In 1919, two young sisters from West Virginia published a book of poetry confronting war and racism. In celebration of Black History Month, their story will come to light through an interactive experience to be launched at the Kimball World War I Memorial in McDowell County, W.Va.
“A Night at the Memorial” will feature an exploration of the new War Poems interactive website, developed by Dr. Joel Beeson, an associate professor in the West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism and director of the West Virginia Veterans History Project.
The site is based on War Poems, a book published in 1919 by Ada and Ethel Peters, two sisters who were students at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University. Unlike conventional history texts, War Poems provides the perspective of two young African-American females in southern West Virginia and their views on the nation’s race issues, the war and the world at large.
The event, co-hosted by the Kimball War Memorial and the P.I. Reed School of Journalism, is Thursday, Feb. 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and will include a demonstration of the interactive website and presentations from the project director Beeson; Casey Hofmann, a 2012 School of Journalism alumna who worked on the project as a student; and Jean Barnes Peters, a distant relative who has conducted significant research on the Peters sisters.
Beeson hopes the event will draw interest in the book, extending Ada and Ethel’s words beyond the borders of West Virginia.
“With the centennial of World War I coming up, I think it’s important to educate younger generations about the rich and diverse history of West Virginia, especially the role that African-Americans played in the war,” said Beeson. “What better way to do that than to share the heartfelt words of two teenage girls who lived during that era?”
In addition to the website launch, Beeson’s visual journalism students will visit two McDowell County Schools to engage middle and high school students in the project. Students will have the opportunity to use tablets to explore the War Poems site and participate in a poetry contest.
The War Poems interactive site is Beeson’s second project associated with the Kimball memorial. In November 2011, he and his students launched Forgotten Legacy: Soldiers of the Coalfields, an interactive exhibit the documents the experiences of African-American soldiers in World War I. The installation includes two full wall exhibits of photographs from the World War I time period, a recording room for veterans to share their stories with future generations and an interactive website.
The Kimball World War I Memorial was dedicated in 1928 to honor the 1,500 African-American soldiers from McDowell County who served country during World War I. These projects help raise awareness of the experiences of African-Americans in southern West Virginia and to restore the Kimball memorial as a national treasure and destination for historical tourism.
Beeson’s work has been funded through a Major Grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; by the West Virginia Campus Compact’s Campus-Community LINK Project; and by a 2012 WVU Faculty Research Grant.
Visit www.thebookofwarpoems.com to read the book, learn about the sisters or Tweet poems using a word cloud. Please call 304-585-7789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm attendance at the event.
CONTACT: Kimberly Walker, School of Journalism
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