Weirton’s black heroes, history celebrated

TRAIL BLAZER — Bob Trice became the first African-American to play for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1953, and he went with the team when it relocated to Kansas City in 1955. He pitched a 1-0 complete game shutout in 1954 against the New York Yankees. The Dunbar graduate had pitched for the Homestead Grays in the Negro League, including a 1949 exhibition game against the Black Yankees in Weirton.

WEIRTON – African-Americans have been part of the fabric of the Weirton community since the former Weirton Steel Co. opened its gates, and people traveled from Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia for the promise of jobs in the early 1910s.

Weirton’s African-American families mostly settled along Weir Avenue and Sixth Street, although much of that neighborhood was lost to mill expansions.

“We don’t have a lot of information on whether (the mill) was segregated,” Dennis Jones, Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center president, said. “I can’t speak to that, but we do know they all worked in the mill.”

He noted that the mill’s sports teams were kept segregated.

Jones added he would be eager to hear from anyone with information on conditions for those black employees of the steel mill, both in the early days and afterwards.

EDUCATORS — Dunbar School was segregated until 1955, with the city's black children attending the school from its founding in 1918 until 1955, when the school was integrated, and attendance depended on where a child lived, not the color of their skin. The faculty during the last year of segregation included, from left, front, Jane Caddell, Elizabeth Young, Charles T. Leveridge, Gloria Tucker and Mary P. Hodge, and, back, Willie Brown, Carolyn Brogdon, James Wares, Thelma Rose, Hazeline Hicks and Beatrice Walker.

In Weirton’s early history, its black community was segregated in everything from its schools to its public park.

“They had to have a separate celebration for Fourth of July,” Jones said, adding that recreational facilities were established for the black community at Washington Park, which was located along Sixth Avenue.

Dunbar School, which had two locations along Weir Avenue, was established for the community’s black children in 1918 and remained segregated for nearly 40 years, until integration with Weir High School, after which it became an elementary school.

An early leader in the community, Anthony Major was principal from 1932 to 1949. During his tenure, he was highly involved in the community, becoming part of nearly 20 area organizations, including the Boy and Girl Scouts, Planning Commission, West Virginia Human Relations Commission, Weirton Cancer Control Committee and Negro College Fund. He was the first black West Virginia principal to earn a doctorate, and tributes from city leaders followed his untimely death at 50 in 1949.

Weirton continues to remember its own and the nation’s black history with a program at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Dunbar Center located at Weir Avenue and Kessel Street.

POINTS KING — Ron "Fritz" Williams received the Weir High School "Scoring Crown" in 1963 from Guido Devecchis, who held the scoring title for 20 years, and Coach Jimmy Carey. Williams integrated the West Virginia University basketball team, before being drafted by the San Francisco Warriors in the NBA. He also was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. The school's basketball court was named after him in 2016.

Organized by Earlean Jones, the event will honor local African-American police officers, including Weirton Police Detectives Gerard Spencer and Jason Turner and Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Dante Jeter. City, Weirton United Way and Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce luminaries are expected to attend, and area children have created displays about important African-Americans from history. Several of the Weirton Area Museum’s exhibits on prominent black Weirtonians will be on display.

CITY LEADERS — From the city’s earliest days, visionaries from the African-American community were important leaders in shaping the city. Anthony Majors was an educator and highly regarded community leader. Majors, second from right, is shown here with fellow leaders, from left, the Rev. Rufus Williams, Thomas Millsop and John Jones.

LEGENDARY COACH — James T. Wares, seen here doing summer work at Weirton Steel Co., taught French and social studies at Dunbar School from 1934 to 1955, before moving to Weir High School, where he taught for another 10 years. He coached the Dunbar football and basketball teams. Dunbar had two championship football seasons and a championship runner-up basketball season. He was an assistant football, basketball and track coach and head wrestling coach at Weir.

Keith Jeter

FOURTH OF JULY — When Weirton’s population was segregated, black Weirtonians celebrated the Fourth of July at Washington Park, located on North Sixth Street, at the foot of Weir Crest. Families arrived from Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia, beginning in the 1910s, to work at the then Weir Steel Co. This photo is dated 1946.

Quincy Wilson

REACHING OTHERS THROUGH MUSIC — Charles Turner, Weir High School assistant band director, is seen directing during the 1955 Christmas parade — the first falling desecration in the fall of 1955. Turner had been a teacher at Dunbar School until integration and he organized the Dunbar High School band in 1949. He also directed the chorus.