W.Va. statehood drama to be staged

WHEELING – Those who think they know the full story behind the Mountain State’s birth may be in for a surprise or two if they visit downtown Wheeling’s West Virginia Independence Hall Tuesday.

The third-floor courtroom there where much of the real-life drama behind West Virginia’s creation played out will be the stage for two productions that evening of the statehood play “A New Home for Liberty.” There will be two showings – one at 6 p.m. and another at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged by calling West Virginia Independence Hall at 304-238-1300 or visiting the website www.jrclifford.org.

Authored by Charleston lawyer Tom Rodd and sponsored by the J.R. Clifford Project, the play looks at the West Virginia statehood movement through the lens of the troubling issues of slavery and civil rights, addressing matters often glossed over in history textbooks – such as how West Virginia’s initial draft constitution was silent on the issue of slavery, as well as the ridicule faced by children whose parents were identified with the abolition movement.

“Thousands of men and women – black and white, slave and free, young and old – risked their lives and fortunes for the cause of freedom in a new state of West Virginia. These heroic people made Wheeling a true cradle of liberty in the 1860s, and we are excited to tell their stories at historic Independence Hall,” Rodd said.

The play’s two main characters – J.R. Clifford, a Civil War veteran and West Virginia’s first black attorney, and abolitionist Granville Hall, an early editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer – will be played, respectively, by Fairmont State University law professor Greg Hinton and former state Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Larry Starcher.

The cast also includes Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie as Archibald Campbell, leader of the statehood movement and editor of the Daily Intelligencer; Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson as Abraham Lincoln; and Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline as Gov. Francis Pierpont.

Other local cast members portraying characters from West Virginia’s past include Circuit Judge James Mazzone and retired Circuit Judge George Spillers; Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa and Prosecutor Scott Smith; Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher, Prosecutor James Davis and Assistant Prosecutor Jack Wood; area attorneys Patrick Cassidy, Teresa Toriseva, Jerry Jacovetty, Jessica Benedict, Rick Hollandsworth, Rob McCoid and Jeffrey McCamic; and Marilyn Mendelson, Geneva Barrax, and the Rev. Jeremiah Jasper of Fourth Street United Methodist Church.

Rodd said it’s no accident that so much of the cast is composed of people in the legal profession. With so much of their work revolving around legal codes and constitutions, lawyers and judges often get bogged down with words – but “A New Home for Liberty” helps give life to the impact of those words, he said.

“Those words had importance as to whether a child was born a slave or not,” Rodd said of West Virginia’s constitution.