Researching Glencoe’s Racial Past

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

—By Celia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CourtBeach_Chi_Suntimes 7_10_42
July 10, 1942 Chicago SunTimes article

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

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

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

February 9, 1977 (Suburban Trib)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Wednesday Night Bridge Group Now Includes Men!

—By Janet Alexander Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Memory of Lorraine H. Morton

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

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

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

Shorefront Legacy Center: A North Shore Jewel

— By Angela F. Allen

The Family Rendezvous Reunion visiting Shorefront on July 21, 2018

Abbeville, SC to Evanston, IL

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

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

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

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

Founder Dino Robinson

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

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

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

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

Forming the Evanston Branch NAACP: A Historical Outline

—by Dino Robinson

2017_NAACP installation
2017 Evanston Chapter NAACP officer installation ceremony. Ret. Judge Mary Maxwell-Thomas delivering the oath of service.

There are moments in this country’s history when movements emerge in response to social conditions surrounding us. Our current generations “Black Lives Matter” came to life defined by the inequity of law enforcements treatment of people of color. The Civil Rights movement was defined by the activities of the 1950s and 60s. Fighting the establishment of Jim Crow during the Reconstruction era, led to the formation of the Niagara Movement in 1905.

Established on February 12, 1909, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was birthed out of the 1905 Niagara Movement. In Evanston, with a population of a little under 1,200 Black residents, had just begun to take action against the growing local Jim Crow establishment. Local and national newspapers took note while Evanston was compelled to maintain the image of a “sanctified” town, all while Jim Crow was becoming the norm. Evanston’s Black residents took action, challenged society, questioned government — and made headlines.

May 6, 1903 (Chicago Tribune)
“Evanston Blacks Fear Wave of Race Prejudice”:The article tells of a certain colored man frightening women and calls upon the colored people to keep their brother at home. The article is headed, “A Rope Might Do,” and the colored people in Evanston take it seriously. . .

January 22, 1904 (Chicago Tribune)
“North Shore Towns Aroused: Influx of Negroes Alarms the Residents of Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka and Glencoe”: .. . As a solution of the problem suddenly presented, Evanston citizens are reviving the old scheme of a town for negroes, to be located near Niles Center. To this it is proposed to deport objectionable characters.

February 7, 1906 (Chicago Tribune)
Charges Stir a Post office: Race Discrimination on of accusations at Evanston – Trouble is said to arise out of Employment of Negro Carriers”:
. . .DePugh accused Peterson frequently of discrimination against the colored carriers and is said to have made frequent threats that he would “tell what he knew.” Several times he was threatened with dismissal.

August 26, 1911 (Chicago Defender)
“Jim Crow Cars for Cultured Evanston”:Evanston Southern (White) Society Successful in Jim Crow Theater, will now resort to Jim Crow street cars — The Unwarranted segregation a blight in cultured Evanston; Where there are as many churches as schools. The Rights of the negro citizen should be demanded and respected; the matter peaceably adjusted, once and always— The constitution of the United States must be respected and guarded as strictly as the “Monroe Doctrine” was in the case of Cuba and the Mother Country.

In the same issue:

“The Segregation Equivalent at Evanston”:. . .Whether Evanston is to continue to maintain a clean, respectable, unbiased community such as she bears by reputation will be watched editorially by the Defender with great interest.

September 2, 1911 (Chicago Defender)
“Forces are Fighting Jim Crowism”:Rev. H. S. Graves of Ebenezer AME and Rev. E.H. Fletcher of Mt. Zion Baptist church charged against Jim Crowism from their pulpits on last Sunday evening. . .

September 9, 1911 (Chicago Defender)
“Colored People Admitted in All Parts of Evanston Theater”:The management of the Evanston theater came into camp with a flag of truce begging mercy of the butler of the Northwestern railroad president, Dr. and Mrs. Garnett, and Attorney Auter for trying to keep them out of a decent place to sit in their playhouse…

November 4, 1911 (Chicago Defender)
“Wealthy Evanstonians Speak in Defense of their Lethargy. . . Dr. W.F. Garnett cool but determined for Justice”: . . . [Long op-ed. ending with a listing of local leaders] – Respectfully submitted – Dr. W.F. Garnett, Samuel J. Cannon, William H. Twiggs, Richard C. Williams, James P. Hill, Thomas F. Richardson, Frank Davenport, Charles C. Breckenridge, Dr. Arthur D. Butler, Adam P. Perry, William F. Cromer, Thomas H. Cotton, Charles Morris, Joseph Prather, Robert T. Milner, Henry Butler, Sandy Trent, D.W. Richardson, John R. Auter, Charles B. Scruggs, J. H. Blackwell, Ernest Burns.

