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.

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.

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!

The Grandmothers. . .My Queens: Laura Belle

—By Bruce Allen King

Laura Belle. Photo courtesy of Bruce Allen King
Laura Belle. Photo courtesy of Bruce Allen King

I have been blessed with having a very close and deep relationship with both of my grandmothers.

Laura Eubanks Hadley, born January 9, 1907 in Charlottesville, Virginia, was the daughter of John Eubanks. She never knew her mother and her father was, from all observation, a white man, but legally classified as a Negro because of that one drop of black blood coursing through his veins. John left his daughter in the care of relatives, one of which was her half-sister Ora Castleberry, who would later become an Evanstonian. Laura “Belle” wouldn’t see her father until her late-teens. She traveled to Pennsylvania and spent time with her dad while in route to Illinois to join her sister Ora in Evanston. Growing up as a farm girl, tending chickens, ducks, the garden, and honing the skills she would need later in life by also taking care of the household chores.

Grandma Laura was a short, slightly built, very light-skinned woman with freckles and straight auburn hair. She could neither read nor write, so she had to live by her very gentle spirit, her very humble nature and ability to perform hard work. She was well aware of who she was in society, but never hesitated to do whatever she had to do to better herself and others. She was a devout Christian and lifelong member of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Clark Street in Evanston. Her laughter was soft and she offered few opinions.

It is from my Grandma Laura that I was gifted with oral history

Arriving in Evanston in late 1927, she did odd housekeeping jobs, sometimes “staying on the place”, as a live-in housekeeper. Soon after she met and married Lawrence Michael Hadley, an Evanston High School graduate, charismatic, dashing and very street wise. Within the first five years of the Depression she bore four children: Norwood, Delores, Nadine and Peter.

Grandma Laura struggled against amazing odds; those of our racially troubled society, with great poverty and few skills to overcome it, in addition to a troubled and dysfunctional marriage. Despite it all, she never uttered a bad word against anyone. In fact, she would cease to talk when the conversation became negative and driven by deprecating gossip. If you came to her with negativity, she would, without hesitation, say, “Don’t come tome with that he said, she said, who shot John!” All got the message.

It is from my Grandma Laura that I was gifted with oral history. Her memory was phenomenal, many times down to the day and most times even remembering what the weather was on any given past event.

If the truth be told, I think all people have their favorites, even parents and grandparents. It was apparent who her favorite grand boys were. I was not one of them, but I NEVER felt slighted in anyway. Her love was that great and complete.

Grandma Laura had an intense love for gambling, particularly “the horses”. Her off days from “the place”, she and her friend and companion Roosevelt Reeves, aka “Toby”, would take us to Arlington Racetrack to the north and Washington Park to the south. Sportsman’s “trotters” were their least favorite, but would fill the need for enjoyment many evenings. The experience was one that has given me smiles and personal laughs to this day. I would watch with great joy at the gestures and animated conversation, as she and Toby would pick and choose the day’s winners. On those days when they would win “big”, the ride home was full of laughter, songs and ice cream cones.

On our family trips to Pennsylvania to visit her dad, whom she doted over with great pride and pleasure, she would show us the point where the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers merged behind her dad’s tiny house. I would watch with wonder and listen, mesmerized, to her dad and his many tall tales. The one that has stuck with me all my life was the story about his coming to Pennsylvania from Virginia.

He, in a drunken brawl, killed a man and ran up into the hills surrounding McKeesport, PA to escape the law. On the road up into the hills, he was met by the constable who asked him if he knew of a man called John Eubanks. My great-grandfather replied, “Oh yeah, I know that ole nigga, he’s down the mountain.” Knowing that “John Eubanks” was classified a black man and him looking like a white man, he used this ruse to make his escape. My great-grandfather was eventually caught and served out his time on the chain gang and lived out his life without further trouble with the law.

Grandma Laura’s love was shared with countless Evanstonians

My grandmother, most of my life, went to night school at ETHS to learn to read and write. I remember her great excitement upon being admitted to night school when I was in the second grade. Despite the fact that she always had two jobs and many times three and four, she would never miss school on an evening she was not working. Her great desire to learn was apparent because she would forgo the night races in order to go to night school. But, know this . . . thanks to the local bookie at Jack Pass’s store on Church Street, she was able to get her bet in and still go to school.

