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.

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Lawrence B. Brooks: Filming Social Change

—By Carrie M. Brown

Larry Brooks on site filming of the story of Fred Hampton of the Chicago Black Panthers
Larry Brooks on site filming of the story of Fred Hampton of the Chicago Black Panthers

In the main studio of Evanston Community Media Center Larry Brooks’ breaks through the darkness and approaches the podium. Silence falls within the filled room following the showing of his 1967 film The Integration of the Foster School.

He proceeds to explain to those in attendance his motivations behind the film’s creation. Though shaky on many of the particulars, it is clear Brooks’ early passion for film remains very much alive today.

Brooks recalls the difficulty he had breaking into the filmmaking industry over the years. “You know, I remember a guy telling me once that they just didn’t hire blacks to do these kinds of jobs,” Brooks says.

It all began in 1959 when he was denied entrance to a photography class at Evanston Township High School.

“It was because of the racism of the times,” Brooks, a lifelong Evanstonian says.

“I was really fascinated with wanting to tell stories

Not to be deterred he enrolled the following year, the only Black student in the class. But Brooks’ passion for film goes back to his early childhood when his mother took him and his brother to regular movie outings.

“I just remember being more into the visuals than the storytelling,” Brooks says. “Movies kind of like fascinated me. I thought, ‘Well this is something I’d like to do.’”

His interest in film soon turned into an interest in photography and Brooks began pursuing a career as a photojournalist. High school graduation found Brooks’ eager to break out of Evanston.

“I wanted to get out of Evanston,” Brooks says. “I mean it was a place where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing.”

After graduating from high school he worked odd jobs, saving up money to buy camera equipment. It was the height of the Civil Rights movement and Brooks and his camera were there to capture it all. It wasn’t long before his work caught the eye of editors at Johnson Publishing and his photos appeared in Jet Magazine.

Brooks enrolled at Columbia College and received a draft deferment. It was there that he began to learn the fundamentals of media communications.

“I was fascinated with the visual medium—photography, television and film,” Brooks says. “I was really fascinated with wanting to tell stories.”

Brooks says that at the time Columbia was a fledgling school that occupied four floors of a building in Chicago. He studied alongside some of media’s biggest players, including Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune fame and Bob Sirott whom Larry used as the commentator for his student film on Foster School. It was at Columbia, like many times before in his life, that Brooks found himself to be one of few blacks. Brooks said that while he grew up in Evanston he feels he grew up “mentally and spiritually” in Chicago, and especially during his years spent at Columbia. And it was also there that he produced the now highly regarded documentary on the desegregation of Foster School in Evanston for a class assignment.

“It was an interesting thing they were doing with reverse bussing,” Brooks said. “Because I always thought of the Foster School as being black.”

Article from District 65 newsletter, “School Outlook” in 1968
Article from District 65 newsletter, “School Outlook” in 1968

The 16mm black and white film is set at the beginning of the 1967 school year as several white students board a bus to desegregate School District 65. Hailed as an important historical document, Brooks says he was simply a student making a film he thought was important.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” He said. “I mean, I took two years to put 20 minutes together.” After completing the film, he was ready to make his career move.

“But then there came a major road block,” Brooks declares. “And that was the US Army!”

Brooks was drafted into the Army in the early 1960’s. During his tour, he served as a television production specialist. He worked producing Army training tapes at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. After his time in the service, he looked for work.

Larry Brooks, Stage Manager at Channel Two News, c1972, as Stage Manager, on set with then Texas Governor John Connelly. The Governor was in the limousine with J.F. Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963
Larry Brooks, Stage Manager at Channel Two News, c1972, as Stage Manager, on set with then Texas Governor John Connelly. The Governor was in the limousine with J.F. Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963

Brooks’ college film helped land him a job at ABC Television in Chicago after graduation. He worked both as a stage manager and in the film department.

“It’s like any other job that you get at a station,” Brooks says. “You get a job and you’re welcome, then you are not welcome.”

It was the 1970s and Brooks went on to work at all the major networks in Chicago [CBS, NBC, WLS and FOX] building up his skill set as a stage manager and assistant director. Meanwhile, he created his own production company, BrokComm [formerly Brooks Communications] where he produced corporate videos for companies like Motorola and SBC. But Brooks’ break into the corporate video world was not an easy one. Contracts were hard to come by.

“You know, when you are black you don’t get very many projects.” Brooks said.

In the 1980s Brooks began work with the Ebony Showcase, a show featuring famous Black entertainers. During that time he worked with greats like Luther Vandross and Gladys Knight.

With his extensive network experience Brooks says, “I wanted to prove to myself that I could direct.”

His years of experience afforded him many industry contacts. It was one of those contacts that tapped Brooks to run the video and photography department for the city of Chicago in 1982 where he remained until 1989.

“It’s amazing to think I did all this stuff,” muses Brooks.

Much of the work he did as a freelancer. “It’s just the nature of the business. You freelance a lot,” he says.

One such stint he spent as a field producer and cameraman for a New York based company, Worldwide Television News, that represented foreign media from Italy, Russia, Australia and the UK.

Larry Brooks, 2004.
Larry Brooks, 2004.

At age 60 Brooks shows no signs of slowing down. He still holds fast to his dream of owning a television series. In 1997 he came close with Journeys with Jazz, a series he produced in conjunction with a cruise promoter specializing in jazz cruises. The weeklong cruise featured largely American jazz musicians. In the future Brooks hopes to do more work with the Journeys with Jazz series. In the meantime he offers this advice to aspiring filmmakers:

“Tell a good story,” he says. “If you have a good idea, pursue it.” Inspiration, says Brooks is all around us.

Now, he is in the process of planning a follow-up documentary. He wants to locate the children he featured in his original documentary and find out how the integration affected the direction of their lives.

Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of the original Shorefront Journal, Vol 6, No 2. “The Integration of Foster School” was reissued in partnership with Shorefront and aired on cable access, Evanston Community Media Center throughout the month of February and March 2005. Larry Brooks passed in 2006. His work as filmmaker and photographer is housed at the Shorefront Legacy Center.

Photo credits: First three, courtesy Larry Brooks. Last, ©Evanston Photographic Studio in the Shorefront photographic archives.

“Somewhere There’s A Child A-Crying”: The Early Life and Activism of Dr. Iva Carruthers

—by Doria Johnson

 

High School photo of Iva Johnson
Evanston Township High School photo of Iva Johnson, c1960

When asked about what it means to be an elder, Iva Elaine Carruthers responded, “How do I facilitate the next generations’ understanding of what its call is?” The answer seems to have undergirded her life. A self-described mother/activist, her involvement in the lives and wellness of children, the collective community, the Black church, the academy, international human rights campaigns for equality and justice, calls and actions related to reparations, and race and gender-deconstructions solidifies her as a critical voice across 20th and 21st century America, and beyond. Respected globally, Carruthers activism is considered critical to naming, documenting, and dismantling supremacy and uneven power and discrimination that oppress people and causes revolutionary movements. Iva’s activism did not happen in a vacuum, she comes from a line of women who also refused to accept unjust treatment.

Born in 1945 in Jim-Crow’s Chicago Provident Hospital to Lois Banks Johnson and Tuskegee Airman William H. Johnson, but raised on Evanston’s Westside, Iva’s grandparents, Iva and John Banks, migrated from Little Rock, Arkansas in 1923, following John Banks’ father who came three years earlier. Lois Banks, Iva’s mother, was born in 1918, and thus started school at the increasingly all-Black Foster School. By the time Lois had reached the end of grade school, her mother was employed in an industry that almost 80% of Black women belonged—domestic service work for white families.

Many migrants had to shed their southern-gained college training or professions to earn a living in the north in the one industry were they were guaranteed steady work. Relegated to service work, they reproduced the labor they would rather perform for their own families and children, while also freeing white women from chores so they could go and work outside the home, and a few years later could compete with white men in corporate and industrial industries.

The all-white teaching staff at Foster had designed curriculum that would anchor another generation of domestics by providing in-school training for girls, with teachers bringing their laundry in for the students to wash, iron and fold with district supplied washing machines and ironing boards. Iva Banks, along with other Foster School mothers, formed together to object the plan and forced the school to abandon the domestic-service curriculum. As the president of the PTA, Iva Banks stood to be an example for ‘the next generations’ understandings of what its call is”.

When young Iva Johnson was about in the sixth grade at Foster School a white teacher hit her during a physical encounter. Iva hit the teacher back and told her to “never put her white hands on me.” This ‘insubordination’ was penalized by the school by several actions including ordering a series of tests, which ironically determined she was ‘too smart’ to be at the ‘separate but equal’ school. Thus, she was ‘punished’ to a mostly-white school, Haven, where she would be more ‘intellectually challenged.’ Iva describes it as a punishment on one hand because she was removed from her cohort and friends, but on the other hand, she excelled academically, which was not the intended outcome from school administrators.

At one point at Haven she and other students practiced for an awards ceremony where Iva experienced heart palpitations. The white school nurse advised her mother, Lois, that Iva was indeed on drugs. Offended, Lois pressured school officials enough so that the nurse was fired. These local, seemingly unrelated micro-aggressions were the fuel that fed the larger, national fight for African American civil rights and power, and women and mothers were often central to these successful efforts.

Iva says her father, William Howard Johnson, made her believe the world was her stage, and her mother said she would always defend her right to discover it. The environment was affirming and thus, her father gifted her one of the most important books of the 20th century, “The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” by Gunnar Myrdal. Myrdal Her father was president of the NAACP when Dr. King visited Evanston, and so her environment was affirming for her to excel, have confidence, while being instructed on how to become a change-agent.

At ETHS Iva flourished and excelled academically, while also reconnecting with her friends from Foster School. Close to graduation in 1963 the murder of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama shook the world. Attending a school assembly where the administration refused to acknowledge and publicly join the students in mourning, Iva and other students began beating on lockers, in an act of civil disobedience. Not caring about disciplinary actions Iva began to demonstrate her inability to accept the current world order where her people were often discriminated against, the victims of violence and death simply because of their ethnicities.

Also at ETHS, some of Iva’s friends were involved with many bourgeois Black Evanston clubs, some which held cultural events designed to showcase that African Americans could and did embrace the social style and events that white elite Evanstonians enjoyed. In the backdrop was an early 20th century cultural phenomenon of Black artists belonging to the “New Negro” movement where classical education was embraced more than the more ‘embarrassing’ folk culture like blues musicians and music. Iva was asked to join a cotillion, where young women of high school age are feted at an elaborate ball while escorted by worthy young men. Those invited mostly considered themselves part of the Black Evanston elite, because their social positions were obviously elevated over others who did not receive invitations. These balls were elaborate affairs where class, gender, class and economics all were central to the guest list and design.

Iva openly refused to continue this reproductive tradition by participating in one activity she felt did not truly illuminate and celebrate Black cultural production. Instead, she embraced African-centered culture and traditions. She upset some of the elite club members because she refused to participate in reproductions of others and desired to learn more about the genesis of her people and their preferred practices and traditions. There would be a Black Power movement and Black Arts Movement that would soon follow framed by her beliefs. Iva was involved with many of the key players of these movements, which centered and articulated “Black is Beautiful” as its mantra. From there on, Evanstonian Iva Johnson would remain a force in many liberation movements around the globe.

While in college at the University of Illinois, Iva met Ralph Wells, a Northwestern graduate who excelled at both athletics and scholarship. He and Iva married, causing her return to the Chicago area where she graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago, and had her first son Chris. Wells, a Marshall High School graduate, was a well-respected scholar athlete who would go on to be the first Black manager for R.R. Donnelly and Sons, a publishing giant headquartered in Chicago. Ralph Wells, unfortunately, died in a tragic boating accident eleven months after Chris was born, but his legacy lives on. Iva reflected on his philosophical heritage by adding that she has his copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” which indicated his commitment to understanding issues surrounding race and liberation. Fulfilling a promise made to her parents and Wells, Iva finished her PhD in sociology from Northwestern University.

Iva Caruthers and mother, Lois Johnson
Iva Caruthers and mother, Lois Johnson

Her philosophies, writing, teachings, leadership and vision would and still does affect human rights around the globe. Keeping young people and mentoring central along the way, and subsequently earning a Masters in Theology, Carruthers has affected many lives around the world.

Allen “Bo” Price: Shaping Evanston Youth

—By Carlis Sutton

Allen "Bo" Price
Allen “Bo” Price

Anywhere you go on the West Side of Evanston and mention “Bo” Price, there will be an immediate response: “He’s the man!” In Bo’s brief eighty-six years of living in Evanston and over sixty years of working with young people, Allen “Bo” Price has had an indelible impact on our community.

Interviewing a living legend is slightly intimidating, but a conversation with Bo Price is both a lesson in Evanston and American history as well as an experience in witnessing overwhelming personal strength tempered with humility.

Bo’s sense of humor puts you at ease. Watching him polishing his favorite horn, a coronet, the instrument he uses in his all-girl drum and bugle corps, to a gleaming stainless steel gives you an opportunity to observe both his demeanor and thoroughness. Bo cautiously chooses his words and responds introspectively to probing personal questions, demonstrating his compassion while perceptively protecting his privacy.

He has a remarkable memory and recalls incidents and individuals from his past as though they occurred yesterday, and recounts a wealth of individuals who have influenced his life. While attending Foster School, Bo was greatly influenced by his physical education instructor, Mr. Boyer. Mr. Boyer had been a captain in the army and was the only black on the staff. Mr. Boyer’s philosophy of “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins” became Bo’s mantra.

Allen “Bo” Price was born in Evanston, Illinois, on July 1, 1922, the youngest of seven boys and the tenth of eleven children, who included three older and one younger sister. He is the sole survivor in his family.

His father, Squire Price, migrated to Evanston from Tennessee, and his mother, Gertrude Bell, came from Virginia. They married in Evanston in 1900. His father died in 1925; his mother lived to be eighty-four.

