· African American · Hungarian ·
Map of the region
The Eastern Panhandle is a region encompassing three counties (Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson) and is home to approximately 6% of the population of West Virginia. In one sense, this region is typical of all of West Virginia - it is home to a rich variety of ethnic backgrounds and innumerable nationalities. Families representative of virtually every ethnic group discussed in this report can be found in the region. However, there are very few distinct ethnic communities in the Eastern Panhandle, in contrast to other regions of the state. Although there are families with Greek heritage, for example, there is no Greek Orthodox church in the Eastern Panhandle. In this sense, the Eastern Panhandle is more representative of the smaller counties in the state; lacking a large metropolitan area, the region is ethnically diverse but it has few large distinct communities in which traditions are readily maintained. It is a melting pot that has melted.
The earliest settlers in this tri-county region were Germans, and with almost 50% of the population today claiming German roots, this remains one of the most common ancestral groups in the region. Similarly, Irish, English, Scottish, Dutch, and French roots are common in the Eastern Panhandle. Though these early settler groups left their cultural mark on the area (particularly German and Dutch), there are currently no distinct communities for these groups. A second major wave of Irish immigrants came to the Eastern Panhandle in the mid- to late nineteenth century to work in railroad and highway construction, but there are no known contemporary Irish communities. Of the more recent immigrant groups, Italian, Polish, and other Eastern European and Russian groups are also reflected in the ancestry in the region, although in the Eastern Panhandle there are no known churches or organizations associated with these groups as there are in other parts of the state. An interesting exception is the Hungarian community in Berkeley Springs, which represents the cultural hub of a far-reaching community. The African American community has very old roots in the Eastern Panhandle, and the contemporary community is large, diverse, and active. In Martinsburg, Beth Jacob Synagogue on Martin Street holds monthly services conducted by a visiting lay rabbi; this Jewish community, which includes approximately 20 families, also has old roots in the region, dating to the late nineteenth century. There are numerous Mexicans in Berkeley County, mostly migrant workers associated with the orchards. There are also Mexican-owned groceries and other businesses, reflecting the development of a more permanent community.
According to the 1990 census, the Eastern Panhandle also has small populations of several other nationalities and ethnic groups, for whom we currently have no contact persons. These include a small Japanese population in Berkeley County, and a small Asian population throughout the region, including Chinese, Korean, and Thai. There is a small population of West Indians in Berkeley County. The 1990 census indicates approximately 200 Native Americans live in the Eastern Panhandle.
Approximately 5,000 African Americans live in the Eastern Panhandle, representing 9% of the African American population in West Virginia. The African American community in the Eastern Panhandle is one of the oldest in the state. Historically, this region was home to a large number of ex-slaves who had been associated with the local plantations. In the early twentieth century, the Eastern Panhandle had the second largest proportion of African Americans in the state, after the Kanawha Valley. Today, the larger communities are in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, in the vicinity of Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, and Charles Town. There are also small communities in the rural towns like Paw Paw in Morgan County. The first African American newspaper in West Virginia, the Pioneer Press, was published in the Eastern Panhandle. Historic Storer College, which at one time provided the state with the majority of its black teachers, is located in Harpers Ferry.
Numerous activities throughout the Eastern Panhandle promote black culture and history, and local public events bring the general community together to promote a stronger multicultural community. The history of the black church is particularly strong in the Eastern Panhandle. Today, the church is a vital center for the black communities throughout this region, providing opportunities for numerous spiritual and social activities. Church-related community events include special day-long Sunday programs and socials, such as Men's Days and Women's Days, and annual homecoming celebrations which provide a weekend of activity for the extended church community. There are numerous predominantly black churches in the area, including Dudley Baptist Church in Martinsburg, St. John's Baptist Church in Shepherdstown, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Martinsburg, Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Shenandoah Junction, and Ashbury United Methodist Church in Shepherdstown. Gospel music is an important part of both the church services and the community in this region, as is true for the African American community around the state, and the regional choirs frequently perform both locally and statewide. In addition to activities that strengthen the black community, black churches in the area are also involved with activities to promote dialogue between races and to encourage cross-cultural awareness and understanding.
In Charles Town, the Carter G. Woodson Historical Association is an important cultural group and a central part of the regional African American community, hosting numerous cultural activities for the general community. The association sponsors an annual Kwanzaa Celebration, with nightly candlelight service and a non-denominational cultural program. In February, "Heritage Week" honors Carter Woodson with presentations and family activities focusing on black culture and history. Charles Town is also the site of the annual Jefferson County African American Cultural Heritage Festival, an event sponsored by the NAACP. This three-day event features a banquet, a street fair, numerous presentations, and black Civil War re-enactors. Every August in Johnsontown, a Community Homecoming features an evening program with music and presentations for the local black community. The Martinsburg community hosts an annual Juneteenth Festival celebrating the end of slavery and providing another point of contact for the area communities. Numerous other museums and community activities, such as the Galilean Fisherman's Hall and the Sumner Ramer School Museum, add to the vibrancy of the African American community in the Eastern Panhandle.
Jim Kenyatta (James Fisher)
United African American Artists of West Virginia
79 Alla Willa Drive
Charles Town, WV 25414
P.O. Box 1865
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
Rev. Robert Gidney
Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church
5014 Flowing Springs Road
Duffields, WV 25442
Although Hungarian roots are common throughout West Virginia dating to immigration during the coal boom period, we are currently unable to find a regional community in which Hungarian traditions are maintained. There are numerous families throughout the state, but perhaps no large community. Mostly, the contemporary Hungarian Americans appear to have assimilated into mainstream America, although traditions like cooking are maintained at the family level.
In the Eastern Panhandle, approximately 300 or 400 individuals have Hungarian roots, reflecting fairly typical relative numbers found throughout West Virginia. However, the Eastern Panhandle is an exceptional area. Hungarian heritage is particularly well-represented here with the home of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation. The organization has selected this location in West Virginia as a central location for a broad-based community extending throughout the eastern United States. Thus, this community represents a chosen gathering place for Hungarians in the wider area, rather than strictly a local Hungarian enclave.
The small community of Hungarians in the Berkeley Springs are associated with the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation and the Alba Regia Chapel and museum. The Freedom Fighters is a nationwide organization preserving and promoting Hungarian heritage. The organization was started in 1960 in the Washington, D.C., area. The group in Berkeley Springs is not aware of any other Hungarian communities in West Virginia, but it has a network for Hungarian activities throughout the eastern United States and North America. The home of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation is at the Alba Regia Chapel in Berkeley Springs. The church is non-denominational and has a memorial park and cemetery dedicated to Hungarians. Many Hungarians throughout the country have arrangements to be buried here. The chapel features Hungarian folk art and a bell tower identical to one in Hungary. Presentations of the history of Hungary and Hungarian Americans can be found in the chapel. Among other annual activities, the Hungarian Freedom Fighters organizes an exhibit of Hungarian artwork at the local library, including embroidery and ceramics. The group has also purchased local acreage for Hungarians to build on, and currently there are a few homes. Every year, there is an annual Homecoming for the extended Hungarian community.
Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation
P.O. Box 867
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
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