The Block Speaker Series is personal perspective of African-American life and a reflection of success due to their community during early childhood to adult. Hubert Jones believes “it will preserve and educate the descendants of some of the most prestigious African Americans of their accomplishments, which seem to have been lost in the recording of history. This will serve to inspire the youth to endeavor pressing forward to attain higher goals.
Special thanks to all of our supporters and everyone who attended our 2018 Block Speaker Series! Please stay tuned for announcements on our upcoming season or sign up for our newsletter for email updates. View the videos from our previous speakers below.
Dr. Byers and his wife, Edithe, a retired high school and college English teacher, are the parents of Charles, Kevin, and Deborah and proud grandparents of five grandchildren. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from West Virginia State University, an M.F.A. in Graphic Arts from Ohio State, and his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Kent State. His service has included three years teaching in high school, 22 years college teaching and 23 years in college administration.
After retirement he formed the higher education consulting company, RC Byers, Consulting, LLC., he is an active artist and enjoys visiting historic places. He is also an adjunct graduate faculty member in the Multicultural Instructional Leadership program and retired as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Emeritus at West Virginia State University.
Dr. Byers community and civic involvement include board member of the Central West Virginia CVB, The Booker T. Washington Foundation, The WVSU Research and Development Corporation, WVSU Foundation, and Trustees Chair at the First Baptist Church of Charleston. He is the recipient of the Distinguished West Virginian Award.
Simm E. Fryson is a native of Charleston, WV and was born to the late Simm Fryson and Dorothy Hawkins Fryson, he is the sixth in a family of eight. He is married to Susan Fryson and they have three children, Brent, Sydnei, and Sierra. Simm is a Seventh–Day Adventist Christian and is elder at the Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Huntington West Virginia.
He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in education from West Virginia State College and Associate Degree in business and marketing from the University of Detroit through the prestigious general motors institute, Flint Michigan. He is a Vietnam veteran serving four years in the United States Air Force, receiving the meritorious service award and obtaining the rank of sergeant from the north-commissioned officers leadership school and two years in the United States Naval Reserve while in high school.
He began his automobile career while attending college selling used cars on a small independent used car lot. He then became a sales person at C & O Motors, the largest automobile dealership in West Virginia, He was the first black person in West Virginia to become a new car sales person, F & I manager, sales manager, and general sales manager. He became President / CEO of Simm Fryson Motor Company in Ashland Kentucky, consisting of the franchises Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda. Most recently he owned a dealership in South Charleston, West Virginia. He has received numerous awards and honors including WSAZ Hometown Hero, Black Enterprise magazine as one of the top 100 black businesses in the USA from 1985-1989 and again from 1995-2005.
Mr. Edward Hargro Jr. and wife Gloria are residents of Morgantown WV. He attended Bluefield State College in 1967 and received a Bachelor of Science Degree – Physical Education and Biology and he also played and lettered in football.
He is the son of a Tuskegee Airman and has taught biology at Triadelphia High School from 1967 – 1972, an assistant coach and a member of Big Brothers Wheeling WV from 1967- 1972. He served and achieved the rank of Lieutenant in the United States Army in the Officers Candidate School in 1967. He later served six years in the West Virginia National Gaurd and attained the rank of second lieutenant
His work experience included Ayers Laboratories a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative from February 1972 – March 1982. He later became a sales representative for Glaxo Smith Kline Pharmaceuticals from March 1982 – February 2008 and later retired.
Mrs. Anna Elizabeth Evans Gilmer, a native of Charleston, WV was born the fourth of eight children to the late William H. and Ollie Brown Evans. After attending Boyd grade and junior high schools, she graduated from Garnet High as valedictorian in mid-year 1942 and was editor the Garnet newspaper “The Eye” and graduated from Bluefield State College in 1946 and completed post graduate work at West Virginia State College and COGS for certification and enrichment. She taught English for six years at Sissonville Senior High, substituted for ten years and taught English at Carver Career Center for three years. She and her late husband of 58 years, Reverend Paul Gilmer Sr. (Garnet class of 1942) are parents of five children, Paul Jr, Rodney, Vikki Gilmer-Bayes, Reverend Charles and Janet Gilmer-Rowser, 21 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
Some was co-author with James Randall of the book, Black Past, a record of area businesses, schools, churches and organizations in the Kanawha Valley; a member of the special committee for the West Virginia Women’s Commission, researched and wrote some of the entries in the Commission’s book, A Sampling of West Virginia’s African American Women of Distinction; awarded the West Virginia Cultural Center History Hero Award; the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr “Living the Dream Award”; WV Women’s Commission “Unsung Hero” Award; WV Black Schools Sports/Academic ‘Hall of Fame’ Historian and Legend Award; charter member of the Henry Highland Garnet Foundation. She was advisor in preserving the African Zion Baptist Church and reconstructing Booker T. Washington’s boyhood cabin in Malden by Cabin Creek Quilts.