Bo’s family first lived on Elmwood Avenue near Lake Street, then moved to the 1700 block of Lyons, east of Darrow, where they were living when Bo started to school at Foster School. Foster School was integrated then, and Bo went there from kindergarten through eighth grade. Mr. Boyer, the Foster School gym teacher, was also employed at Foster Field across the street from the school. It was on the playground that Bo acquired an early interest in sports, and he participated in all sports at Foster Field: softball, football, and ice skating.

Price worked as a cobbler at a nearby shoe shop
Price worked as a cobbler at a nearby shoe shop

After completing eighth grade, Bo attended Washburn Trade Institute in Chicago, where an older sister was also going. He was planning to be a cobbler. Washburn Institute is now Dunbar Vocational High School on Chicago’s South Side. When I inquired why he went to Chicago for high school when there was one right here in Evanston he replied, “Because there were better opportunities for blacks at Washburn than those available at Evanston Township High School.” In fact, he related how many black families sent their children to boarding schools in other states to avoid the racism of Evanston High. The policy in effect at Evanston Township High School at that time allowed only one black athlete on the field at a time.

However, there were ample opportunities for blacks at Foster Field, with its organized competitive teams in both football and baseball. Their reputation for performance brought scouts from black colleges to recruit athletes at Foster Field. During this time the park captured all the city championships between the other parks, mainly Boltwood (Crown) and Chandler Parks.

In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress declared war on Germany and Japan. Many young Evanston black men were drafted, including Bo and his six brothers; they served in the army, all seven at the same time. After being inducted at Fort Sheridan, Bo received basic training at Fort Custer in Michigan, then Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The military was segregated, so many blacks, including Bo, were trained to be quartermasters, whose primary responsibility was keeping the all-white infantry supplied. Little did Bo know that the skills acquired at this time would be instrumental in preparing thousands of young black soldiers to return to civilian life. In the military Bo acquired the discipline and determination that would be the foundations for his future success in training youngsters. He remembers the trains segregated by race for troops being sent to fight the same war. Eventually Bo arrived in Hampton, Virginia, where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth I cruise liner turned troop transport ship to sail with 20,000 other soldiers headed for the battlefields of Europe. The trans-Atlantic crossing took five days. They sailed unescorted, hoping to avoid the German U-boats (submarines). They traveled northeast near Iceland, a circuitous route, and landed in Glasgow, Scotland.

Immediately the quartermasters started stockpiling supplies for the invasion of France. While in Great Britain, Bo visited English cities, including Liverpool and London. The black soldiers could go into town only on alternate days when the white soldiers weren’t furloughed. Since all the officers were white, one remarked that if his grandmother knew that he was giving passes to black men to go date white women she would turn over in her grave. One of Bo’s buddies received his pass and commented to the white officer, “Spin, Granny, spin.” Bo remembers the German bombing raids on London, where they had to live in the subways.

The invasion of Europe began on D-Day June 6, 1944. The casualties were enormous, and Bo’s unit, the Fifth Infantry, had to encamp in Bivouac for several months.

Bo saw action in Belgium and eventually in the Battle of the Bulge, from December 16, 1944, to January 25, 1945. He was injured by shrapnel and medically evacuated. White boys with similar injuries were returned to the States, Bo was returned to the front lines. Since the casualties were so high, members of the quartermaster corps were given a two-week crash course and sent to the front beside the white infantry. The army was unofficially integrated. However, upon return, the blacks who served as infantrymen were remanded to their quartermaster positions before returning to the States.

The white infantry were awarded the Presidential Commendation for their services in the Battle of the Bulge; the black quartermasters were not given any official recognition until after World War II, when they were decorated by the French government with La Croix de Guerre, or the Legion of Honor. While serving in Europe, Sergeant Bo Price had the opportunity to occasionally encounter other black Evanstonians, and he ran into one of his brothers upon his departure from Marseilles, France, to return to the States.

Bo Price was discharged from the armed services in 1946 at Fort Sheridan and returned to Evanston. He held several jobs before securing employment with the state of Illinois. He continued his athletic activities by joining the Foster Field Evanston Rams in 1947. The team was coached by William Johnson.

Price leading a housing protest march c1960s
Price leading a housing protest march c1960s

One day he went to Jody Clay, a black Evanston shoe repairman, to have his uniform altered. Clay offered to repair the uniform for free if Bo would join the Snell Post of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). There had been a previous black chapter of the American Legion here in Evanston, but several veterans had organized a new chapter named for the first black Evanstonian killed in World War II, William Snell. The previous American Legion had a drill team, and the members of the new organization were interested in organizing another team. It was felt that Bo, due to his young age, would be able to identify better with the young men who would specialize in precision drill and rifle handling. Bo started with several young men, including Charles Thomas, Paul Wilson, Edwin Jourdain III, William Dawson, and Chris Gilbert. Bo inculcated his high expectations in these drill team members and emphasized self-discipline. They accepted his challenge and soon became famous throughout the state.

The Vanguards drill team
The Vanguards drill team

The legacy of excellence was forged. First called the VFW Drill Team, their name became recognized for the group’s expertise and they performed at halftime at the Chicago Cardinals National Football League and halftime at the Chicago Stadium for the Harlem Globetrotters. The name of the drill team changed to the Gay Blades Drum and Bugle Corps in 1969.

In 1978, the name changed to The Pride of Evanston Drum and Bugle Corps. Bo’s drill team integrated the Evanston Fourth of July Parade down Central Street and became the first black championship drill team in Ilinois, therefore breaking down barriers in Evanston, Chicago, and Springfield. Evanston Mayor John R. Kimbark (1953–1962) stated, “If the drill team can’t march in the Fourth of July parade, then there won’t be any parade.” This legacy of excellence continued and Bo won his first national championship in Miami, Florida, in 1957.

The rise from our community at Foster Field to national prominence was accomplished through a combination of community support, wealthy Evanstonians, masterly training, practice, mentoring, and illustrious and innovative motivation emphasizing high self-esteem.

Bo’s most ardent supporter from the community was Ms. Fanny Lazar, the owner of the famous Fanny’s Restaurant. Ms. Lazar sponsored Bo’s only birthday party at Fleetwood/Jourdain.

Bo’s recollection of that first national championship was mostly of the support of the parents and participation by so many high-achieving young people. The majority of that championship group attended and graduated from college, producing principals, certified public accountants, schoolteachers, business people, and attorneys who returned and contributed to our community.

This significant contribution, the first national championship of a black drill team group, has been immortalized by a sculpture in the foyer of Fleetwood/Jourdain Community Center.

Bo has similarly been recognized by the naming of a street (Foster Street from Darrow to Ashland) in his honor. Only three other individuals have received this recognition in our community; it is a small but significant tribute to an individual who has contributed so much and who mastered the art of training, mentoring, and motivating young people. Bo continued in this effort by sponsoring a girl’s drum and bugle corps and color guard. Some participants are the grandchildren of his famous “57” unit.

Mr. Price and neighborhood Brownies
Mr. Price and neighborhood Brownies

What is Bo Price’s response to the current plight of our community? He summarizes in one word: “parenting.” Most Evanstonians are experiencing the fallout of second- and third-generation single teen parenting. At a recent workshop that Bo attended, sponsored by Neighbors at Work, he emphasized that the most important years for establishing learning skills are the formative years, one to three years old. By that time a child has established his learning processes for the rest of his life.

