Educator, orator, and activist J. McHenry Jones (1859-1909) grew up in eastern Ohio. A descendant of African American tradespeople and farmers, Jones chose a career in education. He became the principal of the Lincoln School in Wheeling, West Virginia, and then later spurred more than a decade of growth at the West Virginia Colored Institute (now West Virginia State University) as the Institute’s president. Overshadowed by a modern fascination with Booker T. Washington, Jones not only remained independent from the Washington machine but also carved out niches in state and national Republican party politics, African American societies like the Grand Order of the Odd Fellows, and interracial religious organizations like the Epworth League. Although the multi-talented Jones reportedly authored a handful of novels, critics have located only his 1896 Hearts of Gold, a rich story of Black life at the turn into the twentieth century.
John Ernest is the Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of American Literature at West Virginia University. Eric Gardner is Chair, Braun Fellow, and Professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University.