Source: WV History Film Project
ANCELLA BICKLEY INTERVIEW
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE ONE, CAMERA ROLL 201, SOUND 71,
Q: Ancella, tell me in a sort of general sense how
blacks came into western Virginia?
AB: Initially of course they came in as slaves with families that brought them here for their labor. Some were probably at least working for places such as salt mines and so on. Then at the end of the Civil War, a good many of those people who had been slaves left, and a new population began to come in. Some came following the mines looking for work; others came to the railroads, logging, and whatever there was, whatever industry there was seemed to present opportunities for work.
Q: Did western Virginia, then West Virginia
have any sort of a special conditions for blacks?
AB: During the Civil War, and particularly Cabell County that I know about, if blacks were emancipated in Cabell County, they had to petition the county court in order to be able to remain in the county. In some cases, it was denied; their opportunity to live there was denied, and so they probably had to leave. There were some emancipations in Cabell County, a rather large one of about sixty people, who left the state because they were not welcome to remain.
Q: Were conditions generally better, say, prior
to the Civil War in western Virginia than in Virginia
proper? in the deep south?
AB: It has been speculated that it might have been different; I don't know whether we'd say it was better or not. Different in the sense that West Virginia did not have the system of large plantations with an intermediate system of managements, overseers, and so on that you had in the deep south. So there were perhaps a few slaves owned by a family, which would have meant that there would be a closer relationship between the slaves and the family because they were probably living in proximity to one another, working in the fields together because there wasn't the kind of wealth that you find in Tidewater, Virginia, and so on, which perhaps meant that a different relationship developed, maybe not the animosity that plagued some of the deep south because of this closer relationship here.
Q: Before the antebellum period we have at
least one black man, Dick Pointer, who comes out
and plays a very dramatic role. First, if you could,
sort of tell me why you're drawn to that story and tell
me what about it and the details of it that have drawn
you into it and may be offer me an assessment of what
it tells us about that time.
AB: Dick Pointer is interesting because it is documented, and it does prove that blacks were indeed here and it suggest something about frontier bravery that we think highly of in this country for the most part. The role that he plays there in defending Fort Donnally is not one that is repeated in any other places, certainly not that I know about in West Virginia or in this area, it hasn't been documented at that point. And this one has been, so he is a figure that is a romantic figure; he's one that young people relate to and could sort of rally around, so he's an interesting person. We don't know a lot about him individually. He ends up as kind of a pathetic figure, I think, kind of wandering the streets of Lewisburg. He was never able to be pensioned as he did petition for.
Q: Could you start that part again ....
AB: Dick Pointer ends up in my view as a sort of a pathetic figure, who is living sort of on the largess of other people. He was given a small plot of land to live on, but I see him as an old man, sort of wandering around the streets of Lewisburg without any real income of his own and probably existing on handouts of people. Of course that's speculation in part.
Q: It's also more of a romantic I guess and
honorable part of the story that he's petitioned for his
AB: It's honorable at the end as well. I wouldn't want to think that it was not honorable the way he finally ended up, but it's almost as if people who gave any portion of their service to the larger community are often rewarded, and Dick Pointer was not. He was not given his freedom; he was not pensioned in any way, so he really had nothing to live on, and he was finally freed by the family that owned but it was not I think tied into the heroic action of those few moments at Fort Donnally.
Q: You must have imagined in reading about
this story what it must have been like to be a black
locked in a fort in the wilderness of Greenbrier county
AB: When I did write about him I thought about it, but as a youngster and given the kinds of relationships that I think developed often between blacks and whites in West Virginia, I rather think that his life might not have been a totally unhappy one given the circumstances of that area. There might have been some friendships that developed and there might have been a kind of easy banter and day to day kind of existence that might not have made his life so terrible unpleasant. There isn't anything that of course Dick Pointer says that we know about, so we can only speculate about what his life might have been like and what his thoughts might have been and that can go in almost any direction.
Q: Before we leave him, can you just kind of
give me a sort of capsule, paragraph about Dick
Pointer from youth to old age. What is his story? ? ?
I know you could probably give me a page. What's
the kernel of the story?
AB: Of course the kernel of the story is that he was inside Fort Donnally when the Indians came down from Point Pleasant attacking the Greenbrier forts. They knew that they were coming; it was early in the morning as I understand it. And there were people who were sleeping inside the fort, and when the Indians attacked one other man and Dick Pointer were the two who were awake who rolled large barrels of water against the door to prevent their entry and held off the Indians until the other people could come down and join the fight and until the reinforcements could come from another area.
So he has that one moment of action in a lifetime that has caused him to be written into Ann Royall's account of her experiences there, which is what certainly gives us the information that we know about him. But that's only one moment in a lifetime, and I suspect that there were other instances of similar bravery because life on the frontier demanded that. And we can only speculate why he did that and what other things he might have done.
Q: What was he doing there?
AB: He was a slave there; he was a slave owned by the colonel of the fort, and he had no choice but to be there.
Q: Do you have any idea whether he was one of
many of the frontier or ??
AB: No, I don't know that.
Q: Moving onto a later period of early 19th
AB: Before we leave that, when you're talking about whether he was one of others. There's a story of a woman in Morgantown who would have lived perhaps a few years after him who was indicted and hanged for burning a barn and attempting to poison the family that owned her or someone in that family, which suggests there were different dimensions of slave life in western Virginia at the same period. That here on the one hand we have a man who is fighting against the Indians, to save white people who were living in the fort, and at the other extreme we have a woman, motives unknown, who is indicted for barn burning and attempting to kill whites in the area. So, we have this kind of multi-dimensional experience in a time frame that is not too far distant from one another.
Q: I was going to ask about -- it seems like the
first large influx of slaves has to be the salt industry of
the Kanawha valley under probably one of the worst
conditions you can imagine. They were leased slaves
from Virginia and they were working under terrible
conditions, many dying, and if that sort of runs
counter to the image of western Virginia as relatively
a better place for blacks?
