Historic drama on display

Historic drama, spiritual tunes and “edu-tainment” were the fare Thursday evening during a performance of the play “A New Home for Liberty” at the Randolph County Courthouse Courtroom.

Tom Rodd, organizer of the event, said the purpose was to combine West Virginia history education with entertainment.

“What you are going to hear about tonight is based upon historical fact, but we had to use our imaginations to make it and tell some tales about the creation of West Virginia,” Rodd said.

This is part of the 150th year celebration of West Virginia.”

Melvin Marks and Michael Kline began the evening by singing, “Oh Freedom,” a well-known spiritual.

Elkins resident and historian Hunter Lesser favored the audience with a talk about the Civil War era in West Virginia.

“It is important to remember that the issues of slavery and West Virginia statehood are intertwined,” Lesser said. “When the Civil War broke out in 1861, most Americans considered slavery to be an economic issue. Seventy percent of America’s gross product in 1860 was tied up in slavery.

“Slavery was also a moral issue, and nothing drove that home than the fugitive slave law that required citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves.”

Lesser said slavery was the backdrop as the West Virginia statehood proposal moved to the U.S. Congress in 1862.

In the historical drama “A New Home for Liberty”, the Honorable Granville Hall, West Virginia’s second secretary of state, and J.R. Clifford, West Virginia’s first African American attorney, reminisce over the 50 years following the statehood of West Virginia. The two look back at their lives, their childhoods and their careers as they meet in a Parkersburg railroad station.

Hall was portrayed Thursday by Larry Starcher, a justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and Clifford was portrayed by Greg Hinton.

In the play, Hall said his parents hated to live in a land where thousands of slaves were bought and sold like animals.

“It was a crime in Virginia to even have abolitionist books in your home,” Hall said. “You could be fined if you taught a slave to read.”

Clifford said he remembered in 1861 when he and his cousin had just came in from working in the cornfield.

“My family knew all of the tricks for helping slaves to freedom,” Clifford said. “We taught the song ‘Wait in the Water’ to help escaped slaves make it to freedom by staying in the streams so dogs would not be able to follow their scent.”

The discussion depicts how 150 years ago, thousands of men and women, black and white, slaves and free, risked their lives and fortunes for the cause of freedom in the new state of West Virginia.

Thursday’s program was sponsored by the J.R. Clifford Project of Friends of Blackwater, the Riverside School Association and the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Clifford is best known in this area for his landmark civil rights victory in 1898, when he defended the judgment of a Tucker County jury who ruled in favor of an African American school teacher, Carrie Williams.

Additional information about the J.R. Clifford Project is available on-line at, or by calling 304-345-7663.

Contact Beth Christian Broschart by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @ITM-Broschart.