While scholars have examined much about the black circums tance in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, little has been written about the lives and experiences of black migrants who arrived into the region to garner gainful employment as laborers on the upstart Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Leaving homes and families, pioneering black migrants, along with native whites and European immigrants, performed the critical backbreaking and dangerous work necessary to construct the railroad from the James River in Virginia through the tortuous New River Valley to the Ohio River. In the process, significant numbers died, many unceremoniously—victims of the twin demands of racism and wage-capitalism. Yet black labor, first on the C&O, and then in the coalmines of southern West Virginia, helped transform the region, linking it to the national and world economy. During and after construction many black migrants settled into the embryonic villages and towns that grew attendant to the railroad, including Huntington, West Virginia, founded in 1871 as a transshipment station for the C&O. Drawn by the promise of available jobs, increasing numbers of black migrants arrived into the town to perform the menial, dangerous, and routine urban-industrial jobs affiliated with the railroad. In the process, they helped link, in ways not dissimilar to the process initiated by the construction of the C&O, the town to the regional and national economy. Enduring occupational constraints and racism, but simultaneously beneficiaries of wage-capitalism, material gain, community, and family, black migrants and their labor helped transform the region and town. This article examines their experiences.

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