Many, many years later, she called me with great excitement and joy in her voice. She was then living at Ebenezer Primm Towers and I lived across the alley on Garnett Place. She told me to come quick because it was very important. I ran across the alley to meet her at the back door. She took me into her apartment and asked me to sit. She went to her room and brought out her checkbook. I thought she wanted me to write out a check for her, something I had been doing for many years. Instead, she sat down with pen in hand and began to slowly write the needed words on her check. Finished she beam with great pride. I cried with joy and we celebrated with her favorite . . . a cup of extremely strong black coffee.

Years after that, I graduated from college. My grandmother was sitting on the couch when we arrived at my dad’s for the graduation dinner. . . which I was tricked into cooking. As I entered and gave her my obligatory hug and kiss, she handed me a ballpoint pen with a congratulations card. I said thanks and read the card. I said thanks again and was about to move to greet others when she asked me, “Brucie, do you know why I gave you a pen?” I told her that I figured it was because I had graduated. She said, “Yes Brucie, but more importantly, you can read and write and because you can, you should always carry a pen with you”.

Grandma Laura’s love was shared with countless Evanstonians of all ages, races and socio-economic status. She would introduce herself to those she shared bus rides with, telling them proudly of her “boys”, Roy Jr., Bruce, Dion, Brian King and Joel Hadley.

Of all of my relatives and loved ones who have passed on, Grandma Laura has been the closest to an angel I’ve yet to meet. I am truly the better for all of my encounters and circumstances in life, because of her.

Shorefront Memories #004

Bonus Thompson (center), circa 1914. Courtesy of Linda Varnado
Bonus Thompson (center), circa 1914. Courtesy of Linda Varnado

Bonus Thompson, from Bcauedan (Greenville), South Carolina and his wife, Leithe, from Georgia, migrated from the south to Evanston and lived at 2242 Dewey Avenue from about 1909 to 1910. Mr. Thompson was employed as a “tinner” at that time. A tinner generally shaped and molded with tin. It was used in a variety of applications. A common usage was in ceiling tile–some of which you can see as original or as reproductions in store fronts today.

1910 U.S. Federal Census, Evanston, Illinois
1910 U.S. Federal Census, Evanston, Illinois

By 1914, Mr. Thompson ventured into his own business and opened Bonus Thompson Hardware, located at 1910 W. Railroad Avenue, now Green Bay Road in Evanston. It was approximately one half block north of Emerson Street before its reconfiguration. The hardware store offered stove and furnace repairs, parts, tin and metal work.

His wife, Leithe operated the business after her husband’s death in 1929 for an additional six years. After it closed, a grocery store opened in its place.

There are two interesting observations to make about this photograph unrelated to the hardware store. The first is a hard-to-read banner in the window advertising the “101 Ranch Wild West” rodeo show that came to town August 24, 1914. The other is the reflection of a railway engine that appears to be on ground level across from the hardware store. In looking closely at photographs, it is an extra bonus to find information that might lead to new research efforts such as the 101 Ranch Wild West rodeo. . .

I Believe I Can Fly: William “Wild Bill” Holmes

— By Kimberly Holmes Ross and Brittany Estell, Esq.

B_Holmes 3_mod
Signature Move

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

—Leonardo da Vinci

William Allen Holmes was a pilot who acquired an appetite for flying. Not a pilot in the traditional sense, a man in a captain’s hat, white shirt, and pinned wings greeting you at the front of the plane, and responsible for getting you to your destination. No, that’s not “Wild Bill.” Bill’s airplane was a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he was dressed in his denim, leather, a hat, and he flew! Feet standing on top of a two-wheeled pedestal, traveling at 10+mph arms stretched across the air, eyes wide open and the crowd going wild.

William “Wild Bill” Holmes was born in Columbus, Ohio, January 15, 1932. He ironically shares the same birthday as the great Martin Luther King Jr., both having a tenacious spirit, unwilling to give up on what they believed in, and unapologetically themselves.

