Articles

Beauty, Jazz and Dreams: Kathryn Wimp’s Musical Journey With Duke Ellington

— By Carrie Moea Brown

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Stage name, Kay Davis production shot while touring with Duke Ellington

As Kathryn “Kay” MacDonald finished up the last two songs in her performance in Chicago, her eyes fixed toward the back of the auditorium. In walked a man surrounded by what in modern terms is referred to as an entourage. The year was 1944, and within moments she recognized what others around her already did— Duke Ellington had arrived. She left her place on stage and joined those down in the audience; pushing to get a closer look, when she finally reached him she was greeted with a question…

…“Can you be in Baltimore next week?” Ellington asked.

A week earlier, she and a friend attended one of Ellington’s performances. On a whim she decided to head backstage and after brief introductions she sang a tune. When she saw that Ellington seemed to enjoy it —and feeling even braver— she invited him to an upcoming performance.

“I was crazy about the man and his band,” Kay (now Kathryn Wimp) said in an interview with Northwestern Alumni News in 2001. “He was the epitome of style and class.”

She was pleasantly surprised that he had taken her up on her invitation— and even more surprised when he offered her a job. “I went home and packed my little trunk,” she said. “And that was the beginning of my career.”

The Formative Years

Born Kathryn MacDonald, in Evanston, Wimp knew early on in life that she wanted to sing. When her father, a chiropractor and her mother a homemaker from Evanston moved the family Bushnell, Ill. (62 miles outside of Peoria) she left behind a rich family history that included her grandfather, William H. Twiggs. An active civic leader, Twiggs was ahead of his time in working toward success in Evanston’s Black community. In 2000, this publication reported that he arrived in Evanston from Davenport, Iowa in 1884. He went on to own and operate a barbershop and printing press. Today, a park located south of Canal between Simpson and Payne streets bears his name.

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Twiggs family c1912. Katherine Twiggs (Kay’s mother) far left

By the time Wimp arrived back in Evanston for high school her interest in music had piqued. “I remember singing ‘Trees’ in elementary school,” says Wimp by phone from her home in Florida. It was her first time singing in public. She also recalls that her father used to sing in a Catholic choir—and she credits that with being a major factor in her choice to pursue music.

In her last two years at Evanston Township High School, Wimp began taking voice lessons. The school was de-segregated because it was the only high school for students in Evanston, black or white. There, she was a student of Roy Schuzler, a music teacher at ETHS who happened to be a student of Northwestern University music professor Walter Allen Stults. The relationship she forged with Schuzler would prove beneficial when she enrolled as a voice major at Northwestern’s School of Music.

Back at ETHS, she joined a choir newly formed by the head of the music department. Wimp recalls walking into the rehearsal room to find the entire choir was Black. They were all perplexed, she says. The head music teacher, a white woman from Texas, explained that she thought forming an all Black choir was a good idea because she felt the Black students sang so well.

Wimp says they all walked out of the room.  And the notion of an all Black choir was soon dismantled.

There were other challenges that faced Blacks living in Evanston at the time. On Sundays she would go downtown with her two younger brothers and her parents to get ice cream, but they would eat it on the drive home because they weren’t allowed to sit in the parlor.

Once, when Wimp was a teenager she and a friend who was darker skinned attempted to eat in at a popular diner in downtown Evanston. The staff offered to serve the lighter skinned Wimp, but refused service to her friend. They eventually let them eat in, but according to Wimp they doused the food in salt. She and her friend cleared their plates and left. She proudly refers to it as their version of a sit-in.

Early Training

The first Black undergraduate to enroll and subsequently graduate from Northwestern was Lawyer Taylor. The Louisville-born Taylor enrolled at the age of 34 and graduated in 1903. Thirty-five years later Wimp enrolled at Northwestern’s School of Music majoring in vocal performance. Only six Black students were enrolled in the music program at the time and because of Northwestern’s policy at the time, students of color were not permitted to live in the residence halls.

“We used to drool over Willard Hall, which was right across from the music building,” Wimp said in 2001. “I had a good time at Northwestern, but there were those limitations.” Wimp says that the limitations placed on both Black and Jewish students forged a sense of unity. “We kind of bonded together,” she says.

But those years were not without controversy. In 1942 at Northwestern’s annual Waa-Mu Show, a showcase of the campus’ musical talents, Wimp sang a duet with fellow music major Jack Haskell despite the social taboos on cross-racial stage romance.

The Man and His Band

In 1943 Wimp graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in voice. The following year she received her Master’s degree. Then, the opportunity came to work with Ellington. One of her first experiences in Ellington’s band came when he taught her the simple melody to “Creole Love Song.” Within an hour she was onstage with him performing the song. The year was 1944. The place was Carnegie Hall.

“I sang, it got a wonderful ovation and then I got the heck off the stage!” she exclaims.

Her first recording with Ellington came about as he was teaching fellow band member Al Hibbler notes from “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues.” Wimp sat humming along off stage. Ellington asked her to join in humming. When he eventually decided to keep her on the track Wimp was less than thrilled.

“I called home crying,” she says. She wanted to be on the frontlines.

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Jet Magazine, Dec. 25, 1952

But there were plenty of opportunities to showcase her talent. The following year, in April 1945, President Roosevelt died. Ellington’s band was the only jazz band asked to perform for a national audience. One piece “A City Called Heaven,” was sung by Wimp. The years went on and according to Wimp band members came and went. Among those, the only still alive are Maria Ellington (of no relation to Duke), who later married Nat King Cole and gave birth to Natalie. She now resides in Florida. The second was Joya Sherrill who now resides in Great Neck, NY. But Wimp describes Ellington as a “genius” and says that even with constant flux of female band members he remained focused. She says, unlike many of his day he didn’t fraternize with female band members. In fact, he completely absorbed by his work.

“Music was his mistress,” she says. He was always at the piano. She even heard that later he bought a portable piano –presumably before they became a main stay– which he toyed with while on the road. She says he would stay up until all hours of the night “constantly composing” music.

The years between 1944 and 1950 were filled with high profile engagements, one-nighters and cross continental trips. Wimp describes life on the road as hard.

“It’s not that glamorous day after day,” she says. As time went on “I kept holding on hoping something dramatic would happen,” she says.

The band toured relentlessly, to the Palladium in England and with the Nicolas Brothers and Pearl Bailey in Liverpool, and seemingly everywhere in between. “It was quite an experience, very exciting,” she says. In 1947 the band toured California, Texas and Georgia.

It was a “whole different thing,” she says referring to race relations. She says they were bad, and despite their high profile they couldn’t even sit down in restaurants to eat. She recalls a frightening time in Macon, Georgia. The band had just finished a show and their manager, who was white, arranged a deal with a restaurant owner across the street from the theatre. Ellington and his band hastily made their way into the restaurant, so as to avoid any controversy. When a patron saw the band arrive he demanded to know why Blacks were being served.

The restaurant owner introduced Duke Ellington. And according to Wimp the angry patron answered, “I don’t care about no Duke Ellington!”

Before things could get any more tense, Wimp ran out of the restaurant and back to the concert hall where she set up a make shift hot plate. That night, she heated a can of Campbell’s soup over the sink in the ladies’ restroom.

Though things were rough at times, she and the band remained focused. But by 1950, after a four-week tour of Europe Wimp says, “I was tired. . . I got home and said, ‘That’s it,’” she says.

One night gigs and the relentless travel schedule began to take their toll. To this day she says feelings of fatigue remind her of those one-night summer gigs.

On the music of the day she says, “It escapes me.” But she is also encouraged by the recent resurgence of old standards from the likes of artists like Michael Buble, hailed as a modern day master of the music of yesteryear.

