There is an old
joke, likely in all cultures and times, about the older folks trying
to impress the younger ones with how hard they had it when they were
young. One version goes, “When I was young I had to walk to school
barefoot, through the snow, and uphill both ways.”
From April 7, 1869, when the Board of Education for the township of
Lewisburg acquired a building for the purpose of a free school for
African American children, to the rocky course of actual integration
in the 1950s this struggle was all too true.
And in the end, it was people who made the difference. People such
as Professor Edward A. Bolling who, in a biography posted on the WV
Archives and History site, was noted to have been an educator in
this area for over 40 years. He was born in Greenbrier County on
November 28, 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. He grew up in
Richmond and graduated from Morgan College in Baltimore, MD. In
1877, after teaching in Richmond for four years, he returned to
Greenbrier County where he was appointed principal and teacher at
the Lewisburg Colored School.
WV Archives and History indicates that “For five consecutive
summers, 1910-14, Prof. Bolling was one of the instructors in the
State Summer School for colored teachers at the West Virginia
Collegiate Institute. In 1915 he was granted a State Life
Certificate by the West Virginia State Board of Education. This
Board is composed entirely of white men who are among the leading
educators of the State. This high honor has been conferred on only a
comparatively few white persons and on only about ten colored men of
the entire State. In Mr. Bolling's own county of Greenbrier only two
white and no other colored persons have been awarded this honor.”
Professor Bolling was so well respected that, in 1933, Earl Charles
Clay, then principal, renamed Lewisburg Colored Junior High School
as Bolling Junior High and Elementary School, after its original
principal. In 1935, Bolling became a full twelve grade high school
and was one of only four African American high schools in the entire
State of West Virginia. The original building was destroyed by fire
in 1939 and rebuilt and opened again in the fall of 1941.
Earl Charles Clay was also impressive, having received his secondary
education in the high school department of West Virginia Collegiate
Institute, now West Virginia State College, and his college
education in the same institution, graduating with the degree of
Bachelor of Science in 1930. In the summer of 1940 he enrolled in
Virginia State College to work toward the degree of Master of
Science in Education. (From the biographical sketch taken from his
dissertation and transcribed by Carol Haynes.)
His father, Dr. Samuel Clay, was a physician in Lewisburg. Dr. Clay
practiced out of his home on Walnut Street and had an office over
the Pioneer drug store in downtown Lewisburg.
The “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African
American History in Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia” exhibit which
will be held at the Cooper Gallery at 122 East Washington Street,
Lewisburg, WV from September 20 to October 4, 2014 will consist of a
collection of photographs and artifacts, from post-civil war to
today, of African Americans, such as the three above, who have
contributed to the growth and development of this area in business,
religion, education, sports, politics, and entertainment as well as
general family life.
Sponsored by the Cooper Gallery, the Greenbrier Historical Society,
and Curator Janice Cooley, the exhibit will present information and
also encourage viewers to share information they may have about
African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley before it is lost.
PHOTO CAPTION: Earl Charles Clay, Principal of Bolling High School.
Bolling became a full 12 grade high school under Earl Clay in 1935.