Researching Glencoe’s Racial Past

Taylor Family c1920s in Glencoe
Taylor Family posing in Glencoe, IL, c1920s

—By Celia

I came to work at Shorefront through a circuitous series of realizations and referrals. During the summer of 2017, just before I went to college, I was reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy on my back porch in Glencoe. I was taken aback by Stevenson’s stories of defending inmates on death row, but equally struck by two of his other ideas: First, that the United States has a long, long way to go in memorializing the horrendous legacy of slavery, and second, that one must be proximate to issues to truly understand them and make a difference.

While reading about the cruelty of systematic incarceration and capital punishment of African-Americans, I couldn’t help but think about to which issues I, a Jewish girl on her back porch in Glencoe, was proximate. Throughout my time in Glencoe’s public schools and New Trier High School, I could count my black classmates on one hand, and had never considered why. Nearly all-white suburbs are not natural; they are the products of deliberate racial discrimination. I had been so close to the issue that I couldn’t see it for what it was. It was time to transform that inability to examine my surroundings to a meaningful proximity, like stepping back from an impressionist painting.

How did my town come to be so white, and what was to be done about it? That was the question I tried to answer with a free summer and the internet at my disposal. I found scans of census records on a genealogy website and hand-counted each black resident from decades of data. Although tedious, I found something important: the black population of Glencoe halved in between 1920 and 1930. What had happened during that time?

I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know where to go next for my research. I read Robert Sideman’s African-Americans in Glencoe, which illuminated some important sources for me, and interviewed a few residents. I would be starting school soon, and had to table the project to transition to college.

Just a few weeks in, I met Dr. Chatelain, a history professor at my university. She’s regarded as a must-take professor – equally accomplished and devoted to her students. When I told her about my nascent project, she directed me to Shorefront, where she had done research in graduate school. I reached out to Dino, and started to work in the archives when I returned home for the summer.

I really enjoyed organizing sources to be used by future researchers. I categorized letters written by Freedom Summer teachers to their disapproving parents. I sifted through legal notices and memoranda about discrimination by the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. But what interested me the most was a heap of unsorted materials about Glencoe from the 1880s to present day: newspaper clippings, letters, invitations, pamphlets. They proved incredibly helpful in establishing what had happened in my hometown, from its inception to the present. With that arc of history came a set of patterns that made Glencoe the way it is today.

First, Glencoe was always meant to be idyllic. This hasn’t changed much since its founding: Glencoe is situated overlooking a beautiful beach; it’s filled with well-maintained green spaces; the schools are well-regarded and small enough that everyone knows one another; the houses are beautiful and often sell for millions. Such was the vision of its founders, who sought an escape from their busy city lives.

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St. Paul A.M.E. Youth Choir practicing for the MLK remembrance in 1983. Photo by Jim Robinson

African-Americans bought property in Glencoe from early on in its history. Morton Culver, a local real estate developer, first sold land to blacks from Chicago in the early 1880s. The St Paul AME Church was founded shortly after in 1884. I found a Chicago Tribune article from the same year about a picnic in Glencoe, an event that drew blacks from the city and a number of surrounding suburbs. The picnickers are reported to have sung, “We’ll rest in this beautiful land, / Just along Michigan’s shore / Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, / And dwell in Glencoe evermore.”

The vision of a blissful suburb seemed, at this moment, accessible to blacks. The air was fresher and the schools, which had always been racially integrated, were better than the cramped ones in the city.

But Chicago’s white elite was also taking notice of this ideal setting. Wealthy white couples started to pine after lakefront mansions for the weekends, and founded country clubs to entertain them during their stays. Eventually, these weekend visitors began to permanently settle in Glencoe.

A critical mass of them took measures to remove black people from Glencoe. In 1919, the Glencoe Homes Association was founded by residents with the intent to “beautify” the town. It bought properties to be resold with what Robert Sideman calls “zoning-like restrictions” to increase the town’s green space and sell selectively to what it deemed “proper” buyers.

In 1927, Glencoe Homes embarked on a project with the town’s government to build a public park. Rather than using the town’s many vacant lots, it would be located in the middle of southwest Glencoe – where the majority of black families lived. After much opposition, the families were forced to settle. The Glencoe Homes Association published an op-ed in the local paper about their disapproval of the “negro colony,” paraded under the headline: “Prevention by ‘Syndicate’ of Blight to Community Saved Realty Values in Millions.”

