A.H. Edmonds, organized the Evanston Black Boy Scout Troop recognized May 6, 1912

By Dino Robinson —

I have learned to be careful with the use of “firsts”. In early historical research, I naively and often used the term “first” in local history. What I know now is that continued research often uncovers contradictions. While I would like to mention a first here, I hesitate, but must share.

There are several communities throughout the United States that claim themselves as having the first “Colored” Boy Scout troop. They include Chicago, Illinois and Elizabeth City, North Carolina both in 1911. In 1916, the first official Boy Scout Council-promoted Negro Troop 75 began in Louisville, KY.1

However, in Evanston, Illinois, the first suburban community north of Chicago, an early troop was taking root. The early Evanston Black community in 1910 numbered 1,110 and it was at the beginning of a rapid population growth.

“The Boy Cadets are the talk of Evanston. Commandant Edmonds [sic.] is trying to organize these boys into boy scouts. These boys represent some of the best families of Evanston. The line up: Capt. Adam Perry, Jr.; First Lieutenant, Raymond Thomas; Sergeant, Joe Reed; Quartermaster, Sam White; Surgeon, Horace Graves, Jr.; Drummers, Lester Conners and Henry Saunders; Privates, John McAllister, Swan Cailer, Joshua Blair, Ceasar Gayles and Herbert Lee.”2

According to the Defender articles, Edmonds began the process as early as May, 1911. He organized a group of local boys and drilled them similar to that of the Boy Scouts, including the use of uniforms. In addition, Edmonds offered exhibitions and competitions to drum up support of the effort.

Over the course of three years, the Chicago Defender reported on the activities of the Boy Cadets through its acceptance into the Boy Scouts. Reported in the May 4, 1912 issue:

“Evanston, Ill., May 3. — Word received this morning by A.H. Edmonds from the executive council of the Boy Scouts of America, stated that the application for membership made by the troop of local colored boys had been accepted.”

Designated first as troop three, it was later changed to troop seven at the signing of the charter. The charter was signed on May 6, 1912. Signatures included President Taft, ex-President Roosevelt, Mr. E.T. Seton and Mr. James E. West. Mr. A.H. Edmonds was appointed as the troops Scoutmaster.3

Despite constant demonstrations and acts of community engagement, one article criticized the local population in it apparent lack of continued support and interest of the Boy Scouts.

“We are endowed with the honor of having the only troop of colored boy scouts in America, yet we do not appreciate the fact to any great extent.”4

After 1913, the activities of the Boy Scouts where not mentioned, at least in the Defender. However, in an unidentified article, from the Graves family archives, headlined “Plan Farewell Address for Colored Troops”. The article was posted recognizing Horace S. Graves, Jr. Graves enlistment to serve in WWI. His accomplishments in Evanston were enumerated with mention of his involvement in the Boy Scout Troop seven.

“Six Evanston boys, former members of Troop No. 7, Boy Scouts of America, under Scoutmaster Major A. H. Edmonds, are on the firing line in France as officers in the ninety-second division. Horace Graves is a former member of this organization.”

The War may have put an end to Troop number seven. After the war, Graves returned to Evanston and became a charter member of the William F. Garnett Snell Post, American Legion. Later in Evanston, a new, segregated Boy Scout troops formed during the 1920s.

Circling back to “firsts”, a September 27, 1913 Chicago Defender article discounted Evanston’s claim as first.

“Boy Scout No. 1 of Chicago are the oldest and first organized, and not the Evanston Scouts, as was published some weeks ago. The Chicago Scouts were organized May 30, 1911 by Major Stephen J. Horde.”

Speaking with a Boy Scouts of America representatives several years ago, there were no records relating to the Evanston Boy Scout troop of 1912.

