Hearing hidden history; How a dance hall connects with an abolitionist in Washington County

Black History Month

Music, dancing and fighting for civil rights weaved together at the Kennedy Farm in Washington County.

“I’m going to make the preposterous proposal…that I think we’ve got the number one Black History site in our county, and that story was nearly lost,” said Ed Maliskas, author of a written history on the Kennedy Farm. 

The book is called, “From John Brown to James Brown: The Little Farm Where Liberty Budded, Blossomed and Boogied.”

The Kennedy Farm, also referred to as ‘John Brown’s Farm,’ ties together black history from the 1800’s to the 1960’s. 

John Brown was an abolitionist well known for advocating insurrection to overthrow slavery. The Kennedy Farm, which he once owned, later became a meeting place for the Black Elks, a fraternal organization on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. A dance hall, operated by the Elks became a gathering place for teens in the 60’s and 70’s. It was there that famous musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown performed. 

On Saturday, February 1, Ed Maliskas and the Washington County Fine Arts Society organized a Question and Answer panel featuring four residents of the Four-State area who once dance on John Brown’s farm. 

“John brown’s farm, it was the place,” said Leonard Cooper. Cooper used to travel from Charles Town to the Farm to dance. 

“What made it so unique was that at John Brown’s farm, you could dance,” remembered Dr. Eleanor Gooch who once traveled from Martinsburg to participate in the dances. 

“I’d like to thank Ed for writing the book, because without him, we would never have known [this story],” said Lola Mosby, who used to visit the Farm with her twin sister Lela. 

“I was so excited when Ed asked me about being on the panel. I could just relive some of the things, and to think that it was actually on the historical site that John Brown had owned…and [that] he had done so much for Civil Rights,” said Dr. Gooch.

“The best experience I had [at the farm] was James Brown,” said Dr. Gooch. “…I mean he really put on a show. Girls were just in front of the stage [crying] ‘James, James’ and he would be throwing out the towels and cufflinks, but I was never lucky enough to grab one.”

The Washington County Museum was filled with people eager to hear stories like this one about the time at John Brown’s farm. 

 “It brought back all the memories that happened down there and how we got there,” said Mosby. 

“It was nice, because you have to have somewhere to go…where you could be appreciated,” said Cooper. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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