West Virginia Department of Commerce Notable African Americans

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Notable African Americans

Vernell "bimbo" Coles

Vernell “Bimbo” Coles (1968- ) was traded to the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA in June 1999. He played 5½ years with the Miami Heat and 3½ with the Golden State Warriors. Coles was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball team. He is the all-time leader in scoring and assists at Virginia Tech and holds over 50 Virginia Tech and Metro Conference records; he and one other Virginia Tech basketball player (Dell Curry) have had their numbers retired. He also was drafted twice by Major League Baseball teams, Philadelphia Phillies (26th round/1986) and California Angels (53rd round/1990). Coles was born in Lewisburg, and was an athlete at Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, W.Va., where his football number (8) and basketball number (24) have been retired.

J. R. CliffordJ.R. Clifford  John Robert (J.R.) Clifford (1848-1933), West Virginia’s first African-American lawyer, was born near Moorefield, Va., in the Eastern Panhandle of present-day West Virginia. At age 15, J.R. enlisted in the United States Colored Troops and fought for the Union in the Civil War. After the war, Clifford attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and became a schoolteacher and principal in Martinsburg, W.Va. From 1882 to 1917, he published a national African-American newspaper, the Pioneer Press. Clifford was admitted to practice law in 1887 by the West Virginia Supreme Court. In 1898, Clifford won a landmark civil rights and education case before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Williams v. Board of Education on behalf of Mrs. Carrie Williams, an African-American school teacher in Tucker County. This narrow victory earned a separate-but-equal decision.

J.R. Clifford was a co-founder along with W.E.B Dubois of the Niagara Movement, the cornerstone of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement. In 1906, Clifford helped organize the first American Niagara meeting at Storer College in Harpers Ferry – where his daughter Mary recited W.E.B. Dubois’ “Credo” to the assembled delegates. Source: the J.R. Clifford Project, www.jrclifford.org.

Martin Robinson DelanyMartin Robinson Delany (1812-1885) was an abolitionist, author, and physician, born in Charles Town (then a part of Virginia). From 1847 to 1849 he edited the North Star newspaper with abolitionist Frederick Douglas. He then entered Harvard Medical School. In 1852 he set up practice in Pittsburgh and wrote The Condition, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People in the United States, said to be the first presentation of American Black Nationalism. In 1854 he helped organize the National Emigration Convention to discuss his proposal for the resettlement of blacks in Africa. At the start of the Civil War he was assigned by President Abraham Lincoln to recruit blacks for the Union Army and became the first black major in the U.S. Army.

Henry Louis GatesHenry Louis Gates (1950- ) is chairman of the department of Afro-American studies and an English professor at Harvard University. He was listed among the “25 Most Influential Americans” by Time magazine in 1997 as well as Ebony magazine’s “100 Most Influential Black Americans” in 2005. Before joining Harvard in 1991, he taught English and Literature at Duke from 1990 to 1991 and taught on the faculty at Yale (1976-1984) and Cornell (1985-1990). Gates is a prolific essayist on an array of issues, including the First Amendment, anti-Semitism, ethnic identity and rap music, to what he considers to be a crisis in black leadership. Among his works is his 1994 memoir, Colored People, which describes what it was like to be black in the US between 1950 and 1970. Gates, born in Keyser, grew up in Piedmont, where his father was a paper loader in the day and a janitor at night. Gates enrolled at Potomac State College in Keyser after graduating first in his high school class in 1968. He transferred to Yale in 1969, graduating summa cum laude in history in June 1973. From there he went on to earn a master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Clare College at Cambridge University. Gates became the first African-American to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship in 1973 to study at Cambridge.

Tracy Gravely (1968- ) currently coaches football at his alma mater, Concord University. He played professional football for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, and was a member of the 1990 New York Giants, which won Super Bowl XXV. He is among a select number of individuals who have earned an NFL Super Bowl Ring and a CFL Super Bowl Ring. He was born in Welch, W.Va., and is a graduate of Mount View High School in Welch and Concord College in Athens, W.Va.