Chlorine was born in Charleston, West Virginia, the oldest of two children to the late Yorty and Lillian Grigsby. She attended McKinley Elementary in Pittsburgh. They lived in Pittsburgh until she was eight then moved to Charleston where she attended Boyd Elementary and Junior high, graduating from Garnet in 1953 where she ran for class president and Miss Garnet. In 1954 she married the late Herman Carter of Cabin Creek/Chesapeake. They had three children, Jovalene Booker and Alexandria Acholonu (both deceased), and Maurice of Stone Mountain, GA. She has six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and two step granddaughters. Chlorine is a member of the Levi First Missionary Baptist Church. She worked at the Coyle and Richardson Department Store, the Security Building, Rand Elementary as a teacher’s aide assisting in specialized reading, West Virginia State registrar’s office and then BB&T Bank for 23 years until retirement in 1995
Chlorine began a new chapter in the community in early 1960 with Herman when they operated a Canteen for youth in Rand and later in the American Legion Post 57 until it closed. It reopened under a new name, Clo’s and Mahone’s Lounge as she had a new partner, Robert Mahone, also In The Game Lounge at Shawnee Park. Chlorine opened a family restaurant on the East End named Clo’s Uptown Eatery until it closed in October 2009. She was a member of Post 57 Auxiliaries of the American Legion, the Conservative Clubs Auxiliary, Charleston Women’s Improvement League, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association of Charleston. Chlorine is currently a member of The Silver Haired Legislature and was voted Pro Teem Speaker and then Speaker of the House
Rev. Paul H. Easley was born in Charleston, WV to Alexander Pamplin and Estella Allen Easley. He graduated from Garnet High School in 1950 and then from West Virginia State College with a B.S. degree in technical Science Building construction in 1956. He received a Bachelor of Divinity in Religion from Gammon Theological Seminary School in Atlanta Georgia, Clinical Pastoral Education in Psychology and Counseling Member of the United Methodist Church, West Virginia Conference.
His diversified background includes military, theological, social service, civic and volunteer experience. Rev Easley served as Executive Secretary of the Branch YMCA, Charleston, West Virginia; Counselor of the Bethlehem Youth Center, Atlanta, Georgia; Migrant Minister for Virginia Council of Churches; Boy Scouts of America; Program Leader for Branch Gray-Y programs, Atlanta, Georgia; Drug/Alcohol Counselor Facilitator at Christian Counseling Center, Kansas City, Missouri; and as Chaplain at Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (1980-2001).
In addition to his civilian background, Rev. Easley served over twenty-three years as military Chaplain and retired as Full Colonel. He was awarded two Bronze Stars. He was appointed first Afro-American as “Colonel” of the Regiment of the United States Army Chaplain Corps. He was P.T.S.A. past president of Therrell High School, Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of CRT of Georgia Tech; Churches Home Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia; Youth Hope Builders Academy; and Fulton Leadership Academy.
Ella Jean Martin was born to Emmanuel and Vivian Robinson in Charleston, WV along with her older sister Nancy and brother Emmanuel. Returning from WWII, her father became a bricklayer and the primary source of income for the family. Vivian became ill at an early age and the illness may have been the primary cause of deafness for Jean and her siblings. Vivian made sure her children attended school at the West Virginia Deaf and Blind School in Institute. Nancy and Emanuel graduated but Jean left after the fifth grade and transferred to a school better suited for deaf people in Romney. She was an outstanding basketball player and a majorette for three years.
