Berkeley County diversity

May 22, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Women's role in diversity was the topic of the third annual Berkeley County Diversity Committee's town meeting Tuesday, with a special emphasis on one West Virginia African American Appalachian woman.

About 30 people attended the town meeting in the Martinsburg High School auditorium to hear guest speaker Ancella R. Bickley, author, historian and educator, speak about Memphis Tennessee Garrison, the topic of her latest book "Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman."

Garrison's involvement in West Virginia's education system and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People makes her stand out as an outstanding woman, Bickley said.


Garrison was born in 1890, the granddaughter of former slaves. She experienced the opening of the coal mines and the unionization of the mines in West Virginia's south, the early days of NAACP and the Depression, Bickley said.

She was a piano player for silent movies, a columnist, a seamstress and a story teller, but primarily she was a teacher.

Bickley, a resident of West Virginia, said Garrison would gather acorns which would be used by her students in their math lessons.

During the Depression she would use her own money to buy hot lunches for the students, Bickley said.

Among other things, Garrison set up the first NAACP chapters in southern West Virginia.

Garrison's life story fits into the Diversity Committee's purpose, which is to create a school system that embraces change and diversity while promoting multicultural and diversity studies within the classroom, the committee's chairman said.

The Rev. Nathaniel Wright, pastor of Lily of the Valley Evangel Church in Martinsburg, said it is a goal of the committee to have a person in administration in each school that represents the various ethnic groups and cultures of the students.

"It's a horrible feeling to go through school not seeing someone like you. We want them to see that somebody like them made it," he said.

Also present was a panel represented by West Virginia Women's Commission member Wendy Dillard Thomas, executive director of the commission Cinda L. Kinsey and Lynne Hannah, assistant professor in the Department of Education & Professional Studies at Shepherd College.

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