AB: But I don't know how many times that is repeated throughout the state of West Virginia or western Virginia. There were not a great many slaves in this part of Virginia, and Kanawha County probably had one of the larger concentrations. And of course there were others up around the eastern panhandle and what not, and some down in Monroe County. But you find other stories in other places, some that we haven't been able to trace down and that is not at all to defend it, I'm simply saying that we don't know and that there are stories which are all over the map. So that you can find something to illustrate almost any point that you want to make.
For example, in Monroe County in 1848, Christopher Payne was born. Christopher Payne was a man who became the first black legislator in West Virginia, then living in Fayette County. But I don't have any indication that Christopher Payne, although he was born in 1848 was a slave. He was educated in Monroe County in some fashion that we don't know either. I do remember that Ambler speaks of Sunday school at Rehobeth Church in Monroe County where blacks were taught to read. So you have these differences that are occurring in various parts of the state, and it's difficult to explain them. So the character isn't the same; you have that certainly in Kanawha County, but then you have other instances in other parts of the state that are a little different.
SOUND ROLL 72, BICKLEY
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 2, ROLL 202, SOUND 72
Q: And so the images come down of slavery
oftentimes is one of silent victims who were done to ?
? We're beginning to find out that's not entirely
accurate, that there were little acts of rebellion, many
of them occurred here in West Virginia. Tell me
AB: I'm sure that blacks were not always victims; certainly not in West Virginia and certainly we know that wasn't true in the deep south. There are a few instances that I know about of slave, small rebellions. The story of Millie in Monongalia County, the woman who burned the barn and attempted to poison the owners is one of those stories. There's another little story of a male slave who was sent to the barn early one morning to get eggs for breakfast and while he was there he saw a piece of bacon rind coated with arsenic that was nailed the wall to catch rats. He scrapped a little of the arsenic off and took it back to the house with him and put it in the food and made everyone ill.
As I recall that story, he was not given a jail sentence or anything of that sort about it, which surprises me a little bit. I think he was kind of was tapped on the hands a little bit but really wasn't severely punished. Which interests me also with the Millie story, and I'm wondering if there was a difference in the way male slaves might have been treated versus the way female slaves might have been treated because Millie was executed. There was a male who was involved in the same situation with her, though the extent to which he is involved is not really known, but he was burned in the hand and allowed to go free, while Millie was killed. And I speculate that perhaps the value of a male slave, the monetary value versus the monetary value of a female slave might have been one of the things that helped to determine what was justice in this area.
Q: What's your assessment, your personal
assessment of the importance of John Brown's raid ?
AB: The importance of John Brown's raid is kind of a hard thing to assess in terms of West Virginia ... TAKE 3
Q: And so right after the Civil War ended, freed
Baptists from New England came in and the Freeman'
Bureau and with quite a few local blacks, start to put
together an educational system for blacks. The same
time there's a state law that says you have more than
30 blacks in a district you have to have a school, and
the state's doing nothing. Tell me a little bit about
this early beginnings of education of blacks in West
AB: When we talk about education, black education in West Virginia, we need to go back to during the Civil War to note that the first school for black people in West Virginia that we know of was in Parkersburg in 1862. And that it was established by a group of free black people in West Virginia, whose names we have. Now we don't know a great deal about them, but we do have the names and we do know about one of the men, Robert W. Simmons, whose granddaughter is still living in Parkersburg. So, part of what we have to understand is that it was not just the benevolence of people who came in from somewhere else to do something for these people, that they were interested in trying to help themselves.
When we look at the records of the supervisor of schools in Ohio County for example, he notes in his report to the state that there has been a group of black people who are interested in education in Wheeling and they are interested in trying to get a school started. So by 1866 or so, we have black education also in Wheeling, which was a push, a self-help kind of push. When we come down to a place like Cabell County, there was a kind of push from the black community to begin to get schools, but we don't really have a building. We have rented space used in Cabell County and they don't get real building until much later. So, not only were the Baptists involved and not only were the Freedman's Bureau, involved but there is also a definite interest on the part of black people themselves to try to get some education started.
And I would suspect that this stems from the great effort during slavery to keep blacks from the Word, to keep us from being able to read an so those people who were freed slaves and who came into West Virginia after the Civil War were very interested in trying to get schools started for their children. Not only for their children, but for themselves because many of them as adults wanted to learn to read. My grandfather was a slave in Virginia and came to West Virginia just after the 1870's, where he met my grandmother, who was one of the free black population settling just across the river from Huntington in Ohio. And she could read. One of the stories that my aunt told me about her father was that his wife, my grandmother, taught him to spell out a few things from his bible and from his lodge book, and so it was very, very important for those people.
I remember seeing his children read the newspaper. They were all addicted to the newspaper, though they may not have had higher education. My father might have went to the second or third grade, but he read the newspaper every day. At the time of his death, owned an International Webster's Third Dictionary, Unabridged, which is not something many people would have in their homes today. The Webster's Third was always a difficult dictionary, but that he owned an Unabridged Dictionary suggests something that he had inherited from his slave father, which was that need to know and need to understand words and the love for words that many of those people had and wanted to see passed down to their children through schools.
Q: Tell me about how after the union started
raiding the south and ??? conditions for free blacks
because it must have been ? ?
AB: I'm not sure that anybody has ever really thought about what it was like to be a black person in America. Can you imagine first of all what it might have been like to be escaping from slavery via the underground railroad? I drove from Huntington across the river up to a little town called Getaway, and as I drove through this fairly rural area and some places following the creek and the other places the road diverges from the creek, I thought about what it might have been like to be escaping from slavery through that kind of territory without road, without automobile, without moonlight, without starlight, just trying to get somewhere.
You don't have any idea where you're going. The territory is hostile; the people are hostile, and you are simply trying to move through following the stars, if it was a starry night to get somewhere. I'm not sure that that kind of terror has ever really been communicated to people, and I'm not sure that the kind of terror that slaves experiences in those years after the Civil War has ever really been communicated.
My grandfather was a slave and there's a story in our family that they had one sister. When the Civil War ended, my grandfather and his brothers came into western Virginia and settled down in Huntington, but the story was that there was a sister who had been sold south, and we never knew anything about her; we never knew her name, but my grandfather would never go into the south. The story was that he -- they were curious about what had happened to her and they wanted to go look for her, but he was so terrified about going back into Virginia and going south again that they'd never tried to find her. But can you imagine what this great internal migration might have been like for black people?