This is the point at which Glencoe’s black community halved, the enormous dip in the census data. I had sometimes wondered why Watts Park, where I learned to ice skate and had lacrosse practice, was divided by a street in the middle. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for it to be continuous? But nearly all-white suburbs are not natural; they are planned deliberately.

CourtBeach_Chi_Suntimes 7_10_42
July 10, 1942 Chicago SunTimes article

Despite this major fracture in Glencoe’s black population, the suburb continued to be relatively more diverse and progressive when compared to its surrounding suburbs. A.L. Foster, a Glencoe resident and then-Executive Director of the Chicago Urban League, won a case to desegregate Glencoe’s public beach in 1942, while Kenilworth didn’t have a single black resident until 1963.

Glencoe became a small enclave for black residents in an otherwise overwhelmingly white sea of suburbia. Mayor Robert Morris initiated programs to encourage African-Americans to apply for the village’s jobs in the mid-1950s, and the Glencoe Human Relations Committee formed to advocate for open housing and more harmonious race relations. When parents of New Trier students formed Concerned Black Parents in 1977, it met consistently where there was a critical mass of black parents: Glencoe. The group pushed for New Trier’s recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and inclusive teaching at the majority white high school.

Newspaper articles I found from this period struck me as odd. There were multiple articles that profiled Glencoe’s black residents as anomalies in their exposure to such a progressive society. In particular, I found this article bold in its claim to Glencoe as a champion of race relations:

February 9, 1977 (Suburban Trib)

“Assumptions on Race don’t Hold; Glencoe’s 6% Black”: The article rebukes the assumption that Glencoe has no black population, but rather a percentage far below the national average. It also acknowledges that “…a black homeowner will have to sell for a bit less than a white homeowner with a comparable house in Glencoe.” It recognizes that the original sale of property to blacks in Glencoe may have been a scheme to resentfully decrease its property value, but it “backfired and for years Glencoe was a primary source for domestic help on the North Shore.” Such “backfiring” refers only to the quality of life for white residents.

While these articles clung to every testimony and long-time residency of black Glenconians, the population has been declining gradually, but consistently, at about 1% per decade since 1930. One woman whom I interviewed cited the exorbitant housing prices as the main reason that her children didn’t raise their families in their hometown – an obstacle exacerbated by the fact that blacks often sold their homes for lower than they were worth. Another black resident wrote to the Glencoe News in 2004 to lament her inability to return to Glencoe because the homes on her childhood block had been torn down to build houses of twice the value. One might be reminded of the Glencoe Homes Association’s calls to beautify the town, and its consequences.

But economics aside, and with a multitude of studies proving that black families are more likely to live in lower-income areas even if they can afford not to do so, other factors influenced this gradual exodus. In a 2004 Glencoe News article entitled “Black Population Dwindles,” advocates cite widespread “‘steering’ [of] prospective homeowners toward communities that fit their demographic.” Carol Hendrix, a co-founder of Concerned Black Parents, witnessed her community leaving Glencoe over time, saying, “…[T]here was an effort by the builders to engineer the neighborhood.” Angela Hatfield, another resident interviewed in the article, said she was virtually certain that a white family would live in her home after her. 

Glencoe is currently 0.7% black. With its green spaces and beautiful beach, its colonial homes and quaint downtown, I can’t help but think of a line from Martin Luther King Junior’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He writes of the shame and injustice in “when you…see tears welling up in [your six year old daughter’s] eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people.” Glencoe is Funtown. While it wasn’t part of the Jim Crow South, it had been closed off to African-Americans in a gradual, de facto manner. Beyond the public policy implications of this injustice, it’s an affront to the dignity of so many.

In closing, I tried to better understand this issue to which I was so proximate. In doing so, I realized just how much history this suburb, of less than ten thousand residents and five square miles, holds. This history was sometimes subject to the reverberations of events far beyond its own scale – the Great Migration, for example – but, on the whole, was largely influenced by everyday people trying to change their hometown. From Morton Culver to A.L. Foster to Carol Hendrix, these individuals transformed the microcosm that is Glencoe, beyond the purview of anything I would learn about in an American History class. I’m grateful for organizations like Shorefront, that safeguard these local histories, and the legacies of those who sacrificed for their vision of a more equitable society.