Bill spent his early years between Columbus, Ohio, and Cokesbury, South Carolina. As a small child he loved everything on wheels. It was rumored that at the age of 3 he began “trick riding” on his tricycle. As a teen his zeal/zest for life came through bikes, motorcycles, and cars. Through his antics, he earned the nickname “Wild Bill,” never knowing what he’d do next on wheels. After high school he joined the United States Army 82nd Airborne where he jumped out of planes and was involved in live combat. He was honorably discharged with a Merit Unit Citation, a Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars and the United Nations Service Medal.

"Wild Bill" Posed on his bike
“Wild Bill” Posed on his bike

Upon on returning to the states he joined his mother in Evanston, IL, where he explored many professions, including: Clayton Marks, Evanston Bus Company, the City of Evanston – Sanitation Department, Jewel Food Store which all led to him to owning trucking company “Holmes & Sons Trucking.” Even with the many jobs he took on he always made time for his first love, his Harley. Wild Bill was a “Harley Man” who began to teach himself to do tricks and stunts on his bike. One of the first tricks he learned was the legendary “wheelie”, a stunt where you pull the bike up and ride on one wheel. He was known for doing it for blocks! In fact, he had been recorded performing the stunt at a little under a mile. What made this extraordinary was that because he rode a full size Harley, the bike was heavier than most bikes, making the stunt that much harder to execute. Once he accomplished this stunt, his passion and education for stunting took off!

Performing in front of audience
Performing in front of audience

He taught himself more and more tricks including the “slow drag,” “switch back,” “one-handed wheelie,” and “lazy boy.” As he attended and performed at field meets, rodeos, and drag races, people around the country began to know who he was and look forward to him appearing at many of their events. You could find him at rallys hosted by Hurry Kane Riders Motorcycle Club, C.T.M.C., Rough Riders Motorcycle Club, M.T.T., Apache Motorcycle Club, C. J. Harley Davidson, Mighty Romans Motorcycle Club, Magnificent Spoilers Motorcycle Club, Columbus Big Three MCC and many more. He became a legendary stunt rider and competitor who won hundreds of trophies; so many that my brothers and I often wondered if he was ever going to stop winning! Our basement was filled wall to wall with trophies, certificates, and awards, the more he won, the more we had to dust.

Although he loved touring independently he knew he could pursue his passion and make it his life’s work if he was able to obtain a sponsorship. As a loyal customer, he approached Harley Davidson. With his portfolio, references, and a vision in hand, he reached out seeking an endorsement. The powers that be at Harley explained that “Wild Bill” was not the image that was their interest and there was no market for a Black stunt rider. A few years later they signed Evil Knievel.

This obstacle did not stop or discourage him. No, this only fueled his fire. He went on to sponsor his own motorcycle meets and tour around the country supporting other Black riders and their events. He was among the founders of “The Untouchables Motorcycle Club.” Formed in the 1960’s, The Untouchables were a group of Black motorcyclist in the Evanston community who did not limit their activities to cycling, but also provided toys for children at holidays, hosted picnics, field meets, and other community gatherings. The group was active through the 1990’s.

Back view of vest
Back view of vest
Front view of vest
Front view of vest

In addition, as a member of the American Motorcyclists Association, he helped organize the National Bikers Roundup in 1977 encompassing a group of African American motorcycle clubs. The round up is a five-day event where attendee enjoys exhibits, vendors, stunt shows, entertainment, and a host of other motorcycle-related experiences. “Wild Bill” attended every round up, many times as a performer, until 2007.

One of my most cherished memories of my dad is when he rebuilt a 1973 Super- Glide bike by hand in our basement. When he finished, everyone wondered how he planned to get it out. The bike was huge while the stairs and door were narrow. It didn’t faze him; he rode it right up the stairs into the back yard, it was like magic! Today, that bike is still in running condition, and sits in our garage, like a plane waiting on its pilot.

William "Wild Bill" Holmes
William “Wild Bill” Holmes

August 2007 William Allen “Wild Bill” Holmes took his last ride, 1,046 miles round-trip. He rode from Evanston, IL to Kansas City, MO, for the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club National Bikers Round Up. October 18, 2007, he transitioned and completed his flight log. No longer flying on his Harley, but now soaring with angel wings, he left us with the reminder, “if you believe in yourself, you can fly too.”

