By RICHARD F. BELISLE
8:43 PM EDT, May 29, 2012
A major feature of Shepherdstown’s ongoing 250th anniversary celebration is a series of seven speaking events focused on the town’s history over the last 2 1/2 centuries.
The series began in March on the subject of local steamboat inventor James Rumsey and was followed in April with a speech about the historic significance of Town Run, which runs under the town on its way to the Potomac River.
September has two speakers. The first audience will hear surprising “tidbits” on local lore and history and the second, two weeks later, on the horrors the Civil War brought upon Shepherdstown.
Audiences in October and November will hear about the local train station and Shepherdstown’s history in the context of regional and national events.
This month’s event featured a panel discussion on how Shepherdstown went about the business of integrating schools and the community following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The panel, recruited by Shepherd University’s Hannah Geffert, included Evelyn Taylor, 64, of Kearneysville, W.Va., Bishop Charles Hunter, 69, of Ebenezer Mount Calvary Holy Church in Summit Point, W.Va., and Jim Taylor, 79, of Ranson, W.Va., a member of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.
Geffert moderated the discussion. It was attended by more than 100 people in Shepherdstown’s Asbury United Methodist Church last Thursday.
Jim Taylor was the first black to play on Shepherd College’s football team in 1955.
He was turned down for the team two years earlier but tried again, successfully, the year after Brown v. Board of Education.
“1955 was the year that integration really began at Shepherd,” he said. “The coach told me I was Shepherd’s Jackie Robinson. He told me I would have to put up with some things that the white players can do that you won’t be able to.”
“I knew what to expect,” Taylor said.
One time when the team was in Newport News, Va., for an away game, white fans in the stands heckled him and yelled epithets at him, he said. When the game ended, his Shepherd teammates surrounded him and escorted him off the field.
Taylor said he was called names by white people and blacks called him “Uncle Tom. I just couldn’t win.”
Hunter grew up in Shepherdstown and attended the all-black elementary school there. In the days of Jim Crow, black high school students in Shepherdstown had to board a 6 a.m. school bus for the trip to the all-black, Page-Jackson High School in Charles Town, W.Va.
When he graduated from elementary school, Hunter said he refused to get on a bus at 6 o’clock in the morning when there was a nice high school (Shepherdstown High) right here in Shepherdstown.
“I made up my mind that I was going to go there,” he said.
His friends told him he wouldn’t get in the door.
Hunter and a few other black students did get in, he said, and there were problems.
“We knew we were paving the way, that there were challenges that we would have to overcome,” he said.
Evelyn Taylor, no relation to Jim Taylor, held the book she spent 10 years researching on the history of black churches and congregations in Jefferson County.
Taylor, 69, of Kearneysville, W.Va., titled her book, “Historical Digest of Jefferson County West Virginia’s African-American Congregations 1859-1994.” A few selected churches in Berkeley County, W.Va., and Washington County were included in the book, she said. She said her parents, The Rev. and Mrs. Mary Taylor, influenced her in African-American history. Her mother for years had been collecting a treasure trove of information.
At some point, Taylor said, “we realized that we had a book.”
Her own research took her through old minutes at Trinity Episcopal Church. The first black congregation in Jefferson County was founded in 1859.
The book lists weddings and funerals of free blacks and slaves, the latter of whom rarely had last names other than the surnames of their masters, Taylor said.
She doesn’t think copies of the book are still available in area bookstores, but one can be purchased by calling her at 304-725-5948, she said.
The speaker series is being sponsored by the Historic Shepherdstown Commission.
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