After graduating, she set her sights on college but due to financial hardships charted a different course. Jean loved having her own money while working summers at Elite Laundry, located off Virginia St. East. She decided to go to barber school in Institute where she learned from Warren Felix, since he taught at the school. Upon completion in 1961, she began working at Central Barber Shop on Court street for John Lynch, a distant cousin; it was a center for many African American businesses. During those years she gave birth to her sons—David in 1967 and Harry in 1969. She married Jack Martin, Sr. in 1973 and moved to Dunbar where she gave birth to Shannon in 1979. The business thrived at this location until 1980 when they moved to Shrewsbury Street. In 1989 she purchased the shop where she was the second deaf African-American business owner in West Virginia. Her brother Emanuel was the first. Now after 53 years she still enjoys waking up and going to the shop. After receiving the West Virginia Minority Development Center Award and the West Virginia Executive Directors Award, people ask Ella when she plans to retire she just smiles and tells them “I’ll retire when I don’t enjoy cutting hair anymore.
Mary Lawson-Booker was born in Charleston West Virginia to the late Joseph E. and Ludelia Johnson–Lawson and is the oldest of seven children. She attended Boyd Elementary and Junior High graduating from Garnet in 1949, where she was a majorette, member of the glee and drama clubs and received several certificates from WVU. Mary wed the late Charles L. Booker, Sr. and from their union came six children, seventeen grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren. She has been a member of the First Baptist Church of Vandalia for over 50 years serving as Sunday School teacher and many other offices along with trustee and secretary of Mount Olive Presidents Council. She has served as secretary of Guiding Star Chapter 09, Order of the Eastern Star, Matron Golden Eagle Court, #38, Heroines of Jericho, President of Ray of Hope Grand Council of Heroines of Jericho, State of West Virginia. Mary was inducted into the Garnet Hall of Fame in 1999, and a Henry Highland Garnet Foundation member serving on the scholarship and housekeeping committees. She retired from Union Carbide in 1993, then became the first black woman to be office manager in Charleston while employed at Arlan’s department store. She was inducted into the Governors 12th Annual Civil Rights Day, Advancing Civil Rights through Advocacy, and Unsung Heroes
Rosa Lena Pickel was born in Charleston, West Virginia, the fourth child and third daughter to Mr. Samuel David Pickel Sr. and Ms. Lydia Byrd Plunkett. She attended Boyd Elementary, Boyd Jr. High and Garnet High School graduating in January 1948 class valedictorian and from West Virginia State College in 1952 Magna Cum Laude receiving her Bachelor of Science in Education Degree with Majors in Business Administration and French. Rosa was the first West Virginia State graduate to receive the Fulbright Award to study and travel abroad.
She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France and the Uniuversite’ de Besancon in Besacon, France from September 1953 to June 1953 were she received the Certificate of French Studies. In 1953 she returned to the United States and in 1965 graduated from Atlanta University with her Master of Arts Degree in French Literature. Rosa’s teaching career began in 1955 at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia and concluded at West Virginia State College, in May 1996. During those years she found herself teaching French, Spanish, English, and Commerce in high schools and colleges from Maryland to South Carolina. Rosa grew up in a Christian home and was affiliated with Young Street Baptist Church now Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. She is a baptized member for over 70 years. At Shiloh she has held many positions of leadership.
Rosa’s love of travel has taken her to Europe, Africa, the Holy Land, Greece, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Egypt. She’s directed 5 student tours abroad. These days, she enjoys preventive care exercises, short trips, photography and participating with her sorority — Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. the Henry Highland Garnett Foundation, Inc. and the WVSC Foundation, Inc. (Member of the President’s Circle). Rosa is an annual scholarship donor. She served as Commencement Marshall at WVSC for many years and grand Marshall at her own retirement in May 1996.
Gary Mays “The One Arm Bandit” was born in Burnwell, a coal mining town in Kanawha County West Virginia on March 26, 1935. On election day 1941, Gary lost his left arm in a shot gun accident at 5 years old. At the age of 12 he moved to the Northeast section of Washington, D.C. where he started playing baseball at Logan Community Center. Gary attended Armstrong Technical High School where he displayed his athletics skills playing baseball and basketball. He was already a playground legend but still his baseball coach was a skeptic. He didn’t think Gary could make his team. It didn’t take Gary long to make a believer out of him. Gary was not only a feared catcher but he was a power hitter, his batting was just as feared as his throwing arm. Gary batted .375, yielded zero stolen bases and didn’t make a single error.
