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Christopher Payne

Christopher Payne was the first African American to serve in the West Virginia Legislature. He was born in Monroe County on September 7, 1848, and was educated by his mother. As a boy, Payne worked as a farmhand near Hinton and as a servant in the Confederate Army. After attending night school in Charleston, he became one of the first black teachers in present-day Summers County. Payne was ordained as a Baptist minister and organized the Second Baptist Church in Hinton. He later graduated from the Richmond Theological Institute and State University in Louisville.

Payne was a pioneer in the field of black journalism and established three newspapers -- the West Virginia Enterprise, The Pioneer, and the Mountain Eagle. As southern West Virginia's black population grew in the late 1800s, African Americans carried more weight in state politics. In 1896, Payne was elected to the West Virginia Legislature as a Republican delegate from Fayette County. He represented the state's Third Congressional District at the National Republican Convention on three occasions. Payne was rewarded for his service to the party with appointments to various positions within the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue. He studied law and was admitted to the bar while working at the bureau.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt named Payne as Consul General to the Danish West Indies (present-day Virgin Islands). After the United States acquired the islands in 1917, he served as prosecuting attorney and police judge in St. Thomas, the islands' capital. He died in St. Thomas on December 5, 1925.

Biographies of Prominent African Americans in West Virginia

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History