May 19, 2019

History Professor Publishes First Book

History Professor

College of Southern Maryland history professor Dr. Cicero Fain III has written a new African-American history book, which will be released by the University of Illinois Press this spring.

The book, “Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story,” is Dr. Fain’s first book, and it tells the story of the African-American experience in the West Virginia city of Huntington from the post-Civil War era through the early 20th century.

The town is particularly interesting, Dr. Fain said, because it is on the Ohio River at the point where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky meet — just across the line from a slave state and just far enough away from communities that placed many more restrictions on their African-American residents.

“It gave them a unique circumstance,” Dr. Fain said of the residents of Huntington. “And black people in Huntington used the autonomy they had to move forward.”

Dr. Fain says that growth is “emblematic” of the American story.

“You start with nothing, and then you build,” he said.

Before researching the book, Dr. Fain already knew quite a bit about Huntington because he was the third generation of his family to live and work in the town.

“I remember sitting on the front porch and hearing people talking about Huntington,” the history professor said during an interview in his office at CSM. “It laid a seed of latent interest. It gave me an appreciation of the contribution of African-Americans to that community.”

He followed up on that interest in graduate school where he began pulling together more information while he worked on his master’s and then his doctorate degree from Ohio State University, making Huntington’s African-American history the focus of both.

During nearly eight years of research and writing about the city, Dr. Fain culled stories and information from his personal interviews, court and church documents, newspaper archives, school yearbooks, personal diaries, and family histories related to the city. His book uses the research to tell the story of how Huntington’s booming economy and relatively tolerant racial climate attracted African-Americans from across Appalachia and the South. “Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story” describes how their relative prosperity gave the migrants political clout and let them to confront institutionalized and industrial racism on one hand, and the white embrace of Jim Crow on the other.

“I think it’s a story worthy of being told,” Dr. Fain said.

As Dr. Fain was writing his book and conducting research, he was struck by two things. The first was the “serendipity” of the research, how he could find connections between people and events in even unexpected places — how often he’d meet someone at a social function who just happened to have key information that related to his research. The other thing was “the richness of the stories,” he said, describing the incredible memories people shared with him over the years. Dr. Fain’s research was timely in that it captured those critical first-person accounts while they were still available.

“I couldn’t do it now,” Dr. Fain said of his book’s first-account stories. “People have passed on.”

Early reviews of the book have praised Dr. Fain’s contribution to regional African-American history. “Fain’s account of this group of blacks’ migration and their efforts to build community and combat the ravages of racism and Jim Crowism is exceptional and matchless,” said Dr. William H. Turner, a pioneer in the study of the important role of African-Americans in Appalachia who, among other positions, worked as a research associate to “Roots” author Alex Haley.

“This book not only broadens our understanding of the process of modernization in Appalachia by bringing black Appalachians onto the historical stage, it also casts light on the experience of development in Appalachia’s urban places and demonstrates how an essentially rural people shaped their own meaningful communities in a new environment of both opportunity and repression,” said Ronald D. Eller, author of “Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945,” in his review of Fain’s book.

Dr. Fain has worked on the faculty at CSM since 2011. Prior to that, he worked as a visiting assistant professor at Niagara University in Niagara, N.Y.; assistant professor at Ohio University, Southern Campus, Ironton, Ohio; and assistant professor at Marshall University in Huntington, where he was the recipient of the Carter G. Woodson Fellowship.

Dr. Fain recently completed a semester-long sabbatical, which allowed him to research Charles Ringo, a Buffalo soldier with a larger-than-life story who had a passing connection to Huntington. Dr. Fain plans to tell Ringo’s story in his next book.

To learn more about Fain’s book, “Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story,” visit the University of Illinois Press online.

For more about the College of Southern Maryland, visit its Leader member page.

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