Hal Greer Hal Greer (1936- ) Played for the Philadelphia 76ers from 1963 to 1973 and was named the MVP in 1968. He was born in Huntington, and attended the historically black Douglas High School and Marshall University. While at Marshall, he became the first black scholarship athlete. Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington is named for him. He was considered by many to be the third-best guard of the 1960s behind Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. http://www.wsaz.com/wsazhistory/60moments/69503952.html

Steve HarveySteve Harvey (1957- ) is a recognized comedian, author, producer, and radio and television show host. Among his noteworthy television contributions was The Steve Harvey Show, which ran from 1997-2002. Steve has appeared on the big screen in Racing Stripes, Johnson Family Vacation, The Original Kings of Comedy and Love Don’t Cost a Thing. Currently he is the host of Family Feud. His most recent movie, Think Like a Man, was produced in 2012 and was based on his book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, written in 2011. He is from Welch, W.Va.

Bishop T.D. JakesBishop T.D. Jakes (1957- ) is the pastor of Potter’s House Church in Dallas and is seen nationally on BET (Black Entertainment Television) and TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). He is the author of Woman, Thou Art Loosed!, and The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord. Jakes formerly worked at the Union Carbide chemical plant in 1982, leaving to step into the pulpit. He became pastor of Temple of Faith in 1982 after helping to found the Charleston-based church in 1980. In 1983 he moved the church to South Charleston, where the ministry grew by 200 percent. He continued as the pastor of Temple of Faith, before moving to Dallas in 1996. “The Bishop” was born in Charleston.

James JettJames Jett (1970- ) is a former wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, the State of West Virginia record holder in track and field sprinting events, and won a gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics in the 4x100 meter relay event. He was born in Charles Town, and played for Jefferson High School before playing at West Virginia University. In 1996 he was awarded the NFL’s Fastest Man, and the following season he recorded his best statistics of his career.

Carl LeeCarl Lee (1961- ) works for West Virginia State University as the Community Development Specialist, and was the head football coach at West Virginia State College from 1995-2005. His early career included playing defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. He graduated from South Charleston High School in 1979, and then played for Marshall University.  He was inducted into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995 for his participation in both football and track. 

Maj. Gen. James W. MonroeMaj. Gen. James W. Monroe is the commander of the Army Industrial Operations Command. His assignments have included a key logistics role in preparation for Desert Shield/Desert Storm as Deputy Chief of Staff, US Army Central Command. Monroe is a graduate of West Virginia State College. Major General Monroe retired in 1998 from the Army and the Ordinance Corps after 35 years of service.

Randy MossRandy Moss (1977- ) is a record-setting receiver in the NFL. In 2007 Moss caught a record 23 touchdown receptions as a member of the New England Patriots to break the previous record of 22 by Jerry Rice. In 2012 Moss spent the season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers where he reached, and played in the Super Bowl.  He was selected as one of the NFC’s two starting wide receivers and was the only rookie to be selected for the 1998 Pro Bowl. Throughout his 14 year career he has played for the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was also voted onto the 1998 Associated Press All-Pro team. Moss played two years at Marshall University. He is a graduate of DuPont High School in Belle, W. Va., where he was the W. Va. High School Football Player of the Year and was twice the W. Va. player of the year in basketball.

Lou MyersLou Myers (1935-2013) was a distinguished actor who appeared on the TV shows ER in 2001, NYPD Blue from 2004 to 2005, The Cosby Show in 1987, and A Different World from 1987 to 1993. He also starred in films such as The Wedding Planner, A Different World, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Tin Cup, Volcano, and Bulworth. In 1990 he appeared on Broadway in August Wilson’s Piano Lesson. From 2005 on, he appeared in Oprah Winfrey’s Broadway play The Color Purple. He is from Chesapeake, W.Va.

Christopher Harrison Payne (1848-1925) was a pioneer in black journalism, establishing three newspapers, the West Virginia Enterprise, The Pioneer, and the Mountain Eagle. In 1896 he was elected to the state legislature as a Republican delegate from Fayette County, the first black to serve in the West Virginia legislature. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt named him Consul General to the Danish West Indies. He was born a slave in Monroe County W.Va. As a boy, Payne worked as a farmhand near Hinton, W.Va., and as a servant in the Confederate Army.