When you have thousands, literally thousands of people simply walking the roads, people who have no food, who have no clothing, who have no money, the territory is hostile, the people around them are hostile and they're trying to find someplace to go. And when people came into western Virginia, this caravan of people that came after the Civil War looking for a better life. Now when we zip up and down the highway in high powered automobiles over concrete roads, it's very difficult for us to try to recapitulate what it might have been like for those slaves who were walking. If they were lucky they had a wagon or a horse or a rifle or something, but for the most part they were empty-handed.
They had nothing, and they were trying to find someplace where they could go and make a life for themselves. I'm not sure that we have a real appreciation for the difficulties of that experience, the horrors of it. Nights on the road, very very hard, very hard, and I'm not sure in West Virginia we have captured what it was like living here at the end of the Civil War. In Huntington blacks did not own property until 1880's. And in places where there was a free black population, I don't know how much land acquisition there was, that was possible for blacks in West Virginia, and I think that might have been one of the reasons that there was such an immediate exodus once the Civil War is over.
When you are not permitted to buy land, to build homes for yourselves, to build sustaining institutions such as churches and schools and so on, then you have no stake in the community and there's no reason for you to stay in it. I think that's one of the reasons that so many people left I would think. In Huntington two thirds of the people had been slaves got out of the city or out of the county really as soon as the Civil War ended. And I think that is probably true in many places throughout West Virginia. The new population ...
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY, ROLL 73
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 5, ROLL 203, SOUND 73
Q: Ancella, tell me what options may have been
available to freed blacks coming into West Virginia
after the Civil War?
AB: Let's go back and talk about not just free blacks coming into West Virginia following the Civil War, but there's a story about a family that came to Huntington probably during the Civil War or just before. This man was an escaped slaved owned by a family they said was called McGattith, but I cannot find a McGattith family in Wytheville, Virginia. There is a McGavith there, and I think that was just a corruption of that name. But at any rate, he came, took the name Johnson and lived and was helped by a white family in the east end of Huntington up near Guyandotte.
I think it was called the Clark family, and this man, Johnson, James Johnson, married and became the first black person to marry in Cabell County after the Civil War in 1866. But he was a farmer. He put together with the help of the Clark family, about 80 acres of land in a holler they used to call Johnson holler there in West Virginia and had about nine children and they all settled in this little community around this holler. So farming was something that happened. There's another story of a family that came, again from Virginia, just at the tail end of the Civil War, coming down towards Huntington, stopped in St. Albans, made a crop for one year, and then went on and bought property in Wayne County, West Virginia, and farmed.
So farming was certainly an option and probably the opportunity to own land, which was something that many of them had never been able do before and that was a very vital concern for many of these people who were coming in. Others had service kinds of jobs. Women certainly were working as domestics. Men were working in some cases as barbers, as cooks, as butlers. As the big hotels began to develop they became waiters and cooks and did service jobs in those hotels. So before the heavy industry began to develop in West Virginia, I would suggest that farming and domestic kinds of things and again these service jobs were the things that sustained those slaves who were coming in. And I believe that they must have found life here reasonably compatible because sometimes there were sort of advance parties which came, a brother or a relative, and they would go back and bring others here.
So they must have found something in West Virginia that suggested to them that they could build a different lifestyle and a decent lifestyle for themselves and their families here.
Q: Who was Molly Gabe?
AB: Molly Gabe was a black women who lived in Braxton County. She was I guess a West Virginia mountain women, which is not something that we often identify with black people. She lived her entire life in Braxton County. She was a slave there who was sold to another family when she was very young. And one of the stories is that when the Civil War, she was living they say in Clay County. I'm not sure if it was Clay County. But that she was not told that she was free. And there is an account that she told to somebody which I think was a marvelous one, that it was in the evening in about dusk or so when this man came running up on a horse and asked her if she, who she was, and told her he had been sent to get her because the war was over and that she was free and she could not be kept any longer.
But Molly Gabe a life of service in Braxton County. She was a midwife. She and her husband farmed. They carted things about. She worked as a maid. She helped with washing. She was just a figure that many people still remember in Braxton County. She lived to be about a hundred years old and was a very much loved and a revered figure in her area.
Q: If you wouldn't mind, would you tell me that
anecdote and start with Molly Gabe was never told
she was free and tell me about the man who came on
AB: Molly Gabe was a young woman, a slave, in Braxton County. When the Civil War ended, the family that owned her did not tell her that she was free. But her mother whose name was Jane Ray, knew that she was free and sent Molly Gabe's uncle, Moman Ray, to get her. And Molly Gabe told the story of his riding up on a horse with another horse, the reins in his hands and saw her and told her that she was free and that she could go with him, that she could no longer be kept by the family that owned her. And so she was able to be rejoined with her family. ...
Molly Gabe was a slave in Braxton County. She had been sold away from her family to another family and when the Civil War the family that owned her did not tell her that she was free. She gives this very poignant statement of her uncle, Moman Ray, who was sent by her mother, Jane, to fetch her. And she says that he came riding up on a horse with the reins of another horse in his hand and told her that she was free and that the family could no longer keep her, and that he would take her back to her family. It's a beautiful story that she tells.
Q: Was that a typical experience that that fact
was hid from people?
AB: I think it was hidden from some; I don't know how typical it was in West Virginia, but I think it happened probably more times than we care to realize, fairly frequently. The think that I find interesting about Molly Gabe is I don't have anything that Molly Gabe really said firsthand. I don't have a video tape of her; I just know what other people said about her, but there doesn't seem to be any bitterness or anger, at least in the reported stories about Molly Gabe. She went back to Braxton County and spent her life there delivering babies and working for people and never seems to express any anger about being sold or any anger about not being told that she was free.
Q: The last years of the Civil War bring
probably the most famous black immigrant to West
Virginia, Booker T. Washington. What's your
assessment of his story?
AB: He probably was the most famous, but don't forget that Carter G. Woodson was also an immigrant to West Virginia. And there were some other people who have not received the kind of publicity that Booker T. Washington received who also I think made great contributions to life in West Virginia. He certainly did not make much since he didn't stay here very long many contributions to our lives here. I think that Booker T. Washington was a man of his times. I think that he did what he could do within the sphere that he was allowed to work. I also think that he was a useful tool for political factors in the United States of that time.
There's been an interesting book done, however, which suggests that his influence, educational influence at least, was not as great as it has been supposed. Of course you know that Booker T. Washington was encouraging people to work with their hands perhaps more than with their heads, but there were other schools that were developing all about the United States at the time that he was in his ascendancy that were encouraging blacks to be very literate and to be political, and certainly that was happening right here in West Virginia. So we have first hand examples of people who were not altogether following the Booker T. Washington pattern and were suggesting that there other ways that black people could make their mark in this country.
Q: One of the largest groups to come in, of
blacks to come into West Virginia, starts to come in
in the 1870's with the building of the C&O Railroad
and you got a personal story to tell about that. Tell
me about blacks being imported in through labor
agents and the building of the railroad and what that
represented, what that experience?
AB: I don't really know a lot about blacks being brought into West Virginia to work on the railroad through official sources. There are lots of stories that are about. I do know that there was a group that came to Huntington, between seven and ten men, who ...
Q: Your father was one of them is that what you were saying ? ? ?
Q: Tell me about your own relative attachment
to the railroad and what the railroad represented to
AB: My grandfather was a slave in Virginia and when the Civil War ended, he came into West Virginia to work on the railroad. One of the stories that we have heard is that this group of ex-slaves was solicited by Collis P. Huntington to come and work on the railroad, and that may be true because they passed up other opportunities to go to Huntington. For example the salt mines was still operational in Kanawha County, and as you know Booker T. Washington's family stopped there and worked. But this other group went directly to Huntington and found employment on the railroad before the railroad was actually built, before the C&O shops were actually operational. ...
Q: Tell me a bit more about how this attachment
formed between black workers, including your
grandfather and the railroad. What did the railroad
do for them and what did they do for them?
AB: The railroad gave the ex-slaves opportunities for paid employment. The jobs were difficult, dangerous, but there was some fairly steady work for them and they received a pay check on a rather regular basis. So many of them, at least in my family, my father had great loyalty to the railroad because he felt that the railroad had enabled him to ...
WEST HISTORY, SOUND ROLL 74,
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 8, CAMERA 204, SOUND 74
Q: Describe for me, if you will, the situation for
blacks along the Ohio River, where a river was
literally the borderline between slavery.
AB: The Ohio river was the gateway to freedom. If you could get to the Ohio river as a slave and get across, you were in free territory and there were lots of people arranged along the Ohio river were poised to help escaping slavery. Now of course a slave who was escaping ....
AB: The Ohio river was literally the gateway to freedom. ...
TAKE 9 ...
AB: The Ohio river was literally the gateway to freedom. If you were an escaping slave and could get to the Ohio, you pretty much knew that if you could get to the other side that there would be people who would take you in and help you to move further north and to absolute freedom. One did not stay around on the Ohio river, however, if one were not freed, manumitted with papers to prove it because there have been instances where people from Cabell County crossed the river and brought escaping slaves back and particularly after the fugitive slave law was passed. To kind of hang around there without being freed legally was not the prudent thing to do.
But all along on the Ohio side of the river colonies began to develop with free black people in them and certainly there was one or several across from Huntington that not only aided and abetted escaping slaves, but presented a view of what life as free people could be for those slaves that were still on the Virginia side. For example, we had just across from Huntington, Macedonian Church, which is built about 1813 and established congregation where they not only sheltered ex-slaves, but they did some teaching and some other things. And those institutions of that sort must have been difficult for the slave owners who were just across the river to view and to leave alone.
So we have those communities which were developing. There was land ownership; they were raising crops; they were involved in shipping and steam boating and barrel making and they were beginning to be educated. There were small schools that were developing just across the river, so those images had to transmit themselves across the West Virginia side or the Virginia side at that time. So I don't think that we should forget the importance of Ohio and the Ohio river in that whole business of trying to get freed of slavery.
Q: When that news arrived back in places like
Huntington, what did the blacks do about, how did
they receive it?
AB: The news of opportunities for escape came I'm sure to Huntington. There are a few newspaper accounts that indicate that people did escape. There was one story in the newspaper, somewhere in the 1880's of an older couple that escapes and came back to visit after the Civil War was over, and they talked about how they had moved through South Point and on into Ohio from Huntington. So I'm sure that the word got out that there were attempts to escape.
Q: .... Also along the Ohio rivers is the
abolitionists experimental communities of Ceredo?
Tell me about them?
AB: That experiment was a free soil experiment. ... The Ceredo experiment was a free soil experiment. It was an attempt to prove that paid labor could be more efficient and more effective than slave labor. And if it had worked as it was intended and had times been different, ultimately that kind of thing would probably have led to a diminution of slavery. But the Ceredo experiment might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, so it did not have the kind of successes that Thayer, who was the person who helped it to begin, probably visualized. I think that the people who came there, though they probably had some abolitionist sentiment, I'm not sure they were active abolitionists, and that probably was because of the surroundings.
They were more interested in trying to make their settlement go, than they were in trying to free the slaves. There probably was underground railroad activity; there was some help there, but I think they incurred the wrath of people like Albert Gallatin Jenkins and some of the other locals and so any activity they had might have been more covert, than overt.
Q: What is your assessment of the role of slavery
in the formation of West Virginia? Take stock of that
AB: Slavery in western Virginia was not a profitable enterprise because the mountainous terrain did not lend itself to the kinds of, big business kinds of opportunities plantation slavery that one found in the south, except in isolated places. Of course you would have found some of that in the eastern panhandle and in some of the counties. In Kanawha County there might have been some of that, a little down in Cabell County, but in the interior of West Virginia we would not have found slavery that helpful. But I do think that slave labor was helpful on a small basis.
On a small almost sustenance kinds of farms that were developing in West Virginia, I'm sure that slave labor helped to clear the land, to do the planting, and the kind of hard work that occurs on farms. I think that the labor of some females, such as that Molly Gabe working as a midwife, doing domestic chores and that sort of thing probably helped to settle the West Virginia and from the colonial days forward probably aided that. The contribution of slave labor was helpful.