A Family Legacy: Esther Pringle Weldon reflects on her Family History

— By Dino Robinson

Pringle Family
Pringle Family

Organized and to the point, Esther Pringle Weldon sat at her folding table behind several organized stacks of albums, obituaries, photographs and other family memorabilia. She is surrounded by photographs in her living and dining rooms meticulously displayed on the family piano, the couch and on chairs representing five generations of the Pringle family. On a folded sheet of paper is a hand-written account of her 92-year family history in Evanston in the very house her father built at 1827 Grey, Evanston.

Charles George and Carrie Watt Pringle left Level Land, South Carolina (Abbeville) in 1913 with four children, James, Spurgeon, Ruby and Thelma who was born en route. The Pringle family’s intended destination was California. However, after visiting friends in Evanston, IL, the Pringles decided to stay. Evanston offered land to build a home and available employment opportunities.

In 1916, Charles Pringle built the family home at 1827 Grey, the same home were Esther Pringle still resides. There was a total of seven children in the family with birth dates ranging between 1909 and 1924. Esther’s siblings included James, Spurgeon, Charles, Dorothy, Patricia and Howard. Ruby and Thelma passed on early in their lives, at four years and 18 months respectively.

Charles Pringle found employment as a laborer, first as a bricklayer in Evanston then later with the railroad where he shoveled coal in engine furnaces. Their dreams and aspirations were being realized until an unexpected and life-changing event occurred.

“When my father knew he was not going to get better,” Esther says, “he wanted my mother to go back south. She was only 37 when my father passed, and he was 39. But she did not want to go back. She just stepped out on faith and stayed.”

Charles untimely death in 1924 left the Pringle family without a father for his seven children and husband for his wife. Carrie took care of the home but had to find employment as a laundress after her husband passed. With the trust in their faith, Carrie’s ongoing mantra when difficulties arose was, “Let’s pray about it.”

“Before his death, my father kept two promises to her, he built her a home and he purchased her a piano,” Esther says. The Pringle home and piano are central to the Pringle family. “We always had a piano. My mother played church songs on it, the neighborhood kids would come in and play it, and my sisters played it.” Esther added, “Everyone in the neighborhood knew of the
Pringle piano. Children who were taking piano lessons would come over and practice, and my brother, Charles, would play the ‘Bogie Woggie’.”

Esther’s daughter, Renee Weldon, would later learn on that same piano and grow to be an accomplished pianist, well regarded in area competitions.

The Pringles worked as a well- organized family. After the death of their father and at the beginning of the nation’s Great Depression era, the older siblings did what was necessary to assist. “My older brothers, James and Spurgeon, had to quit school to help my mother.” Esther says.

Despite these times, recreational activities took up a big part of their formative years. They often engaged in activities in and around Foster School as well as at Mason Park on Church Street. Esther enjoyed dramatics and poetry at Foster, her church and within the organizations in which she participated. At Mason Park, the Pringles played baseball and hop-scotch. They went to the circus when it was in town, watched parades and went to the Church Street beach. “My brother, Howard, was a lifeguard there at one time,” Esther says.

They often saw movies at the Valencia and Varsity Theaters. “They talked about it being segregated and all, but we all just went to the balconies anyway. My brother, Spurgeon, and one of his friends went onto the first floor. The ushers tried to put him out, and of course when one of them put their hands on him, a fight broke out. They put my brother in jail, but my mother got him out and placed a suit against the judge who put him there and ended up getting her bail money back.”

As music was part of the Pringle family, so was education. Whether in school or out, reading was important. It was expected to always read and become knowledgeable about something. “Even though my older brothers had to drop out of school, they later took correspondence courses.” Esther says. “James eventually went back to high school to get his G.E.D.”

Let’s pray about it.

The foundation of the Pringle family lays within their faith. Throughout their family history in Evanston, members of the Pringle family have been involved with Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Second Baptist Church, Long Memorial Baptist Church, which later merged with Springfield Baptist Church, and New Hope Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Charles and Carrie have been instrumental in the formation of the early New Hope C.M.E. Church when it was located at West Railroad (Green Bay Road) and Asbury Avenue in what was then Ford’s Hall. “Now there is a filling station there,” says Esther.

