GLEN JEAN — February is Black History Month and New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is highlighting the park’s African American Heritage Tour (AAHT), available for free in CD format at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. The tour can also be found on the park website at African American Heritage Auto Tour - New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
The tour provides direction to 17 historic sites in Fayette, Raleigh, Nicholas and Summers counties and tells the stories of African Americans who lived and worked in the New River Gorge and Southern West Virginia from the 1870s to the 1930s. Each stop includes a five-minute narration on people and topics such as Carter G. Woodson, a New River educator and coal miner who later founded Black History Month, John Henry’s legendary race, and the Hawks Nest Disaster. Additional stories include area churches, early education, segregation, fraternal organizations, and other African American coal miners and railroad workers. The tour also features a narrative on three-time Grammy Award winner and Slab Fork native Bill Withers.
“Taking the African American Heritage Tour offers the opportunity to explore places in and around the park that tell these important stories of the region’s history,” said Park Superintendent Lizzie Watts. “These are the stories that have helped make us who we are today.”
African Americans lived and worked in the more than 70 coal camps and railroad towns that dotted the landscape along the New River. Today only a handful of those communities still exist, but the African American people’s heritage and stories are still present in the bits and pieces of cultural resources that remain and in the people themselves.
A copy of the tour CD can also be obtained by emailing the park at firstname.lastname@example.org. The AAHT project was made possible through a partnership with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, The National Coal Heritage Area, the WV Humanities Council, The African American Heritage Family Tree Museum, DuBois on Main Museum, West Virginia State University, and Visit Southern West Virginia.
For more information on New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, visit the park website at www.nps.gov/neri and follow NRGNPP on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.