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Stories From West Virginia's Civil Rights History

By Thomas Rodd

Why do we call West Virginia "A New Home for Liberty?" What did West Virginia have to do about slavery, in order to become a State in 1863?

How did a jury in Tucker County, WV strike a blow for racial equality in the 1890s? Who are the West Virginia heroes J.R. Clifford, Granville Hall, Carrie Williams, and Gordon Battelle and why do we admire them?

You can learn the answers to these questions—and lots more—in this exciting book of stories from West Virginia's civil rights history.

The first story in the new book is titled "A New Home for Liberty," and describes the creation of West Virginia through the life of the abolitionist and statehood leader Granville Davisson Hall (1837-1934). Before the Civil War, Hall's father, a tanner in the Harrison County Town of Shinnston (then a part of Virginia), was indicted for distributing anti-slavery literature.

The book's second story, "J.R. Clifford and the Carrie Williams Case," tells how Carrie Williams, an African American teacher in a segregated Tucker County school at the head of the Blackwater Canyon, won a landmark equal rights case in the 1890s before the West Virginia Supreme Court. Williams' lawyer was John Robert ("J.R.") Clifford, (1848-1933), the State's first African American attorney. As a teenager, Clifford fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, and he is also a character in the "New Home for Liberty" story.

Both stories have been presented as community dramas by the J. R. Clifford Project, which Rodd co-directs with Charleston attorney Kitty Dooley and Senior Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher.

"These stories combine real historical events with intimate personal portraits of heroic West Virginians," said Rodd. "We've had thousands of great people in our dramatic programs," said Rodd, "and now we are putting these powerful stories in a classroom-friendly book that we will be distributing free of charge to schools, libraries, and museums across the State."

"West Virginia has a unique civil rights history," Rodd continued. "There is much to be ashamed of, but also much to be proud of. When we learn about the lives of West Virginians who have worked for liberty and justice for all, it can inspire us to continue that effort today."