Creed Holden is no stranger to the internet or harnessing the power of social media. He is well known for successful efforts to create a state and now national Miner’s Day that is held each Dec. 6 – the anniversary of the Monongah Mine Disaster, the worst coal-mining disaster in U.S. history.
Online petitions are a favorite organizing tool, because experience has shown how well they work.
That’s why he is now gathering names online in hopes of getting a new bridge named in honor of a Fairmont native with early ties to the aviation field.
Approximately 250 petition signers agree that Rose Agnes Rolls Cousins deserves the tribute, and they want the new span over Fairmont’s Coal Hollow to memorialize her name.
Cousins was the first African American woman to become a solo pilot in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at West Virginia State College.
In 1940, she learned to fly, reportedly telling the instructor, “I’ll just put my hair up and you can pretend I’m a man,” according to media reports.
She was 86 years old when she died on July 30, 2006.
“She never let anything – not race or gender – stand in her way, or become a problem.”
“Segregation never defined her life. People always talk about her smile, and how much she loved people,” he said.
Those barriers only make her accomplishments more impressive and worthy of recognition.
“While at West Virginia State College in Institute, Rose was the only young lady among eight male trainees, and made history by becoming the first African American female to receive her pilot’s license from the Civilian Pilot’s Training Program,” he said.
Some of her fellow make trainees went on to form the original nine Tuskegee Airmen.
She went with them to the Tuskegee Institute and tried out for an Air Force training program for black combat pilots. However, she was rejected due to her gender.
Despite being a college graduate, race made it difficult to find a job after returning home to Fairmont.
She taught at a segregated high school before being hired as a “secretary for a city director, becoming the first African American to hold such a position in the city of Fairmont,” her obituary reads.
Local folks also remember Cousins’ many years working at the Fairmont Clinic, as well as her being active in the Marion County Democratic Women and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Other deserving names have been suggested, including Fairmont native James S. Maddox, who died after a Nov. 2, 1942 U-boat attack, he said.
Holden feels good about continuing his online quest and the many positive comments left by petition signers.
“She had a life of remarkable achievement and service. Her story is an inspiration that needs be, and should be, commemorated.”