What we need now are parenting classes for our young people who are parents. Says Bo, “It is frustrating to observe all the accomplishments that my generation made and to see young people not taking advantage of the opportunities in our community.”

The loss of our neighborhood school has been a major reason for the breakdown in our community today.

Let’s hope that this is the last generation in Evanston to experience a wandering in the wilderness for forty years like the Jews who were liberated from Egypt. Like Moses and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bo has shown us the Promised Land and the only thing left is for us to take possession of the land.

 

Note: This article was originally written for Shorefront on March 8, 2004. The article has been slightly revised to take into account dates and some tenses. Allen “Bo” Price passed away May 1, 2009—one month before his birthday—after a sustained fight with lung and heart disease. The article originaly appeard in the printed quarter Shorefront Journal, Volume 9, No. 1, 2009. Photo of Price as a cobbler ©1998 courtesy of Marina Samovsky/marinaphoto.com. Photo of Price marching by Charles Johnson

Eddie Lee Sutton: Life, Legacy of Service

— By Carrie M. Brown

Eddie Lee Sutton. Courtesy of Carlis Sutton
Eddie Lee Sutton. Courtesy of Carlis Sutton

Hot flames visible for miles licked the night sky as steady streams of water battled to keep the shooting flames at bay. It was a Tuesday night in the fall of 1958 and Evanston’s Foster School sat ablaze. While other residents stood celebrating the school building’s demise, forty-two-year-old Eddie Lee Sutton sat on a street corner and cried.

She would later call the burning of the school, “an end of an era.” For those who knew her best, Eddie Lee’s reaction would come as no surprise. Between her Pine Bluff, Arkansas birth in 1916 and her death in 1991, she dedicated her life to the education and service of others.

Teacher, publisher, poet and activist she was born Eddie Lee Davis on December 28, 1916 to Cody Laverne and Edward Davis. When her mother decided she was not able to raise a child, Eddie Lee was placed in the care of the Coleman family. Growing up, many recognized early on that she was a “very, very smart child,” said her nephew Carlis Sutton. Those smarts lead the young Eddie Lee to graduate with honors from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff in 1938 with a degree in Language Arts. After an unsuccessful attempt to break the barrier of racial discrimination by applying for graduate studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Eddie Lee made her way to Evanston and the campus of Northwestern University. It was there that she earned a Master’s degree in Speech Re-Education in 1946.

Personally Eddie Lee began building a life for herself. In 1940 she married fellow University of Arkansas student Julius Sutton. Described by many as “handsome and statuesque,” Sutton was a horse trainer and professional boxer with a Master’s degree in physical therapy. Known for his striking good looks, people would often ask him why he chose to marry Eddie Lee. “He said because she had more character than any woman he’d ever met before,” Carlis said. When medical issues prevented the two from conceiving, the Suttons adopted a daughter, Janee. Years prior, while living in Arkansas, the Suttons took in the seven-year-old girl whose mother was sick with tuberculosis. “Eddie Lee was very compassionate,” Carlis said. “She had kids in and out of the house.”

As one story goes, it was a warm summer day in Evanston. The shrieks and laughter of children at play filled the streets, rising high above the rooftops of neatly rowed homes. It was there that Eddie Lee spent her summers caring for a young boy with cerebral palsy. Many of the neighborhood children were afraid of him, teasing him about his disability. That day Eddie Lee confronted the young boy’s peers. She told them that although his body lacked control, his mind was just as good as theirs, and that they should be grateful for the ability to run and play.

“That was Eddie Lee,” Carlis said. “She was a true defender of the underdog.”

Mary Wilkerson, vice-president of the district 202 school board, has fond memories of Eddie Lee. A student at the Foster School in the 1950s, Wilkerson worked with Eddie Lee to correct a speech impediment beginning in third grade. The two worked together up into Wilkerson’s high school years. She thinks warmly of her weekends and afternoons at Eddie Lee’s home.

“She was so giving of her time,” Wilkerson said. “She wasn’t just a nine to five person.” Wilkerson, who now organizes an annual citywide teachers appreciation event, said her efforts are a way of thanking Eddie Lee and those like her.

“She inspired me. . . and I want to say thank you to her for what she did for me,” Wilkerson said. “She truly was the wind beneath my wings. I credit her with my speaking ability.”

Eddie Lee’s penchant for serving those in need was displayed most prominently in the classroom. After the Foster School, where she had been teaching, burned down in 1958, Eddie Lee poured her thoughts and feelings into her writing.

Article from the Evanston Review c1960s
Article from the Evanston Review c1960s

“Way ahead of her time,” is how Carlis describes his aunt. Years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Eddie Lee’s interest in the education gap between white children and black children lead her to compile a comprehensive study on the quality of education for black students. For ten years, between 1946-1956 she tracked the academic progress of 15 black Evanston students. According to Eddie Lee’s research, there was no disparity in academic progress before and after school segregation. But her research could not be furthered as her records were destroyed after a flood in her basement.

It was Eddie Lee’s work outside the classroom that made her well known. In the 1950s, she became a member of the Evanston chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a community service organization. In that same decade, she also became the first black member of the Zonta Club of Evanston, an exclusive international women’s business club chartered in 1931.

Book of Poetry
Book of Poetry

But Eddie Lee’s writing offers the most in depth look at the life of a woman wholeheartedly dedicated to the service of others. In 1969, she founded Jaens-Del Publishing Company to publish her own educational materials for speech and language development. It was with Jaens-Del that she published her first book, Listen to the Lambs. Twenty-one years later Jaens-Del was reborn and renamed Sutton & Sutton Publishing, Inc. After Eddie Lee retired from teaching in 1989 she published a second book, Not for Blacks Only. In it she wrote, “This small volume of poems covers a wide range of human interests…it touches many of the problems we face today in our communities, our homes and in our schools.” With Not for Blacks Only, Eddie Lee sought to encourage young people to live their fullest lives.

Education and children, two of Eddie Lee’s loves, were the inspiration for her work. She spent the years after the Foster School fire as a speech pathologist for District 65 in Evanston, rotating to various elementary schools. In the summer of 1972 Eddie Lee and her family founded “Learning How To Learn,” a private summer school program founded at Evanston’s Second Baptist Church. “It was really our family’s attempt to close the [education] gap,” Carlis said.

Eddie Lee’s work in the area of speech pathology was recognized at the 1969 Annual Convention of the American Speech and Hearing Association where she taught a short course on speech language correction in the public schools. The summer of the previous year she organized an experimental program for preschool children with severe speech-language handicaps. The program, partially sponsored by Florida State University, continues today.

For all that she accomplished Eddie Lee did not look for recognition. “She was very humble,” Carlis said. “She did not look for the limelight.”

Her legacy took the place of limelight. The first was an emphasis on education. According to Carlis she said, “You’re not going to college to get a job.” Eddie Lee’s question was “What will you contribute to the world?” Carlis said she described her service to the community as simply part of the “Sutton family legacy of service.” She was also a strong advocate of mentorship. Carlis recounts his aunt’s words on mentorship: She used to say, “as a well educated black person it’s a commitment you have to have.”

