"I made very good grades and started doing research. I was making $1,600 a year and saving money because I was living with my aunt. [One of my professors] said I wasn't getting enough money. He said there was a company called the Carbide Chemicals Co., and they had a fellowship. It was in South Charleston. I didn't know where West Virginia was.
"The Carbide people interviewed me and gave me the fellowship. They said if I got a Ph.D., they would hire me. I'd done everything but write my thesis. They had never hired a black chemist.
"I came down here to interview. They didn't realize I couldn't stay in the Daniel Boone Hotel where they made my reservation. Willard Brown, a lawyer and head of the NAACP, met me at the airport, and I spent the night at his house. The next day, they took me to the airport to eat, the only dining room in the city that would serve Negros.
"When I moved here, they found me a rooming house at the corner of Young and Donnally streets for $10 a week. They were paying me $5,500 a year, good back then. They integrated the cafeteria and restaurant at the South Charleston plant just for me. The other black guys working there loved that.
"They built a new building up on the hill in '59. We were so anxious to move because the lab wasn't air-conditioned. We would work with those chemicals with our shirts off.
"I stayed with Carbide for 32 years and wound up as a development scientist.
"In the fall of '55, an integrated West Virginia State wanted people to come teach chemistry at night. So I did that. I got $3,600 at year for nine months, so that was great. Finally I met Shirley and got married in 1960 and had three kids.
"We integrated Carroll Road. Charlie Wilson, who worked at Carbide, he sold us his house on Carroll, which upset all the white people in the neighborhood. I got phone calls: 'You stay where you are, buddy. Don't you come up here.' I got a pistol to protect myself and my family.
"John Slack said he would have a sheriff patrol up there so nobody would burn a cross in the yard or anything. So we moved in. And the neighbors embraced us, except for the guy next door. He moved to Putnam County real soon.
"They started moving all the Negros out of the Triangle [District]. The water company took a bunch of land, and the interstate came through. NAACP sued to keep the interstate out. I was vice president. We had started the civil rights movement.
"We couldn't fight urban renewal. It was apparent to me that the only way to do anything was to get into government where you had some say. Virgil Gilmore of the Harden Funeral home said I should run for city council.
"He was going to run from the Triangle District. He said you only had to pay $5 to run. I said I lived up where everybody is white and couldn't win from that ward. He said to run for councilman-at-large. I got a lot of help from Carbide. Howard Quick from the first ward worked at Carbide, and he supported me, and Don Tate who owns Fas-Chek. Ned Chilton was very supportive in the Gazette.
"On the ballot, I put Dr. Virgil Matthews. Some people said afterwards that if they had known I was black, they wouldn't have voted for me. Later, they said they were glad they did because of what I did on council.
"I started fighting against urban renewal immediately. I was fighting for the low-income whites who didn't have paved roads and sewers. I got the idea to introduce an ordinance to forbid discrimination in public accommodation, housing and employment.
"It failed, but it caused a tremendous outcry. Chilton wrote editorials attacking the city for not passing it. We had marches. I spoke from the steps of the library. All the Carbide people were up there with me. They wanted it, because they wanted to hire all these black chemists. Finally, Joe Smith, later the mayor, and Bob Silverstein got together. They had both voted against it. They said if Gilmore and I sponsored it, it would never pass, but if they sponsored it, it would pass.
"And it did. That was one of the major things I did. And getting John Hutchison elected. Most of the blacks were Republicans, but they got pissed off because of urban renewal. Hutchison was city treasurer. We went to him about running for mayor. We got all the blacks to change to Democrat, and they elected him. And the Urban Renewal Authority changed completely.
"I also helped the state pass a human rights bill. Eddie James of James Produce called and said Paul Kaufman had introduced a human rights bill to end discrimination everywhere, and they were having trouble. He said Gov. Hulett Smith wanted us to go to the Legislature. Two senators were blocking everything. Sitting in the corner, we watched Hulett Smith pressure those guys to change their votes.
"In '68, I decided I would run for the Democratic national convention. People said when I sponsored that human rights bill, I would become very unpopular. I became very popular because people saw my name in the paper. I beat Ned Chilton. There were four from this district. He was fifth, and I was fourth.
"In 1970, I really got the big head and decided to run for state Senate. I won the Democratic nomination, but I lost to John Poffenbarger, the incumbent. He was more liberal than I was.
"I did better with the things I did for the black community than I did in chemistry. One of my goals was to get a Nobel Prize in chemistry. That's a big regret. You can't do that working for a company like Union Carbide.
"In 86, the president of State wanted me to take early retirement and take over the chemistry department. So I left Carbide and stayed there until '94.
"Things turned out pretty good for me. I was never really poor. I've had two hip replacements and a knee replacement, and I can hardly walk. I don't do anything now. I come down here two times a week to exercise, and I sleep a lot. At 85, I ought to be doing something else. I'm thinking about it."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.