Sept. 7, 1848: West Virginia's First Black Legislator Born in Monroe County

Christopher Payne

West Virginia’s first black legislator, Christopher Payne, was born in Monroe County on September 7, 1848. He was raised near Hinton, where he worked as a farmhand. Although he was born a free person of color, he was forced as a teenager to serve as a servant in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

After the war, Payne attended night school in Charleston and taught school in Monroe, Mercer, and Summers counties. He became a Baptist minister and earned a doctor of divinity degree from the State University in Louisville.

In 1888, Christopher Payne became the first African-American to represent West Virginia at a Republican national convention. When he was elected to the legislature from Fayette County in 1896, he became the first black member of the West Virginia Legislature. He founded three newspapers in Fayette and Kanawha counties and served as a minister in Huntington. As a reward for his service to the Republican Party, he was named deputy collector of internal revenue.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Christopher Payne consul general to the Danish West Indies, where he died in 1925 at age 77.