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Storer graduate's collection opens at museum

February 07, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The year was 1954, and David Henry Cole was breaking racial barriers.

That was the year the Jefferson County native started work as an accountant for the tax and finance office in Washington, D.C.

At that time, he was only the second black to be employed in that government office.

Cole, who spoke Sunday at a Black History Month program in Harpers Ferry, became an investigator in 1966 with the city and his job was to track down corporations that were delinquent in paying taxes.

Cole said it was a "pretty tough" job, but violators "didn't have a leg to stand on" because he did his homework.

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Cole continued in the same line of work and worked his way up through the ranks in D.C. government.

Three years later, Cole was appointed as the city's assistant superintendent of corporations and eventually as the superintendent of corporations, the first black to be appointed to the position.

On Sunday, Cole came home to talk about his career experiences and his education.

Cole, speaking at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, recalled his education at Grandview School, a black elementary school in Harpers Ferry, and Storer College, a school that was opened for all races following the Civil War.

Cole, who obtained a business degree from Storer College, recalled the "good, solid education" he received from the school.

"Everything goes back to Storer, as far as I'm concerned," the 80-year-old Cole told a packed house in a small auditorium in the John Brown Museum.

Cole said the programs at Grandview School often were conducted in conjunction with Storer College.

Cole remembered one particular class assignment at Grandview School: The time he recited President Lincoln's Gettysburg address.

Cole said he recited a majority of the address, but could not remember one section.

"It makes me almost want to cry," said Cole, who was born in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va.

Cole was remembered Sunday as "one of the shining stars of Storer College."

Cole, regarded by many as the historian of Storer College, has an extensive collection of school memorabilia. The collection includes photographs, publications and artifacts that are meticulously catalogued, according to park officials.

But all the attention on Cole was a bit overwhelming to him.

"I'm really at a loss for words. I can't believe this would happen to me. I don't do things for recognition," Cole said.

After his speech, Cole cut a ribbon to the entrance of a room down the hall where a collection of his Storer artifacts is on display.

Cole said he lives in Washington, D.C., but also has a home in Harpers Ferry.

During the summer, Cole said he comes to his Harpers Ferry home a couple days a week.

"I'm trying to get my wife to move up here but she won't budge. She's a city girl," Cole said.

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