The Watoga Land Association was organized to offer African-Americans an opportunity to live among people of their race only. The separatist association was named for the community of Watoga, formerly a sawmill town, located on the Greenbrier River in southern Pocahontas County in West Virginia. There was a national black separatist movement in the early 1920s, led by Marcus Garvey and others. The Watoga planners may have been influenced by these ideas, although their effort seems to have been entirely a local one.
In 1921, a group from Mercer County organized the Watoga Land Association and purchased about 10,000 acres that had belonged to the Watoga Lumber Company. The site of the old sawmill town was laid off in streets and lots, and part of the cut-over timberland was divided into tracts of ten or more acres to be used for farming. A promotional article for the new town noted that blacks had built cities for others, but never a city for themselves. ‘‘Let us build us a City upon the earth,’’ wrote the Reverend A. B. Farmer, a leader of the Watoga group.
A number of the lots and farm tracts were sold and the abandoned town reoccupied with stores, a school, and, briefly, a newspaper. However, the hopes of the Watoga Land Association for a large, viable, black community were never realized. The population was probably never more than 30 and by the late 1950s there were no permanent residents. The reasons for the failure of the dream are not certain, but the unsuitability of the land for agriculture and the lack of other opportunities to make a living were factors, as was the isolation of the town.
This Article was written by William P. McNeel
Last Revised on November 12, 2010