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Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fourteenth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

My family didn’t have many guests over for dinner. And when we did, it was one of my close friends who felt comfortable enough to sprawl out on the living room floor and chow down on Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza. So, reading about a stuffy, formal, and extremely important dinner in the life of Ruth L. Gaskins, the author of A Good Heart and A Light Hand, was a foreign experience for me. Her family’s esteemed guest is in the name of this post; it’s the Preacher’s dinner.

“No one had to remind us about our manners because it was understood that if you ever wanted desserts again, you’d be extra careful that day.”

Before digging in, the Preacher would say grace for literally everyone. Winston Churchill, random white men, and widows made the list of blessings. I’m serious. The evidence is here:

Excerpt reads, "The same voice that had been inspiring us since the end of Sunday school, was asking the Lord to remember not only this happy family, but also friends, President Truman, the former preacher's widow who had returned to North Carolina, Winston Churchill, the Mayor of Alexandria, the white man who was thinking of building a movie theater for Negroes, and out canary, and on and on. At last the voice would stop and the chicken platter would be on its way. The first stop at the preacher's plate eliminated the largest and fattest breast. As it passed around the table it emptied; a leg and a thigh for Mama, another breast for Grandfeather, on to my mother and my father, aunts and uncles, my brother and sister, my cousin, and at last to my plate. "Special Sunday" always meant a chicken wing for me."

Apart from dinner at Ruth’s house, the Church held community dinners where they served favorites like chitterlings (hog entrails), greens, potato salad, and trays of dessert. The food was a big operation, and the income was too. Ruth said, “Most churches are big business, but I’ve never known anyone who has ever complained about giving them money. They do so much for us, that we’re more than willing to keep them going.”

A page from a cookbook introducing the chapter, "Meat, Game and Poultry" featuring an illustration of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Arlington, VA.

Just by reading the elaborate menus for Church events, I understand that it is a social hub and treasured piece of life’s fabric. I did a bit of research on why the Church took such an important role and learned that enslaved people had no choice but to hold secret meetings for worship. Before emancipation, practicing one’s religion and enjoying a sense of community were strictly prohibited. These freedoms are some of the greatest joys of being human, and necessary for happiness. I understand why freedom from slavery coincided with fierce and public dedication to a social institution that was cruelly withheld for so long. This cookbook told me more about family life, religion, and what mattered than I remember from most history textbooks. Although my memory is somewhat fried, I know these relics of history offer something tasty and special.

Senators Rockefeller and Feinstein
Senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein confer during a hearing of the SSCI, January 22, 2009.

The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center has created a digital exhibition about intelligence and congressional oversight after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Using select materials from the archives of Senator Jay Rockefeller, the exhibit and digital collection explore how the intelligence community and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The exhibit text is derived from the Memorandum for the Record regarding a Review of Senator John D. Rockefeller’s Service on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: 2001-2015.   

Senator Rockefeller was appointed to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) in January 2001. His tenure coincided with some of the most critical years for the SSCI and the intelligence community. Only eight months after joining the SSCI, terrorists carried out attacks on U.S. soil on September 11. The 9/11 attacks thrust the Intelligence Community, and consequently the SSCI, into the limelight in unprecedented ways and changed the nature of the conduct of intelligence oversight.  

Within a month of the attacks, the United States launched operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and in March 2003, invaded Iraq. These conflicts, and what became known as the “Global War on Terror,” dominated American national security policy and defined the agenda of the SSCI during his terms as Vice Chairman and Chairman.

On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, and as America exits Afghanistan and ends its combat mission in Iraq, this collection offers an opportunity to reflect on some of the events and decisions that have reshaped the world and American democracy.

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It will be a day of remembrance to honor the 2977 immediate victims of the attacks, those who died later, and their families who lost so much. The events of 9/11 are painful memories, but remembrance is important. Many people have their own 9/11 story. The West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC) is now preserving an extraordinary one.  

Front page of Dominion Post newspaper with headline "9-11 survivors to return to NYC"
Photograph of the September 7, 2002, Dominion Post newspaper, Morgantown. Dr. Witt is featured on the cover. From the Tom S. Witt September 11 Collection, A&M 4514.

WVU Economics Professor Tom Witt was in New York for an academic conference on 9/11/2001. The National Association for Business Economics (NABE) was being held in the Marriot Hotel at 3 World Trade Center located in between the Twin Towers. Witt and his wife, Grethe, were at ground zero during the attacks and narrowly escaped. Their experience has been recounted in local media over the years and now an archival collection documenting it is part of the holdings of the WVRHC. The Tom S. Witt September 11 Collection contains some of Witt’s recovered personal belongings, local and national newspapers with 9/11 content, as well as a number of books in which his story is told. The collection is available for research at the History Center. It will be preserved in perpetuity.

Photographs of selected items from the collection:

Letter from Police officer Richard Conte regarding the return of some of Dr. Witt's belongings found in the rubble of the World Trade Center
A letter from New York City Police Officer Richard Conte returning some of Witt’s belongings.
A Palm Pilot in a case; it has been crushed
Dr. Witt’s crushed Palm Pilot (a small handheld computer) recovered in the debris.
Piece of paper and conference name badge for Tom S. Witt
Dr. Witt’s NABE conference name badge and meeting documents.
Conference bag from NABE conference in New York, Sept. 2001
Dr. Witt’s NABE conference bag.
Typed sheet of paper with Tom Witt's recollections of being in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001
Typed recollections of the day by Tom Witt.
Typed sheet of paper with Grethe Myles' recollections of being in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001
Typed recollections of the day by Tom Witt’s wife, Grethe Myles.

Twenty years later, 9/11 is a day that lives vividly in the memory of many who lived through it. A younger generation has grown up seeing the tragic footage and learning about the events and the aftermath. As strange it seems now, there will come a time when the events of 9/11 are not so close to the hearts and minds of Mountaineers and the American people. Witt’s collection at the WVRHC captures the horror of the day and the resilience of a 9/11 survivor for those future researchers.

White rose placed in a name on the plaque along the border of a reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Photograph of a white rose placed in a name along the border of a reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, July 2021. Photo by the author.

Notes:

In this 2016 MetroNews article, Dr. Witt details his experience. The article also includes audio of his interview with WV Public Broadcasting while the events unfolded on September 11, 2001.

In 2011, WVU Today interviewed Dr. Witt and remembered WVU alumni Chris Gray and Jim Samuels, who were killed in the attack.

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