Sideman, Robert A., African Americans in Glencoe: The Little Migration, © 2009, The History Press, Charleston, SC.

Chicago Sun-Times, “Court Opens Glencoe Beach To Negro Family: Injunction Granted Against Official Of Park District”, July 10, 1942.

Suburban Tribune, “Assumptions on Race don’t Hold; Glencoe’s 6% Black”, February 9, 1977.


Wednesday Night Bridge Group Now Includes Men!

—By Janet Alexander Davis

Bridge Club_12_2016
Don Washington, Nellie Nichols, Lorraine Morton, Kathy Boatright, Grace Pickens, Rev. Nabors (there for dinner) Edna Barber (hostess for that bridge day) Terri Ann Langston, and John Frye. Sitting is Janet Alexander Davis. Photo by Pam Barber

Change is one of the constant experiences we all will face during our lives, and change has come to an all women’ s bridge group which started around 60 years ago, The Wednesday Night group has been in existence for more than 60 years. Back then, many African American families were able to provide for their families where mothers and wives were able to stay home, raising their children and care for other family members. So too was the situation that enabled this group to begin and remain intact even today. Many wonderful members have passed away and others took their place, but they are never forgotten. That’s the beauty of memories, our bridge members that have gone home to be with the Lord, are never very far away. We remember often members who played a hand so well we couldn’t believe it, always served sumptuous food for our dinner and others made everyone laugh so hard they had to hold their stomachs.

Within the last several years, two men have added a wonderful addition to the vitality of our bridge group. John Frye and Don Washington are gifted players, and many of us want to beat them at their game of bridge! Lorraine Morton, former Mayor and Educator said about the group, “I thoroughly enjoy the group and its challenges. I get a kick out of the fact there are two men in the group- both excellent players. I enjoy more when I win a prize and they don’t.”

Our Wednesday Night Bridge Group meets every first and third Wednesday, and to make the night more interesting we give out three cash prizes. We won’t get rich on the amount but it adds spice to the process of playing five rounds of bridge and receiving bragging rights of winning at the end of the evening.

Cathy Boatright, retired Math Teacher, says about the group, “The joy of having friendships with several ladies and now gentlemen who enjoy playing bridge is wonderful. I enjoy talking about current events on a national level and events that affect the City of Evanston is most simulating.”

Hearing from one of the newest members of the group Don Washington, retired law enforcement officer says, “The group is stimulating, interesting, entertaining and keeps me young and happy.” The other man to join the group John Fyre, retired postal employee and business owner says, “I look forward to the first and third Wednesdays of each month.”

Some of the other members shared their thoughts about the bridge group including Terriann Langston, retired government employee, “I have such fun!” Nellie Nichols, retired from the medical field says, “Our friendships remain stronger through the years, we are all neighbors at one time or another of the City of Evanston which makes it special. I’ve been in the group 51 years.” One of the longest members in the group is Grace Pickens, retired care taker, ” I came here in 1955 and I joined the bridge group while visiting at Sam Mckinley’s house, even though at the time, I didn’t know how to play. There never was a discussion on asking men to join and I was there because initially it was something to do. I like to play. . .I enjoy winning. . .when I make a slam (taking all the books except one is called a little slam, taking all the books is called a grand slam and is a real feat) I get such a thrill and I get up from my chair and yell! it’s a lovely group. . .having men in the group is about the same for me, I always want to beat them!”

The longest serving member of the group is Edna Barber, a retiree in the medical field and a thoughtful bridge play. Edna always seems to have the card you’d rather her not have because it causes you to miss your bid!

At times, I had been substituting in the group when others couldn’t attend. After some of the members passed away, I was asked along with another person to join the group. It’s been a wonderful experience and I look forward to the friendship, compassion and camaraderie from a fantastic group of people.

Bridge club c1950s at the then, Foster Recreational Center, now Fleetwood Jourdain Center. Photo courtesy of Virginia Griffin, Shorefront photographic collection

I started learning how to play bridge in my late 20s. Back then there were quite a few bridge groups around so I had the opportunity to play with some of the best players around such as the late (all late) Dr. Florence Winfield, Gillie Frye, Louise Dye, Camilla Harris, Celestine Washington, Ernestine Guillebeaux, Honorable Mayme Spencer and more. Bridge was a popular past time then and was enjoyed by many, not so much today, though there are opportunities to play bridge at the Levy Center.

