West Virginia History

Published 06 Mar 2017

In the early 1920s, women were gaining a more prominent role within the arena of politics. The decade had begun with women gaining the vote, thus winning a battle that had been raging in some way from the dawn of the Revolutionary era. Thus, it did not seem too out of the norm to have two women running for a seat in the Senate, which Izetta Jewel Brown and Anna Gates both did in 1922. Each woman had a platform from which they promoted themselves. For Brown, the focus of her campaign was to promote progressive legislation, eliminate the red tape involved in taking care of military veterans, enforce the income tax laws, promote honesty within the economy and government, protect states’ rights, and promote the conservation of all the nation’s physical and moral resources.

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For Gates, the focus of her campaign was slightly different. She promoted the policies of Woodrow Wilson, the construction of better roads, improved education, improved care for children, the defense of state of West Virginia, enforcement of the Volstead Act, tax reform, an end to the appointment of boards and commissions, and improved respect for the law as well as those who labor in the workforce.
Despite the slight differences within their platforms, each woman maintained the same attitude. They did not want anyone to vote for them based on their gender, but rather because they believed they were fit for the position of senator of the state of West Virginia. They also stated that both men and women needed to work for the betterment of their state, and for their nation as a whole. Therefore, dividing the sexes would result in poor progress, politically, economically, and socially.

Ultimately, both women running for a senatorial seat proved to be a groundbreaking event. Although one could say that it was because of their gender that it was such an important, there is more to it than that. The ability of two women to run for a seat in the senate demonstrated the amount of progress in the attitude of society toward women. It was now evident that women could do more than just take care of a household and raise children. It was now evident that they had an intellect that needed to be stimulated and challenged. Thus, Brown and Gates opened the door for women to become a more integral part of the political structure of America.

The Reverend Leon H. Sullivan was in Charleston, West Virginia on October 16, 1922. Raised in a small home located in a dirt alley known as Washington Court, Sullivan’s parents divorced when he was just three years of age. He grew up with no siblings, and though poor, he rarely complained about it. As he reasoned later in life, “God puts us in situations for specific reasons.”
As an adult, Sullivan often recounted the event that set the course for his life. At the age of 12, Sullivan went into a local drugstore to purchase a soda. The owner of the store refused to sell him the drink, instead responding in the following manner: “Stand on your feet, boy. You can’t sit here.” This one event would inspire Sullivan’s lifetime fighting against racial prejudice.

As a teenager, Sullivan attended Garnet High School, Charleston’s black high school. While there, he had a stellar career in both basketball and football, ultimately earning both a basketball and football scholarship to West Virginia State College in 1939. Unfortunately, an injury to his foot ended his athletic career, as well as forced him to pay for college by working at a steel mill. He also had a position as a part-time minister. It would be this position that would help launch Sullivan’s ministerial career.

While visiting West Virginia, the well-known black minister Adam Clayton Powell heard Sullivan preaching. He took Sullivan aside and successfully convinced the young minister to move to New York and attend the Union Theological Seminary. While attending the seminary, Sullivan would serve as Powell’s assistant minister at the Abysinnian Baptist Church. It was during this time that Sullivan would enter in the civil rights movement, by way of helping to organize a march on Washington, D.C. during the early 1940s.

By 1950, Sullivan had moved on to a different church – Zion Baptist Church – located in Philadelphia, PA. While serving as the primary minister of this church, the congregation increased from just 600 members to over 4,000 in ten years. He also continued on with his work in the civil rights movement while in Philadelphia. His goal was to improve the lives of the African-Americans of the city by enabling them to gain jobs, thus allowing them to provide for themselves, which in turn would allow them to regain lost pride and dignity.

To accomplish this, Sullivan asked that the largest companies in Philadelphia give interviews to young blacks of the city. Sadly, only two companies positively responded. This poor response led Sullivan to plan a boycott on the other businesses that had failed to respond. Naturally, the loss of revenue and clientele led the businesses to cave in, and in just four years, thousands of jobs were created for and filled by African-Americans.

