Courthouse to host free W.Va. 150th birthday celebration

On Thursday, Sept. 19, from 7 to 8 p.m., stories from West Virginia’s exciting statehood era will “come alive” at the Randolph County Courthouse in Elkins.

The free, all-ages program, titled “A New Home for Liberty,” features local scholars, re-enactors and musicians. The program is sponsored by the J.R. Clifford Project, with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council. A short reception will follow the program. More information is available at, or by calling 304-541-4494 or 304-265-0018.

Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong will welcome the audience to the historic county courthouse and courtroom. Senior State Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher will portray Granville Hall, an early West Virginia anti-slavery statesman who recorded the Wheeling Statehood Conventions.

Fairmont State University Professor Greg Hinton will portray J.R. Clifford, West Virginia’s first African-American attorney. Historian and West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission member Hunter Lesser will discuss how the slavery issue shaped statehood. Local performer and Davis & Elkins College dance instructor Ms. Laurie Goux will be part of the program; other cast members will portray a diverse group of characters from the statehood era, including Governor Francis and Mrs. Julia Pierpont. Elkins musician Michael Kline, of Talking Across the Lines, will be part of the musical program.

Preston County attorney Thomas Rodd, the J.R. Clifford Project’s co-director, said, “Thousands of Western Virginians – black and white, slave and free – risked their lives and fortunes for the cause of liberty in a new state of West Virginia. ‘A New Home for Liberty’ tells their stories.”

Rodd continued, “We plan to have a fast-paced and fun program – where people will learn amazing things about West Virginia history that they never knew before. Admission is free, so we hope everyone will mark their calendars now. On Sept. 19, bring the whole family and join us at the Randolph County Courthouse, to help celebrate West Virginia’s 150th Birthday!”

The J.R. Clifford Project, which is administered by Friends of Blackwater, is named for West Virginia’s first African-American attorney, John Robert “J.R.” Clifford. Clifford was born near Moorefield (then in Virginia) in 1848, and fought in the Civil War as a teenager. After the war, Clifford attended Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, and had a long and distinguished career in Martinsburg – as an educator, publisher and lawyer – until he died in 1933, at age 85.

In 1898, Clifford represented the Tucker County schoolteacher Carrie Williams in her legal quest for equal pay with white teachers and for equal school terms for African-American children in West Virginia’s then-segregated school system. A Tucker County jury sided with Williams and her students, and Clifford successfully defended the jury’s verdict in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Judge Marmaduke Dent wrote a powerful and trailblazing opinion holding that racially-based unequal treatment in education was unconstitutional.

In June 2013, the West Virginia Department of Highways erected historical markers in Parsons and Coketon in Tucker County, commemorating the Williams case.