Eddie Lee died after complications from diabetes in 1991. But her story does not end there. Her life inspired many to a life of service. And it is there that her legacy lies. Small deeds as grains of sand on the coast, or drops of water in the ocean, her determination to make a difference is the legacy she left behind.

 

Sources: Original article appeared in the printed version of Shorefront Journal, volume 5, number 3, 2004. Sutton’s publication, Not For Blacks Only, can be found at the Shorefront Legacy Center.

Lorraine Hairston Morton: I Am More Than My Smile

Mayor Lorraine H. Morton 1993-2009
Mayor Lorraine H. Morton 1993-2009

— By Joi-Anissa Russell

The Smile

No denying when she enters a room. Her 1000-watt smile lights up the entire space. She is a force to be reckoned with and her energy is unsurpassable. She took a road less traveled and broke two barriers. Lorraine H. Morton became Evanston’s second female mayor, the first African-American and the first Democrat to step into this role from 1993 to 2009. While many challenges presented themselves during her tenure as mayor, she did not allow things to break her spirit. As Morton says with pride, “Race and the antagonism that people had, never kept me from doing what I wanted to do.” But let’s take a step into the past to find out how Morton’s upbringing shaped who she is today.

Lorraine Hairston: The Beginning

Lorraine was born in Winston-Salem, NC on December 8, 1918 to Keziah Staples Hairston and William Patrick Hairston. Her mother raised nine children and she was the youngest of the nine. There were 10 children total but the third child, Lois, died as an infant. Today, she has no surviving siblings.

Her father worked at the Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company as he was an “old head” in establishing the insurance company and was also established in real estate. Lorraine’s father came to Winston-Salem when the town was still young. At a time when whites were coming there as well, her dad had been a shipping clerk in Virginia in a Tobacco warehouse. Her mother had been a school teacher in Stewart, Virginia, her father was a resident of Spencer, Virginia.

In an effort to instill pride of family history, her father would take family members to Virginia to see where he grew up. Lorraine’s dad was born in a log cabin and as an adult, tried to buy the land that his family thrived on but ‘the man would not sell it to him.’ The owner vowed he would never destroy the property or the log cabin. And he did not.

Eventually, Lorraine’s father moved away from Spencer, Virginia. His first job in Winston was as a Sexton in a church and that meant his job was to clean the church. A group of men including her dad came together to use their talents to start an insurance company. A lot of blacks were gaining strength economically and the insurance company took off as an amazing business venture.

Lorraine’s oldest sister came aboard the insurance company as secretary. Mr. Bloom, her father’s friend, headed the company as president. As Lorraine shares, “Papa was the director of the agents of the company.” Later, Mr. Bloom passed. Then Mr. Hill, her father’s partner in real estate, became the president. Her father later became the treasurer. The family laughed because they said her sister was always the boss because she knew the business and the people and was very influential in the growth of the company. Back in those days there were no employment benefits. So Mr. Hairston, after retiring, became a Vice President of the company in order to maintain his salary. Her sister became the treasurer. Lorraine’s brother went to West Virginia State to get a degree in printing so he could print their policies. As death took many officers, the brother became treasurer.

The Hairston’s and Hill’s were committed to keeping family members employed but a series of family deaths interfered with consistent leadership. Finally, Mr. Hill’s son became president of the organization. The Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company grew to the point of the company buying land to build a new office building. After Lorraine’s family left the insurance company, Golden Gate Insurance in Los Angeles bought Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company. Eventually, Hill accepted an executive position with Golden Gate.

Lorraine Hariston c1940
Lorraine Hairston c1940s

Lorraine arrived in Evanston in 1953 to attend Northwestern University. As a student there, she met her husband, James, while he was studying for his doctorate degree at Northwestern. James was completing his doctoral degree on a General Education Board fellowship. He was offered fellowships to Northwestern and Harvard. However, he chose the Northwestern fellowship. Morton laughs heartily as she says that she and James ran a household for nine months on his general education board salary that was only $100 per month. They had a summer romance and got married in December 1941 while still studying to obtain their degrees. Both earned their degrees in August 1953, James his Ph.D. and Lorraine her Master’s.

She describes her first experience upon coming to Evanston. “My first impression of Evanston was that there were not a lot of Black professionals here as there was in Winston-Salem [North Carolina].” She explains with earnest why that was her first impression.

“Business was booming in downtown Winston-Salem. There was a black barbershop. A group of black men started a bus route that went through all the black neighborhoods.” Morton says, “I never grew up riding in the back of the bus because we had our own bus company in Winston-Salem, and it cost five cents to ride it. People who come from communities that have seen that type of vitality and come from parents who put a premium on education, made all types of sacrifices for their children. It was the era when just about everybody went to college. Blacks sacrificed every dime they had to send their children to college. In my community, more black teachers had Master’s degrees than whites because there was a dual salary schedule. Whites and blacks did not receive the same salary. In order for blacks to receive a comparable salary, you had to have a Master’s. There was an influx of blacks out of Winston-Salem to get a higher education and then they returned to Winston to teach school.”

The Early Years in Teaching (1955-1989)

Morton wanted to teach in a junior high school, so she was sent to Foster School to teach where only one or two white kids went to school. Staff was mixed: Joe Hill, Gladys Sally, Eddie Lee Sutton, Wendell Lanton, Lawrence Poston, Alice Robinson. After a year, Morton was told that no black teachers had ever taught in the summer school of Evanston. I came from a background where you fought for civil rights. I went to speak with Dr. Chute about the fact that no Negroes had taught in Evanston summer schools. I’ll never forget the expression on his face. He seemed so pleased. As I interpreted it later, knowing his interest in the desegregation of schools, it was as if he said at last someone is willing to come in and break this ice! And obviously, I got the job!”

After two years of teaching at summer school, she went out on maternity leave. She was asked to come to the central office and was told she was being assigned to Nichols School. She did not want to go to Nichols (and her opportunity to break the color line) and wanted to return to Foster since she lived a block away from Foster and had just had a baby.

A close friend of Morton, Virginia Dues, taught at Foster. Dr. Chute planned to place Virginia at Willard School with an entirely white staff. One of the white teachers at Willard told Morton that at the Willard School Faculty meeting, the staff stated that the community would not accept Virginia. So when Morton was being sent to Nichols to break the ice and the racial barrier, she went to see Principal Michael Ryan and asked him if Nichols was planning to have a faculty meeting regarding Morton’s working there and he said no. Morton had a very pleasant working experience working there with 7th and 8th graders.

She was then appointed Chair of Language Arts at Nichols then Chair of Language Arts for District 65. For these leadership positions, she did not receive additional salary. Morton applied for track movement of which there were five tracks in order to document her successes. She was in the first group of teachers who received merit pay, completed five tracks, and the Evanston Review documented the achievement! However, Morton did not think she had done anything special to receive merit pay.

