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Shepherdstown native to speak at MLK dinner

December 30, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Robert Holmes
Robert Holmes

The first black male student to walk into the newly integrated Shepherdstown High School in 1957 returns to the area Jan. 9 to speak at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Dinner.

Shepherdstown native Robert “Bob” Holmes, 67, who graduated from then-Shepherd College in 1964, earned a doctorate in political science from Columbia University at age 25.

He moved to Atlanta where he served 34 years in the Georgia General Assembly until retiring in 2009, according to a biography in Shepherd University Magazine.

He was the first black legislator to serve on the assembly’s budget subcommittee and chaired the largest legislative black caucus in the United States.

Holmes talked about growing up in Shepherdstown and in Harlem in a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta.

He said he grew up in the Angel Hill neighborhood across the railroad tracks on East German Street, which, with “Philadelphia” on the west side of Duke Street, were Shepherdstown’s two segregated communities.

He attended the all-black East Side Elementary School, now home to the Shepherdstown Day Care Center, through the fourth grade. His family moved to Harlem for grades 5 through 7 before returning to Shepherdstown for his eighth-grade year.

After that, it was classes in a segregated high school until Jefferson County integrated its public schools.

“I was the first (black) male, along with my two cousins, both girls, to attend Shepherd High School,” he said.

He recalls that there were few incidents with white students. He heard the “N” word some and was pushed around a little, “but it was nothing like it was in Little Rock.”

Holmes enrolled in Shepherd College in 1960, one of about 800 students, but segregation was still a long way from becoming a memory.

“There were only three other black students there then,” he said.

Holmes, a political science major, was seventh in academic standing in his class and the first Shepherd graduate to win the Woodrow Wilson Scholarship, which paved his way to Columbia University.

He co-founded the doctoral program in political science at Atlanta University and served as a professor and administrator at four universities before retiring as distinguished professor of political science and director of the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policies in 2005.

Holmes wrote more than 70 journal articles and book chapters and edited more than 30 books.

He and his wife, Gloria, have three children and eight grandchildren.

The scholarship fund grants $1,000 scholarships in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to six students “who by example showed us that all education is one of the primary means for the advancement of the human condition,” a news release announcing the banquet said.

About 20 students apply for the scholarships each year, said Patrick Murphy, vice chairman of the scholarship committee.

For tickets
The 33rd annual dinner, which is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, will be held at the Holiday Inn off Foxcroft Avenue in Martinsburg, W.Va., beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $35. To get tickets, call 304-274-3927 or 304-263-4339.

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