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African American History Forum

Men put together history in pictures

Men put together history in pictures
By Naomi Smoot / Journal Staff Writer
POSTED: August 29, 2009

What: Book signing by the authors of "African Americans of Jefferson County."

When: 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Where: Old Charles Town Library.

CHARLES TOWN - The photos contained in a new book produced by the Jefferson County Black History Society Inc. reflect a powerful and important story about the community's past, members say.

"Our age group is the last in the country that can go back and bridge those gaps. ... That's why we're trying to do so much," said Society President James Taylor. "We knew and saw ex-slaves. Some of them were related to us. We went through total, total segregation."

While the days of Martin Luther King may seem like ancient history to younger generations, they said, those days were reality for the trio who undertook the project.

Printed by Arcadia Press, which has produced pictorial histories of communities across the county, the book features images of local civic and religious life.

Photos also include images of a homecoming celebration at Page-Jackson High School as well as dances at the all African-American school during the 1950s.

There are pictures of bands and of segregated military units marching through the streets as part of a welcome home parade following World War II.

Things have changed considerably since then, but JCBHS member George Rutherford said it is important to make sure this portion of the past is preserved.

"In a few years, that link (between past and present) will be gone," he said.

Younger generations might not realize it, JCBHS member John Tolbert said, but the cost was high for those who fought for equality.

"These things weren't just acquired through peaceful means. These things were very important. They weren't just given to us. We had to fight and fight," he said.

Locally, those battles included John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry, images of which are contained in the book.

The Niagara Movement, which laid the foundation for the modern day NAACP, also took place in Jefferson County and is covered in the new publication.

There are photos of the fruits of these labors as well, including images of the first African-American to serve on Jefferson County's police force and the first African-American member of the Charles Town City Council.

The images in the work were collected from Rutherford's, Taylor's and Tolbert's own collections. Members of the community came forward to contribute personal pictures that the trio then scanned and returned to their owners, they said. Nearly 20 people in all provided photographs for the book.

Still, there are many more pictures and stories left that group members say they want to share.

"We feel that there is more black history here than any county in the state," Rutherford said.

There were things that happened in Jefferson County that few people know about, he said, including the publication of an African-American newspaper and visits to the area in the 1920s by music legends, such as Count Basie.

In an attempt to share this and more, group members intend to self-publish additional books about African-American history in Jefferson County, they said.

As many as three more works, each containing roughly 500 pictures each, could be produced, they said.

- Staff writer Naomi Smoot can be reached at (304) 725-6581, or

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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