WHEELING - Fifty years ago on July 3, 1962, the city of Wheeling took a bold step, formally embracing the concept of equal rights for all when it seated the first Wheeling Human Rights Commission.
On Tuesday, the commission commemorated that golden anniversary with a luncheon on the same day the city renamed Stone Boulevard in honor and memory of the late civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The noon celebration, held at WesBanco Arena, brought together a diverse group of supporters, former commission members and co-workers. Officials representing the Upper Ohio Valley Ministerial Alliance and the Upper Ohio Valley NAACP were on hand for the luncheon and then proceeded to 11th and Chapline streets for the dedication and renaming of Stone Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Wheeling Human Rights Executive Director Theresa Garrett, left, is congratulated by Rita Coye from CHANGE Inc. during the HRC’s 50th anniversary celebration.
During the HRC celebration, Mayor Andy McKenzie read a proclamation honoring the commission, which was supported by the entire Wheeling City Council. He touted the work of HRC Executive Director Theresa Garrett and praised the volunteer commission members.
"They all work very hard, and I want to thank you for everything you do," McKenzie said.
He also thanked "all the reverends" for proposing the name change for Stone Boulevard and said it was "an oversight for many, many years."
Garrett said she was thrilled to have the support of the community and also thanked the commission for their work.
In addition to Garrett, the commission staff includes Beth Czerwonka and Arnold Kuhl. Commission members are Charles Hood, chairman; Diana Bell, Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, Shawn Fluharty, the Rev. Robert Romick, George Blum, Bishop Ralph Dunkin, Cynthia Hutchison and Ronald Scott Jr.
Fluharty offered some insight into the workings of the HRC, noting that Wheeling was ahead of its time when establishing the commission. He said the city's HRC was formed before the 1963-64 federal Civil Rights Act and during the Freedom Riders push to end segregation.
"We are celebrating the progress made since then. While we know discrimination will likely never end, the fight will continue," Fluharty noted.
He said the HRC has participated in nearly 200 activities throughout the community over the past 12 months and works with local businesses to educate and teach lessons working toward ending discrimination.
"We must drive out hate," Fluharty added.
Pastor Willie Nevels said it was fitting to celebrate the HRC's 50th anniversary on the same day as the city honored King with the street naming. He said only one other city in West Virginia - Charles Town - had anything dedicated to the late civil rights leader.
The Rev. D.W. Cummings said Wheeling "is a special city" because it is one of the few to have a human rights commission.
"We have many challenges, and some of these challenges are just being human," Cummings offered.
He paraphrased a quote from King, saying it takes both black and white keys to make beautiful music.
Other anniversary committee members in attendance included Darryl Clausell, Rhonda Hayes, Royann Johnston, Robert Kinnick, the Rev. James O'Brien, Allison O'Konski, Nevels, Romick, Lisa Templin Shafer and the Rev. Willie Stinson.