West Virginian and African American Educator Ancella Bickley Announced as Grand Groundhog Watcher

For Immediate Release: 
Jan 19 2004

West Virginian and African American Educator Ancella Bickley Announced as Grand Groundhog Watcher

Athens, W. Va. - West Virginian and African American educator Ancella Bickley will be the “Grand Groundhog Watcher” for the 26th Annual Groundhog Day Breakfast celebration at Concord College, Monday, February 2, 8 a.m. in the College Center Ballroom.

The Groundhog Day breakfast tradition has provided a forum for Concord College officials to recognize those who have contributed to the history and color of West Virginia by awarding them the honor of “Grand Groundhog Watcher.”

Dr. Bickley is a retired educator originally from Huntington, W.Va. She now resides in Florida.

Bickley was a graduate of Douglass High School in 1947 and then attended West Virginia State College, where she received a Bachelors Degree in English. At the time, both Douglass High School and West Virginia State College were all black. She received her Master's Degree in English from Marshall University in 1953--where she was the first full-time, graduate student to integrate the institution--and her Doctorate in English from West Virginia University.

“I think about those days (at West Virginia State College), the spring prom season, the fraternities and sororities, some of the rituals, some of the kinds of things that we did,” she stated. “The fraternities did a lot of singing, which I think is true generally in the black community. I can remember hanging out the windows and listening to fellows sing, marvelous voices lofting over the campus. This was absolutely wonderful.”

Dr. Bickley taught kindergarten in El Paso, Texas; adult education for the U.S. Army; public school in Annapolis, Maryland; English at West Virginia University; and English at West Virginia State. She later held an administrative position with West Virginia State.

After her retirement, she began researching the history of black people in West Virginia and illustrating the accomplishments of black West Virginians. She has been able to give back to the community which shaped her through her acts based upon her knowledge and her desire to help her people.

Dr. Bickley authored a book in 2001—“Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman”—which she co-edited with Dr. Lynda Ann Ewen. It was published by Ohio University Press. Among other edited works are: “Our Mount Vernons,” listing sites relevant to West Virginia black history which are on the National Register of Historic Places; “To Be Black in Fayette”—based on oral histories of some Fayette County residents; and “Honoring Our Past”—proceedings from the first two conferences on West Virginia's black history, co-edited with Dr. Joe William Trotter.

Other published items include: “The History of the West Virginia State Teachers' Association,”—a book published by the NEA (National Education Association) about a black teachers' organization that existed in West Virginia from 1891-1954; “In Spite of Obstacles,” a history of the West Virginia Schools for the Colored, Deaf and Blind from 1926-1955; "Searching for the Historical Dick Pointer"—an article in “The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society”; and "Martha" a short story which appeared in “Appalachian Love Stories.”

Dr. Bickley’s works have also been published in “Goldenseal.” She wrote "Dubie, Spanky, and Mr. Death,” which tells of three Tuskegee airmen who had connections to West Virginia and "Remembering 3538 C,” a story about a black Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp which once existed in McDowell County.

Currently, she is working on a novel, a series of short stories, and a play. While involved in research at Marshall University, Dr. Bickley experienced the difficultly of tracing black roots beyond the time of slavery “because slaves were not named in the census record ... so I imagined what happened beyond that point.” History, imagination and a love of her people provides the material for Dr. Bickley's works.

Professor R.T. “Tom” Hill began the Groundhog breakfast at Concord in 1978. As chairman of both the geography department and the Appalachian studies program, he thought this would be a means to celebrate a piece of Appalachian heritage—and draw attention to the fact that Concord had such a program.

He talked Concord President Meredith Freeman into presenting the forecast, stating that, “from now on it’d be a part of the president’s job description.” Dr. Freeman, now retired, entered into the jovial spirit of the day. An amateur sculptor and taxidermist, he eventually carved a wooden replica of “Concord Charlie” the groundhog and painted an acrylic “portrait” showing Charlie sporting a Concord baseball cap. The beloved professor passed away last year.

Cost for the “ham and eggs” breakfast is $6.50, payable at the door or in advance. For more information or to make reservations, call 1-304-384-5348 / 6056 or e-mail alumni@concord.edu.


PHOTO: Dr. Ancella Bickley

CONCORD COLLEGE NOTES: Persons with disabilities should contact Rick Dillon, 1-304-384-5231 if special assistance or help is required for access to an event scheduled by the College on campus.