As for advice she gives to people aspiring to break into the music business. She says, “So much of what happens to you, no matter what you do is luck.”

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Kay Wimp, visiting relatives in Chicago viewing artifacts Shorefront found in her childhood home in 2006.

She parallels this with the story of a childhood friend from Evanston who also graduated from Northwestern’s music school. Ann DeRamus was Black and studied classical piano. She was considered a prodigy by most, but breaking into the world of a classical pianist as a Black woman proved to be difficult. She went on to become a social worker.

But, Wimp adds that today, “If you’re really serious about something, no matter what you do, trust and have faith that it will happen.” She adds, “Look at me. I never dreamed that I would be on stage with Ellington.”

 

Notes: The original article first appeared in the original printed version of Shorefront Journal, volume 7 number 3, 2006. Images from the Shorefront photographic collection, Kay Davis music collection.

Returning Home: The Centennial of the Abbeville Lynching of Anthony Crawford

—By Doria Johnson

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In January of 2008, First Lady Laura Bush designated Abbeville a “Preserve America Community.” This initiative recognizes those communities that demonstrate a commitment to preserving their cultural and natural heritage. After years of denying the African American experience, Abbeville took one bold step towards that identity.

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With seven weeks notice, the community and country joined the Crawford family in honoring the centennial of their banishment, and “Grandpa Crawford’s” lynching in a two-day public history event. This well-attended and publicized affair included a “Freedom School”; a lynching-site soil collection and faith-based consecration service; an unveiling of a cast-iron marker by Bryan Stevenson; and a community-wide scholarship award service. There were roughly three hundred attendees at each event.

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp noted, “The family of wealthy Black farmer Anthony Crawford just made history again”, harkening back to their role in the apology for lynching by the United States Senate in 2005. This time, they secured funding for the permanent marker at the site of his lynching in Abbeville, South Carolina on the centennial of his death. Many folks in Evanston have a connection to Abbeville, and the 1916 brutal mob lynching of Crawford fueled a large outmigration beyond the chain from Abbeville to Evanston, to all across the United States.

We made history today. No longer can folks walk into government buildings in Abbeville without first encountering Grandpa Crawford. – Doria Johnson

The American South is littered with physical representations of the Confederacy, an increasing controversial issue, especially in light of the 2015 racial terror Charleston shootings by Dylan Roof of eight praying Black church members, and the assassination of their pastor South Carolina State Senator, Clementa Pinckney. Abbeville district AME Bishop Samuel L. Green, Sr. said “these killings are the evidence that we are experiencing a new lynching era”.

A few months earlier just up the road in North Charleston, unarmed African American Walter Scott was gunned down by white Officer Michael Slager. Despite video and strong evidence that Officer Slager hunted Scott as if her were a deer, rabbit or turkey, Scott was granted a mistrial, even though Slager can be seen planting a Taser gun on Scott, in front of other officers. Roof was recently convicted and is eligible for the death penalty; he will be sentenced January 17, 2017. From Crawford until now, racial terror is as American as apple pie.

Joining the Crawford family members were the families of Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Emmett Till, as well as students from Kenyon College in Ohio, national and local activists, human rights workers, historians, sociologists and faith leaders. Many people from all walks of life descended on Abbeville to bear witness to the terror and trauma of the survivors of the Crawford lynching.

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Doria Johnson presenting at the Septima Clark Freedom School

On the first day of the event, Friday morning, The Septima Clark Freedom School was opened in the Jefferson Davis Park with undergraduate students from Kenyon College, teachers, activists and Crawford family members leading classes. Later at dusk, the soil collection interdenominational service included clergy from around the country, including Rev. Dr. Jim Forbes, Riverside Church; Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, Friendship West Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Dale T. Irvin, World Churches, and Evanston native Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, who wrote the service of sacred memory.

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Doria Johnson with Bryan Stevenson

On Saturday morning, Bryan Stevenson unveiled the marker in front of a large crowd, including many press members and filmmakers. Stevenson not only congratulated the family for their steadfastness, but he also told stories of survival and racial conflict. One story was about a woman who could not enter a Southern courthouse after being terrorized by police dogs during the Black Freedom Movement demonstrations in her childhood in the 1960’s. She had been on Edmond Pettis Bridge in Alabama when police brutally beat marchers and set dogs upon them, and the trauma of those dogs followed her entire life. In front of Stevenson, she finally mustered the courage to attend a trial of an innocent Black neighbor, and declared “We are here!”. Stevenson asked the crowd to chant ‘we are here’ over again to demonstrate to attendees, ‘the region and the nation’ that the victims of lynchings did not disappear and are still affected by the aftermath.

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Doria Johnson holding a jar of soil collected near the site where Anthony Crawford was lynched

In the afternoon, the community gathered at the Crawford family church, 149-year old Cypress Chapel AME Church (which borders the Crawford homestead). Several local teenagers were awarded scholarships by the Equal Justice Initiative, and Crawford family members from around the country spoke about their legacies.

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Dance performed by Gail Hutchison before the unveiling of the marker

Local Evanston residents also participated including Second Baptist Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors, District 65 teacher Pat Gregory, Museum of Science and Industry/Yoga Instructor Gail Hutchison as well as 98-year old Lois Johnson, who attended as a salute to her dear late friend, Annabelle Frazier, Crawford’s granddaughter and family culture keeper.

Today, the Crawford family has made major strides towards recognition and justice. Just a few weeks later, Abbeville, the “birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy” elected its first Black mayor, Santana Freeman. White City Manager Dave Krumwiede, and his assistant Blake Stone, provided critical leadership, ensuring the installation’s realization and also comfort for the family. Krumwiede said it was time for ‘generational change.’ The Crawfords, and the institutional collective, has plans for other actions which should change the lives of the Abbeville community. Program partners “We Say Enough”, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference all contributed significant support ensuring a successful event.

 

Note: All photographs courtesy of Doria Johnson

For more information: 

Dedication of Lynching Marker to Anthony Crawford (Equal Justice Initiative) http://eji.org/news/hundreds-d edicate-lynching-marker-anthon y-crawford-abbeville-south- carolina

The Evil of Lynching Exposed (Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ entry/the-evil-of-lynching-exp osed_us_5802960ae4b0985f6d1571 f7

The History Behind the UNITY Scholarship and its Founding Members

—By Kimberly Jackson

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Unity Awards program held at First Church of God Christian Life Center, c2014

In 1984, the dream to find a way to recognize the community’s young people in a positive light was put into reality by two friends, C. Louise Brown and Yvonne Davis. Over 30 years later, this legacy is comprised of a unified body of believers and achievers coming together to do something positive for the African American community.

C. Louise Brown, a retired public health director for the city of Evanston, has always been one to pave the way so that others might follow. The first African American to graduate from Michigan State’s School of Nursing went on to earn her master’s degree at UIC in Public Administration. The idea of recognition for African American high achieving students was one that she experienced herself as a teenager growing up in Michigan. Her local church made it one of their missions to do something for its graduating students. The church not only acknowledged their students’ accomplishments but rewarded their success by paying for everything (from tuition to books and more) each semester, for their high school graduates.

Although Brown’s career resulted in her spending the majority of her time as a leader in the field of health administration, a passion for her local community, and students in particular, has always stayed close to her heart. It was only natural that she be one of the founders of a scholarship program.  Brown’s positions of leadership in her local church, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and on numerous community boards throughout the North Shore and Chicagoland area, support her belief that, “Joy is seeing people come behind you that you can mentor.”

