Christopher H. Payne Marker
The Christopher H. Payne Marker is located in Montgomery, WV along Route 61. The marker was erected in 2003 by the West Virginia Division of Archives and History to honor the state's first African American legislator. Christopher Harrison Payne held many esteemed positions and contributed groundbreaking progress to the advancement of African Americans. He is known mostly for his work in education, the ministry, and the government. He is still revered as one of West Virginia's most influential African American leaders of his time.
Backstory and Context
Though he was born free and well read, living in the South still had many disadvantages. Without the protection of a father, Christopher Payne was forced into servitude under the Confederate Army until 1864.5 He was then employed as a farmhand by Vincent Swinny near Summers County, West Virginia until the end of the war. While employed under Swinny, he met and married his wife, Ann Hargo.2 After the war, Payne traveled to Charleston, West Virginia, where he continued to work and attend night classes. As a result, he was among the first individuals of color to become certified to teach public school. Payne went on to teach in Monroe, Mercer, and Summers counties.3
In 1877, Payne left West Virginia once more to continue his education at Richmond Theological Seminary, after becoming ordained by the Greenbrier Association in May of that year.2 He also attended the Richmond Institute and graduated in 1883.7 In 1884, Payne returned to West Virginia, where he pastored several Baptist churches in Hinton, Brushy Ridge, Union, Alderson, Ronceverte, Eagle, Mt. Carbon, Quinnimont and Huntington.6 During this period in the ministry, Payne founded the West Virginia Enterprise in 1885.2 At the time, this was the only periodical newspaper published by persons of color in the state. It is also during 1884 that Payne was selected as an alternate to represent the Third Congressional District of West Virginia at the National Republican Convention.1 However, in 1888 he was chosen as the representative for the convention, making him the first African-American to represent West Virginia in such a convention.3
Keeping with this momentum, Payne garnered more influence in the affairs of the state. In 1889 he was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for the state of West Virginia until 1893. It is during this time, in 1890 that he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the State University of Kentucky.2 He also aided Byrd Tillerman in persuading the legislature to establish the West Virginia Colored Institute, now known as West Virginia State University, in 1891.1 His accomplishments continued in 1896 when he became the first African-American to serve in the West Virginia House of Delegates and in 1903 when he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as Consul General to the Danish West Indies.7 It was in the Danish West Indies Islands that Dr. Christopher Payne died on December 5, 1925.6
2Pegues, Albert Witherspoon. Our Baptist Ministers and Schools. Springfield, MA. Willey & Company, 1892.
3Rice, Connie Park "Christopher H. Payne." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 December 2015. Web. 04 March 2018
4Staff, MSRC, "PAYNE, Christopher" (2015). Manuscript Division. 153.
5West Virginia Encyclopedia. Sept. 7, 1848: West Virginia's First Black Legislator Born in Monroe County. WV Public Broadcasting. September 07, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2018. http://wvpublic.org/post/sept-7-1848-west-Virginias-first-black-legislator-born-monroe-county#stream....
6"Dr. Chris H. Payne Dead; Early Leader In Fayette." Fayette Journal, December 18, 1925, Obituary sec.
7"Men of the Month." The Crisis, vol. 14, no. 2, 83-83. Published June 1917.