From one trailblazer to another.
Ancella Bickley is a pioneering educator who was the first to introduce classes devoted solely to black literature in the classrooms of West Virginia University.
When the writer, thinker and professor delivers keynote remarks at WVU s annual Women of Color Day Luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 19, shell use the occasion to spotlight another black woman not afraid to forge new territories.
Bickley will discussMemphis Tennessee GarrisonA Good Life, Well Lived,at 11:30 a.m. in the Mountainlair Gold and Blue Ballrooms.
Garrison (1890-1988), was born a daughter and granddaughter of slaves in the poverty of West Virginias southern coalfields. She would follow the example of a schoolteacher auntwhose Tennessee hometown she was named forto become an educator herself.
As she would soon discover, the classrooms and communities of southern West Virginia were intertwinedand that she could make just as much of an impact in front of oppressed, coal-blackened miners as she could in front of a blackboard.
In the days before the United Mine Workers of America, it was Garrison who was the go-between for miners and the upper management of U.S. Steels Gary, W.Va., officessmack in the middle of McDowell County, in the heart of the states southern coalfields.
Garrison never lost her heart for the miners and the struggles of oppressed blacks in the Mountain State. By the early 1960s, she had come full circle in the civil rights movement, serving as vice president of the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
A book of oral history on Garrison co-authored by Bickley,Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman,was hailed by Publishers Weekly for itsanecdotally richstorytelling and glimpses into Garrisons life not readily known, such as her work as organizer for the Negro Arts Series, which brought cultural pursuits to often overlooked communities in West Virginia.
Garrisons life and times are just as often overlooked, said WVU s Chelle Adams, a training development manager and chair of the Universitys Council for Womens Concerns.
She has a rare, compelling story,Adams said of Garrison.She was truly ignored by historians because she was black, Appalachian and a woman. Those who are familiar with the struggle for civil rights in West Virginia know her, but the problem is that no one else does.
Bickleys story is just as compelling, Adams said.
She, too, felt the sting of racism and segregation while growing up in Huntington in the 1930s and 1940s. After earning degrees from West Virginia State College and Marshall University, she met and married Nelson Bickley, whose great-uncle was Carter G. Woodson, the coal miner-turned-Harvard graduate who founded Black History Month.
Ancella Bickleys father was the son of a slave who spent 15 years in Cuba. The woman he would take as his bride there was a Jamaican just two generations out of slavery herself.
Bickley began exploring the concepts of race and community in earnest when she followed her husband to a military posting in Germany in the 1960s. After returning to the States, she earned her doctorate in English from WVU and settled into a teaching career.
She retired as vice president of academic affairs at West Virginia State College, where she also taught English.
Tickets are now on sale for the luncheon. The cost is $8 for students and $15 for the general public.
For more information, call 304-293-2339 ext. 1153.