The second founding member of UNITY is Yvonne Davis. She earned her undergraduate degree from Fisk University and graduate degree in Education Administration from Northwestern University. Davis is currently a retired school teacher, but her involvement in the community has far from slowed down. Her current and past participation and leadership roles in the field of education, her local church, Delta Sigma Theta, and many other influential programs in the area are examples of how genuine her passion is to make a positive impact on the community. As a young adult, Yvonne Davis’ frustration with all of the negative publicity of African Americans in the media furthered her determination to make a difference. She wanted to come up with a way to show the success and promising future of the African American community.

Together Davis and Brown, decided that one way to do that was to recognize the community’s young people. Thus began the UNITY scholarship program.

After a year, four organizations and one individual clearly saw the importance of UNITY and joined Brown and Davis’ efforts. The first five to do so were the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternal organizations, the NAACP, and Ione S. Brown who integrated her existing Second Baptist Church Memorial Scholarship Program with UNITY.

By the second year, 13 additional organizations participated in UNITY’s support of the African American community’s high achieving students. That same year, the UNITY logo was proposed by Charlene Jones. The organizing committee immediately adopted it as the symbolic identity of the program.

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Since that time, the organizational structure of the program has remained the same in its overall constitution and purpose.  Rotating chairmanship, set meeting structure, and non-disclosure of how much each organization donates in scholarship money each year have added to the overall unity and success of the program. “There are no big I’s and little u’s in this program,” mentioned Yvonne Davis. Currently, close to 20 groups now fall under the umbrella of organizations that support UNITY and over $100,000 in scholarship money is awarded.

The UNITY program has become a tradition and its participants part of a legacy in the African American community. It is comprised of a recognition portion, a presentation of awards, and a time for enjoying the food that families and friends donate for the reception.

What was once a distant vision between friends has become a motivator for today’s black youth, a chance for them to shine in their well-deserved acknowledgement, and an example of what a little unity can accomplish. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.

 

Note: Article first appeared in the original, printed Shorefront Journal, Vol 6, No 3, 2005, and slightly updated.

Eleanor J. Frazier Moore: Embraced Grace, and Culture

—By Dino Robinson

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Eleanor Frazier at podium, 1969

For eleven years, in a setting of grace, charm, and beauty, the Norshore Twelve, Inc. played host to its annual cotillion to formally present the Debutante’s of the year. This event attracted hundreds, within the African American community in Evanston and on the north shore, to the downtown Chicago Sherman House throughout the 1960s. The yearly anticipated gala would not have taken place if it were not for the tireless efforts of Eleanor J. Frazier.

Not more than a month would pass after the yearly event that Eleanor Frazier would start the frantic process over again. Activities included scheduling, selecting costuming, distributing press releases, determining themes and music, rehearsals and mailing invitations to invite a new set of young women. By that time there was less than nine months left for preparation for the gala evening.

Eleanor, better known to most as “Brownie”, was barely out of college when she first approached the men of the Norshore Twelve during the summer of 1959 and said, “We need to do something for our young ladies like the Deltas and Snakes in Chicago.”

Brownie reflected on her debut through Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at the Emerson Street YMCA. “I did not know what a cotillion was then”. Brownie said, “But I remember Boots Avery, Billie Childs, Camilla Parham Harris, Julia Turner, Beverly Wilson and others and what they taught me in being a lady.” The Deltas then had a program that introduced young ladies into adulthood in a formal process that cumulated with an evening event.

Brownie also referred to the Snakes Cotillion in Chicago. “I remember Rita Robinson and Sissy Butler from Evanston” Brownie said, “They made their debut in the Snakes Cotillion.” The Snakes was, and still is an active African American social organization in Chicago. Brownie, seeing that there was a lack of cultural enrichment programs for African American girls in Evanston, thought that an event similar to the Deltas and the Snakes was something that the men of the Norshore Twelve could undertake. These men felt the same.

Within that same year, Brownie had recruited, organized, trained and counseled a group of young ladies to experience an evening of class, grace, charm and culture, one which at that time was what many parents wanted for their daughters. The culminating event became known as the Norshore Twelve Cotillion. The Cotillion at its height was the most highly anticipated summer event.

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Eleanor Frazier c1990s

Brownie, during the inception of the cotillion, was employed at the Evanston YWCA as the youth program director. A life-long Evanston resident, she attended the local schools and went on to college at Dillard University in Louisiana where she pledged Delta Sigma Theta. Brownie later finished her education at Northeastern Illinois University. “At that time in the 1970s, it was expected that you went to college.” Brownie said.

Brownie married William L. Moore, Ph.D. and moved to Houston, Texas in 1977. There she taught Science and Biology for 26 years. Before her move to Texas, her avocation involved developing and organizing the Norshore cotillion in Evanston. This commitment turned into a yearlong project.

During the 1960s in Chicago, as well as the rest of the United States, was a hostile environment for African American’s, then referred to as “Negro” or “Colored”. Racial segregation, housing restrictions, lynchings, race riots, voting privileges and job restrictions were all elements that, for many in the nation, risked their lives to fight for.

So for an organization of “Negro” men to organize and hold an event in downtown Chicago hotels was nothing short of “impossible” in most African American minds. However, the Norshore Twelve seemed not to be intimidated by these taboos.

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Grand march at the Sherman House

Each July during the years 1960 to 1971, North Shore African American residents looked forward to the organization’s annual event. At its peak, more than 1,400 people packed the grand ballroom. At first, they held the cotillion at the Parkway Ballroom located at 4455 S. King Dr. in Chicago. When they outgrew that venue, they moved the cotillion to the former Sherman House at Clark and Randolph in downtown Chicago.

“I don’t know how we got into the Sherman House.” Byron said, “I guess through our various inquires, the Sherman House was the only one that responded.” Various people were instrumental in preparing the cotillion including Mr. Rickman who headed marketing; Mr. Holland was the Maitré d and Mr. Benny Price at the Foster Center (Fleetwood-Jourdain Center). “Without him there wouldn’t be a cotillion.” Brownie said, “He was the head custodian there. That is where we had our rehearsals. We would start around seven in the evening and not leave until past midnight.”

… She instilled in us to always strive toward perfection

“The idea behind the cotillion was to bring cultural enrichment to the young ladies.” Brownie said, “I felt as though the young ladies were being short-changed in not having such an program and event.” Participation in the cotillion was an experience that lasted nine months.

“The cycle began in July. Letters were sent to African American high school senior parents, inviting their daughter to participate in the cotillion.” Brownie describes, “Invitations an afternoon soireé were sent in October. November was the formal tea for prospective debutants. Once accepted, the young ladies were required to attend weekly meetings.” During the meetings, the ladies were instructed in posture, dance, dress fittings, make-up techniques, rehearsals, and culture etiquette.” Additional preparation included monitoring their school GPA, applications to college and their eventual acceptance letters to college. “The major expectation for participating in the cotillion was matriculation into college,” Brownie said.

Brownie utilized her time and Norshore Twelve’s money in preparation. She hired choreographers such as Michael Frederics from Gus Giordano dance studio; photographers from Zeloof-Stuart Photography Studios and caterers. For musical entertainment, the Willie Randall band was frequently used. “Brownie ran it all.” Byron Wilson said, a Norshore Twelve charter member. “Whatever she needed, she got it, no matter the cost. The men played a low-key role. Aside from finances, it was Brownie who ran the program.”

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1964 prospectives meeting at the home of Robert Cobb.

“Brownie was a very exceptional person,” Gwen Burton Poole said, a 1961 debutant, “She has this gift, a talent in organizing the girls and the event… and the patience she had during that time… She instilled in us to always strive toward perfection.”

In addition to the meetings, the participants had to solicit ads, hold fundraisers and seek sponsorships to defray the cost of the souvenir book. Parents were involved as sponsors and were required to host at least one social event at their home. Occasionally, a member of the Norshore Twelve would step in to serve as an escort or as a surrogate father.