In Memory of Lorraine H. Morton

Microsoft Word - Shorefront Cover Letter for In Memory of Mayor Morton.docx

Standing left to right: Don Washington, Nellie Nichols, John Frye, Grace Pickens, Janet Alexander Davis, Terri Ann Langston. Sitting left to right: Edna Barber, Lorraine Morton, Kathy Boatright. Photo by James Davis

Since 1958, the Wednesday Night Bridge Group has gathered together for an evening of fun and camaraderie. the late Honorable Morton was a member of our bridge group for many years and brought smiles and laughter to us all: Grace Pickens, Nellie Nichols, Terri Ann Langston, Janet Alexander Davis, John Frye, Don Washington, Carlis Sutton, Sue Aron, September 22, 2018.

Shorefront Legacy Center: A North Shore Jewel

— By Angela F. Allen

The Family Rendezvous Reunion visiting Shorefront on July 21, 2018

Abbeville, SC to Evanston, IL

In 2016, my family and I ventured to Abbeville, South Carolina to walk the land, to visit the cemetery and to spend time in the church of our maternal ancestors. It was the first time for some family members to see this part of the country. Abbeville connected us to our southern roots. That connection made this trip special.

In keeping with the theme of “connection,” the Family Rendezvous 2016 participants voted to explore Evanston, Illinois in 2018. A great number of Abbeville residents migrated to Evanston during the Great Migration. By 1925, our maternal ancestors lived in Evanston: Oscar and Catherine (Jenkins) Davis, 1011 Emerson; Rufus and Annetta (Ramey) Watt, 1012 Ayars Place; Spencer and Mary Watt, 1012 Ayars Place. Oscar and Catherine Davis’ descendants currently reside in Evanston.

IMG_0976On Saturday, July 21, 2018, the major event for the Family Rendezvous 2018 introduced the participants to Shorefront Legacy Center, (Shorefront) 2214 Ridge Avenue, Lower Level, Evanston, IL. Morris “Dino” Robinson, Shorefront’s founder, graciously hosted over 50 family members and friends from California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Evanston residents, Mattie Amaker, Priscilla Giles, and Catherine Johnson, members of the African American History and Genealogy Study Group of Evanston and Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago, attended and offered their expertise.

IMG_0947Shorefront’s welcoming spirit encourages investigating, learning, and researching. This repository immediately immersed participants into Evanston’s African American history. The Shorefront Journal covers spread out across a wall displaying faces from the community. Another wall display highlights various photos and artifacts. The meeting room contains artifacts, books, and an ongoing video presentation. In the midst of all of these displays stands the Archives.

Founder Dino Robinson

Once everyone gathered, Dino discussed how Shorefront began. He recognized a dearth of Black historic information on the North Shore and the need to establish a center in Evanston that would serve as a place for educating students and researchers, for preserving historic material, and for showcasing the contributions that African Americans made to the community. Participants listened intently. Family members appreciated Dino’s knowledge and passion for history. One member described Dino as a “walking encyclopedia.” Some members pinpointed particular elements of Dino’s discussion that touched them:

  • Dino laid out the importance of Shorefront by explaining what would happen if its collection had been given over to a larger institution. Not many people know these things.
  • The idea that students and researchers have access to the actual archives impressed me.
  • It was wonderful to see photos and artifacts unique to the area.

Dino entertained questions. Family members asked significant questions regarding funding for Shorefront, maintaining the collection, and volunteering to process the collection. Others perused the books and artifacts. Most members purchased copies of Shorefront’s publication –A Place We Can Call Our Home (by Morris Robinson, Jr.). The Family Rendezvous 2018 committee donated copies of the Family Rendezvous 2016 and 2018 Family History books for the Abbeville, South Carolina collection, and a promise to donate the family t-shirt as well. Overall, the visit to the Shorefront Legacy Center proved to be a worthwhile educational experience.

Anyone with an interest in African American History on Chicago’s suburban north shore, take the time to explore the Shorefront Legacy Center, the North Shore Jewel. Consult for the online finding aid and additional information.

Shorefront Update #010

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First three publications under Shorefront Press

Shorefront’s 2017 year was filled with activities, avocation, national forums and new partnerships. New acquisitions, the 5th installment of the Black History Month Lecture Series, participation with institutions from around the country and engagement with the schools have increased Shorefronts visibility and discoverability.

Shorefront Archives

As an active collecting repository, new items added to the archives come from former alderman Delores Holmes, former School District 65 superintendent Joseph Hill, OPAL, Jack and Jill North Shore Chapter, items from the Graves family and campaign materials from Evanston’s April ward and mayoral elections. In addition, Shorefront has conducted over a dozen oral history sessions.

Shorefront recently partnered with the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, MA to digitize 93 documents from the Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. collection housed at Shorefront. The documents will late be uploaded to a digital repository portal and eventually ingested to the UMBRA Research site. UMBRA specializes on important documents related to the African American communities across the country.

In 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 5th 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.

Poster_2017Lecture one was Abbeville, South Carolina to Evanston and the Long Road to Recognition and Reconciliation. Lecture two was Pan-Africanism: Cuba and the Fight Against Colonialism. Session three was The Black Vote: What Just Happened—and What Do We Do Now? Sessions were held at Sherman United Methodist Church and at the Evanston Levy Center and was attended by over 175 participants.

The new traveling exhibit “Legacies” has grown from 10 to 15 panels. For 2018, Shorefront will produce five new panels. The growing, multi-panel focuses a snapshot of historic and contemporary residents and organizations throughout the North Shore. In 2017, the panels were displayed at the Evanston History Center and soon at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

During the 2017 Evanston NAACP installation of new officers, Shorefront presented an interesting early account of the local chapter activities utilizing newspaper headlines and the community members engaged in fighting early Jim Crow in Evanston.

Shorefront is in its second-year grant cycle with 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 Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. To learn more, visit

With the “Museum Grants for African American History and Culture”, Shorefront officially launched Shorefront Press — our publishing arm. Three books have been published: The Dream Dancers: New England Preservers of the Dream 1620-1924, by Spencer Jourdain; True Colors: Evanston Through Our Eyes, by ETHS 2017 Senior Studies students; and Edwin B. Jourdain Jr: The Rise of Black Political Power in Evanston, Illinois1931-1947, by Dr. Sherman Beverly. All of these books are available at Shorefront, Squareup Market and

With the “National Leadership Grants for Libraries”, Shorefronts partnership with the Amistad Research Center, the South Asian American Digital Archive, Mukurtu, and the Inland Empire Memories Project of the University of California-Riverside was completed. As partners, we assembled a series of four forums where Evanston for the host for the third forum in May, 2017. All Forum activities are archived at

Families come in to both donate items and research their family legacies.

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.

The Nile Club—The Social Evolution of a Black Veritas

— By Spencer Jourdain

Charter members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Sigma Chapter. Edwin Bush Jourdain, Jr. (seated center) elected as its first president. Edward “Ned” Gourdin is standing in back row second from left.

. . .

Throughout his college years, Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. (Gint) enjoyed engaging in every aspect of university life available to a black student. He loved to attend the university orchestra and glee club concerts, carefully storing away the events’ ticket stubs, and was a big fan of the football and baseball teams and the famous Harvard crew. He attended each of the occasional receptions, or “teas,” for students with Harvard faculty and on rare occasion with President Lowell, where he would recall the gracious conduct of Mrs. Lowell toward all students regardless of color. Gint’s frank confidence, gracious manners and impeccable New England speech compared favorably with any of the Porcelain types. Leo Hansberry would later observe that Gint had clearly mastered the very culture that excluded him and thereby was able to see both its good and bad points in an objective way—the trait of a fine anthropologist.

Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr. “Gint”

By the autumn of 1920, the senior year of the Class of ’21, the collection of black students at Harvard and nearby universities had, in its own separate Darwinian evolution, produced an impressive roster of brilliance, epitomized in the Nile Club participants. The older black graduate students of the Nile Club had proved themselves as formidable intellects and had become admired mentors for the black undergraduate students. Such earned veneration was not new to Charles Houston. He had graduated from high school at the age of fifteen as one of the most outstanding graduates of legendary Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. At Amherst College, Charlie had graduated Phi Beta Kappa and class valedictorian in 1915, and he had rendered admirable military service in World War I. Harvard Law School professor, and future Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, said that Charlie Houston was one of the most brilliant students of any race ever to study under him at the Law School. Houston received his LLB in 1919 and went on to earn his Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Law School in 1923. Houston would go on to become Dean of Howard University’s Law School and the architect of the NAACP’s legendary Legal Defense Fund.1 He and Gint would remain lifelong friends and sometimes collaborate on civil rights issues.

