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Tomblin dedicates new office for minority affairs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With Herbert Henderson's daughter looking on, the new Office of Minority Affairs named for him became a reality Monday.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the appointment of a director for the new agency.

Dr. Carolyn Stuart, a McDowell County native with a background in social service, was formally introduced by Tomblin during an afternoon reception at the state Capitol.

Henderson was a prominent state civil rights leader for decades. He died in October 2007 at the age of 78.

The first African American to graduate from the George Washington University Law School, Henderson was a prominent Huntington attorney and served as the head of the West Virginia NAACP for 20 years.

Henderson's oldest daughter, Cheryl Henderson, now an attorney at her father's Huntington firm, was there Monday as Tomblin introduced Stuart and signed a ceremonial copy of the bill that created the office.

Henderson said she believed her father would have been humbled by the honor of having the new office named after him.

"I think my father would probably say, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' but still he never did anything for accolades," she said. "He did it from his heart because he wanted to it for the people of West Virginia."

Creating the office was a struggle.

Each year since 2008, the House of Delegates has either unanimously or overwhelmingly passed a bill creating the minority affairs office as a new cabinet-level office designed to research, make recommendations and oversee programs affecting minority groups.

But each year, the bill either stalled in committee or had its $300,000 to $350,000 worth of funding stripped in the Senate.

The state already has several minority affairs programs, but the new office would oversee them. Supporters said it would serve as the central repository for all information, data, questions and solutions related to minority issues.

This year, leaders in the House and Senate were able to work out their differences and pass the bill.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, got choked up Monday as he remembered Henderson's legacy.

"Herb Henderson was a great man. He was also a very good friend of mine, and I loved him very much," Thompson said. "It's an honor to be able to do this for him."

Thompson credited Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, for pushing the bill to create the office each year.

"There were a lot of people who worked very hard on this, and Clif was willing to lay himself down in front of a train," Thompson said.

After the Senate removed funding for the creation of the office in 2011, Moore spoke on the House floor, accusing Senate leaders of being either racist or sexist for pulling the funding.

Moore later apologized and said a misunderstanding over the funding drove the Senate's action. He then worked with Senate leaders to ease concerns.

Stuart earned a master's degree in counseling from Marshall University, and a doctorate in counseling education from Virginia Tech. She has worked at jobs in higher education, counseling, project development, mediation and consulting in the area of cultural diversity over the course of her career.

Stuart said the office is designed to assist not just racial or ethnic minorities, but anyone who thinks they've been denied a voice or access to opportunities in society.

"My hope is that we will move forward and serve our constituents throughout the state and make sure that every individual has an equal opportunity," Stuart said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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