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Department of Arts, Culture and History to present “West Virginia State University: Excellence in Leadership” exhibit


The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History will open a new exhibition, West Virginia State University: Excellence in Leadership, on Aug. 6, 2004, at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex, Charleston. The free exhibit will remain on display through Sept. 5.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 15th annual MultiFest which will take place on the grounds of the Capitol Complex Aug. 6 - 8, and pays tribute to the leadership shown by West Virginia State University (WVSU) in the areas of education, arts and letters, language education, military service, and sports.

Using photographs and text panels reproduced from the WVSU Archives Collection at the Drain Jordan Library, the exhibition will identify presidents, professors, artists, and sports and military figures who illustrate the value of multicultural education. The display details the school’s origin and explains how Governor A. B. Fleming signed the bill establishing the new land-grant school to be known as West Virginia Colored Institute on March 17, 1891.

John W. Davis, who served as president of the school from 1919-1953, initiated sweeping changes. Some of the finest educators in the country joined the faculty, including Carter G. Woodson, the renowned African-American historian who was academic dean from 1920-1922. During Davis’ tenure, the college became the first Negro land-grant school to receive full accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In addition, the extension program began providing education to people in their own counties.

Visitors also can learn about WVSU’s contributions to the military. Beginning in 1893, there was instruction in military tactics on campus, and WVSU has graduated more generals than any other non-military four-year, state-supported college. The college also offered Civilian Pilot Training courses between 1939-1942.

The arts and letters field has also thrived at WVSU. Recent and current artists and historians at the college include T. E. Posey, L. L. McKenzie, Della Brown Taylor Hardman, Ray McNamara, Cubert Smith, Joe Mullins, Denise Giardina, Ancella Bickley and T. Ford Ahmed. In addition, many visiting artists and scholars have served residencies there including W. E. B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Arna Wendell Bontemps, Maya Angelou, Harry Bellefonte, Ruby Dee and James Earl Jones.

Beginning in the 1920s, WVSU began excelling at foreign language education and international studies. In 1930, professor John F. Matheus, the renown short-story writer, poet and theatrical director spent six months as secretary to the International Commission of Inquiry to Liberia. Language education expanded in the 1950s with the appointment of Dr. Naomi Garrett, chairman of the Foreign Language Department, to direct the foreign student programs. Students from Haiti, Thailand and Iraq participated, and later in the 1960s, natives of Kenya, Bermuda, Canada, Guyana, Japan and India began arriving at the school.

The exhibition also explains the development of sports at WVSU, particularly in football and basketball and includes a video of the 1948 championship basketball game.

For more information about the “West Virginia State University: Excellence in Leadership” exhibition at the Cultural Center, contact Richard H. Ressmeyer, director of arts for the Division, at (304) 558-0240, ext. 721.

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, 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. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about programs of the Division. The Department of Arts, Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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