Last updated: May 24, 2022
Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Parking - Auto
African American Heritage Driving Tour Stop 12: African American Music in West Virginia
Slab Fork, like many company owned coal camps in southern West Virginia, was home to many cultures and ethnicities. The reach of the company town extended beyond employment and a place to live. It was also the organizer of social life in the town. As migrants arrived in the coal company town looking for work, they found a common language in music. From the south, African Americans brought banjos, group harmonies, and spirituals, eastern Europeans brought brass bands and folk tunes, and Scotch-Irish immigrants brought fiddles and ballads. As the sounds mixed in the hills of the West Virginia coal camps Appalachian music was born.
Often considered an Appalachian icon is the singing, dancing, and music surrounding the banjo. African American music was transformed when, in the early 1900s, guitars became readily available and affordable through mail-order catalogs. Music genres such as string band music, bluegrass, and rock ‘n’ roll are the result of the influence of black music in Appalachia.
Slab Fork was established as a mining town in the early 1900s by the Slab Fork Coal Company. Taking is name from the Slab Fork, a tributary of the Guyandotte River, it was the first coal mine in the Winding Gulf Coal Field. The mine at Slab Fork opened in 1907 and operated until 1983. The Slab Fork mine was the first mine to ship coal out of the Winding Gulf Coal Field.
Coal at Slab Fork was mined from the Beckley seam, and later from the Pocahontas No. 3 & 4 coal seams. The mine was served by the Virginian Railway which later became a part of the Norfolk & Western Railroad.
For the full story go to: African American Music in West Virginia: Slab Fork
Physical Address: 374 Slab Fork Road, Slab Fork, WV 25920
GPS Coordinates: N37.686920 -W81.330368
From Beckley, WV: Travel on I-77 north or south to Exit 42. Take Exit 42 (Highway 16 south and 97 west, Robert C. Byrd Drive) and travel three miles on Highway 16/97. Move into the left lane and continue straight at the split onto Highway 121 (Coalfield Expy). Travel four miles to Slab Fork Road. Turn right on Slab Fork Road and travel to the old Slab Fork Post Office. Tour Stop will be on your left.
From Fayetteville, WV: Travel south on Highway 19 to Beckley. Continue straight on Highway 19 toward I-77/I-64. Take I-77 south to exit 42 (Highway 16 south and 97 west, Robert C. Byrd Drive). Take exit 42 and travel three miles on Highway 16/97. Move into the left lane and continue straight at the split onto Highway 121 (Coalfield Expy). Travel four miles to Slab Fork Road. Turn right on Slab Fork Road and travel to the old Slab Fork Post Offic. Tour Stop will be on your left.
Directions to the next Tour Stop:
Physical Address: Tams Highway (Highway 16), Helen WV 25853
GPS Coordinates: N37.636248 -W81.314486
From Slab Fork, return to Hwy 121 and turn left. Travel 1.2 miles to McKinney Mountain Road (Route 12/12) and turn right. Travel to Highway 16 South and turn right. Travel 5 miles to Helen and turn right into the Coal Miners Memorial Park. Tour Stop and parking is at the park.
African American Music in West Virginia (Audio Narration)
Written by: Mark Bollinger Narrated by:Doris A. Fields Music: “Those Who Came Before” - written by Lady D Robert Gray - keyboard and bass Dan Bailey - guitar and bass Doris A. Fields (Lady D) - vocals
- Date created: