Skip Navigation AN INTRODUCTION TO WEST VIRGINIA ETHNIC COMMUNITIES

Project description

West Virginia is home to a rich diversity of cultures and communities, representing people from all around the world who have found their way to this Appalachian state. Such a rich collection of cultures gives everyone in West Virginia the opportunity to appreciate the global diversity of heritage found in our state. To varying degrees, many of these communities have assimilated into mainstream America, but most have also found ways to retain their cultural identity and heritage, including folk art, music and dance, foodways, religious customs, and family traditions. The presence of these communities and their willingness to share their traditions is a valuable asset to cultural life in West Virginia.

The goal of this report is to identify active ethnic communities within West Virginia, and to locate contact persons for each community. For the purposes of this study, West Virginia ethnic communities are considered to be African American, Native American, Jewish, and immigrant populations and their immediate descendants. This project is a first step towards the larger goal of promoting ethnic heritage and multicultural awareness throughout the state. The report illustrates the fact that there is a far greater level of ethnic diversity in the traditional life of West Virginians than has been previously thought. It is hoped that this project will serve as a jumping-off point for additional research into the traditional life of West Virginia's ethnic communities. We eventually hope to broaden the scope of this project to include communities for whom we have no current contact, and to also extend the depth of our information about the communities which we have included.

By no means is this project exhaustive; it is likely that we have only included a sampling of the state's active ethnic communities. Because of the limited scope of this project, we were not able to thoroughly research the communities which we have identified; indeed, the main motivation for this project has been to locate communities in order to increase the potential for detailed research subsequent to this project. For this reason, there will undoubtedly be numerous gaps and many questions left unanswered. We invite anyone with knowledge of other communities in the state to contact us so these may be included in future research.

We hope that this report will create an exciting network throughout the state and promote the sharing of traditions and heritage that are already vibrant in our state. We also hope that the report will assist new individuals moving into the state, who hope to connect with individuals who share their ethnic identity.

This report was originally produced in 1999 by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and was revised in 2005 by the staff of Goldenseal magazine. The research and report were primarily the work of Jimmy Triplett, edited by John Lilly and revised by Gordon Simmons. Funding for this project was provided by the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts. Maps were provided courtesy of the West Virginia Division of Tourism. Comments, suggestions, additions, and corrections may be addressed to:

John Lilly, Editor/Folklife Director
Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV 25305

Methods

This project involved two main stages of information gathering. In the first stage, we created a primary list of contact persons by conducting a review of published resources and by consulting knowledgeable individuals. In the second stage of research, we interviewed the primary contacts in order to learn specifics about the active communities to which they belong, and to create the current list of contact persons. In 2005, we attempted to confirm and amend this information.

We utilized a variety of resources to create our first list of contacts. Since its inception in 1975, Goldenseal magazine has published numerous articles specifically related to West Virginia ethnic communities. The magazine has also regularly published a listing of fairs and festivals in West Virginia. Through a survey of the magazine, we found both historic and current communities, and created a substantial list of ethnic festivals throughout the state. This survey provided us contact information for several key persons, churches, and ethnic organizations, and also gave us an indication of the types of activities which currently reflect ethnic traditions.

Early in the project, we created a questionnaire form which we sent to every public library in West Virginia, and a similar questionnaire which we sent to arts organizations throughout the state. In the questionnaire, we asked for information about local ethnic communities, including the names of contact persons and ethnic folk artists. This part of the survey resulted in several important contacts, although the return rate was only about 10%.

As another preliminary step, we completed a search through the yellow pages of current telephone directories for the entire state, which provided information on churches, synagogues, festival organizations, ethnic cultural clubs, ethnic restaurants, ethnic food stores, and regional chambers of commerce. These contacts proved to be the richest source of information and an excellent lead into the local communities.

A variety of other resources were utilized throughout the research phase of this project. One of the most useful resources from a technical standpoint was the Internet, which among other things provided an excellent means of locating phone numbers and addresses. The Augusta Heritage Center maintains a large archive of materials relating to West Virginia folk culture, the Augusta Collection of Folk Culture. We performed a search in this archive for materials relating to ethnic communities, and found a few references to historic communities. Numerous individuals made significant contributions to this project, by pointing us in the direction of new leads and important contacts. We are indebted to them for their assistance.

After compiling a list of potential contacts, we began an extensive telephone interview process, in which we gathered information directly from members of the communities. During this process, we sought to identify one or two contact persons for each community, to learn a little about the history of the community, and to learn about the contemporary activities which bring the community together and specifically function to promote heritage and maintain a sense of cultural identity.

We found a significant number of ethnic activities in the state. In this report, we present the larger communities in which there are public activities and an accessible contact person. In the course of this project, we met additional families and individuals who are preserving ethnic traditions or who represent a body of oral history pertaining to a regional community. However, due to the scope and focus of this project, the current report only includes information about larger communities. During this process, we also collected information about specific folk artists in many of these communities. That information is also not included in the current report. Should further support be made available, we hope to solidify this information, as well.

Notes on Organization

In this report, we have organized the communities under eight geographic headings, which are the tourism regions recognized by the West Virginia Division of Tourism. The eight regions are the Northern Panhandle, the Eastern Panhandle, the Potomac Highlands, Mountaineer Country, the Mountain Lakes region, the New River/Greenbrier region, the Metro Valley, and the Mid-Ohio Valley. The counties included in each region are listed in the introductions for each region. For each region, we have included a brief overview, which presents very general historical comments about the region, and information about additional communities which we believe to be in the region but for which we were unable to find a contact.

The regions are listed alphabetically, with local communities listed alphabetically within each region. The body of the report consists of summary pages for each of the local ethnic communities within each region. Each summary page includes a general description of the community, a brief description of current activities, and a list of contact persons for that community. The general description includes information about the current size of the community and a brief description of the history of the community. Throughout this report, we have relied upon the 1990 census figures as means of estimating the size of populations. Because these figures are 15 years old, we acknowledge the fact that the figures merely provide a rough estimate of current populations. Whenever possible, we have also included estimates from someone within the community. The description of current activities includes such things as church services, cultural clubs, festivals, and ethnic dinners. These are activities that bring the larger community together, and provide a point of contact with the public.

In general, we found that religion goes hand-in-hand with the preservation of ethnic traditions and provides a natural setting for the community to meet and socialize. For many communities, church life is the primary activity defining the ethnicity of the group at the community level. We have also identified activities that includes folk art and folk music. While it is not the purpose of this report to create a list of such artists, their presence in the community is briefly mentioned under the section on current activities. Festivals and ethnic dinners are a focal point for many contemporary ethnic communities, and represent perhaps the best opportunity to learn more about the regional community.

Contact persons have been selected based on their knowledge of the general community to which they belong, and their ability and willingness to serve as a connecting point for the community. In most cases, numerous members of the community were contacted before final selection of a representative contact person was made. Often this person was recommended by many in the community. For each contact, we have included a current address and telephone number.

Contemporary activities in three larger communities have justified inclusion of separate articles discussing these groups from a statewide perspective, in addition to their inclusion in their respective regional headings. We have included a special section addressing statewide activities for the African American community, the Jewish community, and the Native American community on the following pages.

Table of Contents
African American Communities