Freedom Trail leads through Jefferson County

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

On the eve of Martin Luther King’s birthday, the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP amassed at the County Museum in Charles Town for the annual Freedom Trail March. This year’s event marked the first time the march has been held since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaker Dolores Foster talks about her past experience within the educational system of Jefferson
County during civil rights. “I represent civil rights, law and education,” said Foster, in her speech. She
talked about the racial injustice she faced within the Jefferson County school district before and after the
desegregation of schools. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

For this first march after a three-year hiatus, the organizers decided that it would be best to do presentations outside, limiting any COVID exposure that may occur in a closed environment. Despite the cold and windy conditions, event attendees were well spirited and seized the opportunity to make a community impact. 

A supporter holds a sign as speeches are underway for the Martin Luther King freedom trial march. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Jefferson County NAACP President George Rutheford has been a part of the Freedom Trail March since the first in 1973, which began after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968. In all these years, Rutheford hasn’t missed a march. 

Donaldson Twyman and supporters march through downtown Charles Town, WV. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

“We always did the march before MLK’s birthday,” said Rutheford. “When we started, we would go from one black church to another black church. We then would do a short program at each of these churches and then disperse. Regardless of the weather we would do this in rain, snow or sleet.” 

George Rutheford, shakes a supporters hand at the end of the freedom trail march. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

“George is an icon,” said Jefferson County NAACP Vice President Donaldson Twyman, “this is my first freedom march with the Jefferson County chapter and it’s exciting to get out there.” 

George Rutherford, President of the NAACP Jefferson Chapter, and Donaldson Twyman, Vice President
of the NAACP Jefferson Chapter, wait for speakers and supporters to arrive at the Jefferson County
Museum in Charles Town, WV. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

The speakers who presented in front of the Jefferson County Museum each had special topics relating to the civil rights movement and community awareness in Jefferson County. Jefferson being notable within the state’s civil rights history, as the last county in West Virginia to desegregate schools. 

“I would encourage you to fight for the African American students and the low income students who attend our schools in Jefferson County,” said Dolores Foster, “today we must do what we must do and look after those who are less fortunate than we are.” 

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge, Steven Redding, speaks to supporters in front of the Jefferson County Museum. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

With many of the speakers knowing the struggle of the civil rights movement themselves, many addressed the challenges they faced personally and those faced by their families. “We made the best of the opportunities that we had because our parents pushed us to them,” said Rev. Dr. Paul Brown. 

Rev. Dr. Paul Brown (left), Lyn Widmyer (middle), and Delores Foster (right), lead the freedom trail march
through downtown Charles Town, WV. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

To keep this tradition alive is of the utmost importance not only for the NAACP Jefferson Chapter, but the state as a whole. “I am proud to be from West Virginia,” said Rev. Dr. Paul Brown. 

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