James Griffin, Festival Chair

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The 28th West Virginia Black Heritage Festival wrapped in Clarksburg this weekend — honoring officials, students, and community members from across the state.

“We actually try to stay very active in the community doing things all year round,” James Griffin, Festival Chairman, said on WAJR-Clarksburg’s “The Gary Bowden Show” this week. “It’s only the second weekend in September that we celebrate our heritage, but we try to make valuable contributions to our community 365 days a year.”

The festival, which takes place in Clarksburg, can sometimes be confused as a local event. Griffin said everyone is welcome from across the state.

“We’re the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival,” he said. “We don’t do things just for North Central West Virginia. This year, we’re actually honoring a young person from Hurricane, West Virginia. And when you think about black heritage, a lot of people wouldn’t think that you’d be doing for an individual coming out of Hurricane, West Virginia. But we are — that’s one of our scholarship recipients.”

In addition to awarding scholarships and working with students, the festival and the organization does its part to honor black leaders and promote community revitalization efforts — like the Monticello Ongoing Revitalization Effort (M.O.R.E.).

Though, Griffin said, giving children an opportunity to experience positive reinforcement is something the festival’s board takes great pride in.

“We always tell (kids), ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’ We’re trying to give them something to do,” Griffin said. “This is part of our goal.”

This year’s festival included gospel and soul music, a community church service, and a “gospel explosion” featuring a number of groups together exclusively Sunday afternoon.

Festival royalty included a former Democratic candidate for auditor and a current statewide NAACP leader.

“A lot of people might remember Mary Claytor. She ran — was the first African-American lady to win statewide as a Democrat, and she ran for the Auditor’s position. She wasn’t successful, but we thought she put up a good effort. The King this year is Owen Brown, the state president of the NAACP.”

The WV Black Heritage Festival, originally called the ‘Emancipation Proclamation Celebration’ in 1990, was created with the help of the Kelly Miller Alumni Association.

Kelly Miller High School — later the Harrison County Board of Education offices for several decades — was an all-black high school in Clarksburg before desegregation.

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