greenbrier Valley, particularly in the vicinity of Beckley. African American communities are also found in Clarksburg, Bluefield, Fairmont, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Princeton, Weirton, and Wheeling. Descriptions of most of these communities and contact persons can be found under their respective regional headings.

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