By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
Sitting on the porch of her new brick building in Mount Hope, wearing a T-shirt that proclaims ‘INNER STRENGTH HAS NO EXPIRATION,’ Jean Evansmore delights in waving to her neighbors as they pass by.
Between attendance at town council meetings and training for marathons — over 100 of them at this point — she safeguards the history of a much beloved Mount Hope institution.
The Scarbro native recently returned home to found 116 Main Street, a community space and museum commemorating the history of DuBois High School.
In an era of segregated schools, former DuBois students say the school offered a stellar education and knit together the black community of the area after many years of struggle for access to education.
The school burned in 1950 — some say blown up by the hands of parents themselves, who had grown fed up with the lack of action by the State Board of Education to replace the deteriorated school with a new facility.
Reopened in 1954, it was integrated two years later. Evansmore graduated from DuBois in 1958. Over 50 years later, she talks about the path that brought her back home and that propels her towards her new dream of bringing this history back to life for a new generation of Mount Hope kids.
“I grew up over in a holler in Scarbro. My grandfather came from Virginia. Coal mining brought black folks to this area, and brought lots of ethnicities to this area. The mines were big and unionized, and the union had everybody getting the same wage.
“My mother was 14 or 15 when I was born, which was not at all uncommon back then. My mother’s name was Ophelia and she went to Jersey to work and that’s why I was raised by my grandparents.
“My friends were all my cousins. I remember counting and there were 16 when I was 16, so that was it.
“I have always felt loved. I have never felt I wasn’t cared for.
“My grandfather was my role model and that’s why many men have not met the standard. Granddaddy stuttered when he talked, so what you did is sit and wait until he got his sentence out. I don’t recall ever hearing that man yell at anybody, even with all those kids in the house.
“My granddaddy was active in the church, a deacon. He was a coal miner and very well respected in the community. He worked at the mine at Carlisle and used to ride the Scarbro Road to go back home.
“I remember when I was in school when I would need a quarter for something or other, I would simply stand on the side of the road and wait for that truck to go by and flag it down and ask granddaddy for that quarter I needed.
“I remember one time I needed something from the store in Oak Hill. All I had to do was go up there and say, ‘I am W.B. Evans’s granddaughter,’ or ‘I’m Pap Evans’s granddaughter,’ and whatever I wanted I got, because granddaddy had a reputation.
“I heard people talk about going hungry, but I never went hungry a day in my life. We had a garden and we worked. I remember during the summer when school was out the first thing was your shoes came off your feet.
“Granddaddy had an assembly line for the way the gardens were planted. I remember how happy I was when they woke me up and I could go help in the garden. I was five years old. My job was to drop three grains of corn in the holes. Somebody else would drop the fertilizer.
“We’d come in at 10 and Aunt Alice would have this huge breakfast ready — fried potatoes, bacon, chickens, turkey, homemade bread. If you got a bologna sandwich on Saturday that was a big deal. Sunday was big meals with fried chicken, fried potatoes, homemade bread, peas.
“We had pinto beans a minimum of five times a week, maybe six. I remember one Sunday we had pinto beans and I thought to myself, ‘Things must really be tough now,’ because that didn’t happen.
“I left because I thought there was nothing. I didn’t want to be a coal miner’s wife and I thought that’s what would happen to me. I felt I would be stuck if I stayed here. I got out of West Virginia.
“In fact, I left within five days of graduation with a lady that took kids to New York and Connecticut yearly to work, Ms. Adelaide Robinson, a schoolteacher from Greentown.
“Ms. Adelaide had connections. She worked as a maid in New York. She had a friend in Connecticut from Beckley who owned an employment agency. She had connections to a hospital in New York and she got the boys jobs as orderlies in the summer. The girls, she got jobs as live-in help.
“Black folks, that’s how you survived, because of your connections. It’s the same thing people do who come to this country. That is what was common years ago.
“I lived with a family in Connecticut. I took care of their kids and I was getting ready to leave and they convinced me to start taking classes at the University of Bridgeport. I took classes there for two years. I thought I would be a secretary.
“As a female, your knowledge of the world was extremely limited. I had never been to Beards Fork, West Virginia, until I came back here.”
Evansmore began corresponding with her first husband, Freddie Moore, after he saw her photo and column in a copy of The Fayette Tribune while he was stationed on a ship in the Pacific. They married and Evansmore raised three children and two brothers. She worked full time and went back to school to be a role model for her children, graduating with honors. After 13 years of marriage, Evansmore divorced and moved back to West Virginia when her mother became ill in 1994.
She bought a house in Mount Hope and worked as an AmeriCorps member at the Southern Appalachian Labor School. Eventually she took on positions at the Family Resource Network, where she did grassroots organizing around early childhood development, and the Welfare to Work program in Beckley.
At 60 years old, she moved to Maryland with her second husband, Stuart, who died two years ago. She returned to Mount Hope this May, bought her building at 116 Main Street, and is now working towards her dream of creating a museum and community space for her neighbors.
“Seeing a black face in a book didn’t happen when I was a kid.
“This history of the DuBois students is important to me. When I got on the (DuBois High School) reunion committee, I said I wanted to do the history. They asked people to send me information and contact me.
“I was passing by here the weekend of Memorial Day and saw the For Sale sign in the window. I thought, ‘Ah, DuBois museum.’ I have all this material in the house, and I’ve been exhibiting it at the reunion every two years.
“Culturally, black folks, we’re brought up to not talk about ourselves because that’s considered bragging. And I am here to say that is wrong.
“For me, young people need to know, because they don’t. I’m trying to let them know there is very positive, good history here.
“I want them to know DuBois High School had some of the best educated teachers around. They had to go to Columbia, to Howard, to high schools in the north. And most of them had at least a master’s degree. Some had doctorates. So in the segregated school, you probably got a better education than once we integrated.
“Downstairs will be a museum-like environment,” she said this summer. “I’m focusing on the history of the DuBois students. I do expect to specialize and have different exhibits. I have loads of Obama material. I intend to do exhibits focusing on particular people or groups of people. And one of the first things I intend to do is to work on having people come in and give oral history presentations.
“I want people to come, sit, listen, talk, learn — kids, particularly.
“I want a space for people to have meetings. I’m gathering chairs. If you want to do something, organize, help other people, get together, this can be a place for you to meet. I’d like to see some physical activity, some stretching and moving.
“I want the community to get up and come here and do something. I want kids like those walking past here, I want them to know about the history of DuBois students, because many will find out, oh, that was my uncle or aunt. What does that do to you but make you feel good.
“I am having a ball. I am really enjoying this whole unknown process. It’s one day at a time. This day gives me this interview and the next day I’m not sure what it will be but I’m really enjoying my life, whatever it is.
“I have to be productive. My granddaddy said an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I need to do things. Sitting down and watching TV has never been anything I could do very easily. I’ll keep the music going, but watch TV, no, there are too many interesting things to do.
“To me it’s like the good Lord stuck this right in front of me. ‘There it is, Jean. Now, do something with it.’ As one of the guys that’s working on the property with me said the other day, ‘Well, Ms. Jean, the good Lord gave you this because he knew you could handle it.’ I said, ‘OK, actually I agree with you.’ I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I can handle it. It is so exciting.
“I have been saying for years, the good Lord watches over me so well that I wonder how else anybody is taken care of.”