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M. T. Whittico


African-American newspaperman Matthew Thomas Whittico (September 25, 1866-June 21, 1939) was born near Martinsville, Henry County, Virginia. He graduated in 1896 from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, returning to teach in the segregated schools of Henry and Patrick counties.

Whittico moved to Keystone, McDowell County, about 1900, joining a thriving interracial business community in the booming coal town. He purchased a local newspaper and in 1904 renamed it the McDowell Times, which he served as editor and publisher. Circulating well beyond McDowell County, the Times was for many years the state’s preeminent African-American newspaper, read by Black and White West Virginians interested in race issues and life in the coalfields. R. W. White was a partner in the newspaper, and T. Edward Hill, an important Black leader and later a legislator, joined the venture in 1910.

Active in politics as well as business, Whittico was among the Black citizens who rose to power and influence as African-Americans increased in numbers and voting strength in the southern counties during the early 20th century. He was a member of the Republican Party’s state executive committee and served as a member of Keystone’s city council. Whittico’s younger brother, James Malachi Whittico, Sr., also from Henry County, established himself as a physician and civic leader in Williamson.

The character of M. T. Whittico contributed to the development of fictional figures in Denise Giardina’s 1987 coalfields novel, Storming Heaven, which includes an influential Black newspaper editor. Whittico is credited with popularizing the phrase, ‘‘Free State of McDowell,’’ in his work to establish African-American rights and influence in the racially diverse county. The slogan remains a rallying cry among McDowell Countians of both races. M. T. Whittico died in Bluefield, and was buried in his native Henry County, Virginia.

Written by Ken Sullivan


  1. Posey, Thomas E. The Negro Citizen of West Virginia. Institute: Press of West Virginia State College, 1934.

  2. Trotter, Joe William Jr. Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia 1915-1932. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

  3. Caldwell, A. B., ed. History of the American Negro vol. 7: West Virginia Edition. Atlanta: A. B. Caldwell Pub. Co., 1923, and Morgantown, West Virginia University Press, 2012,.