Marshall University will welcome Dr. Cicero Fain III as a new Visiting Diversity Scholar beginning Aug. 2. He will teach one our two courses per semester on African American history and culture, work on a diversity-related project and develop a scholarship opportunity to attract students from underrepresented groups to Marshall, among several other efforts, while coordinating activities with the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lyceum and The John Deaver Drinko Academy.
Fain, who will be coming back to Marshall for the position after working here previously, is currently a professor of history at the College of Southern Maryland. In 2019, the University of Illinois Press published his book, Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story, depicting the African American experience in Huntington from the post-Civil War era through the early part of the 20th century.
Huntington’s location on the Ohio River, bordering both Ohio and Kentucky, gave its Black residents an interesting historic perspective because the city is just over the line from a slave state and just far enough away from communities that were far more restrictive to their African American residents. They had unique circumstances in Huntington and used the autonomy they had to move forward, Fain said. He describes that growth as “emblematic” of the American story. They started with nothing and began to build.
His joining Marshall is among the university’s many efforts to celebrate diversity on campus.
“Since coming to Marshall in 2016, one of my highest priorities has been to create an open and diverse campus,” said Dr. Jerome A. “Jerry” Gilbert, president of Marshall. “Welcoming Dr. Fain back to Marshall as a visiting diversity scholar is another step in the important process of creating a culture that enhances our student experience.”
Fain said he remembers sitting on the front porch in Huntington and hearing people talk about the city, which planted a seed of interest and appreciation for African Americans’ contributions to the community. He spent eight years researching Huntington’s African American history, including his time at the Ohio State University, where he earned his master’s and then his doctoral degree. He conducted personal interviews, and researched court and church documents, school yearbooks, newspaper archives, personal diaries and family histories.
His book discusses Huntington’s rapidly growing economy and relatively tolerant racial climate, which drew African Americans from across Appalachia and the South to the city. It discusses their relative prosperity and political clout, which they used to confront institutionalized and industrial racism as well as the white embrace of Jim Crow.
“I think it’s a story worthy of being told,” Fain said upon the book’s release.
Ronald D. Eller, author of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945, reviewed Fain’s book, saying, “This book not only broadens our understanding of the process of modernization in Appalachia by bringing Black Appalachians onto the historical stage, it also casts light on the experience of development in Appalachia’s urban places and demonstrates how an essentially rural people shaped their own meaningful communities in a new environment of both opportunity and repression.”
Fain has been on the faculty at the College of Southern Maryland since 2011, previously working as a visiting assistant professor at Niagara University in New York; assistant professor at Ohio University, Southern Campus, in Ironton, Ohio, and an assistant professor at Marshall.
To learn more about Fain’s book, Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story, visit www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/89rgn5gn9780252042591.html.