Matthew Thomas Whittico, a prominent West Virginia newspaper publisher and politician, was born on September 25, 1866, close to Martinsville in Henry County, Virginia. Thomas and Catherine Whittico’s son, Hezekiah J. Whittico, was a farmer and raised him. A statute from the time said that the colored child’s circumstances followed those of the mother. Mr. Whittico’s parents and grandparents were free since there was a free mother somewhere in his line of history.
Whittico was a young boy who attended the neighborhood public schools but had aspirations of going to college. He eventually enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he received his A. B. in 1896. Whittico then spent seven years as a teacher in the segregated schools in Virginia’s Henry and Patrick counties.
Around 1900, Whittico relocated to Keystone, West Virginia, and became a part of the thriving multiracial business community there. In support of “the interest of the Negro Race-His Social and Political Rights,” he founded the McDowell Times. With a circulation of 11,000, the publication rose to prominence as one of the most significant African American publications in the area.
For 17 years, Whittico was the McDowell Times’ editor and publisher. The publication was read by Black and White West Virginians interested in racial issues and coalfield living, and it had a wide readership beyond McDowell County for a while.
Many Blacks were drawn to the area by the need for labor in the local coal mines. These voters were shaped by Whittico into a sizable voting group for West Virginia Republican politics. Whittico expressed opposition to the local labor and socialist groups as well as backing for the coal business.
Whittico, who was involved in the Republican Party, was on the State Republican Executive Committee for several years. He also served on the Keystone City Council and as the County Probation Officer for McDowell County.
Whittico was active in the Masons, Pythians, Odd Fellows, and Elks as well as the Presbyterian Church. He served as director of the Pythian Mutual Investment Association, advocate for the neighborhood council St. Luke’s, and president of the Odd Fellows’ Investment Society.
Whittico was twice married. His first marriage was in 1899 to Annie M. Lamkin of Henry County, Virginia. The second marriage was in 1913 to Eda E. Alexander, daughter of Joseph and Julia Alexander of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and a West Virginia Collegiate Institute graduate.
Mr. Whittico’s favorite books were the Bible, Pilgrims’ Progress, and the Life of Lincoln. He promoted “buying homes, education, going into business, establishing a more kindly relation with white man…learning to economize and stop aping the rich.”
James Malachi Whittico, his younger brother, became well-known as a doctor and community figure in Williamson, West Virginia.
The emergence of fictitious characters, such as a powerful Black newspaper editor, in Denise Giardina’s coalfields novel Storming Heaven from 1987 was aided by the character of M. T. Whittico.
The slogan “Free State of McDowell” is credited to Whittico for popularizing it through his efforts to establish African American rights and power in the racially mixed county.
At the age of 72, Matthew T. Whittico passed away in Bluefield on June 21, 1939, and was buried in his home county of Henry, Virginia.
A short time after his passing in 1939, The McDowell Times ceased to be published. West Virginia University digitized the newspaper, which is now accessible on the Chronicling America website.