All participants wore white ball gowns; a simple string of pearls with matching single-pearl earrings and 16 button kid or cloth gloves. Debutants selected their escorts for the evening gala. The escorts wore identical summer wear including top hats and sometimes canes for the debs and escorts dance. All of their efforts and a years worth of meetings were in preparation for the cotillion. Debutants, their parents and a showing from the Evanston community stepped out in high fashion for the evening.

“This was an opportunity to be with girls that we grew up with. This was the late time we may be together for a while, to do something meaningful.” Colette Hill-Duncan said, a 1967 Debutant. “I grew up a Norshore Twelve kid. This was something to look forward to.”

The Cotillion evening was a gala that involved a grand entrance of all the attendees. Following were the announced entrance of each debutant escorted by their father or a Norshore Twelve member. Following dinner and live music came the well-rehearsed and choreographed performances by the debutants and their young escorts as individual groups of ladies and gentlemen, then as couples.

“This was the social event of Evanston,” said Brownie, “School superintendents, government officials, the crème of the crop, all came out.” “And a lot of Whites would attend as well,” Byron said. “Write-ups would appear in the Evanston Review, The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Defender.”

The Norshore Twelve Cotillion began July 1960 and through July 1971

Each year, the cotillion was identified by a theme. The earlier ones took on names off of classical music scores or stage plays. Later they were more thematic with choreographed performances that related to them. Some theme names included “Jour de Romain”, “The King and I”, “Black and Beautiful – Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Mod-Mad-Mardi Gras”. “The best year was the Black and Tan Fantasy in 1969.” Brownie said, “We utilized the music of Duke Ellington.” Byron agreed.

As the popularity of the Cotillion grew, they outgrew the space provided at the Parkway Ballroom. “One night, there were so many people dancing and enjoying themselves, the floors bounced.” Byron said. After the cotillion event, after parties took place in the penthouses. The penthouse rooms at the Sherman House were rented out by members of the Norshore Twelve or by parents of the debutants.

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1969 Debutantes at the home of landscaper Tennis Saunders. Photo by Zeloof-Stuart Photography

“After the cotillion, my father rented a suite after the cotillion.” Sarah Ashmore Diggs recalls, a 1969 debutant “After an amazing day and evening of being treated like a princess at the Sherman House, my friend and I wanted to sneak off to one of the penthouse parties. To my surprise, it was my father who was throwing that party!”

As the 1970s rolled around, times were changing. The rising movement of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” cued a new generation of African Americans to take a new look at its culture and social standing. It was becoming more and more difficult to find young ladies wanting to participate in the cotillion. “The younger generation was loosing interest in it. The parents liked it. But this trend was happening with our other organizations as well.” Byron said. During this time, the cotillion may have been perceived as assimilation by the younger generation. Between 1960 and 1969, the number of participants averaged 15 in the cotillion. In 1970, ten participated and the last cotillion in 1971, only eight took their bows.

The last cotillion spelled the end of the annual gala. Participation was met with animosity. “Things were just getting bad.” Byron said.

“The girls stopped cooperating.” Brownie said, “So I finally had to say, “I’m through!”

“And when Brownie said that, that was the end of the cotillion.” Byron finished. Most participants had no understanding of the time, planning, energy, arrangement or the money that was involved in preparing the evening’s gala event.

The cotillion may have lived out its cycle with the new generation new sense of cultural pride, ideas and direction, at least in the north. “The Links, for example, still have cotillions in the south today.” Brownie said, “I would like to see something like the cotillion come back… not seen as an assimilation, but to enforce that we [too] have a culture.”

The Norshore Twelve Cotillion began July 1960 and through July 1971. The preparation involved many dedicated businesses, parents, volunteers and the community. However, the event was pulled together by the tireless efforts of Brownie Frazier. During its existence, more than 150 young women had experienced the training process that cumulated in an evening of grace, charm and beauty that became known as “The Cotillion”. Many of these participants still have fond memories of the Norshore Twelve annual cotillion.

“The warmest feeling was that my family participated in the entire process.” Sarah reflected, “The whole community supported us.”

 

Note: This article first appeared in the original quarterly Shorefront Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, winter 2006 issue. All images courtesy Eleanor Frazier and located in the Shorefront archives.

Emmaline H. Jourdain: Remembering the Lady

—By Rose Jourdain

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Emmaline Hardwick, c1926. Shorefront archives

She had begun her life in Warrenton, Georgia. November 4, 1909, the only child of Rosa English and Joseph Hardwick, and moved with her family to Evanston when she was six. She attended the Evanston public schools, sang in the choir at Ebenezer AME Church where her father was a trustee and her mother was founder of several clubs. Following her graduation from Evanston Township High School, she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

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Emmaline at Fisk University c1930

She was proud and pretty, vivacious and spunky, intelligent, loving, generous, charming, and witty. Her friends in Evanston called her “Sandy.” Her classmates at Fisk University called her “Imp.” When she was sixteen, she fell in love with Edwin Bush Jourdain Jr., a fierce crusader for racial justice who would become Evanston’s first black alderman, and was still in love with him more than fifty years later when he died. She had four children, adored each of them, and talked about them all the time.

She loved life and people. She loved babies, everybody’s babies. She loved beauty and art and music. Above all, she loved singing, and with her lyric soprano voice, she became a member of the internationally known Fisk Jubilee Singers.

People knew her by her walk: little bit classical, a little bit jazzy, a little bit cool. She had fabulous legs and loved high-heeled shoes and, when as a teenager, I asked her how she could “walk for hours in those things,” she always laughed and repeated one of her mantras, “Beauty knows no pain.” When she was a teenager, she wanted to sing professionally and maybe become a dancer. Instead, she took care of three generations of her family and never complained. She had grace, and grace under pressure. Her name was Emmaline Hardwick Jourdain.

When I was a young girl, she always prefaced her opinions or information-sharing with ‘Gint’ – my father’s nickname– ‘says.’ While I was trying to grow-up as fast as possible, she loved saying ‘Gint’, he always has five children, meaning me, my three siblings and herself. If anything arose that needed solving, or punishment, she said, “Wait till your father comes home.” Mom declared she was “twenty-nine.” until I was about sixteen and told her that was becoming an embarrassment to me, that she have had to be twelve or thirteen when I was born. Laughing she said, “I’ll be thirty on my next birthday.”

I adored my father, but Mom put the warm, sunny glow in our lives. I was thinking the other day about the up-coming holidays, remembering that when I was a girl, Daddy was Santa Claus, many years transforming our rec-room and the basement corridor that led to it into a pine-bough fairyland. But Mom was always the spirit of Christmas, with holly pinned in hair.

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The Hardwick family shortly after arrival in Evanston, c1915. Emma line, Joseph and Rosa. Shorefront archives.

Mr. DuBois, I’ve been reading The Souls of Black Folk and…

She loved our home and the beautiful pieces in it. Except for the times she wanted to go to the Club Delisa to hear Billy Ekstine, or the Rhumboogie to hear Sarah Vaughn, or to Ravinnia Park to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or to an elegant dinner party for the great tap dancer Bojangles, when I was a girl and dreaming of being off to Paris or Rome, the only other places that I knew that she wanted to go were to the movies with my father or to luncheons or small parties at the homes of friends. Friends whose phone calls or rings at the door she always answered with a delighted, “Hey,” as though she were receiving an unexpected present. She enjoyed company and setting an elegant table when dignitaries came to visit.

Although my father encouraged the participation of his children in these dinner table conversations, Mom rarely said anything. I thought Daddy’s friends thought her delightful, gracious, charming, a great cook and a lovely table decoration. However, over time, I noticed that she was taking much keener interest in what was being said.

