The anniversary issue of Black By God – WV Pride: From Juneteenth to Father’s Day and West Virginia Day is now available! This latest issue features a photo of the Mollett Family taken on Memorial Day 2022. Multiple generations of the family gathered to clean and decorate gravesites, tell stories, and honor their ancestors and neighbors of the displaced coal camp community of Edwight, West Virginia.
The printed caption in BBG reads: The Mollett family gathers in front of the entrance to a historically Black cemetery of a coal camp community in Edwight of Raleigh County, West Virginia on Monday, May 30, 2022. Siblings Cleo Vernell Mollett, Sr. (72), David Lee Mollett (70), Doretha Elaine Mollett (69), Tanners Lee Mollett (67), and Christina Mollett (65), known to their family as the “WV 5”, have made arrangements with the coal operators to visit annually ever since their forced evacuation in 1959 when the coal company closed and demolished their home and neighborhood. From New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida, and Delaware, family members reunite each year to clear away overgrowth and decorate the graves with flowers in cemeteries located in Edwight, Madison, and Logan. They bring their children and grandchildren –the next generations to carry on this tradition– and retell family stories of Edwight to remember and honor their ancestors on Memorial Day. The Mollett’s, who are the grandchildren of Bell Wilson, wife of Allen Wilson who is buried at Edwight, extend their heartfelt thanks to the coal operators, who have over the years made their access to the cemetery easy and have participated in cleaning the cemetery as well.
Look for Anissa Mollett’s article about her family’s long-held tradition in an upcoming issue of BBG.
The eldest family member in attendance, Daniel Wilson (80) is the last living child of Bell Wilson and buried at Edwight is his father Allen Wilson. He shared stories with his family about what he remembers about Edwight including where he worked and the family names of his neighbors. “You’re honoring your ancestors. You tell the stories to your kids, and they tell it to their kids,” Doretha Mollett reflected, “You always keep the memories alive and the family history so you know where you came from.”
In 1996, folklorist Mary Hufford and photographer Terry Eiler documented stories and took photographs of the Mollett Family at the cemetery in Edwight, which are now currently housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress as part of the Coal River Folklife Collection. This year, Doretha Mollett invited State Folklorist Jennie Williams and West Virginia Humanities Council photographer Michael Keller to attend the gathering and record a new generation of stories reflecting on their family tradition. The documented photos and recordings will be deposited in the West Virginia Folklife Collection at West Virginia University Libraries.
We would like to extend a very special thank you to Doretha Mollett for inviting us to attend this event – it was a great honor. Thank you as well to Anissa Mollett, BBG Founder and Editor Crystal Good, Mike Keller, Allina Migoni and Michelle Stefano at the American Folklife Center, and Mary Hufford.
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Photography on site at the cemetery by Michael Keller