Note: Most of the information on the Evanston Boy Scout troop originates from news clippings in the Chicago Defender between May 1911- September 1913. Photo image from the Souvenir Program and Directory of the 31st Annual Session of the Chicago Conference, Ebenexer A.M.E. Church, Evanston. Page 18

  1. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/african-americans-boy-scout-movement
  2. Chicago Defender, October 7, 1911, page 8
  3. Chicago Defender, June 1, 1912, page 8
  4. Chicago Defender, June 29, 1912, page 9

Updated 10/24/12 to reflect new photo, spelling of “Edmonds” and a link to the finding aids of Horace Graves, Jr.

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3 thoughts on “The “First” Colored Boy Scouts, Evanston, Illinois

  1. You have a lot of company. Black Troops in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, the District of Columbia, and Maryland all also lay claim as well as to the “first Black Troop in the USA”. The BSA is officially pretty spotty on the locations and dates for good reason: the BSA was incorporated in 1911; but before that, the YMCA in several communities hosted Boy Scout Troops which predate the official organization by at least three years (the Troop, for instance, in Huntsville Alabama claims that it was founded by the YMCA in 1909; the YMCA in Kentucky says that their first Black Troop was organized in 1908 along the same time the first White Troops were organized in Burnside, Kentucky in 1908…and on and on…)
    Back in the day, very little “paperwork” was collected. The BSA didn’t start “collecting paperwork” and filing information until after the first BSA local Councils were organized in 1912.

    Mike Walton, LTC USAR (Ret).
    Settummanque, the blackeagle
    Not affiliated in any way with the BSA

  2. Interesting about the Scouts, since the Evanston newspapers definitely touted it as the first in the country! Below are some items I’ve found. Maybe it’s a matter of whose paperwork was filed first!

    EvN = Evanston News EI = Evanston Index EDN = Evanston Daily News CT or CDT = Chicago Tribune CD = Chicago Defender

    CD 5/27/1911, 8–boy cadets meeting and seek support to become boy scouts

    CD 2/10/1912, 7–“New Scout Organization” (also see CT 2/10/1912, 4)

    EvN 2/14/1912, 8—“New Scout Organization: Colored Boys of This City Want to Become Members of National Boy Scout Body.” (also CDT 2/10/1912, 4)

    CD 2/17/1912, 7 (from EDN 2/9/1912)–under leadership of H. A. Edmunds (of Ebenezer A. M. E.), group is waiting for permission to form what will be the first colored Boy Scout troop in U.S.

    EI 3/16/1912, 6–mention of organization of the colored Boy Scout troop being organized by A. H. Edmunds

    EI 5/4/1912, 1—“COLORED SCOUTS ADMITTED”
    After fighting for recognitions for four months or more, the colored troop of Evanston Boy Scouts was last night received in the National Body of Boy Scouts of America
    Note: also see CD 5/4/1912, 7, along with commendation from Dr. Wm. F. Garnett

    EDN 5/25/1912, 7—“COLORED BOY SCOUTS RECEIVE CREDENTIALS”: signed by President Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and James E. West, chief scout master; first colored troop in the U. S.

    CD 6/1/1912, 8–announcement that Boy Scout Troop #7 came into being 5/6/1912–charter signed by Taft and Roosevelt–becoming “first troop of colored boy scouts of America.”

    CD 6/29/1912, 7–Second Baptist Church, but few others, provided encouragement for new Boy Scout troop

    CD 7/6/1912, 7–Boy Scouts, troop 7 to entertain (during fundraising activity)

    CD 7/13/1912, 7–Second Baptist hosted showing of movie for Boy Scouts

    EDN 9/16/1912, 8–Boy Scout Troop 7 included in report of the local troop activities with positive feedback

    EDN 3/18/1913, 2—“WILL PRESENT NEGRO SCOUTS WITH CARDS”

    CD 3/29/1913, 6— Boy Scouts invited to Second Baptist cornerstone laying ceremony, scheduled for 3/30

    CD 9/13/1913, 1—“THE FIRST COLORED BOY SCOUTS IN U.S.”: article gives A. H. Edmunds’ credentials

    EI 10/18/1913, 7–commendation of Boy Scout Troop #7, led by A. H. Edmunds

    EI 7/18/1914, 8–Boy Scout Troop 7 to stage baseball game as benefit for Emerson Y

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