D&E celebrates black history

ELKINS – Despite the snowy weather, dozens of residents attended a Black History Month celebration at Davis & Elkins College’s campus on Sunday.

The event, titled “African Roots in Appalachia,” began with a dance, music, song and spoken-word presentation titled “African Roots in Appalachia” featuring D&E Adjunct Professor of Dance Laurie Goux and guest artist Crystina Reseter.

Members of the Elkins High School band drumline performed traditional African drumming. Under the direction of Jon Clingerman and Andy Sneed, the drumline has been working with Goux over the past several weeks in preparation. The drumming group included students Khalil Woodward, Marcus Kisner and Cody Schauman.

“For this celebration we are presenting West African rhythms through music and dance that has influenced American culture,” Goux said. “We often don’t realize how much Appalachian culture was influenced by these roots. One just has to consider the banjo and step dancing to see the connection.”

The performance explored more contemporary dance and rhythm through words, song and audience participation.

K. B. Saine, chair of the theatre program at D&E, also shared some words of Coretta Scott King for the event and two students, Kaleemah Woodward and Sajib Wise, performed some original poetry pieces.

“This is an opportunity for people to celebrate black history and culture,” said Saine. “It’s important that people remember and commemorate it, particularly as it pertains to Appalachian history.”

After the performance, the audience moved to the Riverside School Photo Exhibit in The Joni and “Buck” Smith Arts Forum located in Myles Center for the Arts for a presentation and refreshments. The exhibit, which will be on display through the end of February, includes photographs and memories provided by the Riverside School Association Board as well as other alumni of the school. Images were gleaned from snapshots and old yearbooks and provide many never-before-seen images of the school.

The Riverside School was built between 1902 and 1905 to serve the African American community in Randolph County. The school was originally designed for eight grades but by 1928, it was a 12-grade school. Melvin Marks, president of the Riverside School Association, spoke to the audience about the history of the school, and some of his personal experiences at the school.

“Riverside was one of the top black schools in the state of West Virginia,” Marks said. “Everyone who left the school, did so prepared for college and other things. A large part of the credit goes to the dedication and discipline of the teachers at the school.”

Other members of the Riverside School Association and alumni of the school were present, including Mabel Marks, Anne Lawrence and Yvonne Smith. After Melvin Marks spoke, there was a video of members of the Riverside community, teachers and students, being interviewed about their experiences at Riverside.

“This is a great opportunity to show what Riverside once was and what it meant to the community,” Melvin Marks told The Inter-Mountain.

Marks explained that the Riverside School represented black academic excellence as students from neighboring counties chose to complete their education there. He stated that the goals are to “continue to be an asset to the community,” create a Riverside Multi-Cultural Center and preserve the archives of the school.

Goux said that this was the first performance-based celebration of its kind at Davis & Elkins College or in Elkins for Black History Month, and it’s something that she would like to see continue in later years.

“I’m especially proud of the college for hosting this event,” said Goux. “We had a wonderful turnout. It proves how great the Elkins community is. The people here and at Davis & Elkins College are genuinely interested in the connection of African-American culture and its influence on the American culture at large.”

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