Q: How important was the issue of slavery to the
political formation of the new state of West Virginia?
Was it the cause for West Virginia?
AB: No, the issue of slavery was not the cause of the breaking away of Virginia from West Virginia or West Virginia from Virginia. It certainly was a contributing factor. The whole business of representation and the fact that the eastern Virginians could count their slaves which helped them to have bigger representation in the state government and therefore have a bigger say in what was happening in the state probably had a great deal to do with it. But in terms of sentiment for slavery or against slavery from a humanitarian point of view, I don't think that that had anything to do with the separation of Virginia from West Virginia. It certainly came into the deliberations however when the state was being established, probably because Lincoln and other people saw this as an opportunity to experiment with some of the kinds of things that they might do when the Civil War was over.
So setting up a government in West Virginia and arguing about whether or not slavery would continue or not continue probably gave them some training for what they might do later on. But there were other causes that -- the transportation and the taxing and what-not that had more I think to do with the establishment of West Virginia than slavery did.
Q: So slavery was used to serve as a straw man
in front of these more economic reasons for the
AB: It might have been, but I have certainly never felt that West Virginia separated itself from Virginia because slavery. I think that that might be one of the things that is a romantic view and that people like to say, but I don't think it really had that much of an impact on it. ...
Q: And so who was J. W. Clifford?
AB: J. W. Clifford was from the eastern panhandle. He was a lawyer, political activist and a newspaper man in that he started the first black newspaper in West Virginia. He is a really interesting person. He was also involved in helping to make the arrangements for Niagara movement when they met in Harpers Ferry and that was the forerunner to the NAACP. But one of the things that was interesting about him is that he was an attorney for a case in 1898 where a woman whose name was Carrie Williams who was a teacher in Tucker County. And the school board decided when they began to run out of money that they would shorten the school year for the black children in Tucker County, and Carrie Williams was their teacher so she was instructed that instead of teaching them for eight months she was to teach them for five months.
When the five months ended, Carrie continued teaching those children for the full eight months and then sued the board of education of Tucker County for her money and J. W. Clifford was the attorney and later her husband. And they won. That was the interesting thing about it. I think she got like about a hundred and twenty three dollars for her three months' salary for teaching in Tucker County. But I think that was really interesting in that it happened in 1898 that they had the courage to go to court to fight for the education of these young people and that the court system of West Virginia was such that they could take that to court and could win in West Virginia at that time. I just think that that's the time when the black codes are being put into place in the deep south and that West Virginia blacks were feeling free enough to go to court and fight for their rights and be sustained I think is an interesting commentary.
Q: Does it also reflect sort of a fifty year
indifference to black education from the Civil War
AB: I don't think that there was a real indifference to black education in West Virginia between the end of the Civil War and the time of the Carrie Williams case. ...
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 11, CAMERA 205, SOUND ROLL 75
Q: So tell me about how blacks took control and
became very actively involved in setting up schools in
AB: As soon as black people were able, I think that they began to agitate for schools. We have the example of the Parkersburg school in 1862, followed by the school in Wheeling, which came along a few years later. In neither of these instances did the idea for education come from outside. It came from within the black community, and those people who didn't have very much money but dug into their own pockets to provide for the schools all along it is to be remembered I believe that blacks valued education. And wherever a few of them came together, they began to try to see that the advantages of education would be make available to their young people. And they worked hard, giving of their own money, when they didn't have very much to do that.
There was a family that came to Wayne County, West Virginia, just at the end of the Civil War, bought property in Wayne County and one of the things that they did ultimately was to give a portion of their land so that a school house could be built so that the children, the black children, in that area would have a place to go to school.
Q: Tell me about the Sumner School? How it
came about and its importance.
AB: Sumner school was preceded by a free school established by the free black people of Parkersburg. Once the Civil War was ended and the state began to be active in public education, they were able to move the Sumner School operation into the public system. The Sumner school was a school that was named for Charles Sumner, who was an abolitionist senator in the Civil War, an I think that it is indicative of the mind set of the people of Parkersburg that they chose to name their school for Charles Sumner. The school served the entire community from the first through the twelfth grade. Some of their teachers came from Ohio because West Virginia did not have an educational system that was in place in this section of the state to provide for education of teachers and so some of their early teachers came from out of state.
And they were able to establish a fairly satisfactory educational system that is still remembered by the older people who live in that community as being a very, very important aspect of their lives. But again, it extended from a self help effort that was later adopted by the state.
Q: Just tell me a little bit more about that, the
1862 school. Tell me about this mind set in
AB: The 1862 school in Parkersburg was what they called a "pay" school. There were perhaps eight or nine people who came together and decided that they would develop a school and they charged a dollar a month for tuition for those students who came. They made provisions that children who did not have the one dollar, could still be educated. Their school was held I believe in the basement of a white church in Parkersburg and their first teacher was a white minister. I believe his name was S. E. Colburn. But they felt that education was important. Now we don't know what the name of that school was. It was not Sumner at that time. The name Sumner did not become attached to the school until sometime later on after the school had been assumed by the public sources.
Q: Tell me about the environment of
Parkersburg though that led to this? How was
AB: It is difficult to reconstitute what made the Parkersburg black community the one that I believe that it became. Perhaps it was the proximity to the Ohio river and the opportunity to have exchanges with people who were, free black people, who were across the river because certainly Belpre and some of those other places had a free black population. But a free black population did develop in Parkersburg. One of the most outstanding persons was Robert W. Simmons, who was one of the persons who helped to begin the school. Simmons was himself a barber by trade. Was very active politically; so much so that when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, Arthur Boreman, who had been the first governor of West Virginia sent Simmons a telegram a telegram to tell me that the Fifteenth Amendment was passed.
Rumor has it that he also was given an appointment to Hades I believe as a consul but decided that he would not take it. But the Parkersburg community that I believe was frozen out of the economic development of Parkersburg in that they were not really involved in the oil and gas industry to any extent, yet those people found ways to make a living for themselves. They had small business such as cafes. ...