Later on Chute school was being built and designed for team teaching per the school board, so Dr. Chute sent Morton to Chicago to a seminar to learn about team teaching to prepare her for a position as Team Leader. She taught classes for a 1/2 day and then was team leader for the remainder of the day. Her position later included the role of test coordinator for the school. During this time, Morton’s husband’s died.

She received a call from School Board Member Rachel Golden and asked if she thought of being principal at Haven. Morton felt Haven had too many problems and should be closed and made into an administrative building. Morton knew she would lose money working as a principal. Track five teachers were paid more than beginning principal. Golden said you are the only person I know that can shape up the kids, parents and the teachers. Morton said that was a challenge but thought it might be interesting to do this. She submitted an application to the personnel office.

Joe Hill was superintendent of schools at the time. The first day he took Morton to the school, she describes this scene;

“The halls were painted a dark blue. The entrance way was in orange. I felt like I was walking through a tomb. I walked into the principal’s office. There was a long, two shelf bookcase with the doors hanging off. There was a nail in the wall. The carpeting in the outer office was black. Joe brought me into the office. I looked around; I didn’t even sit down. He gave me the keys. When Joe left, I left. I told my daughter I had made a serious mistake. I cannot go to work in a place like that. She said “Well mama you’re in it now. You just have to go back in there and stick with it.” I came back the next day, took a tour of the building and saw what a beautiful building it was. I learned that if a kid knocked down an inside door, they would take the door down as well as other furniture. That was the mentality. Doors and furniture were kept in the storeroom. My first official act was to take custodians out of a windowless room and put them in a room that was built for custodians. Then, with the elp of the school district, I had the interior of the building painting, I had the fireplace cleaned, and restored the building. The staff just joined right in with me. The teachers had been maligned but they were good teachers.

There were major discipline problems because 900 kids were moving through the hall at the same time. I devised a new schedule that gave teachers more planning time and things turned around well. We started entering contests and so many of our children came out in first place and many in the area of English. While I was there, one student won the national math competition. Our athletics department improved. The cheerleading squad was revived. I have pamphlets from the state showing the test scores of the kids at Haven that they were better than other middle schools except in math. Throughout Evanston, the blacks kids were dispersed to different elementary schools but all of them came back to Haven for sixth and eighth grades. . . Haven scores made a lie out of everybody who said if you put black kids there it will bring everybody down. And it didn’t. Those teachers worked so hard!”

As an educator for numerous years, Morton provides her honest opinion on how some agenda items need to be challenged. In regards to supporting children with breakfast programs at the school, Morton believes in attacking the root of the problem and does not believe that schools need to take on the role of parent. Morton said as a school administrator, she would send the school social worker to the child’s home to find out why the student was not eating. In addition, she has a strong belief that the resources used for summer school could be shifted to add more staff to the school year to support parents and students. Morton also wants the history curriculum to be shook-up. She shares we must “teach kids that there just wasn’t slavery in America but slavery was practiced by various races, in order` to keep them [African American children] from getting an inferiority complex.”

At the end of the day, she says that the quality of teaching and administrators are key. “It is not about the length of the school day.”

In 2009, Evanston’s city hall was renamed to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center

Mayor Lorraine H. Morton (1993-2009)

Mayor Lorraine H. Morton 1993-2009
Mayor Lorraine H. Morton 1993-2009

The path to mayor “was a big surprise” says Morton, who was also an alderman for a time. She got involved in politics because the community asked her to run for mayor. Morton did not want to run against Rev. Norwood since the community had already asked him to petition for the office. She did not agree with running a “black against a black.” She only decided to run for mayor when she learned that Rev. Norwood was not running. She learned this on a Sunday.

On a Tuesday, she came back to her home to find it filled with civic and business leaders, black and white. Morton did not feel that the community could get enough signatures to get her name on the ballot. The community members thought differently. Morton believes that Dennis Drummer was involved in getting her name on the ballot but she has no proof. There were a total of five folks running for Mayor including Morton.

In order for Morton to be on the ballot, she had to have enough individuals to sign her name on for the petition process. The petition process gave you the right to run. She can’t recall how many names she needed to get on the ballot but she did it. Morton recorded names of all the people who gave her money to run and wrote personal “thank you” letters to them.

At times, Morton played mediator as Mayor. She feels that being herself got her to where she is now. “I’ve always been me. If I make a decision and it is my decision and it’s wrong, I can correct it or apologize for it. But if I do something because somebody else told me to do something, it becomes hard to straighten it out . . . Stand by what you believe in.”

Morton believed in the people and the act of service to the community. She wanted to be certain that she always led with truth and spoke with the truth as mayor and as a member of the community. “You can’t be false as mayor and get away with it because eventually people will know and they won’t like it and can’t depend on you.” Morton tried to veto a budget on several occasions because she knew the impact it would have on the community members. The council did not go along with her. She essentially followed her truth. One of the truths she followed was not supporting  increased taxes to the community. However, she did ask that the City pay non union members the same salary as union members when doing the same job. In the end, the Council agreed to a partial payment. She never understood the full dynamics of the decision because the City had the money to do what she requested.

A great friend of Morton’s, gave her the words to veto the budget. However, behind the scenes, her friend had been working with the third ward alderman to keep his job. During a council meeting, he sided with the third ward alderman to pass a budget that would lead to rising taxes for an already struggling community. Morton said to the council, “There is something very wrong going on here tonight and you all could have given me the courtesy to let me have finished my statement and look over the budget.”

The next morning, a confident on the council called Morton and said that the then City Manager had called up aldermen, police and firemen’s union leaders to support her and attend the council meeting. The City Manager called Morton to apologize for her actions the next day. Morton said to her that you have been out a lot because of your illness and the City Manager took her suggestion.

Despite a few adversarial meetings, Morton truly enjoyed being mayor and being with people. Morton appointed the first black to the Board of Commission. Being the voice for the people and a supporter was important to Morton. Family was Morton’s main support system while in office. Morton sought advice from friends and family to get what she needed because she felt that you could not be an expert in everything.

Mayor Morton appointed Elizabeth Tisdahl to fill an unexpired term of an alderman. When she decided to retire, she was thinking of a succession plan. Reflecting upon Tisdahl’s work, she said that Tisdahl had a track record of helping so many people in the Evanston community through financial support as well as human support. Tisdahl had volunteered and supported schools even when she did not have any children at the school. As Morton puts it, “Tisdahl is a very kind and generous woman but she does not boast her accomplishments. Its illustrated in her uncontested second term as Mayor.”

In 2009, Evanston’s City Council voted to rename the building to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. In 2012, the Council commissioned a portrait of Lorraine by artist Richard Halstead and was unveiled at a special reception in April, 2013 in the council chambers. “I felt overwhelmed and honored. . .” she said.

Mrs. Morton with daughter (center left) and granddaughters (far left and right) at portrait dedication
Mrs. Morton with daughter (center left) and granddaughters (far left and right) at portrait dedication at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center

Words of Wisdom

Morton shares that no matter what position you hold that being prepared is key. “The day has passed when blacks get jobs because companies are afraid they are going to get in trouble for not hiring blacks. You must be prepared. Also, make it a point to not get talked about for not being competent.”

