Soldiers of the Coalfields

While the focus of this blog is African American history and genealogy in Northern Virginia, I wanted to share some news from West Virginia. A new exhibition, “Forgotten Legacy: Soldiers of the Coalfields,” opened earlier this month at the Kimball World War I Memorial in McDowell County, W.Va. It examines the role of African Americans in World War I, an important part of American history that is often overshadowed by the Civil War and World War II. It also means a lot to me because it was produced by a professor and students from West Virginia University, where I went to college.

Copyright 2010 by Forgotten Legacy WWI

Dedicated in 1928, the Kimball Memorial was the first – and only – building erected to honor the service of African Americans in the First World War, so it seems an especially appropriate setting for “Soldiers of the Coalfields.” The exhibit looks at African Americans who came to McDowell County in the early 1900s from the South to work in the coal mines and who served in the military to fight oppression in Europe at a time when they were still oppressed in their own country.

Kimball World War I Memorial 
from  the Soldiers of the Coalfields Facebook page

The team that put this project together comes from WVU’s journalism school and not its history department, and I found this to be intriguing. Journalists and historians both critically evaluate sources and interpret events to share with others so it does make sense when you think about it. Their use of new media makes this exhibit accessible to those of us unable to visit with a virtual tour, a close-up look at the concepts behind the exhibit, and even an explanation of the value of artifacts and historical documents “as shards of material culture.”


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