CHARLESTON – The House of Delegates today honored West Virginia civil rights pioneer J.R. Clifford today with the adoption of a resolution noting his many accomplishments as an attorney, scholar and activist.
“As West Virginia’s first African American attorney, J.R. Clifford brought about the most progressive state court decision in America of its time – that black schools must have the same school terms as white schools, and their teachers must be paid the same,” Kanawha Delegate Meshea Poore noted. “He dedicated his entire life and career to pursuing equality, and was truly a remarkable person.”
John Robert “J.R.” Clifford was born in 1848 in the Eastern Panhandle community of Williamsport, near Moorefield (then a part of Virginia). His parents were of African-American ancestry, but they were “free blacks,” not slaves.
At age 15 Clifford enlisted in the Union Army and served in the United States Colored Troops. When the Civil War ended, he enrolled at Storer College, established in Harpers Ferry to train African American schoolteachers. He worked as the principal of a school in Martinsburg.
In 1882, Clifford founded a national African American newspaper, the Pioneer Press, which he published until 1917. In 1887, he became the first African American to be admitted to practice law before the West Virginia Supreme Court, winning the landmark civil rights and education case Williams v. Board of Education. In 1906, Clifford and William E.B. DuBois were founders of the Niagara Movement, which led to the NAACP.
Today, in the presence of Clifford descendent Harry Stewart, the House unanimously adopted House Resolution 22, sponsored by Delegates Poore, Charlene Marshall, Clif Moore, Tim Miley, Patrick Lane and Tim Armstead.
Delegate Marshall noted that the J.R. Clifford Project has done a great deal to educate West Virginians, in particular students, about Clifford’s accomplishments.
“I am proud that the Legislature has been able to provide funding to help in that effort,” Marshall said.
J.R. Clifford Project Co-Director Tom Rodd said some of the state funding has paid for an educational coloring book about Clifford, over 10,000 of which have been distributed to schools.
“It’s very exciting to have the Legislature honor J.R. Clifford today,” Rodd said. “The Legislature has been very supportive of educating West Virginians about the work of J.R. Clifford. He was a real civil rights pioneer of national importance.”
To learn more about the J.R. Clifford Project, visit http://www.jrclifford.org/.