Then one night after learning that W.E.B. DuBois, my father’s all-time hero, was again coming to dinner, I saw her in the living room reading. I asked about the book in her hand and she told me it was The Souls of Black Folk. I stared at her and then forgot it.

DuBois did not engage in small talk, nor was he a flatterer, and none of us kids dared intrude more than a sentence into his formidable intellectual zone. But then, after dinner, while we were having desert, Mom leaned a bit over the table, saying quietly, “Mr. DuBois, I’ve been reading The Souls of Black Folk and…”

I don’t remember the rest of her statement. In fact, I think I was too shocked to hear it. Daddy’s head had shot up and he was staring at Mom as though he had never seen her before. But DuBois had heard and was seriously considering what she had said, turning his attention full on Mom and speaking to her in exactly the same manner in which he spoke to Daddy. I sat spellbound, not by DuBois, but by Mom.

Another time sharply etched on my memory is coming home after my first year in college and being beckoned by her into the kitchen. “Nomie, [my nickname] guess what?”, she began. Her eyes were sparkling. “I have a job. It begins next week.” I stared. Mom with a Job? Although over the years, she had frequently told my father that she wanted a job, he had always said that she belonged at home with the children.

“What are you going to do?” I asked cautiously,

“I’m going to work in the payroll department at Great Lakes Naval station.”

I gasped. Mom had never paid a single bill and, except for the time Daddy had worked in Washington, she’d never even bought groceries. She had never had a checkbook and Daddy either took her or gave her cash whenever she bought clothes.

“Mom, what are you going to do there?”

“I’m going to be a clerk-typist.”

“But Mom, you can’t type.”

“Neither could you before you learned how,” she replied.

But soon, Mother found more things she could do. She began writing articles for her department’s bi-monthly newsletter – witty, intriguing pieces – that had personnel writing notes thanking her for the articles.

Then she was asked to write and edit the newsletter. She brought every one home proudly showing me the words on the mast head. “Emmaline Jourdain, Editor”.

After Wif [my daughter’s nick name] finished grade school, she and I moved back east, not to New York, but to Washington where my brother, Spence was then living. After my father died, Mom began visiting me twice a year: a month at Christmas and two or three weeks in the summer. She loved singing along with my CD’s, still loved theater, the ballet and musicals, and we went as often as I could afford, several times going up to New York to see a Broadway show which always thrilled her. And for one night she was a star.

I had gotten a ticket for Mom to see a Broadway show which I thought she would love. Spence took her up to New York, but she hated the show, saying to my stunned disbelief that “It was too vulgar,” that she wanted to go to a nightclub. A friend, Emme Kemp, whom I had known since her student days at Northwestern, had become a well-known pianist, appearing at swank and “in” clubs in New York and Europe. She had come to our home several times during our college days and sometimes Mom had sung along with her as she played our piano. She was then playing at a very “in” club just off Broadway. Spence took Mom to see her.

Emme called Mom to the mike. Mom demurred, but Emme insisted. Finally Mom walked to the stage, conferred a few minutes with Emme, then took the mike. She was eighty four, but her voice was still a pure lyric soprano as “Summertime” hushed her audience and, when she finished, brought everyone to their feet, shouting “Bravo.” At their applauding insistence, she gave them another song and then another before going back to her table where, to her amazement, several from the audience crowded around her, asking who she was, why they had not heard of her before.

Emme called me as soon as she got home and told me every detail of what had happened. When Mom got back to Washington the next afternoon, I told her I had heard that she had been singing in a nightclub on Broadway. Her face was radiant. “Oh, Nomie,” she said. “It was so wonderful.”

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Emmaline Hardwick Jourdain, c1985. Shorefront archives

That would be my mother’s last trip to New York, to Washington; the last time she would leave Evanston. Within a year, my brother, Bud. called me asking to me to come home and help take care of her.

Years before, both Buddy and I had, separately, promised Mother we would never put her in a nursing home. And though at the time I believe neither of us thought such a time would ever come, it was a promise we were both determined to keep. I came home and, with the help of a part time care-giver, especially Nita Davis, I was with Mom for nearly seven years. She became paralyzed and almost blind, but even as her descent into Alzheimer’s deepened, her spirit never waned. Buddy got up twice every night to turn her with such surgical precision that she never had a bed sore. I made up singing games to play with her, and though I can’t carry a note, she entered into them, cheering me with her delight, inspiring me with her bravery, her spunk and, most of all, with her faith.

In addition to her staunch support of her husband’s career, Emmaline Jourdain was active in many community organizations including: The Hardwick Guild, which was founded by her mother for the young women of Ebenezer AME Church, The Women’s Missionary Society of the church, The Community Hospital Auxiliary, and The Toppers who were active in civic causes. She served as Worthy Matron, Pride of the North, Number 61, Order of the Eastern Star in 1973 and a member of the Board of Stewards of Ebenezer Church.

 

Note: This slightly edited article first appeared in the original, quarterly Shorefront Journal, Vol 3 no 1, 2001 authored by Rose Jourdain, the daughter of Emmaline and Edwin Jourdain, Jr.

Hands of Time: Hands on Pageantry

—by Dino Robinson

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The Hands of Time: Bobby Caldwell, Barry Young, Lenard Perkins and Billy Giles.

. . .Look to this day!
For today your child has became a Woman!
A Beautiful  B L A C K  Woman! . . .
—Excerpt from “Miss Black Evanston” 1971-72, composed
by Maryland L. Williams and Morris McCorvey

Four men with aspirations to join the ranks of the many singing groups, made their stamp in history in a venue that was far from the music industry, in sponsoring a beauty pageant.

Four Evanston Township High School friends, Billy Giles, Bob Caldwell, Barry Young and Lenard Perkins shared in their interest in singing. After Giles and Caldwell served in the army, they formed a singing group known as the Devotions in 1967. One day, while the group was walking down Dempster Street, they stopped in front of a clock store. Inspired by the display, the group changed their name to the Hands of Time.

For the next several years, the group performed in local and Chicago metro area clubs and venues. Because of obligations to work and raising families, the group never devoted the time and energy needed to go further. “After many performances, we came out of it with $200, split between the four of us”, Mr. Young shared.

The Hands of Time performed at the former 1623 Club, Bobby Jones Club, venues in Chicago. The group also organized a singing venue at the former Student Lounge once located on Church Street and Maple Avenue. The headliner for the event Sonji Clay, the then ex-wife of the late Muhammad Ali.

It was at one venue in Chicago where the group came upon a request to sponsor a pageant. It was early 1971 after performing during a womans’ “society” club event where the group was approached and asked if they may be interested in sponsoring a competition in the North Shore. The winner of the pageant would then compete in the Miss Black Illinois pageant, then from there, advancing to Miss Black America pageant to be held in New York.

The Hands of Time took on the task, and they only had less than six months to pull it off. Under the name H.O.T. Production, short for their group name, they passed out flyers to Northwestern University Students, Evanston Township High School, and National Teacher College.

“The ladies group gave us the information of what criteria was needed for the ladies. They had to be in high school or college and from this area only. And they had to be under 21.” Said Mr. Young.

In the end, H.O.T. Productions attracted around 25 applicants that were narrowed down to 14 contestants: Joyce Ashford, Vernetta Bell, Linda Bowman, Sandra Childress, Rose Maria Eady, Betty Hill, Eva Holland, Loretta Lewis, Joyce Newman, Linda Jean Paul, Carola Payne, Debbie Pemberton, Bertha Pride and Earlene Spotsville were the final contestants for the first Miss Black Evanston pageant.

Throughout the coming months, the young ladies had an instructor that guided them in form, presentation and pageant venues. Eleanor Frazier, who for years had been working with the NorShore 12 cotillions, also helped in the process. Sponsors came from the Student union, the Foster Club and the 1623 Club and the final event was held on July 25, 1971 at the Orrington Hotel in downtown Evanston.

