By C.V. Moore
A hundred fifty years ago, the government of Fayette County had ceased to exist. The courthouse was burned to the ground. Fayetteville was virtually deserted and the families that did remain were often divided along political, cultural and economic lines.
It was the middle of the Civil War. Things looked bleak.
Friday, a brand new Wall of Honor in the courthouse showed just how beautiful a rise from the ashes can be. The wall shines a light on 26 people from Fayette who have significantly impacted the state, nation and world.
The father of black history, West Virginia’s first lady of gospel music, West Virginia’s first pilot, Country Music Hall of Famer, commander and chief of the U.S. Naval Forces, civil rights leader — these are just a few of their collective accomplishments.
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who spoke at an unveiling ceremony, called their portraits “26 extraordinary windows, each with a unique view into Fayette County’s history.”
“Collectively, they give us a grand view of the future of our ... state and community, and what a grand view it is.”
He called a booklet that collects their biographies “a textbook in compassion, rising above adversity, and ... leadership by example.”
“It’s a primer that every school kid in the county should read. In short, this wall can inspire young and old.”
Danny Wright chaired Fayette County’s Sesquicentennial Committee and is the county’s official historian and circuit clerk. He says these 26 figures are only the wall’s “freshman class” — it will grow and evolve with time.
“Many more could have been up there,” he said. Those included in this set represent people whose biographies and pictures could be put together in time for the first display.
Six of the honorees are alive today. They include vocalist Ollie Watts-Davis, a native of Mount Hope and a University Scholar at the University of Illinois School of Music who has sung at Carnegie Hall and performed with leading symphonies across the country and world.
She came home for the ceremony at the encouragement of her daughter and because, as she says, “you’re only inducted into a Hall of Fame once.”
“I’ve been very appreciative that my home state and county has recognized my accomplishments,” she says. “I believe that when one of us does well, it reflects on the whole community. I hope this will bring great pride to all the citizens of Mount Hope.”
Watts-Davis says she shares the honor with people like Eunice Fleming, her childhood music teacher, who still lives there today.
Martha Legg drove from Bridgeport to see her great-grandfather, politician and newspaper publisher J. Alfred Taylor, recognized.
The event was part of Fayette County’s celebration of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial, taking place across the state this week.
The full list of honorees is Ethel Caffie-Austin, Stanley Bender, George Cafego, Joseph Dangerfield, Ollie Watts-Davis, Jon Dragan, John G. Fox, Homer Adams Holt, Rev. Thomas Dexter Jakes Sr., William S. Johnson, William R. Laird III, Admiral Joseph Lopez, Michael Martin, Charlie McCoy, Marian McQuade, Lucille Meadows, MacGillivray Milne, Okey L. Patteson, Christopher Harrison Payne, Paul Peck, Larry Thomas Pridemore, Charles Calvin Rogers, J. Alfred Taylor, Nell Elizabeth Walker, Lonnie Warwick and Carter G. Woodson.
“Many do not realize who has come out of this county and made a contribution to the state and nation, and internationally,” said Wright.
African Americans represent nearly a quarter of those honored, reflecting their important role in the county’s political and cultural life. The first three African Americans ever elected to the state House of Delegates came out of Fayette County. The very first, Christopher H. Payne, has a place on the Wall of Honor.
To submit names for a future display, provide a biography, a black and white picture, and an application fee to the Fayette County Commission.
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