Skip Navigation

Photographer William H. Jordan:

A Portrait of Ansted's Black Community

By Connie Karickhoff

"He talked about West Virginia a lot," says Norman Jordan of his grandfather, William. "‘There's gold in them thar hills,' he would say whenever West Virginia was mentioned." Gold for William Harvey Jordan was not the money he was making as a photographer in Cleveland, but the immeasurable value of his family and friends back home in Ansted.

William Harvey Jordan was born in Black Hawk Hollow, Kanawha County, in 1886. He often told the story that his mother was born there in a teepee, according to Norman. It was there that William attended school and was baptized at the First Baptist Church in Charleston at age 12. "He said he went to the school down there where Booker T. Washington went to school," Norman recalls.

William Harvey Jordan
Photographer William Harvey Jordan. Photograph early 1920's, photographer unknown.

William's parents, Henry Jordan and Sarah Brooks-Jordan, moved the family first to Hawks Nest and then to Ansted, Fayette County, following the drift of the mines around the turn of the century.

The Gauley Mountain Coal Company arrived in Ansted, a small community of about 2,000, in 1889 and brought many African Americans into the area along with other workers. These new settlers came to escape the dead-end sharecropping system in the South, and to start a new life in an industry which promised them independence and economic stability.

By 1900, there were more than 100 blacks in the area. Though many of them worked the mines, most were employed in the GMCC coke ovens. The 156 beehive-type ovens were built in the early 1890's in what became known as Coke Oven Hollow in Ansted; the ovens were used to burn coal down into a more efficient industrial fuel called coke. Coke burning often involved hard labor in extremely hot temperatures. Blacks were many times preferred to do this dangerous work. The heat, smoke, and dirt from the ovens settled in the hollow, making it an undesirable location for other residents, but it became home to a sizable African American community.

William became a miner for Gauley Mountain and married a local girl, Lula Woolridge, in 1909. They had two children, Eloise and Harold, and lived in a coal company house in Coke Oven Hollow. Harold is Norman Jordan's father. In 1912, after the untimely death of his wife, Lula, William decided to leave Ansted for Michigan. Eloise and Harold remained behind with relatives. Norman remembers that Lula's brother, Eddy Woolridge, was affectionately called "Papa Eddy" after taking in young Harold. "He was like a second grandfather," says Norman. From Michigan, William moved on to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916 where he worked in construction until a tragic accident in 1922 in which he lost both of his legs.

Once he recuperated from his accident, William decided to make professional photography his life's work.

You can read the rest of this article in the Winter 1998 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.