The events formal program, like most pageants, consisted of Music from Fred Hunter Jr. and his Orchestra, the opening procession of contestants, evening gown and swimsuit review and performance by the Hands of Time.

The event was documented in multiple issues of the Chicago Daily Defender, the North Shore Examiner, the Evanston Review, Chicago Tribune and the CCC Newsette. The CCC was quite excited about the event:

missblackevanston
Unknown publication

“. . .Never before has Evanston seen such a spine-chilling event as the H.O.T. Productions’ Miss Black Evanston Beauty Pageant. Judges simply had to be hard-put to decide on the winners. So diversified were their presentations that judges would have been justified in selecting any one of them.
We Learned that by a very narrow margin, . . . they announced to the suspense-filled audience of 300 or more patrons that the lovely Joyce Ashmore was their choice for Miss Black Evanston of 1971.”

Miss. Ashmore, a student at Emerson College, would go on to compete at the Miss Black Illinois that would be held the following month at the Playboy Towers. There she would finish as second runner up to a contestant from Chicago, Illinois. Miss Ashmore, an aspiring poet read one of her piece during the Evanston event entitled “The Black Woman’s Struggle to Adapt to the Changing Realities of Being Black”, with the ending verses:

My character has been molded to fit the survival needs of my people.
So I will change once again to fit their needs.
Mine will be a role of continual change, ever growing with my people,
Assisting them on their way, rather than becoming a stagnant burden.
So, too, must the Black man change.
We both must re-examine and re-define our roles,
For WE have a commitment for the future.
—Joyce Ashford

Though the event was a successful event, in the end, the Miss Black Evanston Pageant would be its first and last pageant from H.O.T. Productions. As Mr. Young simply stated, “We had the best event that year, among the other groups. But for some reason, we were not invited to participate the following year. That ended the effort. . .”. The Hands of Time continued to perform from time to time after the pageant. However, today it is just a memory left back at that time to be replaced with family and careers. There were only a few home recordings of the group, but none exist today.

 

Images: Hands of Time, courtesy of Mr. Barry Young. “Miss Black Evanston”, August 1971, Publication unknown.
Source: Interview of Barry Young conducted by Dino Robinson at Shorefront, September 27, 2014. Miss Black Evanston program book. The Daily Defender, Monday, August 7 and 9, 1971; The North Shore Examiner, August 2, 1971; The Evanston Review, August 5, 1971; Concerned Citizens Commitment (CCC), 1971. “Miss Black Illinois pageant dazzles Playboy Towers audience”, Daily Defender, August 21, 1971, p. 19.

Shorefront update #009

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The Justice For Peace exhibit at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center

The board and volunteers of Shorefront has had a busy schedule since our last update summer of 2015. New acquisitions, interns, exhibitions, avocation and recognition have all taken place over that time period cumulating into a very busy 12 months. We even did some light renovation to the Legacy Center and was a feature on Channel 9 during the Evanston Black Business Tour organized by the owners of Yo’ Fresh Frozen Yogurt. If you have not been by, you should visit.

As an active collecting repository, donations to Shorefront’s archives have grown. New items acquired come from individuals and organizations and include Ebenezer A.M.E., Opal, the ETHS Black Male and Black Female Summit, example pieces from local artists, Evanston Neighborhood Conference, The Triangle Club, Community Hospital, Foster / Lab Experimental School, Evanston Own It and dozens of smaller items. Many of these new items will be incorporated into current collections.

Throughout the months, Shorefront has been engaged with community outreach through lectures and discussions. Founder Dino Robinson participated in discussions on and about local history at Leadership Evanston, the Evanston Public Library and at the Black History Month Kick-off at Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center. There, Evanston Mayor Tisdahl presented the organizers with a proclamation recognizing Black History Month events, now on display at the Legacy Center. Dino also spoke at the Digital Archives Panel at the University of Michigan in April and will speak in October this year at UCLA on and about community archives.

All sessions_FlyerIn partnership with the Evanston Chapter NAACP, The African American History and Genealogy Consortium and the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti, three community wide panel discussions were shared at the 4th Annual Black History Lecture Series event. Held on three consecutive Saturdays, scholars and community members shared their knowledge. All three sessions were filmed and archived at Shorefront.

Session one was on Pan-Africanism and the local island communities. Local panelists, Jude Laude, Sharon Staine and Bob Parris gave presentations on the Haitian, Belizean and Jamaican presence on the North Shore. Dr. Anna Castillo gave an informative presentation on early South and Central America early presidents, governors and leaders of African decent.

Session two focused on legislature that has an impact on community and police relations. Panelists were Margaret Stapleton of the Shriver Center, Patrick Keenan-Devlin of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy and Shyriden Carmichael of the Cabrini Green Legal Aid.

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Session three of the lecture series

Session three focused on the theme of “telling your story”. Panelist were Gwen Rucker on the Mormons work in Genealogy, Arthur Amaker on the Maroons in American, Kim Chase on historical Black towns and Ayinde Jean-Baptists on Haiti.

Mid 2015, Shorefront introduced a new traveling exhibit series entitled “Legacies”. The growing, multi-panel focuses a snapshot of historic and contemporary residents and organizations throughout the North Shore. The first set of five panels was unveiled at the One State Conference organized by the Illinois Arts Alliance. The panels were also shown at the Justice For Peace exhibit at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and at the 2016 Black History Month Kick-off event at the Fleetwood Jourdain Center. Plans on introducing additional panels to add to the exhibit will be ready by end of year.

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Mid July, Shorefront partnered with the Foster/Lab Experimental School Kindergarten 50th Reunion committee. The event attracted over 60 people – former students, teachers, administrators and community activists. Breaking the norm of reunions, this gathering focused on two themed panel discussions; We Were There and Where Are We Now? in reflection of the times when Evanston was beginning its school integration processes and evaluating what has changed today. In addition to the panels, Shorefront interviewed 15 former kindergarten students and administrators on their experience in the beginning of King Lab school. The resulting interviews is slated to be incorporated into the 1967 film by Larry Brooks, The Integration of Foster School for a 2017 release.

Shorefront is excited to be a recipient of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), “Museum Grants for African American History and Culture” and as a collaborating partner with the “National Leadership Grants for Libraries”. The first award furthers Shorefronts work to grow a focused collection on the Jamaican and Haitian communities, expand its board, solidify partnerships and produce a collection of publications.

The second collaborative grant involves The Amistad Research Center, the South Asian American Digital Archive, Mukurtu, and the Inland Empire Memories Project of the University of California-Riverside for a series of forums focused on integrating community archives in the National Digital Platform. The January 2017 forum is slated to be held in Evanston, hosted by Shorefront.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. The mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. The grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit http://www.imls.gov and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

Lastly, Shorefront is intentional in encouraging families and organizations to consider donating items to local repositories and supporting efforts in creating archives. Over the years, Shorefront’s work helped grow its archives and encouraged other families and entities to do the same. Two organizations, the North Shore Ushers Guild and the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association has consulted with Shorefront while they work in preserving their own rich history.

Shorefront and its activities is supported by membership, contributions and grant support. Shorefront is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit historical organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and educating people about Black history on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. It is publicly supported through grants, contributions and membership. The Legacy Center is open to the public for research initiatives.

