Huntington, WV Black History

Carter H. Barnett

Educator

Carter H. Barnett was a prominent educator who founded West Virginia’s first Black newspaper.

Barnett was the eldest son of Rev. Nelson Barnett, the founder of First Baptist Church and a prominent figure in the city’s early Black community. He was a graduate of Douglass High and Denison University, “the first Black person from Huntington to graduate college.”

After marriage and employment as a teacher and principal in Keyser, West Virginia, Barnett returned to Huntington in 1897. That year, he succeeded William T. McKinney, the first principal of Douglass. Under Barnett’s tutelage, the curriculum of the school was lengthened to four years and new courses were implemented.

In the spring of 1900, Barnett founded Huntington’s first Black newspaper, The West Virginia Spokesman, and, along with J. W. Scott, then vice-principal of Douglass, served as editor. The paper’s “political” purpose, “to promote the cause of colored people politically by urging them to divide their votes among the two leading parties,” advocated political independence as an avenue to address continuing marginalization by the state’s political parties. The Huntington Advertiser, which regularly covered news of the Black community, proclaimed the Spokesman as “a creditable newspaper.”

The involvement of the town’s most prominent Black educators and the overt political stance of the newspaper compelled the local board of education to respond. Over the recommendations of the teachers’ committee, the board fired Barnett and Scott and agreed to reinstate the men only after they agreed to quit politics and cease editing the paper. Barnett issued a vigorous response that ultimately led to his permanent dismissal.

He was succeeded as principal of Douglass in 1899 by his cousin, Carter G. Woodson. He would continue his political activism. In 1908, Barnett served as the chairman of the four-year-old Douglass Republican League, composed of the leading Black voters of the city.

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