MT. HOPE, W.Va. (WOWK) – DuBois High School was born from a 1906 levy to establish the county’s first high schools–an all-white school at Oak Hill and an all-black school at Hilltop. The school was named after educator and civil rights leader Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
Following the 1954 U.S. Supreme court ruling in Brown V. Board of Education, desegregation was left to individual states and often individual counties to comply with the ruling. In June of that year, learning institutes in the mountain state began the process of desegregation.
In Fayette County, the schools would be integrated by the beginning of the 1956-57 school year, which was right in the middle of Jean Evansmore’s high school career.
That year the brand new DuBois building was integrated with black and white students and given a new name – Mount Hope High School.
“So I had two years in that it was DuBois High School and the later two years it was the same building it was named Mount Hope High School,” says Jean Evansmore’s, DuBois on Main Museum & Community Room director. Evansmore says things took a turn after DuBois became Mount Hope.
While segregation in the Mountain State never led to the violence seen elsewhere in America, Evansmore- who now is the director of a small museum dedicated to Dubois history- recalls unjust times that hurt just as bad.
“I never felt any fear… anger? Yes…we were not allowed to participate in so many things,” she adds.
DuBois produced a number of great scholars and leaders. The all-black school was also home to a great football program. Years of DuBois state championship titles hang on the walls of the museum “DuBois on Main”.
“We kind of were…we didn’t exist. Football boys got along because it was accepted that black football players were better than the white football players and that showed up in the results in the following years when Mt. Hope starting winning some state championships,” Evansmore adds.
Black students were allowed to play on the football and basketball teams but some students would never see those Friday night lights the same way again.
“I found out a few years ago, was I think it was 1965 or later before mount hope high school had it’s first black cheerleader…a friend of mine, a classmate of mine, Kat Scott had been a cheerleader and that had been the big thing she wanted to do. Didn’t happen,” Evansmore adds.
African-American boys could play sports, but other high school mainstays like band, clubs and even the arts – took much longer.
“Clarence harris and I got together and talked about taking part in the school play which I don’t remember the name of it at all, but there was a role made for a maid and a chauffeur or something or other. We decided to take these stereotypical roles, we’d try out for those, we didn’t make it. I remember a white student…I remember him specifically saying he did not want to be in the play he wanted to be a stagehand, he had to be in the play we didn’t get to be int he plays,”
It took West Virginia almost a decade for its schools to become completely desegregated.
For many, closing the African-American schools left a loss of community identity for black West Virginians. Jean works now to keep that story alive – through the museum and the reunions she helps organize.