Charleston and the Kanawha Valley have an incredibly rich African American history. Nationally known individuals such as Rev. Leon Sullivan, Sam Starks, Booker T. Washington, Benjamin O. Davis, Tony Brown, John Norman Jr. Bishop T. D. Jakes and Della Brown Taylor, have an association with the Valley. These individuals were and are proud of their West Virginia heritage.
Also, there are five locations that have achieved recognition on the National Register of Historic Places within a concentrated area of Charleston. These sites are the Harden – Gilmore Home on Leon Sullivan Way, Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church, Garnet High School and Sam Starks Home all on Shrewsbury St., and Mattie V. Lee Home on Donnelly St. The recognition of these individuals and places have been well documented and carry information for all generations from Washington St. north to Smith St. consisting of (3) blocks, and Leon Sullivan way westward to Capitol St. This documented history brings pride and joy to the African American community at family, church, school, and or other social gatherings as it is passed on to others.
As this awe – inspiring legacy was being created an intersecting history was also being unknowingly lifted, unfortunately this history is not as inspiring. During the early years Charleston and the Kanawha Valley growth was dependent upon the manufacturing, sale and distribution of salt that originated from the wells in Malden, WV, known as the salt capitol of the United Sates. This lucrative commodity was sold to western states such as Ohio, and Mississippi in large quantities for the purpose of preserving meats. These major financial transactions created untold wealth for a number of families who became large land owners from the riches derived from this industry. Their wealth and riches were also due to the backbreaking, endless, and sometimes death defying work done by hundreds of slaves they owned or leased. This was a time when the practice was used to its highest degree while allowing some owners to boast of the amount of work and dollars that was achieved from their holdings. This unrecognized legacy remains today in the heart of an African American district that takes pride in its accomplishments and those who accomplished them.
During more than a century of history building these streets became the bedrock within our community while holding the tormented memory that had been put upon us. As Charleston continues to transform and meet the social, educational and historic needs just a few hundred feet away a community yearns to be a part of that transformation.
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