Col. George "Spanky" RobertsCol. George “Spanky” Roberts (1918-1984) was a noted black pilot and a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. A native of Marion County, he was the first commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. He served in both World War II and the Korean War as a fighter pilot and commander. He retired in February 1968 from McClellan AFB after 27 years of active duty. After retirement he became a professor at Tuskegee Institute, teaching Military Sciences and Tactics. After teaching he chose to take a second career as a banker for Wells Fargo.

Rev. Leon Howard SullivanRev. Leon Howard Sullivan (1922-2001) was a clergyman and civil rights activist. He was Pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia from 1950 to 1988 and the author of the Sullivan Principles (1977), a code of conduct for United States businesses operating in South Africa. He created and led the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation which created a mission “to bring the corporate and government communities together for the economic benefit of all.”  Sullivan was the first African-American appointed to the General Motors board of directors. He was born in Charleston.

Robert Tabscott (1937- ) is an author, lecturer, Presbyterian minister, and a recognized authority on African-American studies. He has been a commentator on National Public Radio, and has produced numerous radio and television documentaries on black history and press freedom in America. Tabscott wrote a book on Elijah P. Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaperman who was killed defending his press from an armed mob in Illinois in 1837. In 1997 he was interviewed by Charles Osgood about Lovejoy and his work on African-American history on CBS-Sunday Morning. Tabscott was born in Mullens, and graduated from Mullens high school in 1955, where he was also an all-state basketball player.

Curt WarnerCurt Warner (1961- ) is a former running back for the Seattle Seahawks. He played college football at Penn State where he was a two-time All-American in 1981 and 1982. In 1982 he led Penn State to a National Championship, and was drafted by Seattle with their 1st round pick in the 1983 draft. In the NFL he was awarded the AFC Offensive Player of the Year in 1983.  Warner is from Pineville, W.Va.

Booker T. WashingtonBooker T. Washington (1856- 1915) was an educator, author, and a civil rights leader who grew up in Malden, W.Va. Washington was taught to read as a young boy by William H. Davis, a prominent African-American teacher in the Kanawha Valley. After graduating from college, Washington returned to Malden to teach not only children, but adults as well. Washington was instrumental in the capital of West Virginia becoming Charleston. He toured the state using his superb orating skills to help convince African-Americans that they should choose Charleston. Washington spoke at many public events, one of which was in Atlanta, Ga. His famous quote from that particular speech in 1893 was, "In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." (wvculture.org, para. 5) His views on compromise were not appreciated my many of the civil rights activists who felt that a more radical approach would be preferable. Meetings with W.E.B. Dubois, J.R. Clifford and other members of the Niagara Movement at Harpers Ferry led to what is now known as the NAACP. Later in life he was the President of Tuskegee Institute until he died in 1915. 
http://www.wvculture.org/history/booker.html http://americanvision.org/5276/booker-t-washington-on-black-victimhood/

Bill WithersBill Withers (1938- ) is an American music icon.  The singer and songwriter’s first hit, Ain’t No Sunshine, was number three in 1971 and won a Grammy for best R&B song. He is best known for his hit Lean on Me, which went to number one on the charts in 1972. He also recorded Use Me, which peaked at number two in 1972. Lovely Day, one of Withers’ signature songs was used by the clothing company the Gap in one of its early advertising campaigns. Bill Withers was born in Slab Fork, near Beckley. He dropped out of high school after ninth grade, in part due to difficulty with stuttering. At 17, he enlisted in the Navy and spent nine years serving his country. While in the service, he gained access to and underwent speech therapy. After his discharge, he held a number of jobs from milk delivery man to aircraft mechanic.  He worked for the Ford Motor Co., IBM, and Lockhead until he decided to pursue his dream of a music career at the age of 29. He took his self-made demos to Los Angeles hoping for a shot, and received one from Clarence Avant of Sussex Records who tapped Booker T. Jones to produce his debut album.
http://www.stutteringhelp.org/famous-people/bill-withers http://www.billwithers.com/

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African-American Heritage Trail Brochure

African-Americans play a pivotal role in the culture and history of West Virginia. Rooted in servitude, their brave efforts would help tame wilderness, build industry and create the only state born of the Civil War.