In June 1955, the Washington Senators baseball team held their annual tryout camp, home to hundreds of hopeful young men and more than a dozen major league scouts. During those three days Gary was the best player in Griffith Stadium. This is the same ballpark where he once wasn’t allowed to compete in a prep all-star game because of segregation. In a camp-closing scrimmage, Gary threw out a base runner and hit the only home run. He was unanimously voted camp MVP. It was Gary’s basketball coach Charlie Baltimore that gave him the tag “The One Arm Bandit.” One day in practice Coach Baltimore got pissed off after Gary had stolen the ball for about the sixth time, he screamed at no one in particular, “How in the hell do you guys keep letting that “One Arm Bandit steal the ball?” The name has been with him ever since.
In 1954, months before desegregation was outlawed in all public schools in America by the Supreme Court, Armstrong and Spingarn High School played each other for the Division II basketball title. In one of the biggest games in Division II basketball history and against all odds Armstrong would meet undefeated Spingarn and “Basketball God,” Elgin Baylor for the title. The two teams had met twice during the regular season and Baylor had averaged close to 50 points in the two victories. Armstrong Coach, Charlie Baltimore, knew he had no chance of beating Spingarn if he didn’t find a way to stop Elgin Baylor. Just before tip-off he called his Captain, Gary Mays and teammates together. He instructed everyone on the floor to play a zone defense with the exception of Gary. He was told to play Elgin “Man-to-Man” defense. Coach Baltimore said “I want you to stay with Elgin regardless of where he decides to go including the bathroom, I want you to stay that close to him.
The final score Armstrong 50 Spingarn 47. Gary held Elgin to 18 points, half of his regular season average on his home court, talking about against all odds! Gary attended The College of Idaho and went on to become a liquor store owner, cab, bus and limousine driver. He was building chairman for the DC Chapter of Habitat for the Humanities, and the owner of his own construction company. He is currently the vice president of the Armstrong Alumni Association.
Dr. Cubert Smith grew up in Saint Albans, West Virginia and is a graduate of Garnet High School, West Virginia State University and Marshall University. He holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree from The University of Guanajuato in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Union Graduate School in Yellow Springs, Ohio and did post-doctoral work at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One of Dr. Smith’s sculptures was among the works selected to represent the U.S. in the 2nd Black World Arts Festival held in Nigeria. In 1982, Governor Rockefeller selected him as West Virginia’s nominee to attend the American Academy in Rome, and subsequently named him an Outstanding West Virginian. He was also recognized by Secretary of State A. James Manchin as Ambassador for the Arts for the State of West Virginia.
Dr. Smith taught in Kanawha County Schools and at West Virginia State University. During Mayor Kemp Melton’s administration, he served as Director of the Charleston-Korolev Sister City Program &emdash; a cultural exchange initiative with Korolev, Russia. There are a number of Dr. Smith’s sculptures in and around the Kanawha Valley, including Haddad Riverfront Park, South Charleston Mound, Yeager Airport and West Virginia State University campus. Of special meaning to him are the Bronze Plaques he created for the doors at St. Paul Baptist Church in Saint Albans.
Dr. Smith currently lives in Charleston with his wife and daughter, and is serving his third term on the Charleston City Council.
Major General Joseph E. Turner is a native of Charleston, WV and the son of the late Sergeant Joseph Turner of Institute and Annetta Ellis of Rand. He attended Boyd Elementary and Jr. High Schools and graduated in 1956 from Garnet High School. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia State College.
General Turner (retied) began his military career in 1961 as a Second Lieutenant commissioned in the Signal Corps through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), upon graduating from West Virginia State. His military education includes completion of the Signal Officer Basic and advanced courses.
He has held many command and staff positions prior to his assignment as the commander, 35th Theater Signal command. He has served two combat duties in Vietnam. The first tour being assigned as an Aviator, 17th Aviation company and the second as commander, HHC, 210 Combat Aviation Battalion , 1st Aviation Brigade in Long Thanh, South Vietnam.
General Turner has received many awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit (highest award) received during his change of command ceremony, The Bronze Star Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster) Meritorious Service Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal and the Air Medal (With 10 Oak Leaf Clusters).
In his civilian occupation Turner is a commercial airline pilot employed by delta Airlines flying the Los Angeles, CA to Honolulu, Hi route and return. Turner is married to the former Norma J. Sims They have three sons, Dr. Alan T. Turner, Brian D. Turner and Joseph E, Turner Jr. and eight grandchildren.