Sullivan went a step further by creating the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a foundation created to train African-Americans for the changing job market, thus allowing them to gain better paying jobs. He also established the Zion Investment Association (ZIA), a company that invested in and started new businesses that were run by African-Americans. Thus, these two organizations served as ways for African-Americans to better themselves, and as previously stated, regain pride and dignity.

In the 1970s, Sullivan shifted his focus to fighting the system of apartheid that prevailed in South America. As he did in Philadelphia, he would use financial pressure to instigate change. As the first black board member of General Motors, he convinced the company, as well as other companies, to use their economic influence in fighting against apartheid.By the late 1970s, Sullivan developed what are known as the Sullivan Principles. He described them as being “a code that companies of America and the world came to follow to end apartheid peacefully, starting with the workplace.” The principles are as followed: no segregation of the races in any eating, comfort, and work facilities; equal and fair employment practices for all employees; initiation and development of training programs geared at preparing blacks and nonwhites for various jobs; increasing the number of blacks and nonwhites in management and supervisory positions; and finally, the improvement of housing, transportation, education, recreation, and healthcare.

By the mid-1980s, he was demanding that the blacks of South Africa be given the vote within the following two years. However, the leaders of South Africa failed to meet the deadline, which in turn led to Sullivan calling for a multinational boycott. Thus, several companies throughout the world ended their business dealings with South Africa, which in turn destroyed the South African economy.
In the 1990s, Sullivan relocated and settled in Phoenix, AZ, where he created a new organization called the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help. It is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, and is promoting democracy throughout the world. He began passing on the duties of his many organizations to his three children.

During his lifetime, Sullivan received 50 honorary degrees, and was named as one of the nation’s 100 leading citizens in 1963 by Life magazine, as well as West Virginian of the Year by the Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston in 1965. He passed away in April of 2001, and at the time of his death, he had been preparing to discuss Africa’s political, economic, educational, and social development at a summit to be held for American and African leaders in Nigeria. So ended the life of a great champion of civil rights.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Oliver L. Brown et.al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et.al. is one of the most significant legal turning points in American history. This one decision completely destroyed the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities. Declaring that the discriminatory nature of racial segregation is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all U.S. citizens equal protection under the law, Brown v. Board of Education thus laid the foundation for future national and international policies with regard to human rights.

In the state of West Virginia, as in many of the southern states overall, this ruling was met with mixed reactions. While the governor of the state – William C. Marland – as well as state school officials and African-American leaders believed that there would be very little difficulty in implementing the desegregation required by the ruling, they were concerned about the impact it would have “on the administrative level.” Despite this concern, however, Marland did pledge that the state would do “whatever is right and proper under the Supreme Court’s decree.”
In two editorials written for the Charleston Daily Mail in May of 1954, anonymous persons put forth their view on the situation. The first editorial stated that in the Deep South, the issue of desegregation was more of a hotbed issue, but in the state of West Virginia, this was not the case. West Virginia seems to have done more than pay lip service to the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. Unlike other southern states, West Virginia actually did attempt to make things be on par among both blacks and whites. Therefore, the only issue that could really be foreseen was the task of convincing the state of the court’s decision that segregation can only be corrected by eliminating it.

The second editorial stated almost the same sentiment as the first. It closed with the following comment: “The resistance, if any, will come from an older generation, clinging stubbornly and proudly to its social cod. The acceptance will come readily and gracefully if it can be left to those who will be the first to experience the Supreme Court’s liberalizing order.”

When the general public of West Virginia was polled, the sentiment was the same. The majority felt that desegregation would be accomplished with a minimal amount of fuss. But there were those who believed that there would be some difficulty in accomplishing the task of integrating the schools and other public facilities. As stated previously, the older generation was set in the old way, and felt there was no need for change. But as history in general about change, they eventually realized that desegregation was ultimately inevitable. As Lincoln stated during his days as a statesman in the U.S. Congress, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Although segregation had prevailed for so long within America, it was evident that now, that house was beginning to crumble.

The various topics covered within this paper all have one continuous thread running through them: the theme of justice and equality. These ideals are concepts that America was founded on, and still rests on today. Thus, these articles demonstrate just how important both are, as well as how important progress and change. For only by moving forward can we hope to become better people, and to become a better nation.

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