By Petrie, Phil W.
The New Crisis , Vol. 110, No. 1
Sitting in the hills of southern West Virginia, Beckley is a community in transition. Once a center for the coal industry, the town is now known as a medical center and has several large hospitals and four longterm care facilities.
Robust young men once found work in the coal mines; now Beckley's unemployment rate hovers around 6.1 percent, reflecting the decline of the traditional coal mining industry. According to Sherwood Brown, past president of the Beckley/Raleigh County Branch of the NAACP, youth now flee from the city almost upon high school graduation, leaving the town sated with retirees.
Founded in 1947, the Beckley/Raleigh Branch of the NAACP has undergone changes, too, primarily a decline in membership. Despite this, the branch has remained constant in its fight for equal opportunity for Beckley's citizens and is in a rebuilding process. It is needed now more than ever, says Elsie McCray, president of the branch since 2000. The first woman ever elected president of the branch, McCray says youth unemployment, drugs, education and racism on the job are perennial problems. Even she had to sue her employer, Pinecrest Hospital, for discrimination.
McCray's first job is to rebuild the branch's lagging membership, a task involving more than just increasing its numbers. It also involves changing attitudes, McCray believes. Last year, the National Association for White People wanted the NAACP branch president to attend a public meeting it held in southern West Virginia. …