My Grandfathers: Arthur Chester King

— By Bruce King

Grandfather
(Front to back) Arthur Chester King, Bruce Allen King, uncle Melvern Lyons and his dad Robert Lyons c1960s

Arthur Chester King, born October 9, 1888 in Abbeville, South Carolina, known as the “Birthplace and the Deathbed of the Confederacy”. Arthur was born an only child just 23½ years after the Civil War and just 16 years after the death of Reconstruction; that seven-year period intended to reunify the southern states and to “reconstruct” the lives of the millions emerging from hundreds of years of the worse form of slavery in the history of man and those others suffering from the ravages of war.

Arthur never knew his parents, whether or not they were born slave or free. He was raised by the “village” and one relative, Sarah Collier, fondly remembered and addressed simply as “Aunt Sarah”, along with others loving and kind enough to accommodate an orphaned child. He never spoke of his parents. To me, it is unimaginable, the horrors and hardships in a place where “Jim Crow” reigned king as the law and rule of the day and which was strictly enforced.

Like all around him, Arthur had to work to eat. He grew up in the country, raising chickens, hogs, cows, horses and mules. They grew greens; collards, mustards and turnips, also peanuts, beans, squash, black-eyed peas, okra, corn and tomatoes. They had access to pecans, peaches, pears and apples along with an assortment of berries, cantaloupe, watermelon and musk melon. They made use of wild plants like dandelion greens, Chickweed, Bitterroot, Purslane, Wintercress and other medicinal plants found in the nearby woods.

My grandfather was a very quiet and soft spoken man. I never heard him raise his voice. Beneath what appeared to be his gentleness was a very powerful and controlled man. His eyes were an odd color brown with grey as the outer ring of his iris. His skin was the color of sand. To me, he spoke very, very few words. Our paths seemed only to cross with great reluctance on both of our parts, for him, because he had no clue about children and babies and for me, I preferred the comforting bosom of Grandma King.

I would see him at the head of the holiday dinner table, from the little table in the corner with my older brother Roy Jr and my cousin Ronnie, carving the turkey, the suckling pig, the standing rib roast and the traditional ham with pineapple slices. I would hear his soft spoken words and glean from the faces of my father, mother, aunts and uncles their reactions to the subtle complexities of his deadpan humor and signifying words. That was the extent of his fun, outside of his television. He read the newspaper on a daily basis.

His self-control was amazing as I recall him in my memory. His smile was slight and his eyes let you know that he missed very little. He was a short, slightly built man. He had very broad shoulders, long powerful arms and very, very large, smooth and well maintained hands.

Under Jim Crow laws. . .there was no eye contact allowed. . .

His movement was visibly controlled and very deliberate, but smooth, giving one the misconception that he did little. His motto was, “Measure twice and cut once.” These words exemplified his thoughtfulness and guided him as a master carpenter, a craft he brought with him from the South. He was taught his trade as a young man while in Abbeville, by “General” Fuller, the patriarch of the Fuller family, whose many members also migrated to Evanston. Thrift was fundamental among all of his generation, coming from a situation and a society that offered very little and gave nothing outside of fear, condescension and pain. This frugality would be later exacerbated by the Great Depression, WWII and the continuation of Jim Crow in the North.

Under Jim Crow laws, as they applied to Blacks, there was no eye contact allowed, never a “yeah”, or “no”, or simply “yes”, ONLY “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” and you always yielded the right of way to whites in passing. IF you were allowed in a store to do business, you had to wait until all the whites were served before being allowed to step up to the counter to be served.

As a Black boy, you were not held to the strictest and more stringent rules as Black men were, as long as you wore knickers.  Do not think this easing of the rules allowed any room for disregarding the superiority whites forced upon my elders, even in their youth. Once a boy stepped out in long pants, all of Jim Crow’s most heinous rules were immediately in Full Effect!

In the fall of 1910, “Lil” Arthur took the irreversible step into manhood. He donned long pants and went into town. Once there, on the sidewalk (sidewalks then were wooden and most times about four feet above the muddy, feces strewn streets) he was approached by some young whites who knew him. He continued forward, not yielding the right of way by jumping into the street below. The angered whites said, “Lil Arthur, we know where you live boy and we’ll be by to see you to straighten this matter out later tonight.” He understood clearly what was meant and knew he had to act quickly.

My grandfather was a Mason and was able, with the help of the brothers, to be secreted out of town to Atlanta in a coffin, there he boarded a train to Chicago. Upon his arrival, he made his way to Evanston, reconnecting with his Aunt Sarah. He found lodging in a rooming house that was next to the gas station on the corner of Greenbay Road and McCormick Boulevard.

He was a very conservative man with very strong family values. His views were of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, along the lines of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League ideology espoused by Marcus Garvey. He was a teetotaler and determined to change the conditions of his life for the better. He worked hard at odd jobs, saving money to buy the tools of his trade and to buy transportation. Six years later he built his first house with scavenged materials, largely from Northwestern University which was expanding and moving in old buildings and building new buildings, which my grandfather and others from the newly forming Black Evanston community were able to work on. In that same year, he married my grandmother. He was the father of nine: Arthur Jr., Mildred, Richard, Elizabeth, John, Roy, Harriet, George and Nancy. He was a devout man who regularly attended the new home of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, located at the 1109 Emerson Street address since 1909.

Being a strict disciplinarian, he raised his children with a strong hand and deep Christian values and a very strong work ethic. Independence, self-respect and self-sufficiency was preached constantly. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that his children were normal in every way, both good and bad, industrious and indolent, comical and morose. For the most part, out of both fear and respect for their father and mother, their straying and street clowning rarely got home, but when it did, Arthur was more than able and ready to address it, whatever it might have been and the stories abound that he did. They were all required to be capable and versatile in the maintaining of the house and garden.

I am eternally grateful for my grandfather relating his story to me in the fall of 1966, weeks before he passed. I am deeply saddened that all I have are very meager photos which only entice my memory and makes my chest tight with the dread that I missed my mark. . .my life’s accomplishments compared to his. . .and he had so few options.

 

Juneteenth: Celebrating and Honoring a Heritage

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2016 Juneteenth celebration in Evanston

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is a day of celebration or… jubilation. A day filled with: Entertainment, recreation, reflection on education and self-improvement, guest speakers and prayer services. A time where we recognize and honor our elders. . .and our youth.

But lets think back for a moment here and reflect on how Juneteenth came about. Imagine with me if you may:

June 19th, 1865. Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas with news for the community: The war had ended and that all who were enslaved are now free. Keep in mind that this news arrived two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

Slavery was allowed in Southern Illinois

Union enforcement in Texas was negligible and was unable to enforce the Executive order until after the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and stronger Union forces arriving in Texas. Read to the people of Texas was General Order Number 3, which began with:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

The reactions to this news ranged from shock to immediate jubilation. With nowhere to go, former enslaved Blacks choices were few; remaining where they were or migrate to other parts of the country – as – free – people.

Many families migrated to the North Shore directly from the south and from Canada immediately after the Civil War. And to think, Illinois was almost a slave state. Before 1865, one could not really be a “free person of color” in Illinois as the Black Codes were in effect that kept a person of color as a registered indentured person. Slavery was allowed in Southern Illinois.1

Violetta Cullen delivering the speech
Violetta Cullen delivering the speech

I think about Maria Murray, Daniel Garnett and Hettie Corn before 1865- and other families that arrived shortly after the end of the Civil War –George Robinson, Nathan Branch, Andrew Scott of Evanston; The Mathews family in Lake Forest; the Calhoun family in Kenilworth; the Smith family in Wilmette; the Wilson family of Glencoe … Their struggles, life stories, tenacity and perseverance… and with luck… they lived and forged a new history as – free – people.

In this early history here on the north shore, these communities had:
Established five churches (and we celebrated)
Established Evanston Sanitarium – Hospital (and we celebrated)
Established Emerson Street YMCA (and we celebrated)

Early in our history on the north shore, this community had:
Fought Jim Crow (and we persevered)
Fought segregation (and we persevered)
Organized dozens of civic and social clubs to combat injustices and service our community (and we persevered)

Our local communities have accomplished much throughout its history on the North Shore. We have made history. And we should celebrate.

