Speaker discusses race, history
The Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum held a discussion on the Brown v. Board of Education decision and integration in Shepherdstown as a part of the 250 anniversary celebration speaker series.
Vicki Smith, president of the Historic Shepherdstown Commission, gave opening remarks and introduced the panel speakers at the event which took place at the Asbury Methodist Church last Thursday evening.
“As someone from Alexandria (Va.), I’m pretty excited about finding out what happened in Shepherdstown,” she said.
Hannah Geffert, a political science professor at Shepherd University, presided over the panel discussion, which featured residents Bishop Charles Hunter, Evelyn Taylor and Jim Taylor.
Geffert, who called the event “a celebration,” said she has spent years researching the untold story of African-American history in the Eastern Panhandle with some help from panelists Evelyn and Jim Taylor among others.
“It has been our mission to find black history,” she said.
Geffert said it is important to remember the history of racial injustice that set the stage for Jim Crow-era segregation, particularly the prevalence of slavery even in West Virginia and the northern states.
Though Brown v. Board of Education made integration possible in Shepherdstown, Geffert explained that true racial equality was a slow-moving process, that would not have been possible without the bravery of a few.
“Part of the history of the black community in Shepherdstown was not happy,” she said.
Bishop Charles Hunter discussed his experience as one of the first black kids to play on the local Potomac Little League team.
“It made me grow up,” he said of the regular name calling he experienced while playing for the team.
“My first name had changed,” Hunter said regarding the racial slurs and taunts he endured.
Bishop Hunter later opted to be one of the first students integrated into Shepherdstown High School, not knowing how he’d be received by the all-white student body and faculty.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
When one of his new classmates and longtime neighbors yelled ‘tar babies,’ at him and 12 other newly integrated black students on his first day of school, Hunter said he realized the significance of what he was doing.
“We realized that we were paving the way… We had a challenge to overcome,” he said.
Jim Taylor told his account of becoming the first black student to integrate onto the Shepherd football team.
Taylor explained that a fellow local resident, Charles Jackson, went to Shepherd and applied after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, followed by four other black students, and he soon followed suit to play football.
“There had never been any African American athletes at Shepherd,” he said
Upon joining the Rams, the coach told Taylor he would be “the team’s Jackie Robinson,” he said.
Despite experiencing numerous instances of discrimination, especially while traveling with the team to play at different schools around the region, Taylor said, Shepherd, his teammates and the community always stood by him and supported him.
“We will do the fighting for you,” Taylor’s teammates told him.
Bishop Hunter said that despite some of the negative experiences he had, he’s proud of Shepherdstown and he believes it was the town’s special character that allowed it to ultimately move past racial separations.
“I believe it was the closeness of this community,” he said.
The 250 anniversary speaker series began in March and will continue until November. The next event will be held Sept. 5 at the Entler hotel at 7 p.m. and is titled “Myths, Facts and Surprising Tidbits of Shepherdstown History: A Brief Account of Some Twists and Turns along the Path of the Walking Tour.” For more information about the lecture series, call 304-876-0910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.