Long Memorial Church
Long Memorial Church

“My parents helped to organize New Hope Church. But we also went to Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Clark Street and we were baptized at Mt. Zion.” Esther continued as she circled among her photographs and other memorabilia, “As a family, we became more active at New Hope when it moved over to Grey and Emerson. But we were active with a lot of churches, because that was where all of our activities were.” Many of the youngster’s as well as other youth went to many church-organized picnics and hayrides.

Most of the Pringles went to Foster school and the high school with the exception of James and Spurgeon who went to Dewey School and later to Boltwood Junior High School. Each of the surviving seven siblings made their own stamp on life while in Evanston and throughout their adult lives.

James “Jay” Pringle, who had been born in 1909 in South Carolina, used to play on the Flashers basketball team at the Emerson Street YMCA. He also played golf and worked as a caddie. His first job was at the Evanston Hotel and later worked as a Pullman Porter for 37 years. After his retirement, he volunteered as a crossing guard for Dewy School at Lake and Asbury for 14 years until his health gave way.

A little known bit of history of Penny Park bordering Lake, Florence and Ashland, is that after James passing in 1989, a name that was considered for the park was “Pringle Park” in memory of James Pringle and his community service in the area.

Esther’s other siblings went on to be productive in all of their aspirations in community engagement and career choices.

Esther Pringle
Esther Pringle

Esther Pringle Weldon, born in 1922, attended Foster School, Evanston Township and Roosevelt University. She worked in a factory for a “very short time” during WWII, then as a daycare provider for the nursery school at Bethel AME Church. She later worked with the Chicago Board of Education and then at Northwestern University in the Tech Library. She was later transferred to Tech Administration until her retirement after 22 years.

From an early age, Esther was active with New Hope Church where she took an interest in poetry. She represented the church in youth contests at St. Paul C.M.E. in Chicago. At the age of fifteen, she won first place in the competition. She was also involved in other organizations such as the Girls Reserve and the Junior League. During the eight years of her involvement in the League, she served as President of her chapter for a number of years. “One of the fundraisers we often held were plays. I often played the villain in the mystery plays,” she laughed.

Today, Esther is the only surviving sibling of Charles and Carrie Pringle. Family members are either interned at Rosehill or Sunset cemetery with the exception of Thelma who is interned in Abbeyville, South Carolina.

The Pringle family was a cohesive family. “As we grew up, we all lived within six blocks from each other.” Esther Says, “We would often walk to each others homes and visit… Those were the good-ole-days.

“We spent most of our time growing up on the ‘west-side’”, Esther reflects. “We didn’t have much money, so we didn’t go downtown often. We didn’t run into too much segregation because we stayed out, by choice, of that type of atmosphere.”

Esther’s daughter, Renee Weldon Wright, was an accomplished pianist and violinist, winning several competitions. Upon graduating from ETHS, she attended Grinnell College in Iowa on the Le Jeune Fisher-Vera Bentley Music Scholarship. Renee was the first African American recipient of that scholarship. She left music and went on to obtain a Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning. She later became Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Delaware State University and opened her own business, The Pringle Group, specializing in grant writing, business plans and marketing. Recently, Renee earned her M.B.A. at Delaware State University.

The Pringle legacy of struggles and accomplishments resembles that of many who grew up in the same time period. The responsibility lies with us to record and share these experiences with future families. Esther gives credit for the success as a family to her mother. “My mother was a smart person. You couldn’t put anything past her.” Esther says “She was a praying mother. When any difficulties came before her, she always said ‘Let’s pray about it’. She always stepped out on faith.”

Charles and Carrie Pringle stepped out on faith, leaving family in Level Land, South Carolina with the goal of migrating to California. Their chance decision to stay in Evanston and build a home, laid the foundation of a new chapter in the Pringle family legacy. Esther takes pride in the 92-year-old house her father built in 1916. “Not too much has changed,” Esther says. “The siding, the back room, and the front façade, but it is the same space where we all grew up.”
Note: Article first appeared in the original printed Shorefront Journal, Volume 6, Number 4, Summer 2005 and has been edited for length.

A Family History Remembered

—By Priscilla Giles

James Martin Thompson, c.1880s
James Martin Thompson, c.1880s

Ordinary people make up the majority of any city and the Thompson-Mack families are just that. Their distinction is that they can trace the family to the North Shore in the day when Black people were pioneering with whites.

