June 10th, 2015
The West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center will mark the 150th anniversary of the origins of Storer College during a two-day West Virginia Day celebration on June 18-19.
One of the first institutions of higher learning open to African Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line, Storer College in Harpers Ferry played a key role in providing minority education from its origins as a mission school in 1865 to its close in 1955. The school also made significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. A particularly notable occasion in Storer history occurred in 1906 when the college hosted the second meeting (and the first on U.S. soil) of the Niagara Movement, a precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.
“It is almost impossible for us to comprehend today how revolutionary the establishment of an African American school was at the close of the Civil War,” West Virginia and Regional History Center Director John Cuthbert said. “Just a few years earlier, education of slaves was potentially a capital offense in Virginia. The education of even free blacks was forbidden by law.”
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. June 18 with a reception at the WVU Visitors Center to announce a commemorative edition of American Phoenix: A History of Storer College from Slavery to Desegregation, 1865–1955 being published by the WVU Press.
In the first book-length study of Storer College, Dawne Raines Burke, an education professor at Shepherd University, tells the story of the historically black institution from its post-Civil War origins to its closure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation in public schools.
Multiple activities fill the schedule for June 19. The day begins at 9 a.m. with a reception in the James and Ann Milano Reading Room of the Charles C. Wise Jr. Library, followed by a showing of the documentary Storer College: A Legacy of Light and Learning at 9:30 a.m.
Guest speakers take to the podium at 10:30 a.m. Speakers include John Newcomer, great-grandson of Storer College founder Dr. Nathan Cook Brackett, and David M. Fryson, vice president for the WVU Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Newcomer will share his family’s memories of Storer across generations. Ten of his relatives were directly involved with the college. He heard stories about the early days from his grandmother. His father served on the college’s board, and his mother worked as business manager/registrar until the school closed and its assets were distributed to organizations including the National Park Service, which took possession of the school’s campus in 1960. The Park Service is planning its own Storer sesquicentennial celebration in 2017 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the institution’s adoption of the name Storer College after Maine philanthropist John Storer who gave $10,000 to establish a collegiate division in 1867.
“I remember the day when they decided to close,” Newcomer said. “My sister and I were the last ones to live on the campus.”
Fryson will address the importance of Storer College to West Virginia and the effects it had on education, and then he will focus on how education has progressed over the past 60 years.
Following the talks, the West Virginia and Regional History Center will open an exhibit of photographs, artifacts and documents chronicling Storer’s history in the James Hornor Davis Family Galleries. Those visiting the center during the opening will receive a free commemorative West Virginia Day poster.
“We can learn volumes about our nation’s history by examining Storer College and the generations of students who left the school brimming with hope for their future,” WVULibraries Dean Jon E. Cawthorne said. “It’s a privilege to celebrate this institution and its alumni.”
Also to mark the occasion, attendees can stop by the Downtown Campus Library Atrium to enjoy a slice of birthday cake. All events are open to the public.