Finally, many wonder what keeps that 1000-watt smile so glorious. Morton’s shares her secret. “I have a daughter and two grandchildren that I adore more than I should and spoil more than I should but I call it building memories.”

Sources: Lorraine H. Morton, interviewed by Joi-Anissa Russell on  April 8, 2013, and archived at the Shorefront Legacy Center. Additional information from audio recordings by Shorefront in 1997 , and archived at the Shorefront Legacy Center. Photograph of Mayor Morton © 2008 Evanston Photographic Studio for the Shorefront “Portraits of a Community” collection. Photo of Morton c1940s by James Morton, Shorefront photographic collection. Photo of Morton, daughter and granddaughters during the portrait dedication at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center by Shorefront © 2013.

James S. Burton: Following the Trail of Tears

—By Dino Robinson

James Burton "Wolf Rider"
James Burton “Wolf Rider”

Every once in a while, a person gets a chance to do something that impacts on not only his or her own spirit, but on the spirit of hundreds of others as well. James. S. Burton had such an opportunity and fulfilled a promise he had made more than thirty years ago.

Better known in the Evanston community as Mr. “B” while employed at Family Focus, James Burton was born in Abbyville, South Carolina. His parents, William and Willie Burton, came to Evanston in 1943 with James, age two, in tow. His father worked for Phillips Petroleum towing cars. An accident while on the job a year after they arrived cost William Burton his life. James was three. His mother worked for Better Cab Association then for Best Taxi as a dispatcher. While growing up in Evanston, James Burton had many of the normal activities of most of the kids his age. These shaped his young outlook in life.

“Growing up [in Evanston] was fine.” Burton remembers many decades later. “I really didn’t realize a lot about Evanston because we were confined more or less to the west side . . . I went to Foster School and graduated in sixth grade . . . Foster was a good Black school.”

He had a paper route by the age of eight and continued it until he entered high school. He joined the Cub Scouts and transitioned into the Boy Scouts as he got older. Bible study classes at Second Baptist church, which he and his family attended, was a must in his household. He recalls the positive influences of people such as Mr. Bouyer, the physical education teacher at Foster, Mr. Fleetwood at Foster Field, and Mr. Brownlee had on his daily activities.

After Foster, Burton attended Haven school, then went to ETHS where he was active in sports. He recalled an incident during that time involving the football team.

“Evanston Township was racially divided . . . I remember when the star Black athletes were demoted to second string during Homecoming in 1957 so that the Black players would not escort the white queen and princesses down the isle. They [ETHS officials] couldn’t tolerate that. So the players wanted to boycott the game. At the last possible minute.”

After high school Burton joined the Air Force and, after his tour, came back to Evanston in the 60’s. Nine months later, he moved to New York and pursued art, painting portraits for 14 years. After that, he lived in Los Angeles until 1979 when he came back to Evanston to take care of his mother.

A lot of people do not know what it is to be an American, white or black. A lot is taken for granted.

It was then that he began thinking about something his grandfather had asked him to do when he was 18; to travel the Trail Of Tears. The trail was a forced march of over 16,000 American Indians, including the Cherokee Nation, from North Carolina to Oklahoma between 1838 and 1839. More than 4,000 died on the way from hunger, exhaustion and sickness and many more died at the hands of American soldiers. Burton, whose ancestors include members of the Cherokee Nation, remembered the stories his grandfather, a Cherokee, had told him when he was a boy. His grandfather had asked him to follow this trail in reverse to return his great, great grandfathers spirit back to North Carolina. It was a daunting task, but more than 20 years after his grandfather’s request. James Burton began to think seriously about the promise he had made.

“Not knowing anything about the Trail of Tears, I started reading about it,” Burton says, “My older sister, Jeanne, and I both read about it, trying to find out as much as we could. That went on for years. Just thinking about what I had to do because I promised my grandfather I would do it, was daunting. When Jeanne died in 1983 in Los Angeles, I found that she had really dug into our heritage. I had promised her earlier that I would continue the research. I started working at Family Focus and that afforded me the opportunity to obtain what I needed; horses, equipment and the time to plan.”

In 1996, Burton was given the “Man of the Year” award from Forrest E. Powell Foundation honoring his involvement in the community. At that time, he made up his mind that this was the time to tell everyone what he had planned to do. Although he wasn’t taken seriously at first, his family supported him one hundred percent. “My aunt, who is Cherokee and very proud of it, was especially proud of me for doing this.”

Burton acquired two horses and did minimum training. This “green” training was purposely done with the intent of setting them free after the long journey. He also obtained a wolf for the trip. However, in considering the safety of the wolf, as well as the unpredictability of a “wild” animal, he decided the wolf would not be a part of the journey. Mr. Burton, himself, took on the name “Wolf Rider”.

On July 19th, 1999, James S. Burton departed, on horseback, from Family Focus Our Place at 2010 Dewey Avenue in Evanston on what would be the most important journey of his life . . . returning the spirit of his great-great grandfather to his home in North Carolina.

Mr. Burton took on the name “Wolf Rider”

TrailOfTears_map

His journey first started northbound to Wisconsin. However, being new to horseback travel, he soon found that he had over-packed and his horse was collapsing under the weight. In Wisconsin, Burton met a cowboy who saw the state of the horse and offered to teach him the proper way to pack and guide his horses. After two days, still on horseback, he turned southward toward the end of the Trail of Tears.

Leaving the urban environment, he found the rural area residents a bit apprehensive. However, as word got out about Burton’s journey, he began to encounter others who were supportive.

“People treated me very well. They came out to greet me. News people came out to see me. All through Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, I met great people and made new friends. The most asked questions or comments made to me in rural [white] America were a version of ‘You’re not what Blacks are like in the big cities as they’re shown on TV.’ They thought we were robbers, killers, drug dealers, people at the bottom of the barrel as depicted in the city newspapers.”

One such online outreach read as follows:

Trail of Tears Rider, Sat Jan 8, 2000 7:52 pm

James S. Burton is needing help to fulfill a promise to his grandfather and is riding the Trial of Tears backwards to Cherokee, NC. He is needing places to stay and help getting thru major cities and across major rivers. You can follow his progress and journals at: http://www.dailynews.net/ads/wolfrider [dead link] He is currently at Rogers AR and will be going to Gateway, AR, north to Cassville and Monett, MO and turning east on Hwy. 60. To hwy34, south on hwy70 and needs help at the Cape and crossing the Mississippi River into IL. In IL he will take Hwy 146 to 91/161 south into KY then 641 south to Hopkinsville to 91/41 south/east to Cregfont, KY , south on 231 to Murfressboro, TN east on 70south to Dayton to Cleveland. East on 64/74 to 19 to Cherokee, NC. If you can help please email him. He is currently at Coyrun@… and will be here nest [sic] weekend RBrown9238@… Thank you!! (http://pets.dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/GaitedHorse/message/15396?var=1)

During his travels, people showed Burton what being an American could be. It wasn’t something that could be told to a person. One had to live the experience. Burton says he believes “A lot of people do not know what it is to be an American, white or black. A lot is taken for granted.”

