Two years ago I was getting to know West Virginia's Republican nominee for Secretary of State, Charles Minimah. Minimah, an immigrant from Nigeria, operated a home health care business in Charleston and ran the the request of the West Virginia Republican Party.
In asking for Minimah's help, the state party hearkened back to its roots. In the 1870s, civil rights leader Booker T. Washington was asked by the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee to speak in Charleston and points east. As a loyal Republican and resident of Malden, his oratory struck a chord among residents. Although it failed to win many victories in those lean years, it did push Washington towards his famous career and contributions. The 1870s were a fearful time as Republican president Ulysses S. Grant attacked Ku Klux Klan violence and terrorism with federal laws, attorneys, and troops. It was a dangerous time for anyone to advocate for black rights, much less promote black civil rights leaders.
By 1900, Republicans gained control of the state. Black legislators won election in several districts and West Virginia GOP governors proudly appointed blacks to some leadership positions in the executive branch. The Black Republican newspaper McDowell Times urged blacks to come to West Virginia to find work and the freedom to vote. Democrats complained about the efforts of Republican appointees to US Attorney and US Marshal because they worked tirelessly to ensure black access to the polls on election day. Decades later, Cecil Underwood led the smoothest transition to desegregated schools of any southern state. West Virginia Republicans, among states considered southern, took the lead time and time again in trying to defy the oppressive Jim Crow culture dominating much of the country in that time. We can be very proud of that history.
Today we rightly reflect on the struggle made by blacks in the hundred years after the Civil War for their political rights and ability to enjoy full citizenship. We also remember our West Virginia Republican Party's own contribution to that fight. Finally we remember the martyrdom of Martin Luther King who strove so hard to create a world not of racial preferences, but of racial blindness.