Blacks in Parkersburg were not a part of the oil and gas industry in they did not find employment in those industries. Yet, they found ways to make a living for themselves. Some of them were farmers, they developed catering businesses; they developed barber shops; they had small restaurants. One family in later years had a chicken farm and had a number of contracts with stores all around the agency supplying them with freshly dressed chickens. So they looked for ways to make a living. They took charge of their lives. I think that that's a very important concepts, and we were talking earlier about the victims of slavery. These black people did not allow themselves to be victims; although they were not given opportunities to participate in the industrial development of Parkersburg, they found ways to make a living.
When I talk with the women of Parkersburg, particularly who largely served as domestics in that area, one of the stories that they tell that they sincerely believe that there was an effort on the part of the white families of Parkersburg that employed these women, to hold wages to a certain level. They feel that the white women came together and made agreements about how much they would pay the black women who worked as domestics and that restricted their income through that means.
They also feel that as a part of this maintenance of a pool of black workers for the homes of the wealthy in Parkersburg, that they did not allow them to have jobs in downtown Parkersburg, even as maids and in the stores and what not. That when those jobs were filled, they were filled with black people who came across from Ohio from Belpre and not by the Parkersburg women because of this desire to keep them as a pool of domestic workers.
Q: I'd prefer that you'd say that again in a
declarative way ... and say that the white families got
together and kept ...
AB: I don't know that. ... I know what they tell me.
Q: Shall we go ahead then to the 1920's and ...
tell me about how during the 1920's the important
black institutions start to get established in West
AB: Perhaps the first black institution that started in West Virginia was a children's home, a orphans' home. It was incorporated just at the turn of the century in Bluefield but never really opened in Bluefield. The man who incorporated it, Rev. C. E. Magee, came to Huntington and actually started the orphans' home on a parcel of land in a place called Central City in Huntington and then moved it to the east end of Huntington. Ultimately that orphans' home was taken over by the state and operated by the state. Later beginning in maybe 1917 or so, there began to be the development through the efforts of black legislators a series of institutions brining services to the black community.
One of these was the Denmar Sanitarium, which treated tubercular patients in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. We also had a girls' industrial home, a boys' industrial home, an institution for the insane and so on. And again, these were begun through the agitation of black people in the state and the lead was taken by black legislators to see that legislation was passed and that they were indeed established.
Q: Why were these institutions important?
AB: Black people felt that their own institutions were important because it would place them in charge. Black people were receiving services for example, the mentally incompetent in at Weston probably on a closed and segregated colored wing at Weston. They felt that they opportunities for rehabilitation and for sound treatment would be better if the responsibility was placed squarely with black people who had an understanding for and sympathy with the patients with whom they were working, and so they began to move to establish these institutions. And I must say that there several of them that I think were remarkably enlightened. Lincoln, for example, which was the institution for the black insane.
And I understand that there were some remarkable programs which developed at Lincoln. I have also reviewed some of the courses of study and so on of the boys' industrial home which was just across the road from the mental institution at Lincoln, then called Maggie, West Virginia. And they had I think an exceptional program for rehabilitating those youthful offenders.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT
SOUND ROLL 76
ANCELLA BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 12, ROLL 206, SOUND 76
Q: Ancella tell me how the creation of two black
higher education institutions came about in West
AB: Both West Virginia State College and Bluefield State College were started at the agitation of the black population who began to realize that there had to be some way to provide higher education for the black youth of the state. And when we talk about higher education we aren't necessarily talking about college level courses, but we are also talking about high school and upper elementary courses because although there were a number of schools developing in West Virginia, there were not a whole lot of high schools, so both of those institutions started out providing education at that level for black youth. They also provided ...
Both West Virginia State College and Bluefield State College were started at the agitation of the black people who began to recognize that there was a need for something beyond the elementary school experience for their young people. Both of those institutions then provided the kind of upper elementary and high school education. They provided as well normal education preparing teachers for the growing number of black schools in West Virginia. There are a couple of other efforts that might be considered too in the effort of black people to develop and control the education for themselves. One was a Baptist school which was begun at a place called Hilltop which is very near Beckley, West Virginia that operated for a number of years and provided or hoped to provide not only high school education but some college education as well.
It went out of business somewhere probably towards the end of 1920 or so. There was another effort to begin a seminary in Huntington. Again, down in that part of the west end of Huntington called Central City. They found property; they hired a teacher and were going to establish something that they called the collegiate institute. It never really got underway, but does suggest that there was black interest and efforts to develop and control for themselves education in West Virginia.
Q: What's your assessment of Storer
AB: Storer College is a college that has not received its just due in terms of what it meant when it was established. In the very deep south you had a lot of missionary effort establishing education and colleges for black, newly freed slaves. A lot of that did not happen in West Virginia, and so Storer College is kind of a one of a kind in its case providing in its own right, providing a lot of educational help for people in the eastern panhandle and probably other points north of that in West Virginia, but is a marvelous example of a cooperative effort in West Virginia between the Freedman's Bureau, the church and black people themselves who were interested in education there.
Q: What impact did it have on blacks in West
Virginia to have an institution that taught
AB: Storer College was the first institution in West Virginia that began to prepare teachers for West Virginia institutions, West Virginia public schools. Before their time, we had no place that was preparing them then. So there was a sort of partnership developed between Storer College and the state of West Virginia to begin to develop teachers for our schools. Now if you will consider that Storer College got its start immediately after the Civil War, but West Virginia State College which was the first higher education institution and developed in this part of the state or in the central state, didn't get started until 1891. So, for 25 or so years Storer College was the only place in the state that could prepare the teachers for our institutions. Others had to come from out of state.
Q: Though it may seem obvious, remind me
again of how important it was to have black teachers
teaching black students.
AB: It is vital to have black teachers teaching black students. Vital because they have an understanding and sympathy for the students with whom they are working. Not only do they do the teaching of them, but they understand the cultural circumstances from which the children originate, and that makes them able to address the needs of these students in a fairly dramatic and direct fashion that I think is important. You can imagine teachers has always been among black people a profession that we had a great deal of respect for. And I believe that that respect for teachers came out of the feeling of the ex-slaves for education and the importance of being able to read for them.
