James L. Taylor was born in Charles Town, WV on February 26, 1934. He attended Eagle Avenue Elementary School in Charles Town and graduated from Page-Jackson High School in 1951. After graduating high school, Taylor enlisted in the US Navy and served in the Korean War from 1951-1955.
After serving in the US Navy, Taylor enrolled in Shepherd College (now Shepherd University), in 1955 and graduated from Shepherd College with a BS and AB degrees and a Corrective Therapist Certification. He attended graduate school at West Virginia University and earned a Master of Science Degree in 1965.
At Shepherd College, Taylor played football and was the first African American to play on the team which became the first undefeated and untied team in the history of the college. While at Shepherd as a teacher’s assistant he taught tumbling and gymnastics and coached boxing and wrestling.
After receiving his education he became a teacher at his former high school, Page-Jackson High School in Jefferson County where he taught general science, biology and physical education. He coached football, basketball and track. Being the only coach at that high school, he coached both junior varsity and varsity sports for the school. He went on to teach at Charles Town Jr. High and Charles Town High School where he taught physical education and coached football and basketball. He remained in the Jefferson County School system from 1959-1965.
In 1965 he accepted a teaching position at the new Harpers Ferry Job Corps facility. There he taught math, reading and GED classes for the students that attended. He coached basketball, cross country, track and boxing. He remained at Harpers Ferry Job Corps until 1972. He was then offered a teaching position at Jefferson High School, where he taught biology, human anatomy and physiology. In addition, he was junior varsity football coach, assistant basketball coach and head coach for cross county and track and field. He had the honor of coaching many outstanding athletes to include James Jett, who won a Gold Medal at the 1992 Olympics. Taylor was awarded West Virginia High School Track Coach of the Year in 1994. He retired from teaching in 1995.
In September of 2000, Taylor was one of four men that founded the Jefferson County Black History Society, Inc. to which he was elected president. The Jefferson County Black History Society’s mission is "To research, preserve, present and pass down our history as it was passed down to us from our parents, grandparents, and other African Americans from Jefferson County."
Taylor has given presentations to churches, schools and teachers at special summer programs at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. He has presented at Shepherd University, Jefferson County Historical Society, local radio and television shows. He appeared on the West Virginia Public Television show, "Road Trip through History, African Americans of Jefferson County West Virginia." He gives a yearly presentation at the alumni reunion for the Page-Jackson High School. As a member of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society, he teaches adult education classes on the history of African Americans of Jefferson County, West Virginia, which is sponsored by the Jefferson County Board of Education.
He had the honor of placing four West Virginia state highway markers and two City of Charles Town wayside markers about African American History in Jefferson County.
In 2001, Taylor was asked to appear in the ESPN special called "Now and Then, Black Jockeys and the Kentucky Derby." He shared his knowledge of the African American jockey, Jimmy Winkfield, the last jockey of color to win the Kentucky Derby. Taylor personally knew Jimmy Winkfield, as he had spent a part of his life in Charles Town and lived in the same neighborhood as Taylor. Taylor wrote about Winkfield in his first book, titled "African Americans in the Lower Shenandoah Valley."
Taylor was married to his wife Dorothy Young Taylor for 64 years, until her death on July 7, 2020. He is the father of two, Cheryl M. Taylor-Lashley and Randall Y. Taylor.
Boards, Committees and Councils
Mr. Taylor has been involved in many community, city, county and state programs, to include.
- Member and historian of the Wainwright Baptist Church
- Former member of the West Virginia Humanities Council
- Past Vice-President of the Jefferson County Planning Commission
- Past member of the Jefferson County Recreation Commission
- Past board president of the Jefferson Memorial Hospital and Shenandoah Nursing Home
- Charter member and historian of the Page-Jackson High School Alumni Association
- Board member of the Jefferson County Historical Society
- Board member of the Old Charles Town Library and Jefferson County Museum
- Member Star Lodge #1, Prince Hall Masons
- Board member of the African American Community Association
- Member of the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission
Mr. Taylor has written a second book, “A History of Black Education in Jefferson County, West Virginia 1865 to 1966, and co-authored the following books written by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society on four of the five African Americans that came with abolitionist John Brown on his raid against the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, to free slaves of Virginia in the year 1859:
- “The Capture, Trial and Execution of John A. Copeland and Shields Green”
- “The Life and Death of Dangerfield Newby”
- “Lewis Leary”, (not yet published)
- “A Collection of Black History Events in Jefferson County, WV, Volume 1, 1700-2001”
- “The Black Book, Jefferson County, West Virginia Directory of African Americans Facts 1800-2004”
- “Images of America, African Americans of Jefferson County”, Acadia Press 2009 (Forward by Senator Robert C. Byrd)
Mr. Taylor is currently involved in the restoration and preservation of three Jefferson County African American historic landmarks:
- Fishermen’s Hall, owned by the African American Community Association
- Old Lock House, owned by Star Lodge #1
- Webb-Blessing House, owned by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.