West Virginia Colored Orphan's Home


1924 Photograph of the WVCOH

The location of the Huntington East Middle School was once the site of an imposing brick building
that served as the West Virginia Colored Orphans' Home. Established in 1899,and rebuilt in 1923
 following a fire, the West Virginia Colored Orphans' Home was an important Huntington
 institution created by and for African Americans to care for some of the most
 vulnerable members of the community during a period of racial segregation.

The Colored Orphans' Home was closed in 1956 when orphan care integrated in West Virginia,
 and the building served many different functions through the ensuing decades. Following
demolition of the building in 2011 to make way for the new middle school,
Cabell County Schools created a website to serve as a permanent
public record of the Home that honors the memories of the children
who once lived there and encourages appreciation of
 the county's rich African American history.



Reverend Charles McGhee established the West Virginia Normal and Industrial School for Colored Children in 1899.
 Serving as superintendent from 1900 to 1915, Reverend McGhee purchased 210 acres along Norway Avenue in
1903-1904.  A three-story brick building was built, partially with labor from the School’s children. The state
supplemented the facility’s operating funds from 1903 to 1910, before enacting legislation in 1911
establishing the West Virginia Colored Orphans’ Home and purchasing 190 acres and the
 School’s main building. The purpose of the facility was to provide a home,
 education, and vocational skills to African American children.

Over the years, children under sixteen years old were placed in the home by social agencies, parents,
and relatives that could no longer afford to care for them. Girls were taught sewing, cooking,
cleaning, and laundry skills, typical jobs available to African American women in the
 first half of the twentieth century. Boys were taught construction and agricultural
 skills at the facility. Minimal educational opportunities were provided in the
early years of the institution, as discrimination and segregation limited the
 institution's funding. Children were placed in foster homes and,
 if found amenable to both parties, could be adopted.

All children worked in the gardens and orchards to supplement their meals, with the boys
 conducting the more labor intensive farm efforts, such as dealing with livestock
(hogs, dairy, and beef cattle), planting, and harvesting, while the
 girls focused on canning the orchard and garden products. 


On April 5, 1920, the main building was destroyed by a fire and the children were placed in various homes
 and institutions until the newly constructed three-story, Classical Revival-style brick building
opened in December 1923. The State Industrial Home for Colored Girls, a state-operated
 facility, opened in 1926 on land owned by the Orphans' Home south of Norway Avenue.
In May 1928, the Orphans' Home was comprised of the main building, a garage,
 the farm manager dwelling, a barn, a silo, a water tower,
 a granary, and chicken and hog houses.

In 1931, the Orphans' Home was renamed the West Virginia Colored Children's Home.

By 1951, classes were no longer taught at the facility. At this time African American and white
educational facilities were separate, and the students were bused to segregated African
American schools in Huntington, including Douglass High School. During this period
the residents of the Children's Home attended church services, went to movie
 theaters, and took part in activities at schools and social centers.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education legally ended segregated educational
 facilities throughout the nation. Desegregation of schools did not occur uniformly in all the states
that practiced segregation. The West Virginia Colored Children's Home operated until 1956,
 when the institution was closed and the residents of the Children's Home were removed to
the newly integrated Children's Home at Elkins. After its closure, the Huntington facility
briefly served as a nursing home named the West Virginia Home for the Aged and
 Infirm Colored Men and Women. The institution and its grounds were transferred
in 1961 to Marshall University and were re-purposed as housing for students.
 In 1997, the Home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places
for its significance as the "physical representation of the institution's
longstanding role in the provision of social services and education
 to the state's black community" and for the Home's "design as a
Classical Revival-style institutional building
constructed 1922-23."


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