The family story begins with the kidnapping of James Martin Thompson from the Buffalo, New York area when he was about seven years old by two white “drummers” (traveling salesmen) pretending to need help opening a turnpike gate. They took him to Guelph, Ontario, Canada where he lived until he was an adult. He married Edith Alice Lipscomb (Lepscomb) daughter of Julia, a run-away slave from Kentucky. Their first daughter, Ora, was born there in 1879.

Smiths owned a grocery store in Wilmette

After Julia died, Edith and James along with Edith’s sister, Ellen and her husband John Smith moved to the United States. The Thompsons first lived in Lake Forest, Illinois where a second daughter, Minnie, was born in 1882. Later they moved to Wilmette, Illinois where the Smiths owned and operated a grocery/candy store with the help of the Thompsons. The store operated until 1925 when Ellen died. The Thompsons moved to Evanston where their last children, Jessie and Wilbur were born in 1885 and 1891 respectively in the family home at 2455 Prairie Ave. Today, the home is now the site of an apartment building just north of Haven School.

The children attended the Crandon Elementary School later called the Central Street School. It was a small one-room school building that stood at Steward and Central Street. The family held membership at Ebenezer A. M. E. Church, where Minnie and Jessie were bonnet sisters until they relocated to Detroit, Michigan where Jessie’s husband, the Rev. Benjamin Brooks, pastored until he died. Their great neice, Helen Thomas and niece Constance Bell are still members there.

Ora Thompson, the oldest child, married William Howard Mack. They had four children; a girl, Mabel, twins Everett and Paul Dunbar, and William Howard Mack Jr. Paul married Georgie Gilbert and they had four children; Roger, Diane, Paul and Helen. Helen, who with her children and grandchildren still live in Evanston.

Minnie Thompson Williams had three children, twins, who died in infancy and Alice, who died young. Jessie Maud and her husband had no children.

Howard Jr., a member on the Umbrarian Glee Club and bass horn player, was a postal worker until 1969. He married the former Hilda Gordon of Glencoe, Illinois. They had two children Marjorie and Gordon, who retired after a long career as a director of American Humanities Program with the YMCA and is now a university professor. Gordon married the former Kay Bell of another old Evanston family and had four children none of whom live in Evanston today.

2455 Prairie Ave, Evanston, c,1900s
2455 Prairie Ave, Evanston, c,1900s

Wilbur Thompson and Bertha Jones were married in 1915 by the Rev. I. A. Thomas of Second Baptist Church. It was a garden wedding at his parent’s house at 2455 Prairie in Evanston. They first lived on Central Street, a block west of Green Bay Road but later moved to 2115 Forestview Road next door to Bertha’s sister Carrie and brother-in-law Isaiah and children. Wilbur and Bertha had five children; Wilbur and Millard who died in childhood, Edith, Marjorie, and Constance. They lived in Wilmette attending school there. Marjorie started kindergarten in the Wilmette Public Library. She later attended Lincolnwood, Willard, Foster, and Haven Schools in Evanston.

A small Black community developed in early Evanston in which families like the Thompsons, Suttons, Collins, Frazier’s and Logans homes stood. The Sutton’s house was moved to 2317 Foster Street while other homes on Bauer’s Place were bulldozed as if to erase the very existence of their former neighbors. It is now the site of a Christian Science Church. Other Black-Americans living in North Evanston on Park Place and Isabella were forced to move to the westside of Evanston the new place for the growing Black population. Wilbur and friends built their new home at 2225 Foster Street where other homes were moved from North Evanston when it was being “gentrified”.

Marjorie now lives in Chicago where she married Errill Sanders and remains ever willing to add another memory for a new chapter in the history of the Thomspon-Mack history. Her oldest daughter and her sister Connie, continue to live in Evanston.

The grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of run-away slaves, kidnapped free blacks and former slaves were blessed by God and have a rich legacy to impart to their children and generations to come. They are ordinary people who wish to share a history that is a part of the North Shores and of Evanston.


Notes: Article first appeared in the original printed Shorefront Journal, Spring 2000, Vol 1 No. 4