Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

August 7, 2012

Hall seeks to honor history of former black schools

BLUEFIELD — Article XII, Section 8 of the West Virginia Constitution read for years, “White and colored persons shall not be taught in the same school.” It was not until 1994 that the language was repealed.

However, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case before the United States Supreme Court struck down the so-called “separate but equal” standard that most states observed and allowed black and white children to attend school together.

In Mercer County there was Bluestone High School, Genoa and later Park Central. McDowell County had four all-black high schools, Gary District, Kimball, Elkhorn and Excelsior. There was great pride in these schools and communities and the students had many accomplishments in academics and sports.

Helen Jackson-Gillison is a Weirton attorney who is president and CEO of the West Virginia All Black Schools Sports & Academic Hall of Fame.

“The Hall of Fame was created to preserve the history of black education in West Virginia prior to the 1954 Brown case,” Gillison said. “It was also created to honor our role models and leaders of yesterday who paved the way to the present day and who helped to form our West Virginia history. It’s about research and preserving the history of the formerly all-black schools in the state.”

There are three primary goals of the hall.

First, to research and preserve the history of the formerly black schools in W.Va.

Second, to champion the legacies of those former academic and athletic role models and leaders of yesterday that have gone largely unrecognized.

And third, to network throughout the country with the other twenty states that had segregated schools to form a national All Black Schools Sports and Academic Hall of Fame (ABSSA).

The hall of fame has five induction categories. The “Greatest of the Great,” sports / academic, award is the highest honor a member can receive from their school.

The “Lifetime Achievement” award is based on outstanding works over a lifetime and is the highest honor a member can receive from the hall of fame board.

The “Icons” award is granted to the last living faculty, staff and school personnel.

The “Legends” award is granted to pioneers of progress and the first/last to achieve in their areas.

The “Vanguard Honors” award is granted to the heirs of a member who are leaders and at the forefront of developments in their fields.

The hall opened in 2008 and was the idea of Gillison.

“It was basically a dream that I had because one of the things that greatly disturbed me is the all-black school that I went to, which was Dunbar, up here in Weirton, none of the history from our school was preserved,” Gillison said.

“When they closed the school down, they essentially threw the history away. I thought it was very important for the sake of history that this mission be accomplished.”

Ergie Smith, former coach at Gary District from 1953 until GDHS closed its doors at the conclusion of the 1965 school year. Smith and the 1965 Bulldogs Class A state champion basketball team was inducted into the hall in its first year, 2008.

Gary District was the first state championship won by an all-black school competing with white schools.

“I think the great thing about it is the Hall of Fame is preserving the history of the all-black schools,” Smith said. “Without that, I think history would have been lost because it (knowledge) gets less and less every generation. Eventually somebody is going to lose it all and we don’t have anything.

“Now we’ve got it documented and videoed, and we’re going to have a museum where we’re going to put memorabilia about different activities and schools.”

Gillison said plans are in the making for a physical museum.

“That is one of our goals. We would like to have it so that we can have a museum, a permanent museum and we’re working toward that, to accomplish that,” Gillison commented.

Nominees for induction are obtained in various ways, from various sources.

“Basically the inductees are nominated by their former class members, or other members, or even non-members that know of their accomplishments,” Gillison said. “The standard for induction, for academics you have to have a master’s degree or higher, or comparable experience. For sports you need to have all state, or higher, or comparable experience.”

The event kicks off Thursday with a recognition ceremony for Park Central High School’s 1969 football team and cheerleaders. The Bluefield school was the last all-black football team in the history of the state.

Friday the Hall of Fame Museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with presentations throughout the day.

Friday evening will have a spotlight of Legends with a dinner at 7 p.m. After the dinner there will be a recognition program for Tuskegee Airmen. The events conclude on Friday with a concert by Vanguard inductees Rodney Boyden and Ethel Caffie Austin.

Boyden is the former assistant minister of music for Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Saturday’s events include the black tie, red carpet induction ceremony beginning at 1 p.m. A total of 42 academics will be inducted, 23 sports persons including the 1969 Park Central team, 12 Vanguards and 25 Legends.

The black-tie banquet begins at 5 p.m.

To purchase tickets for any of the events call Helen Jackson-Gillison at 304-748-7116. No tickets will be available at the door.

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