African American film debuts
Did you know there’s more African American history in Jefferson County than in any place in the country?
Wayne Bronson likes to spring that question on people. As executive producer of Oak Tree Productions, based in Kearneysville, he’ll be present at the public showing of “African Americans of Jefferson County, West Virginia,” the latest in his Roadtrip to History series.
On Feb. 8, the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society (BHPS), will present the recently released 27-minute video in Shepherdstown.
Before the showing Jim Taylor, president of the BHPS, will introduce the video as well as other members of the society in attendance. After the showing, members of the BHPS will entertain questions from the audience. This presentation is free and will begin at 7 p.m. at the War Memorial Building, 102 E. German St. It will be preceded at 6 p.m. by a social hour for members of the BHPS, the Jefferson County Historical Society, and the Men’s Club.
“It’s unique I think in that nobody knows about all the African American history that’s here,” Bronson says. “It’s a well-kept secret, and it’s right here in our back yard.”
Bronson worked with local African American leaders, who appear in the film and present many of the important events that make the county so rich.
“During the Civil War, the Union Army went through and … freed between 12,000 and 15,000 slaves,” Bronson points out. “When the Yankee soldiers marched out of the Shenandoah Valley, these freed slaves followed them.”
A great many of these freed slaves settled in Jefferson County. And from these freed slaves came some of the first businesses, schools and towns founded by African Americans. Johnsontown, just outside Charles Town, is one example.
The historic 1888 Hilltiop House Hotel was built and operated by Harpers Ferry native Thomas S. Lovett, an African American.
Charles Town’s Martin Delaney had to leave during the early 1800s because he had learned to read, which was against the law for blacks at the time. He went on to fight for North in Civil war and became the war’s most decorated black soldier, Bronson says.
The Feb. 8 film presentation is part of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Men’s Club of Shepherdstown’s series of presentations by local experts on aspects of Jefferson County History.
In September 2000, Taylor, Nathaniel Downing (deceased), George C. Rutherford and James A. Tolbert met to discuss a way to bring to light the significant events in the history of African-Americans that had occurred in Jefferson County. As a result of that meeting they formed the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society (BHPS), whose mission is to research and preserve information about the county’s rich black history.
Over the past 10 years, the Society has created visual exhibits and published several books documenting the County’s rich African-American history. More recently, stimulated by the PBS series “Road Trip to History,” the BHPS contracted with Jefferson County film-maker Wayne Bronson to create a half-hour documentary video featuring Jefferson County’s African-American history, which will also be shown on PBS television stations in Virginia and West Virginia. Much like the “Road Trip” productions of Charles Town and Shepherdstown histories, the black history video will document the many significant events which have occurred in Jefferson County.
Taylor will also discuss the BHPS’s plans for several more research and publications projects including a book on the impact of women on the county’s African-American history and another summarizing a number of interviews with elderly black residents of the county conducted about 20 years ago.
– Road Trip History airs on West Virginia Public Television Sundays at 7:30 p.m. For more information, see roadtriptohistory.com or call (304) 876-6617.
– For more information about the Men’s Club and the Historical Society, please visit their respective web sites at http://www.smc25443.org/ and www.jeffersonhistoricalwv.org.