GLEN JEAN, WV- New River Gorge National River and its partners are proud to announce the release of a new Smartphone app that interprets the rich African American history of southern West Virginia and the New River Gorge Region. The African American Heritage Tour is a self-guided, auto tour that takes visitors to 17 historic sites in Nicholas, Fayette, Raleigh and Summers counties. At each site, a narrator interprets the lifeways and experiences of the African American coal miners, railroad workers, and community members that lived here and shaped the history of this region. To download the free app, go to www.nps.gov/neri.
The New River Gorge is home to more than 50 sites with historic ties to the railroad, lumbering, and coal mining industries. While visitors can explore specific sites to learn about these cultural resources and learn their stories, there is very little information about the African American experience within the gorge region. The goal of this project was to design a tour focused exclusively on the stories and experiences of African Americans in the New River Gorge region. The tour helps the visitor and local residents discover the African American heritage that has often been hidden by time.
Through the research of academic scholars and members of the African American community, a series of stories were written and narrated for use in the Smartphone app. These narratives focus on stories that tell of the African American men, women and children who lived in the coal camps, worked on the railroad or in the mines, were members of a fraternal organization, attended a segregated school, and went to church every Sunday. Some of the stories chronicle the life of Carter G. Woodson or the legend of John Henry, the “Steel Driving Man”. Other stories describe the disaster at the Hawk’s Nest tunnel, the good times at Camp Washington Carver, the integration of schools, and the importance of music to the African American people.
For visitors and local residents that do not have a Smartphone, The African American Heritage Tour is also available in a CD and booklet format. You can pick up the CD and booklet Canyon Rim and Sandstone Visitor Centers. Many of the 17 tour stops also have a wayside exhibit that provides a brief highlight of the history interpreted on the app and CD.
The project was coordinated through a partnership with National Coal Heritage Area, West Virginia Humanities Council, West Virginia State University Extension Service, Eastern National, New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Visit Southern West Virginia, African American Heritage Family Tree Museum, and DuBois on Main Museum. Funding for the Tour was made possible through grants from National Coal Heritage Area, West Virginia Humanities Council, and Eastern National.
Researchers, writers, and editors for the project include Michael Burks, Dr. Brucella Jordan, Lynn Loetterle, James Welt, Dr. Michael Workman and New River Gorge National River interpretive staff. The stories for the app and CD were narrated by Doris Fields, Joshua Flynn, Adrienne Jenkins, Dr. Brucella Jordan, and Xavier Oglesby. Lady D, The Gospel Singaleers, and Jimmy Costa provided the musical pieces edited into each of the narratives on the App and CD. Stacy Herrick and Matthew Browning, with WV State University Extension Service, designed and laid out the booklet.