16-182-001So we celebrate Juneteenth, celebrating African American freedom, achievement, self-development and remember that we must show respect for all cultures. As Juneteenth celebrations continue across this nation, the events that have transpired back in 1865 in Texas, will not be forgotten. For all of our roots tie back to this fertile soil from which many were delivered to, worked on, built on, and we all should celebrate, a national day of pride that is embodied as Juneteenth.

 

Note: A public speech written by Shorefront staff for two separate Juneteenth community celebrations in 2015 delivered by Dino Robinson and in 2016 delivered by Violetta Cullen.
All photographs by Evanston Photographic Studios.

  1. Douglas Harper, “Slavery in the Northhttp://slavenorth.com/northwest.htm

Nathan Branch: Early Evanston Settler

— by Rhonda K. Craven

Nathan Branch, edited from a group photo of postal workers c1900. Photo by 20th Century Studios
Nathan Branch, edited from a group photo of postal workers c1900. Photo by 20th Century Studios

After the Civil War, a number of blacks moved to Chicago and then to Evanston. Among them were men such as Daniel F. Garnett, Green A. Bell, Andrew Scott and William Ender. Some worked for prominent businessmen and politicians, while others started a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors. In 1870, many of these and others were listed in the Evanston census with their wives and children.

Born a slave in Virginia

Nathaniel Branch, more commonly known as Nathan, is in this number. Born a slave in Virginia to Esther and Nathan Branch in 1828, he had three brothers. His family was split up several times, and he lived in Kentucky and Tennessee, working for different plantation owners. He was a defiant slave who ran away briefly when he was 17, and he had several run ins with his masters over the years. Eventually, he became an overseer at one of the plantations.

When Branch heard about the war, he and his wife escaped to Columbus, Kentucky, where he found the 134th Illinois Infantry Regiment, as well as Green Bell, another slave who had also escaped. They served as cooks for Company D and in 1864, they were mustered out at Camp Fry in Chicago (the Clark/Diversey/Broadway intersection).

Branch worked two years as a waiter at the Sherman House (Randolph between Clark and LaSalle) in downtown Chicago. He learned to read and attended night school during this time. His first wife had died. He came to Evanston ca. 1867 and worked for various local families. After he married Ellen Gordon of Nicholasville, Kentucky, who had a daughter, Mattie, they continued growing their family. Nathan transferred his church membership from Olivet Baptist in Chicago to the Baptist church in Evanston on July 4, 1869. A Miss Wheeler taught him to write.

In November, 1872, after the Baptist church building had been moved from another location, half the floor collapsed during worship, and many members fell into the basement. Nathan was sitting next to a window in the gallery with other members and visitors. He decided to break through and jump out the window. The next day, he paid for the window repairs.

1705 Lake Street. Photo by Rhonda Craven
1705 Lake Street. Photo by Rhonda Craven

Branch, along with Bell, were appointed as lamplighters in July of 1873. A year later, the Evanston Index reported that Branch had brought the first dray (a cart) to town and was “ready to haul to order anything from a box of peaches to a load of lumber.” He was the sexton at the Baptist church and felt privileged that he could ring the bell. Nathan had an express company at Oak Avenue and Church Street near the train depot. The family purchased a home at 1705 Lake St. (now an Evanston landmark) in 1879. He was a participant in the union prayer meeting held at the Presbyterian Church and led a session that same year.

In December, 1880, during his first trip to the South after he had escaped slavery, Branch visited family and friends in Kentucky, including an aunt who had raised him after he was separated from his mother during his teen years. After he encouraged Jordan, one of his brothers, to move to Evanston, Jordan began his own express business.

The Branch family was well-respected in the community

In the summer of 1882, he and other black Baptists participated in union services with black Methodists in a room over the post office on Davis Street west of Chicago Avenue. Branch reported in an Index item published October 14, 1882 that the Baptists voted to organize as a mission on September 29 after the Methodists voted to establish their own church. During the November 8th Baptist church prayer meeting, Nathan and his wife Ellen were among ten black congregants to request letters of dismission, which they received a week later. The new church was established on November 17 with 20 charter members. It’s been said that Nathan named the church since it was indeed the second Baptist church in Evanston!

For at least 30 years, the two churches continued varying degrees of fellowship. First Baptist provided its facilities, counsel, financial and community support as needed, in part because they still saw Branch as “our brother”. He was invited to the church’s major anniversary celebrations, during which a poem written for the occasion mentioned his service at First Baptist. That ongoing closeness, however, is cited as a reason for the very public church split in 1894 that led to the establishment of the Berean Baptist Church, now known as Mount Zion.

The Branch family was well-respected in the community. At Second Baptist, he was a deacon and a trustee. In 1888, the post office hired him to carry mail to and from the trains. Soon after, he became the special delivery letter carrier, a familiar figure with his horse and buggy. Ellen and daughter Helen were dressmakers. Sons William and Robert were cooks who later worked for the railroad. Ida was a servant in private homes. Mattie had married George Brown in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1881, and she was an active churchwoman.

A September 1889 fire destroyed the schoolhouse that had served as the church building for six years. In spring, 1890, the congregation purchased an edifice from Second Methodist in North Evanston and planned to move it to a lot Branch owned on Wesley Avenue between Lake and Grove Streets, near his home. He and other church leaders petitioned the village to make this move, but his neighbors wrote a passionate counter-petition, citing the potential fire hazard (the fire department was ill-equipped) and damage to shade trees (house movers had destroyed many of them).

In October, 1890, the congregation sought to purchase from Northwestern University the original lot on Benson Avenue (the current church location) NU had leased to them in 1883. The plan was to have NU purchase Branch’s lot on Wesley; the church would then pay the difference for the Benson lot and move the building there. However, NU declined the original deed in Second Baptist’s name because of property line issues. A revised deed, in Branch’s name, was approved soon after. By December, the church was worshiping in its 20-year-old “new” building on Benson.

Many details about Nathan’s family, his life as a slave, his escape and his time in Chicago and Evanston were included in articles that ran in the Index. At Green Bell’s death in 1890, Branch spoke at length about their shared experiences. In 1897, there was a two-part feature story about his life. Two years later, he went to Macon, GA to find his brother, Lee, after a local businessman met him there, but they were unable to connect. The paper recapped his career when he retired from the post office in 1902 and covered Ida’s wedding to John Sherrod later that year.

Nathan died on March 10, 1911, and the local papers published extensive obituaries. William, who died in 1929, was a cook on the railroad. Ellen was a faithful Second Baptist member through her death in 1934. Robert became a deacon and a trustee after he returned from Colorado. He also died in 1934. There is a photo of him in the church foyer gallery. Helen, who never married, was an organist and a longtime Sunday School teacher. She died in 1970. Ida, another active member, died in 1972. Her husband, John, had attended St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Robert’s son, Nathan, died in Evanston in 1975, while living in the family home on Lake Street with his wife and children.

Mittie Conner and Effie Setler, the daughters of Nathan’s brother Jordan, were also involved in Second Baptist’s ministries. Mittie’s daughter, Thelma, who graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1923, worked at Wieboldt’s for many years and was an assistant church organist. Effie’s daughter, Ione S. Brown, was a longtime church clerk and one of the first female trustees appointed at the church. After her death in 1973, the church’s scholarship fund was named after her in recognition of her commitment to help young people get an education, even though she didn’t have biological children of her own.

Although Nathan Branch came to Evanston nearly 150 years ago, his family’s influence is clearly woven into the city’s history!