- Associated Press - Sunday, July 26, 2020

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - There is an abundance of African American history waiting to be discovered in the Tri-State, and a new group of grassroots researchers in Huntington hope they will be the ones to uncover it.

The newly forming group is a branch of the Washington, D.C.-based Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which was established in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, the “father of black history,” who graduated from Douglass High School in Huntington and later ran it as principal.

The organization was formed to collect, promote, study and disseminate African American history and culture while building a strong network among about 50 branches across the United States.

David Harris, president of the Huntington Tri-State Organizing branch, said the area had been lackadaisical in not having its own branch previous to 2020, given Woodson’s connection to the area.

“(He is) arguably the foremost authority on black history. Dr. Woodson is known as the ‘father of black history.’ He is responsible for the celebration for Black History Month,” he said. “His past residency in Huntington mandates there be a local chapter.”

Harris and others decided to start the branch after meeting with members of other established branches.

“I’m a former college teacher, and I taught black history,” he said. “I just know the contributions of African Americans have been largely left out and minimized, and we want to draw attention to their accomplishments.”

About 15 people have already joined the local group, but members wanted to give the opportunity for more people to join as original, founding members. To be a charter member, applications must be made by Aug. 1.

The group will cover about five counties ranging from Gallia County, Ohio, down the Ohio River and into Wayne County and Kentucky, he said. The group hopes to research and rediscover African American history, ranging from slavery and the Underground Railroad to the arts and more.

What history there is to uncover is vast, Harris said.

He pointed to Bethel Memorial Park Cemetery, a historic black cemetery in Huntington’s Stamford Park, as one example of history waiting to be discovered.

He also talked of a house on the Big Sandy River believed to be used as part of the Underground Railroad, which had a sister house in another location. Slaves searching for freedom would know the house was on their way to freedom because it looked just like the other, he said.

“The research just hasn’t been done,” he said. “And it’s pretty pertinent.”

Finding individuals who made an impact on African American history is also important. He used Diamond Teeth Mary, a popular jazz and blues singer born in Huntington, as an example.

“Those are the kind of things we want to get out to people,” he said, “not just during Black History Month, but in general. So the people know.”

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