February 10, 1912 (Chicago Defender)
“Evanston Theater Sued by Mrs. Garnett”: Mrs. Helen W. Garnett, wife of Dr. Garnett, who lives in Evanston. The suit was brought for $500 in the circuit court. Hon. E.H. Morris is the man behind the law

June 22, 1912 (Chicago Defender)
“Evanston Theater Still Bars Negroes”:On last Saturday evening the Evanston Theater company again showed that it did not want and would not have Negroes sitting on the ground floor. . . Mr. Vance informed her that they would not tolerate Negroes on the first floor.

August 7, 1913 (Chicago Tribune)
“Wilmette Takes Trail of Negroes”:Village residents call meeting for Saturday Night to discuss “Invasion”. . . Demanded property list. . . If Black men are revealed as purchasers means of ousting will be considered. “It is expected Mr. Barker will be invited to the meeting Saturday night and asked to explain what guarantee he has that the village will remain white.

May 6, 1916 (Chicago Defender)
“Demands Right to Choose Seat”:Evanston, IL, May 5—John Smith, who was arrested after he had refused to take a seat to which he was directed in an Evanston movie show, today prepared to make a fight against the “Jim Crow” rules which are enforced in a number of similar places. . .

The Crisis Magazine, established in 1910 as the official organ of the NAACP, reported some activities in Evanston. Of note, the August, 1918 issue (Vol 16, No 4), published a roll of 26 members in Evanston. The April 1919 issue (Vol 17, No 6) published a roll of 59 members in Evanston. By the end of 1919, the Crisislisted a total of 11 active chapters of the NAACP in the State of Illinois and included Evanston, Illinois.

June 28, 1919(Chicago Defender)
Professor A.C. McNeal was the principal speaker at the NAACP meeting, held at the Emerson Street Y . . .. Dr. W. F. Garnett was master of ceremonies. Prof. W.W. Fisher was elected president of the NAACP and Mrs. Elizabeth Croford [sp] Williams secretary.

The Evanston chapter worked toward making an organized impact within Evanston with efforts to show formal structure:

April 30, 1921 (Chicago Defender)
“Mrs. G. DeBaptist Ashburn spoke at the “Y” Thursday evening in the interest of the NAACP and reorganized the branch in this city.

Though the early charter members of the Evanston NAACP are not clear, it is noted that within the combined early newspapers and publications, several names had appeared. Among them were the following:

Dr. William F. Garnett
Hellen W. Garnett
Rev. Horace Graves (Ebenezer)
Rev. E.H. Fletcher (Mt. Zion)
Dr. Isabella Garnett
Dr. Arthur D. Butler
William H. Twiggs
Prof. W.W. Fisher (served president, 1919)
Elizabeth Croford [sp] Williams (secretary, 1919)
Dr. R. M. Young (served as president, 1921)
W.M. Tate (V.P. 1921)
S.C. Nichols (secretary, 1921)
J.E. Moor (asst. sec., 1921)
J. Malone (treasurer, 1921)

By 1924, This Evanston chapter dissolved. However, a renewed interest in chartering a new Evanston branch NAACP was reported in the November 10, 1927 issue of the Evening News Index.

“Colored people of Evanston May Join Association: Plan to Organize Unit at Sunday Meeting”. . . Evanston colored citizens let by I.G. Roberts and Albert C. Ivole [sp], will meet at the Emerson Street Church to organize themselves into a unit of the NAACP. . . Three years ago, the Evanston unit disbanded, and Monday evening the group will make plans to apply for a new charter.

