Who would have ever thought that a forty-seven-year-old woman would receive a profound lesson in West Virginia African American History while conducting a photo shoot? Certainly not me. I have practically lived my entire life in West Virginia apart from four years in Los Angeles, California. My knowledge of this history as of two years ago did not extend beyond Johnsontown, Storer College, the Niagara Movement, and John Brown’s Raid. Since starting my current book project, my exposure to West Virginia African American History has grown tremendously, and Crystal Good has played a key role.
Crystal Good is a woman of many talents. She wears many hats of which one of them is a poet. While doing my photo shoot with Crystal we had decided on two locations—one at her home in Charleston and the other at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden, West Virginia. We toured the Salt-Works and learned more of its story, as well as Crystal’s. After our photo session, we hurried to the car to warm up, to escape the frigid cold. Crystal, basically gave us a guided tour of Rand, WV, which included information regarding her family to the history of the street signs. As we drove along, my husband recorded her reciting one of her poems, Rand Poem from her book, Valley Girl. Talk about a day to remember!
While traveling through Malden—which is roughly five miles south of her home—I noticed the signs signifying Malden as Booker T. Washington’s childhood home after the Civil War. He had traveled from Franklin County, Virginia to Malden with his mother to meet his stepfather, Washington Ferguson where he worked in a salt furnace. We stopped to see his home and the African Zion Baptist Church located in front of it. I had read the autobiography Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington many years prior. Never had I put together the connection with West Virginia that was clearly pointed out in chapter two which was called Boyhood Days. Before I photographed Crystal at the salt works, I took a tour of the facility and learned more about the existence and methods used to process the salt in Malden. This gave me a greater connection with Black History in West Virginia. Realizing that the last name of Booker T. Washington’s family was Ferguson, the same last name that I bare. Is there any ancestral connection? Maybe one day, I may call upon the talents of another famous West Virginian, Henry Louis Gates Jr.