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History and heritage

August 14, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A black history exhibit on display during the Jefferson County African American Culture & Heritage Festival will showcase more than 100 years of local history.

The exhibit was put together by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council. It will be on display Saturday at Fisherman's Hall, off South West Street in Charles Town. The exhibit will chronicle the experiences of black soldiers from the Civil War through World War II, show snapshots of students and teachers who attended Jefferson County's all-black schools and display photographs of the county's black churches.

The exhibit was drawn from the vast collection of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. The aim of the exhibit is to show people the depth of local black history, said James L. Taylor, the organization's president.

"Jefferson County is probably the richest county in West Virginia as far as African American history is concerned," Taylor said.

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Historically, the black community in Jefferson County has been highly organized and involved in many social movements, said James A. Tolbert, secretary for the preservation society and president emeritus of the West Virginia chapter of the NAACP.

In fact, the exhibit is in a building where, in 1885, a group of local blacks formed a chapter of the Grand United Order of the Galilean Fisherman, an organization founded in Baltimore in the mid-19th century to help economically empower blacks, Tolbert said.

Martin Delany, a black nationalist and Civil War soldier born in Charles Town in 1812, will also be featured, said George Rutherford, treasurer of the preservation society and president of the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP. Delany lived in Charles Town until he was 12, Rutherford said, but his family was forced to flee because the boy had learned to read, which was prohibited.

According to the West Virginia Archives, Delany became the first black field officer in the Union Army in 1865. Delany died in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1885.

Taylor said the exhibit was only a slim portion of the preservation society's collection. The organization's founding members - Taylor, Rutherford, Tolbert and the late Nathaniel Downing - had been collecting material for decades, Taylor said. In 2000, the four of them founded the society.

IF YOU GO ...



WHAT: Black history exhibit, from the collection of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. Part of the Jefferson County African American Culture & Heritage Festival

WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16

WHERE: Fisherman's Hall, 340 S. West. St., Charles Town, W.Va.

COST: Free

MORE: Learn more about the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society at http://jeffctywvblackhistory.org.

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