Clio, history app and website developed at Marshall, offering 4 state black history walking tours

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The site of a violent 1963 sit-in challenging racial discrimination, the first church in Huntington and possibly in all of West Virginia to become integrated in 1965 and a statue of the “Father of Black History” are all stops on Clio’s African American History Tour of Huntington.

It’s one of four black history walking tours in the Mountain State available during February’s Black History Month and all year via the free Clio website and mobile application developed at Marshall University to connect users with the history and culture that surrounds them.

“My big thesis is that more people care about African American history and are interested than realize it,” said Dr. David Trowbridge, associate professor of history and director of African and African American Studies at Marshall University and Clio creator.

At its heart, Trowbridge said Clio, named for the ancient Greek muse of history, is about “telling a fuller story.”

Carter G. Woodson Statue

On the Huntington Clio tour, the statue of Carter G. Woodson stands alongside busy Hal Greer Boulevard. Born to former slaves, Woodson worked in West Virginia’s mines before going on to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University.

Woodson founded Negro History Week in February 1926, which was the starting point for what is now Black History Month.

At the White Pantry in 1963, another stop on the Huntington tour, a sit-in turned violent when the owner used a cattle prod and sulfur cakes to disperse black Marshall students, according to Clio.

Maybe, “You didn’t know that there was a sit-in in Downtown Huntington,” Trowbridge said. “You couldn’t have googled it because you didn’t know it happened and, when you learn about it, you can’t know enough even if you didn’t set out to learn about black history.”

The other walking tours are in Charleston, Harpers Ferry and Mount Hope.

The Harpers Ferry African American History tour starts with the John Brown Monument, marking the original site of the engine house where Brown made his historic last stand in 1859 after failing to start a slave uprising.

In Charleston, there are five stops focused largely on the historic “Block” neighborhood.

The Fayette County tour includes DuBois High School, one of two African American high schools in Fayette County prior to integration.

In all, the four tours are among the 24 total walking tours covering a range of topics available via Clio in West Virginia. With help from the Whiting Foundation, there are 250 walking tours nationwide.

With Clio, though, physically traveling to the sites is not a requirement.

“You can take the tours from any location and, if you want to physically go from place to place, we use Google maps and you hit the green button and Google will give you directions,” Trowbridge said.

Dr. David Trowbridge

“Click here to learn about what you’re next to and let that be a gateway to, hopefully, a lifetime of exploration and, if you use it enough, you start noticing details around you.”

Initially conceptualized as part of a single semester class at Marshall in 2013, Clio has now expanded far beyond Huntington with help from museum professionals, local historians, educators and their students.

This year is the second of three years for a matching grant worth $60,000 total in funding for Clio from the National Endowment for the Humanities. By next January, Trowbridge will have to raise $20,000 to meet the match requirement for the year.

In part, the grant will fund the work of four Marshall students to add to Clio entries. Other higher education institutions across West Virginia offer support in different ways.

Strictly Business out of Huntington designed the site as it is used today.

With Clio, “You hit the discovery mode and it shows you what’s near you and it’s sort of like a museum in that you can look around and browse,” Trowbridge explained.

“Click on each thing and, if something catches your interest, you can read more. You can even go there or there’s links to more information.”

People are already on their phones, he noted, in a world where “computers are everywhere.”

“It’s up to us how we use those and this is my small contribution to, maybe, fulfilling the promise of what that could be.”

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