West Virginia’s first black legislator, Christopher Harrison Payne (September 7, 1848-December 5, 1925) was born in Monroe County. Raised near Hinton, Payne worked as a farmhand. Although born free, he was compelled to serve as a body servant in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He attended night school in Charleston after the war and taught school in Monroe, Mercer, and Summers counties. An ordained Baptist minister, Payne continued his education at Richmond Theological Institute and earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from State University in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1888, Payne became the first African-American elected to represent West Virginia at a Republican national convention and later was elected to two more. Elected to the legislature from Fayette County in 1896, Payne became the first black to serve in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
In addition to his pastoral duties and political activities, Payne founded or edited three weekly newspapers. The first was the West Virginia Enterprise, established by Payne in 1885 and published in Charleston. His second and third papers were the Pioneer and the Mountain Eagle, both published in Montgomery.
Following his term in the legislature, Payne served as a minister in Huntington where he lived with his wife, Annie, and their daughter, Mollie. The Republican Party rewarded Payne for his loyalty with two federal patronage jobs. He served as deputy collector of internal revenue, and in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Payne as consul general to the Danish West Indies. Following his appointment, the citizens of St. Thomas elected him judge advocate, and he remained in the islands until his death.
This Article was written by Connie Park Rice
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Posey, Thomas E. The Negro Citizen of West Virginia. Institute: Press of West Virginia State College, 1934.