It has been said that there is a depth of rich Black history in Jefferson County. However, most of that information had never been compiled or shared with anyone outside this small county located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.
In 2000, after years of discussing the need to document Jefferson County’s Black history, four African American men decided to take on the challenge. James L. Taylor, Nathaniel F. Downing, Sr., George C. Rutherford and James A. Tolbert, Sr., all life-long residents of Jefferson County, agreed to combine their private collections, collect other little-known or unknown information, develop exhibits and publish their findings. They decided to name their group, the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society (JCBHPS). Because of this new sense of urgency, they decided to meet weekly and have continued that tradition since September 2000. The JCBHPS was granted 501©(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service, and was incorporated by the State of West Virginia. Today, the JCBHPS gratefully accepts all tax-deductible donations.
James L. Taylor, President: James L. Taylor graduated from Page-Jackson High School with the class of 1951. He is a Korean War veteran (U.S. Navy). He graduated from Shepherd College with a B.A. and B.S. degree and from West Virginia University with a master’s degree. He was a teacher and coach at Page-Jackson High School for six years. He was also a teacher and coach at Jefferson High School, retiring in 1995, after 35 years in education.
He has authored two books on black history: Africans-in-American of the Lower Shenandoah Valley: 1700-1900 and A History of Black Education in Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1865-1966. He is president of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.
Nathaniel Downing, Sr., Vice President: Nathanial Frederick Downing Sr. was born July 14, 1925, in Ranson, West Virginia. When there was discussion regarding the establishment of a black history group, he was one of the first solicited to join the group. He was a founding member and elected vice president of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.
Downing attended the Jefferson County schools. While in high school he was a member of the Page-Jackson High School Cadet Corps. In 1943, his education was interupted when he was drafted at age 18 into the U.S. Navy during World War II. He served in the U.S. Navy until 1946 and was honorably discharged. in 1951, Downing earned his general education diploma and later attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry. He was certified as a nursing attendant and worked as a nursing assistant at the Newton D. Baker Veterans Hospital beginning in 1947, retiring in 1981.
He was an avid researcher and major contributer to several books written by the JCBHPS. He was able to document the clergy history of some of the black churches. He was a member of many fraternal, religious, and civic organizations, including a longtime member of the Mount Zion United Methodist Church; 45-year member and past master of Star Lodge No. 1, Free and Accepted Masons; member of the Green-Copeland American Legion Post No. 63; member of the Jefferson County Shalom Organization; and life member of the NAACP and vice president of DASTAR, Ltd. He was the beloved father of five and husband to Julia Pendleton Downing for 58 years. Nathaniel F. Downing Sr. passed in October 2004 at age 79, and is sorely missed.
James A. Tolbert, Sr., Secretary: James A. Tolbert Sr. is a native of Charles Town West Virginia and serves as the Secretary of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. He attended segregated public schools and graduated from Page-Jackson High School in Charles Town in 1950. A U.S. Air Force veteran he spent two years of his duty in Japan. Following an honorable discharge, he entered West Virginia State College (now University) and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology in 1958. He was employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and retired in 1988.
Following college, he immersed himself in civil rights and civic organizations: Charles Town Civic League; Jefferson County NAACP (branch president); West Virginia NAACP president 1986 to 2007; and Harpers Ferry Job Corps Community Relations Committee. He was elected president emeritus of West Virginia NAACP; participated in both the 1963 March on Washington and the Million Man March; helped organize the Charles Town Recreation League in 1964; and was the first black person to serve on the Jefferson Memorial Hospital Board of Directors.
Tolbert has been the recipient of many awards: the West Virginia NAACP’s highest honor, the T.G. Nutter Award in 1976; the Living the Dream Award from the West Virginia Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission for the Human and Civil Rights, 1988; and the NAACP’s Region III Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks Award as State Conference President of the Year (two times), in 1991 and 2002. A James A. Tolbert, Sr., Civil Rights Scholarship was even created for West Virginia youth interested in furthering the work of their civil rights movement and the NAACP.
George C. Rutherford, Treasurer: George C. Rutherford, Treasurer – George C. Rutherford is a native of Jefferson County and a Page-Jackson High School graduate. He received an A.B. degree in secondary education and a bachelor of arts degree from Shepherd College (now University) in biology. He has a master’s degree from Marshall University in biological science.
Rutherford retired from the federal government after 42 years of serving as a Job Corps counselor and teacher, park ranger, finance manager, urban planner, and space utilization specialist. He was a public schoolteacher and was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army Airborne during the Korean War. He was married to the late Barbara Smith Rutherford and is the father of an extended family of seven.
Honors which he has received include the T.G. Nutter Award by the West Virginia State NAACP (highest honor); State of West Virginia Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award; City of Ranson Citizen of the Year Award; Governor’s West Virginia Civil Rights Day Award. He is the treasurer of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.
Linda Downing Ballard
James Green Jr.
Linda and Al Murr
JEFFERSON COUNTY BLACK HISTORY PRESERVATION SOCIETY, INC.
P.0. BOX 569
RANSON, WV 25438
For further information, contact James Green, Jr.