Jesse Heslip would become president of the National Bar Association and a constant contributor to legal battles of the NAACP. He, too, would remain a lifelong friend of Gint’s. Jesse’s classmate at the Law School Class of 1923, Raymond Pace Alexander, would serve as counsel for the NAACP, president of the National Bar Association, honorary consul to the Republic of Haiti in 1938, and founder of a prestigious black Philadelphia legal dynasty.

The black students in the Class of ’21, Ned Gourdin, Leo Hansberry and Edwin Jourdain, had been at the chronological median of a rare black experience in the Nile Club and were now poised for further accomplishments. Leo Hansberry would get his PhD in anthropology, and as a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., would become one of the nation’s leading scholars on African history and culture. Leo would be honored by the founding heads of state of Ghana and Nigeria, Kwame Nkrumah and Nnandi Azikiwe. A school of sociology at the University of Nigeria would be named for him.2 Graduating in 1921 with an MBA, the new degree from the graduate Business School, Norris Herndon would prove his ability as head of the nation’s largest black insurance company.

Ned Gourdin would go on to Harvard Law School to study under Roscoe Pound. Soon after graduation, he sailed for Paris to participate in the 1924 Olympics. Even though having an unusually low performance day, Ned would nonetheless win a silver medal in the long jump. (The fabled Paris Olympiad would produce the triple gold medal swimmer and later star of Tarzan movies, Johnny Weissmuller. The exploits of dash champions Abrahams and Liddell at the 1924 Olympiad would be depicted over a half-century later in an Academy Award–winning movie, Chariots of Fire.) Ned would become the commanding officer of the black Massachusetts 372nd Infantry, serve as a colonel in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, and retire in 1959 with the rank of brigadier general in the National Guard. In 1958, Ned would become Massachusetts’s first African American Superior Court justice,3 all in all, a bravura performance for a student who sometimes had to walk to his Harvard classes with newspapers stuffed in his shoes to keep out the winter cold.

Gint would be admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Business, mindful of his father’s exhortations to go to a professional school to obtain some practical skills with which to face the difficult world of segregate America. He would carry with him an abiding interest in journalism, both as a writer and as a prospective publisher. Like Du Bois and Trotter, journalism would be an effective way to continue the fight for black civil rights and full participation in American society.

Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School, in a burst of brilliance, had produced in only a few decades a host of participants in the Nile Club and an alumni roster that would include Nile Club participants Allison Davis, Rayford Logan, Charles Drew, William Hastie, Montague Cobb, Sterling Brown, and Benjamin O. Davis. Dunbar (formerly the M Street) High School might have been aptly identified as a major source of the Nile.

Spencer Jourdain’s book

There were only a dozen blacks throughout Harvard University and often fewer at other major colleges of the area. The journey to get there was so difficult that the Nile Club wound up being one of the most powerful assemblages of intellect imaginable. Gint would stand out in the memory of his college friends for his earnestness, easy grace, concern for others, and commitment to the black struggle for equality in which he had such deep roots. That year, several of the black students formed a Harvard Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. They included Charles Houston, Ned Gourdin, and Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr. The group elected Gint as their first president, and Charlie Houston served as the Chapter’s first treasurer. . .

. . .

Notes: This article is an excerpt of Chapter 13 from Spencer Jourdain’s book Dream Dancers: New England Preservers of the Dream 1620–1924, Volume One, available now at

Photo: Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Harvard University. First chartered c1920. Photo part of the Edwin B. Jourdain collection, Shorefront archives.

  1. “Brown at 50, Fulfilling the Promise: Charles Hamilton Houston,” Howard University School of Law,
  2. James Mohr, “Hansberry, Leo (1894–1965),”
  3. Ned’s life story and his portrait hung in honor in Old Suffolk County Courthouse: see, Daphne Abeel, “Edward Orval Gourdin: Brief Life of a Breaker of Barriers,” Harvard Magazine,

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

— By Carrie Moea Brown

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.

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.

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.”

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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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) edicate-lynching-marker-anthon y-crawford-abbeville-south- carolina

The Evil of Lynching Exposed (Huffington Post) entry/the-evil-of-lynching-exp osed_us_5802960ae4b0985f6d1571 f7

The History Behind the UNITY Scholarship and its Founding Members

—By Kimberly Jackson

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.


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

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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

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.

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.

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.”

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.