And so to have teachers of their own and to have teachers in your family was an exceptional privilege in many respects. The students looked up to the teachers; the teachers were role models; they were neighbors and they were friends and a very, very important connection that was drawn between teaching and the students and the whole educational system that I think is vital.
Q: Tell me why in the way West Virginia
developed economically for blacks a strong middle
class, a black middle class never developed.
AB: A strong black middle class could not develop in West Virginia because the black population was so small. If you look at counties such as McDowell county which did have a large black population, you will find more black professionals operating there. You'll find black doctors; you'll find black lawyers and nurses and others who are there to serve the population. But, black doctors could not serve the general population in West Virginia. In many cases they didn't have hospital privileges and so they found it difficult to even serve the black population that they might have worked with. And so black middle class, other than the teachers, was very sparse in all parts of West Virginia.
There were some opportunities in places such as Huntington through the Barnett Hospital for the training of black nurses. But if one were to train as a nurse in Huntington, where was one to work? Black hospitals were not available and black nurses were not being hired in the white hospitals and so people who had certain kinds of economic aspirations found that they had to leave the state in order to develop themselves professionally and to have the opportunities to practice as a professional.
Q: Tell me then why it's such a double tragedy in
the 1950's when the economy of West Virginia
collapses. Schools, many of them serving black
students, begin to consolidate or to be closed and you
have this migration of the few black professionals out
of the state who were here?
AB: The loss of the black schools to the black population in West Virginia was devastating. Not only from an emotional point of view of losing an institution in the community that had been one of long service and around which many of our lives had been centered, but there was a great economic loss as well. If you consider simply the pay checks that came into the black community through the school teachers, you can see that that would have been a loss. More over the teachers brought a certain kind of middle class outlook, role models, the opportunities to undertake certain kinds of activities, musical activities, dramatic activities and what not in the black community.
Sometimes through the schools, sometimes through the churches with which these teachers were active, and so their loss to us was indeed a devastating loss. There had not been the development of a strong black middle class population of doctors and lawyers and dentists, newspaper workers and that sort of thing in West Virginia because the black population was so small. So the backbone of the middle class black population in West Virginia was the school teachers, and when they were lost to us, there was a rather severe kind of loss throughout the community.
Q: Have blacks been on the same economic
roller coaster in the 20th century that whites have
been on in West Virginia, boom and bust, boom and
AB: Of course, I think that blacks have had a boom and bust kind of cycle to their lifestyle and economy. Anything that affects the general economy of West Virginia would of course affect black people as well, but I suspect that the black exodus began before the boom and bust. Those people who chose not to be common laborers, who chose to be something more than a coal miner or a worker on the railroad had to leave the state in order to find a job.
It has only been within the last twenty-five or thirty years that we began to see black people working in department stores or working as secretaries, driving the bus, jobs that you don't think of as being highly skills but nevertheless jobs that were closed to us in the state of West Virginia and only been open within the last twenty-five or so years. So people who wanted to do those kinds of things, who wanted to do anything other than to dig coal or to use a shovel or a pick on the railroad began to leave the state long before the mines closes in search of opportunity.
Q: Going back again, ... what's your impression
of the level of KKK activity in West Virginia in the
teens and the 20's.
AB: There was some Ku Klux Klan activity in West Virginia in the 20's. One of our neighbors in Huntington, we were told, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, though she visited back and forth in very friendly fashion though at our house, with our family. I have talked with a few people. I have not gotten any first hand accounts. I did talk with a man in Fayette County who laughed at the Ku Klux Klan in the 20's because he said that they knew who all the people were. They could tell by the shoes. One man told me that his father had been a shoe repairman and so was very familiar with all the shoes in town, and so when they looked down. ...
WEST VIRGINIA, BECKLEY INTERVIEW,
SOUND ROLL 77
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 13, CAMERA 207, SOUND 77
Q: Ancella tell me the story about the KKK and
AB: Somebody told me that his father had been a shoe repairman in West Virginia. And at that time the Ku Klux Klan was becoming quite active in their town. And he said that when they went down to watch the Ku Klux Klan parades they knew who all the people who were although they were covered with sheets and they couldn't see their faces because they recognized the shoes because the shoes had been brought into their shop for repair. So there was Ku Klux Klan activity in West Virginia. I having grown up in West Virginia had no fear of Ku Klux Klan activity. I'm sure that there was some violence in some places however about the state, but I don't get any general impression that there was a great deal of impact of the Ku Klux Klan in the state.
Q: Have you found, is your opinion the opposite
perhaps that West Virginia by in large has been a
AB: I believe that West Virginia has been a tolerant place for blacks if blacks kind of stayed in their place. I would assume that there was some people who, pushed at the seams, might have gotten ... into some difficulty.
Q: Tell me, has West Virginia been a tolerant
place for blacks to live?
AB: I think that West Virginia has been a tolerant place for blacks to live if you pretty much stayed in your place and didn't push at the seems. I think that some of the people who pushed at the seams perhaps got into some political difficulty. For example, there was a Mr. Barnett in Huntington who in 1900 was the principal of Douglass School. He also had a newspaper and evidently some of the things that he wrote in the newspaper annoyed some of the white politicians in Huntington and so he was removed from his job. I can also remember reading some of the correspondence between John W. Davis and the board authorities in Charleston where they kind of suggesting to him that he was being a little bit too active in certain ways or perhaps was taking advantage of the system in some way.
On the other hand, some of the moves that have been made in West Virginia have been made by those people who just refused to accept the status quo. Anderson Brown in Charleston, for example, who wanted his children to use the public library and went to court to be sure that that was possible for them. So I think that West Virginia has a kind of mixed history. I believe that blacks were encouraged to move in certain directions, but they would bump into that invisible wall if they stepped outside of the things that were supposedly correct. John Sheeler who was a history profession at West Virginia State College that took a doctorate in history at West Virginia University, wrote in his dissertation that blacks in West Virginia seemed to accept the separate but equal concepts and that they pushed for equal opportunity, that they pushed for institutions to serve the black population, but within the boundaries of separate but equal. And I believe that the history probably bears that out.
Q: Did it bear that out as well in the 1960's when
the whole rest of the nation is going through the civil
rights movement. What was that experience like here
in West Virginia?
AB: I can't speak to that.
