The Jenkins Plantation Museum at Green Bottom will celebrate African-American History Month with a special Chautauqua-style living history presentation by actor Joseph Bundy, who will portray West Virginia native and early civil rights activist J.R. Clifford. The free one-hour program will be presented at 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16.
Born in 1848, Clifford was a native of Williamsport, Hardy County (present-day Grant County). He served in the 13th U.S. Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. In 1882, Clifford established the Pioneer Press, the first newspaper in the state owned, printed and published by an African American. The paper remained one of the most respected black newspapers in the nation until it was closed by the federal government in 1917, due to Clifford’s criticism of the United States’ involvement in World War I. At the time of its demise, the Pioneer Press was the longest-running black newspaper in the country.
In 1887, Clifford became the first African American to pass the West Virginia bar examination and subsequently argued two landmark civil rights cases before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. He worked with his friend W.E.B. Du Bois to found the Niagara Movement in 1905 to counter Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of working within the existing system to achieve gradual civil rights advancement. Participants in the Niagara Movement wanted immediate change. Clifford broke with the group when it formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Among other disagreements, he objected to the use of the word “colored” in the organization’s title.
Clifford died in Martinsburg in 1933 and was buried in the city’s Mount Hope Cemetery. In 1954, his body was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in recognition of his service during the Civil War.
The Chautauqua idea began more than 100 years ago as a “public university” performed all over the country. Today’s Chautauqua scholars continue that tradition by giving informative lectures as famous figures from American history. Each Chautauqua presentation has three parts. First, the scholar presents a monologue as the historical character. Then the character is available to answer questions from the audience. Finally, the scholar breaks character and is open to questions that the character would not have been in a position to know the answers to during his or her lifetime.
Seating for the programs is limited and reservations are requested. For more information or reservations, call (304) 762-1059. For more information about Clifford or other prominent African Americans in West Virginia history, see the West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s website at www.wvculture.org/history/blacks.html.
An actor, writer and scholar, Joseph Bundy is the founder and artistic director of the Afro-Appalachian Performance Company. Best known for his living history performances as Clifford, James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington and Martin Delany, Bundy also writes plays, prose and poetry. He has a degree in speech with a theatrical emphasis from Marshall University, and received additional training with the National Shakespeare Company and the American University Academy for Performing Arts. He is the coordinator of The West Virginia African American Chautauqua and is a member of The Harlem Renaissance Chautauqua, The West Virginia Alliance for the Preservation of African American History, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The Jenkins Plantation Museum is located on West Virginia Route 2 between Huntington and Point Pleasant. A facility of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the museum features the former home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, a notable Civil War leader of the Confederate 8th Virginia Cavalry. The 1835 house, built in the tradition of Tidewater, Va., is noteworthy for its architecture and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The museum is open Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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