Huntington, WV Black History

Conkolene and Marion " Bunche" Gray

Civil Rights Activist

Marion “Bunche” Gray was born in Powelton, West Virginia. Her family moved to Huntington when she was 7 years old. She attended Barnett Elementary and graduated from Douglass High School in 1937 and was proud to have been taught by Lavinia Norman and Revella Hughes.

She later attended Marshall University and became involved with the NAACP, having later served as secretary of the organization. When Douglass graduates started having reunions, she served as co-chair in 1973 (the year of the first reunion) and chairperson in 1978.

Bunche and her children marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. twice — on April 19, 1959, for the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C., and again on August 28, 1963, for the March on Washington.

Bunche was a member of the West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature and she also served on the board of directors of the West Virginia Colored PTA, Cabell County Auxiliary and Southwestern Community Action Council. She was a full-time member of the West Virginia Federation of Republican Women and Lady Loyal Order of Bison and a staunch Republican in the days of when there was a liberal wing of the Republican Party.

‘Bunche’ was known as a regular attendee at Huntington City Council meetings, Cabell County Board of Education meetings and the PTA meetings. She referred to herself as a professional volunteer. She took a special interest in the youth of the community, inviting them into her home and sharing a homecooked meal and reading materials. One of her famous quotes was, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?”

Her image is immortalized in a mural on the Unlimited Future building on 8th Avenue.

Conkolene Gray was born in Nellysford, Va. He moved to Huntington as a youngster. After attending and graduating from Douglass High School, he served during WWII in the Navy as a first-class petty officer stationed in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

When Conkolene returned from military service, he went back to work at Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House, the place he had worked since his high school days. He was the first business manager of color in Huntington. In this position, he mentored several people, teaching them the importance of a work ethic. He only missed five days of work in his 45 years of employment at Jim’s.

Conkolene was a dedicated community leader. He gave his time, talents, energy and fundraising skills to help First Baptist Church and various civic organizations. He was a member of the Loyal Order of Bison and a member of the Huntington branch of the NAACP. In 1954, he was one of the four courageous men of color who brought legal action against the Cabell County Board of Education in connection with school desegregation. Conkolene and his wife gave generously to the 1960s struggle for human and civil rights across the city, state and nation. They bailed out several students students who were jailed for sit-in demonstrations.

The Grays always used their home as a welcome center for social gatherings, political/civic actions and strategy discussions. One could always be sure to receive a home-cooked meal during a visit to their red brick home on 9th Avenue.

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