In Oklahoma, Burton met with the western Cherokee Nation. He describes people lining up along the highway, awaiting his arrival to touch him and his horses as he rode by. Later he learned that this was a spiritual touch, transferring their spirits to Burton for the travel. Not only was he to return the spirit of his great-great grandfather, he was to return hundreds of other ancestral spirits.

During his journey, he stopped in town after town, speaking about his traveling experience at schools and before organizations. Two students set up a website monitoring his travels and estimating his time of arrival in each town. Residents, police, firemen and travelers went out of their way to make sure his trip was as safe as possible, alerting him to weather conditions, bringing food, hot coffee and medicine.

In the final leg of his journey, he reached North Carolina where a host family took him in for rest and nourishment before he released his ancestral spirit not too far from where the family lived. On April 15, 2000 James S. Burton, walked up a small trail to the area of the original reservation and released his great-great grandfathers spirit along with those spirits others had passed onto him. After nine months, he had travel 3,600 miles on horseback, keeping the promise he made to his grandfather 40 years before.

In later conversations, Mr. Burton shared that he had planned on writing an autobiography about his experience. In his years after the journey, he had trained and passed through all rites to become recognized as a medicine man with the Cherokee Nation, and contemplated a new journey on horseback. His last vising was in August 2008. In January, 2009, Mr. Burton took his final journey to reunite with his ancestors. Family Focus staff and the community gathered together to hold a memorial service, attracting hundreds of people celebrating his spirit.

Note: For further reading, look into Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, by John Ehle. © 1988, Anchor Books. This article was taken from excerpts from an interview taped November 3, 2000 at Family Focus, Evanston and originally appeared in Volume Two, Number Three, Spring 2001 of Shorefront Journal (printed). Photo of James Burton from the Shorefront photographic archives. Map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trail_of_tears_map_NPS.jpg

Tina Lifford: Living the Artists’ Dream

— By Dino Robinson

Tina Lifford final preparation before performance of "The Circle Play" in Evanston
Tina Lifford final preparation before performance of “The Circle Play” in Evanston

Hollywood, Broadway, Cannes. We know and follow the trends, the movies, and the rise to fame of dozens of actors and actresses. Many of us may even dream of making it big in the world of entertainment. Even as we eagerly watch new television series or visit the local theater, many may not have even thought that they might possible know of someone performing in front of millions. However, if you grew up on the North Shore, chances are that you were only one degree of separation from a talented actress, a published author and now, a playwright.

Tina Lifford, one of four siblings of David and Dorothy Lifford who, at one time, lived only a stone’s throw away from Evanston Township High School on Church Street.

Tina’s career in acting began early, attending both Foster and Washington Schools in Evanston. Eventually, the family moved to the west coast. It was there Tina grew into her career. Professionally, she has appeared in over 90 television shows and films and even nominated for an Ace award for best supporting actress while on Knots Landing.  She currently stars as Renee Trussell on NBC’s series, Parenthood, and as Evelyn Lancaster on VH1’s Single Ladies. Tina has played parts in shows with Jennifer Lopez, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Sydney Poitier, Michael Caine and Clint Eastwood.

Of notable shows, you can see her performances as lead on South Central, and other shows such as CSI, Cold Case, In Plain Sight, Criminal Minds, Nip/Tuck and Heroes. Tina also portrayed the iconic Winnie Mandela in the Showtime biopic Mandela and de Klerk, as well as Mama Haze in The Temptations Story.

Tina has diversified here career to include her 15 years of experience in personal development, as an author and now, as playwright, all under her new endeavor, Waking Up Fabulous, Inc. As CEO and Creative Director, she combines her Masters in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica in 2005, and the Coaches Training Institute in 2007, She utilizes her skills to help people realize their potential. With the establishment of The Inner Fitness Project, Tina developed the 14 Practices of Inner Health and Wellness with the goal of building mental, emotional and spiritual strength.

Supporting the message of Inner Fitness, Tina wrote and produced a play entitled The Circle in 2010. The 90 minute play has been seen by more than 3500 people to date, and has been contracted by women’s organizations, sororities, and non-profits for various events. Over the last year, The Circle has played to sold-out venues around California and later took the production to Uganda. In addition, Tina has just released her first book, The Little Book of BIG LIES, consisting of 14 stories that identify unconscious everyday misconceptions that undermine personal power.

Remembering her roots in Evanston, Tina returned to her Evanston home this past February, 2013 for a very limited run of her play The Circle, at her childhood school auditorium, “I am a product of this community.” Tina said, “It is only right that I give back to it.”

Note: This article also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Suntimes, February, 2013.

Remembered as a Mentor: Charles R. Bouyer

— By Dino Robinson

Charles Bouyer (far right) was coach, instructor and mentor for 100s of young men.
Charles Bouyer (far right) was coach, instructor and mentor for 100s of young men.

Charles Randolph Bouyer was born December 8, 1905. In his early life, he lived with his aunt and uncle in St. Louis, Missouri. When of age, he made his way to Chicago’s south side then later to Evanston c.1930. While in Evanston, he was employed by Foster School unofficially as the physical education teacher, a position he held until close to his death.

Bouyer was viewed and respected as a mentor and role model

At the same time, Bouyer was employed at the Emerson Street Branch YMCA, a segregated Y facility. There he served multiple roles as the physical education director and taught swimming, basketball and boxing. Of the many teams at the Y, he coached the “135” basketball team. Bouyer was also director of summer activities at Foster Field.

In 1942, Charles Bouyer enlisted in the U. S. Army during World War II where he reached the rank of Captain. After his tour of duty, he returned to Evanston and resumed activities at both Foster School and the Emerson Y.

For many growing up in Evanston, Bouyer was viewed and respected as a mentor and role model. Education and discipline was his mantra and was quick to enforce it with Evanston youth. For more than 20 years, any young man growing up in Evanston during that time period, credited Mr. Bouyer as an early influence in their lives.

On November 12, 1952, Bouyer died and was laid to rest in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Sources: Photos courtesy of Robert HillGeneral information culled from Shorefront’s oral history collection, and from the Concerned Citizens Commitment newspapers. . Information on the “135” Basketball team from Allen “Bo” Price. 135 Basketball Team: (l-r) Rudy Frazier, John Harmon, Joe Ingram, Wilbur Carter, Jim Avery, John “Mickey” McGrier, George Walden, Earl Pettigrew, Roy Sutton.

Shorefront Memories #001

1948 Fourth grade class photo at Foster School in Evanston, Illinois. Shorefront photographic collection.

1948 Foster Elementary School

Within Shorefront’s photographic collections, we have many class photos from Foster School in Evanston, Illinois. Unfortunately, the students photographed are unidentified.

Can you identify anyone?

Foster evolved into a de facto segregated school by the 1930s and remained that way until the 1967 “experimental” school was established. Occasionally, we receive class photos where the donors are only able to identify themself. Shorefront relies on the community to assist. This is an opportunity to help us identify students in the photo. If you can, please respond below with any helpful information.

Note: Photo from the Shorefront photographic collection, courtesy of Emma (Lowe) Harmon.