General Turner was next assigned to Washington D.C. where he will be Vice Director, Directorate of Information Systems for command, Control, Communications and Computers (DISC4)
Richard H. Payne graduated from Garnet High School in Charleston WV n 1954; he also received further education from West Virginia State College (now University), with graduate studies at West Virginia University, Indiana University of Bloomington, Indiana, and Marshall University of Huntington, WV. Payne, Lead Equal Opportunity Specialist, an incumbent with 41 years Department experience, served as the principal on-site Fair Housing and equal Opportunity civil rights official.
Payne was instrumental in the establishment of the West Virginia, Charleston and Huntington Human Rights Commissions and the Monroeville, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. He is a Life Member and former president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP and State of WV NAACP Youth Advisor and a co-founder and former president of UNION, a civil right organization consisting of 35 independent organizations under the umbrella of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Sponsored By: American Electric Power & MVB Bank
Supported By: North side Historic Community Group & Kanawha Valley Historical & Preservation Society
Hubert “Rabbit” Jones was born in Laing West Virginia, which was three miles above Kay ford at the head of Cabin Creek. Hubert graduated from Washington High School in London, WV in May 1949 and joined the United States Air Force for 3 1/2 years.
Hubert became a self taught musician in the military with his upright bass and associated or play with The Drifters, Rashan “Roland” “Kirk, and Sony Turner who was the lead singer for the Platters. He joined with MacDonald Cary Jr. and Warren Pope Sr. to open the first licensed black-owned night club and restaurant in West Virginia.
He was called to play in jam sessions with Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Ray Charles. They played at The Greenbrier, Crazy Horse Café, Tight Squeeze, Edgewood, Shalamar and BJ’s. His name first appeared on a 45rpm with the Billy “J” Trio and a Memorial Album recording with Bob and Frank Thompson called a Jazz Experience. The West Virginia Symphony’s Principal Bass Violin Chair was endowed by Lyell Clay under the name of Hubert S. “Rabbit“ Jones.
Dave Weekley speaks with Rabbit on 58 WCHS radio, Ram Hotline:
Mr. Newsome is the son of the late Reverend Moses and Ruth Newsome and is a senior consultant for Stonehenge Capital Company LLC (SCC), a national specialty finance company with expertise in private equity, text credits and structured finance. Mr. Newsome has over thirty years of experience in the banking industry. He received a BA in Business Administration from Philander Smith College and an MBA from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University).
Mr. Smoot graduated from Garnett High School in Charleston West Virginia in the spring of 1951. He received a Bachelor of Science, Building Construction Management degree from Michigan State in 1956 and received honorary doctorate degrees from Ohio Dominican and Franklin Universities and the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1959 he became the president of Smoot Construction Corporation. The torch had been passed from Lewis’s father Sherman who started the company with Vergil, Henry and other relatives in Charleston West Virginia during the 30s and 40s laying bricks.
Born on Charleston’s West Side, James attended Dunbar Elementary, Cabell Junior High and Garnett High Schools. He served in the US Army from 1951 to 1953. James attended West Virginia State College, Ohio State University and Ohio Dominican University. He has served on the boards of the Southwest Recreation Corporation in Urbancrest, OH, Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission, in Franklin County, OH Alvis House, in Columbus, Ohio and Life Care Alliance in Columbus, OH. Thirty-six years with the Sherman R. Smoot Co. and Vice President of John James Estes and Associates.
A native of Charleston, Lacey spent the first six years of her life at her mother’s Shrewsbury Street boarding house, which was located in the middle of “The Block.” She continued to maintain strong ties to the area until 1957 as employee at her father’s restaurant, the Block Cafe, located first at 908 East Washington Street across from the post office and later on the ground floor of the Ferguson Hotel. Among her numerous community service activities, Lacey was a charter board member of the Community of Rand Association and has served on the boards of the Kanawha Valley Mental Health Association, Kanawha Valley Senior Services, Children’s Home Society, Kanawha Valley Extension Service, YWCA, and a WVDHHR Credit Union. Currently, she is on the board of the East End Family Resource Center. She also has served as a mentor for Kanawha County Board of Education “Keep a Child in School Program.”
Since 1968 Charles H. James III has served as the chairman and CEO of C. H. James and Co. The company celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2013 and has been recognized as one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the United States. He represents the fourth generation of his Family to own and operate the business founded by his great-grandfather in 1883 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Charlotte, North Carolina. Founder/President/CEO of TWT Distributor, Established 1990. Health and Beauty Care Products for African-Americans and Hispanics. Charleston High Graduate.
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