Storer College/Stephen T. Mather Training Center

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Black History Politics, Policy & Justice

This undated postcard shows illustrations of five buildings on the Storer College campus: Brackett Hall, Permelia Eastman Cook Hall, Mosher Hall, Anthony Memorial Hall, and the President's House.

Courtesy West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries

Today this beautiful campus is maintained by the National Park Service as one of their four national training sites, where employees come together to learn new knowledge and skills. But for almost 100 years, between 1867 and 1955, it was a predominantly Black four-year college that taught students regardless of race. It was particularly known for training teachers, but the first president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904–1996), was an alumnus.

Storer College was founded in 1867, shortly after the end of the Civil War. At the time, West Virginia was a relatively new state, having been created in 1863 when western Virginians decided to remain in the Union after Virginia seceded (but with only a gradual abolition of slavery, which was not formally enacted until 1865). [1]

Although the percentage of West Virginia’s Black population was not large in 1867—less than 2,000 people out of a total population of approximately 400,000—there were still many newly freed Black children and young adults who needed an education. West Virginia mandated that if there were 15 or more Black youth in a school district, a school should be established to educate them, albeit separately from white students. [2] Storer College was established to meet two needs: 1) The new schools required teachers; and 2) the children would eventually need colleges to attend.

Storer was originally founded as a one-room school by white missionaries of the Free Will Baptist religious movement. The school would expand with a grant from John Storer, a white businessman from Maine who wished for the education of formerly enslaved people to be his legacy. Established as a “normal college,” or school to train teachers, many of Storer’s 7,000 graduates earned degrees in elementary or secondary education. [3]

As you walk through the campus, imagine busy students running from class to class, stopping to socialize, or sitting in the grass debating topics from pedagogy to civil rights. Within the gates, life was vibrant for the students of Storer, but outside it was not always pleasant, as many residents of Harper’s Ferry and surrounding Jefferson County did not embrace Black education and empowerment like the Free Will Baptists had, and students were subjected to harassment.

Regardless, Storer alumni throughout the years recalled their college days fondly. [4] According to the National Park Service website, “Of all the benefits that Storer provided to its students, perhaps the most valuable was a sense of community.” [5]

The college closed in 1955, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education mandated the integration of educational institutions.


  • [1] Joe W. Trotter, “Introduction,” in A.B. Caldwell, History of the American Negro: West Virginia Edition (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2010), xii.
  • [2] Trotter, “Introduction,” xii; Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910: Statistics for West Virginia (Washington, DC: Department of Commerce and Labor: 1910), 568,; State by State History of Race and Racism 940. The existence of separate Black schools does not mean that they were equal to white schools. Black schools were underfunded and, in rural areas with small Black communities, often did not exist. See Douglas Terry, "Reading the Storer Record: Negotiating Race and Industrial Education at Storer College During the Age of Jim Crow,” West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies 11, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 121–47.
  • [3] Dawne Raines Burke, “Notes on the Origins of Storer College,” Storer College Digital Collection, West Virginia & Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries,; National Park Service, “Storer College,” last modified March 19, 2018,; Carter G. Woodson, "Early Negro Education in West Virginia,” The Journal of Negro History 7, no. 1 (January 1922): 23–63.
  • [4] Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle, "African American Literary Activism in a Divided District: Storer College and the Pioneer Press of West Virginia,” in Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the Postwar South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Terry, "Reading the Storer Record."
  • [5] National Park Service, “Storer College.”

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