James Alvin Tolbert (1932 – 2017)

Founder Father & Secretary of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society

James Alvin Tolbert, Sr. of Charles Town, WV passed on October 26, 2017. He was a guest of Hospice of the Panhandle, Kearneysville, WV. He was born in Charles Town on September 3, 1932 to the late Edward and Ollie Lightfoot Tolbert. He was the youngest of four siblings. He graduated from Page-Jackson High School in 1950.

After graduation James began his working career serving in US Air Force as a dental laboratory technician in Japan during the Korean War. After his military service, he attended West Virginia State (University)  in Institute, West Virginia, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology in 1958. He became a medical technologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD before beginning a career with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a nuclear medical technologist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center. He then served as a Personnel Staffing Specialist at the Baltimore Medical Center and retired in 1988 as a Personnel Staffing Specialist in the Washington, D.C. Central Office.

As a Life Member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, James served in numerous capacities and on various committees. He was President of the Jefferson County Branch from 1968 to 1974 and President of the West Virginia State Conference of Branches from 1986 – 2007.  He also served as the Region III Chair for Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, and Illinois.

From 1983 to 1985, he served as Most Worshipful Grand Master, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of WV, F&M, Inc.; Past Master and Secretary, Star Lodge #1, Charles Town; Past Recorder, Nile Temple #27 of the Shriners, Martinsburg; Prior, I.M. Carper Consistory #192, 32nd Degree, Martinsburg.  James was also a member Allegheny Chapter #9 of the Royal Arch Masons of Fairmont and a member of Gibraltar Commandery #10 of the Knight Templars, Fairmont. He was Grand Inspector General, 33rd Degree, United Supreme Council, Prince Hall Affiliation, Washington, DC; Deborah Chapter #38, Order of the Eastern Star, Charles Town, Grand Historian, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of WV and a proud member of Alpha Iota Lambda Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Charleston, WV.

A lifelong member of St. Philips Episcopal Church, James served as a lay reader, chalice bearer, Vestry member, clerk and Sunday School Superintendent and as Senior and Junior Wardens. He was former Chair of the Episcopal Keymen of the Eastern Convocation, Diocese of West Virginia and served as former member of Executive Committee and Member and Past President of the Diocesan Committee on Racism. He served as a member of the Committee to elect the Fifth Bishop of West Virginia.

James was committed to numerous community activities. He was a board member of the Jefferson County Economic Development Authority; Chair of the African-American Community Association that was responsible for the restoration of Fisherman Hall; he was a Founder/Secretary of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society; he was a member of the West Virginia Martin Luther King Holiday Commission; member of the Community Relations Council, Harpers Ferry Job Corp; and a member Marshall- Holly Mason American Legion Post #102.  James was the longest serving member of the Zenith Club, a social organization; and he supported a Multicultural Scholarship named in honor of his mother, Ollie Lightfoot Tolbert, at Shepherd University. James was the Chair and sat on the Board of Directors of the George Washington Carver Institute; served on the City of Charles Town Development Committee; was an interviewer on the Affirmative Action Committee for the Shepherd University Multicultural Leadership Scholarship. He was on the Boards of Directors of the Arts and Humanities Alliance; the Jefferson County American Red Cross; and the Jefferson County Boys and Girls Club. He served on the Board of Managers, Charles Town General Hospital; was President of the Board of Directors, Eastern Panhandle Mental Health Center. He was an organizer, leader, and committeeman of Cub Scout Pack #42; and organizer of the Charles Town Recreation League; Treasurer of the Jefferson County Civic League; and served on the EEO Committee, Baker VA Medical Center, Martinsburg. He served on numerous committees for the Jefferson County Schools.

Because of his dedicated service to his local, state, and national communities, James was honored with various awards and recognition. The James A. Tolbert, Sr. Civil Rights Scholarship was donated in perpetuity by Attorney and Mrs. J. Franklin Long of Bluefield WV and Hilton NC. He was awarded the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award from the West Virginia University Center for Black Culture and Research and the 1976 T.G. Nutter Award from the West Virginia NAACP. He received the 2003 West Virginia Civil Rights Day Award by the Governor’s Office; the Charleston Job Corp Center; West Virginia State University; and the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. In 1987, he received the Community Service Award given by Kappa Lambda Mu Sorority and in 2008, he was awarded the Community Service Award from the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. In 1988, he received the Living the Dream Award from the West Virginia Martin L. King Holiday Commission for Human and Civil Rights. In 1991 & 2002, he received the Dr. Benjamin Hooks Award, NAACP Midwest Region III as State President of Year. He was recognized in 1987 by the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Educational Reform and was honored by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission Task Force in 1992. In 2003, he received the 2003 Earl Ray Tomblin Community Service Award from the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

James is survived by his wife of 61 years, Shirley Tolbert; his sons James Jr. (Constance) of Pittsburg, California; Michael (Erica) of Charles Town, WV and Stephen (Kim) of Ellicott City, Maryland; three grandsons, Miles, Aidan, and Logan; step-grandsons, Garik Pugh and William Lewis, Jr. and step-great granddaughters Alexis and Aniya Hemingway-Lewis. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by a son Gregory and three siblings, Marion Tolbert Taylor, Edwina Tolbert, and William Tolbert, Sr. Survivors also include many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. He is also survived by former daughter-in-law Rachel Mahoney Tolbert.

Visitation will be from 6 pm to 8 pm, Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at the Eackles-Spencer & Norton Funeral Home, 256 Halltown Rd, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425. The funeral; service will be held at Zion Episcopal Church, 301 East Congress St., Charles Town, WV. 25414 at 11 am on Thursday, November 2, 2017. The service will be conducted by Reverend Joseph Rivers of St. Philips Episcopal Church, Charles Town and Reverend Michael Morgan of Zion Episcopal Church.

Interment will be in Milton Valley Cemetery in Berryville, Virginia.

In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that donations be made to Hospice of the Panhandle, 30 Hospice Ln, Kearneysville, WV 25430.

Additional articles about Mr. Tolbert:  http://www.spiritofjefferson.com/article_8dab32ac-bf44-11e7-bb42-9b793f6716e2.html