Q: Bluefield was called the Mississippi of West
Virginia because it did erupt.
AB: Bluefield State College did erupt at the tail end I suppose of the civil rights movement. But you see black people in West Virginia were given perhaps just enough perks to keep us kind of satisfied. I can remember going into the deep south and having to ride on the back of the bus. Well, blacks did not ride on the back of the bus in West Virginia and we did not ride in segregated cars on the railroad, although there had been an effort and several times to institute those practices. They really hadn't come to great fruition in the state. So we had more of a feeling of connection and belonging. We voted and in some cases were involved in the political effort through legislators or other officials in our cities.
And so I'm not sure we were as quite as alienated as some of the areas where -- we didn't really realize what was happening to us I think. As we look back now on the loss of the black schools, not only the loss of the schools but the demotion of the principals and the total disregard for what we had accomplished in those years of struggle to establish education in West Virginia, of the destruction of our libraries, of the loss of the books that were in those libraries, the failure to take account of things like athletic trophies or other awards that had been won for excellence in any kind of academic regard, those things were literally taken and thrown on the scrap heap.
Some were retrieved by local black people, but others were lost. And so that kind of disregard, we didn't know we were losing those things and when we found out how much we really had lost, it was too late. You see it looked on paper really wonderful to say that West Virginia integrated its schools without difficulty, but we black people gave up everything, even the names of our schools. In those buildings that were kept in service, my high school for example in Huntington, was named for Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass is an authentic American hero, and yet when that school began to be of service to the white population of the city, the name Frederick Douglass was not considered good enough to be retained and so the school was re-named Fairfield. And that occurred throughout the state of West Virginia.
So we thought that we were being integrated into the system, and we didn't realize that our children were no longer going to be cheerleaders or to participate in bands or to be in dramatic productions or go to proms and have a dancing partner, that we would only be useful in athletics. We didn't know that at that time. We believed -- and I think that's something that's true of black people -- we believe in the system. We believed, and we allowed our destiny to be in any case to be decided by somebody other than ourselves.
Q: Also in the beginning of the 1960's an image
begins to be attached to West Virginia. It's a poor,
rural white family, dirty kids, not enough money,
unemployed. Where were black West Virginians in
that picture that comes out of the 60's.
AB: Unfortunately people who look at Appalachia seldom see the black West Virginian. We are a minority within a minority within a minority, and people don't really know that we exist. Certainly there are black people who lived the rural Appalachian life and have do so for generations who are involved in hunting and fishing and quilt making and the rest of that. Yet, there is also another side of black Appalachian life.
There is the urban black and some of our cities have a substantial black population and people are involved in the life of the city across the board, so some how we have allowed that image of Appalachia to exist and I would hope that somewhere along the way we can suggest that there are others of us who live in this area who have lived here for generations who have the same kind of devotion to the area that white people have but our life style, though it has tinges of the traditional Appalachian culture and lifestyle to it, also has a overlay or a sheen of black culture that is perhaps traceable to our African and slave roots.
Q: Do you think that the nation took notice so
much of Appalachia in the 60's beginning with
Kennedy because it was a white poverty ? ?
AB: I think that the nation did take note of West Virginia because there was a black poverty, or a white poverty really that was found here. I think that the nation did indeed notice of West Virginia with the triumphant Kennedy election and that they did begin to see it as a sort of a national pocket of white poverty. You can look at all of the programs that came into this area after that period, the War on Poverty and VISTA and other things, which were aimed largely at that white audience and which ignored some of the needs of the black population of the state. We just don't have a high visibility, and so for many people we don't exist.
Q: What's your assessment of what the future
holds for a place like McDowell County, which has a
relatively high black population?
AB: I don't believe that the future of black life in McDowell County is going to be a very strong one unless new industry develops in McDowell County which offers job opportunities for the black population. ... I don't believe that the future of blacks in southern West Virginia is a strong one in terms of increased economic opportunity and either maintaining or increasing the black population there. This can only happen if there is a significant kind of industrial development in that area. Many of the black people ...
BICKLEY INTERVIEW, TAKE 16, CAMERA 208, SOUND 78
Q: Ancella, let's pick up that thought again.
What's your assessment of what the future holds for
southern West Virginia which contains the vast
number of blacks in West Virginia?
AB: I don't believe that the future of black people in southern West Virginia is a very strong one unless there are some great economic changes which occur in West Virginia generally and in southern West Virginia in particular. I can't think of a great deal that would draw people into that area, nor keep those young people who are there there in the area unless there are economic advantages. Many of the people who are living there are the older people who had established homes and who feel that life there is easier than it would be than if they were to move someplace else. But the terrain of southern West Virginia is difficult; it doesn't lend itself to transportation very easily and so I can' believe that it would be an attractive place for black people to live.
Q: Both you and your husband are professionals
and I just have to ask: what is your attachment to this
AB: My grandfather walked over the mountains as an ex-slave and came into West Virginia and established a home. My brother is still living on family property in Huntington and my dad are buried in the state and I have a very firm love and attachment for the state of West Virginia. I don't believe that my life could be any better any place else, and so I intend to try to stay here.
Q: When you leave West Virginia and you
encounter an West Virginia they say: Oh, I'm an West
Virginian. When you're away are you a black
American, are you a black or are you a West
Virginian? What comes first in your own
AB: When I am away from West Virginia, I am a black first. I am a woman second. I guess being a West Virginian comes somewhere third or beyond that. That's interesting. My husband was a career army officer and one of the things that really surprised me during that experience is that when black Americans and white Americans were outside the United States, our major identity was that of being an American. Once we came back to the United States, those racial differences inserted themselves and we became black people and white people, something that we had not been before. Interestingly, we spent some time at West Virginia University and that set in motion a series of circumstances that helped to create both my husband and me as the professional people that we are now.
It opened up the state to us and made us feel at home in West Virginia in ways that I didn't know were possible. I did not go to Morgantown with that; I went to Morgantown in terror and lived there in terror for the first month or so that I was there. I am now grateful for that experience, and I could wish that all West Virginians could begin to feel the kind of comfort and attraction to the state that I feel.
ROOM TONE, PRESENCE BICKLEY