Then in November, 1928

“Negro Association to Launch Member Drive at Meet Tomorrow”:Tomorrow the Evanston branch of the NAACP, which has recently been organized through the efforts of E.D. Seals, will launch a drive for members. . . The Rev. William J. Weaver, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal church of Evanston is president of the Evanston Chapter.

A few of the members mentioned in articles after the new charter include the following:

E.D. Seals
Gertrude O’Neill (program chair)
Rev. William J. Weaver (president, 1928)
Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr (his father was involved with the original Niagara Movement)
Daisy Sandridge (former 5thward alderman)
Robert Pettitt (president, 1935)
LeJune Fisher
Claude Cephas

The work of the Evanston Branch NAACP has since been uninterrupted after its new charter in 1928. The early activism of Evanston’s Black community rose to fight against Jim Crow. Today, the Evanston Branch NAACP continues its advocacy for modern Civil Rights. The Evanston branch has had about 25 presidents, and a legion of executives and board members. The past known presidents are as follows:

Dr. William F. Garnett, 1918?
Prof. W.W. Fisher, 1919
Dr. R. M. Young, 1921
Rev. William J. Weaver, 1928
Robert Petitt, 1935
William Wright (dates uncertain)
Clarence Mason, Sr. (dates uncertain)
Lula Harper-Jackson (dates uncertain)
Rev. J. Rayford Talley (dates uncertain)
Dr. Samuel McDonald (dates uncertain)
Charles Worthington (dates uncertain)
William Pyant (dates uncertain)
Dr. Warren F. Spencer, 1957-63
Andrew L. Cooper, 1964-68
Carl E. Davis, 1969-76
Edna Summers, 1977-78
Coleman Miller, 1979-84
Joseph E. Hill, 1984-89
Bennett J. Johnson, 1990
Rev. John Norwood, 1991-92
Coleman Miller, 1993
Hecky Powell, 1993
Fred Hunter, Jr., 1994
Bennett J. Johnson, 1995-2002
George Mitchell, 2002-16
Rev. Michael Nabors, 2017 –

While this is just a summary of the Evanston Chapters, spanning nearly 100 years, there is still much discovery needed, especially for its early local history. Let’s make this happen.


Notes: Oral presentation first delivered at the Evanston Chapter, NAACP Installation Ceremony held at Unitarian Church of Evanston, Sunday, January 22, 2017 written and researched by Dino Robinson, founder of Shorefront. The article was modified for formatting


Shorefront Update #010

Layout 1
First three publications under Shorefront Press

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

Shorefront Archives

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

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

In partnership with the Evanston Chapter NAACP, The African American History and Genealogy Consortium and the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti, three community wide panel discussions were shared at the 5th Annual Black History Lecture Series event. Held on three consecutive Saturdays, scholars and community members shared their knowledge. All three sessions were filmed and archived at Shorefront.

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

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

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

Shorefront is in its second-year grant cycle with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), “Museum Grants for African American History and Culture” and as a collaborating partner with the “National Leadership Grants for Libraries”. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. To learn more, visit

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

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

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

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

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

—By Doria Johnson


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Doria Johnson presenting at the Septima Clark Freedom School

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

Doria Johnson with Bryan Stevenson

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

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

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

Dance performed by Gail Hutchison before the unveiling of the marker

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

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


Note: All photographs courtesy of Doria Johnson

For more information: 

Dedication of Lynching Marker to Anthony Crawford (Equal Justice Initiative) edicate-lynching-marker-anthon y-crawford-abbeville-south- carolina

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

Shorefront update #009

The Justice For Peace exhibit at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session three of the lecture series

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Juneteenth: Celebrating and Honoring a Heritage

2016 Juneteenth celebration in Evanston

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

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

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

Slavery was allowed in Southern Illinois

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

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

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

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

Violetta Cullen delivering the speech
Violetta Cullen delivering the speech

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

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

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

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

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


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

  1. Douglas Harper, “Slavery in the North

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!

Products and the Entrepreneurial Spirit

—By Dino Robinson


While William Twiggs was a locally, and historically well documented businessman and an active member of several organizations, little has been mentioned about his wife, Martha Twiggs. Family decedents mention that she had a home-based business, selling wigs for women made from natural hair first at Oak Avenue near Church Street in Evanston then later in a storefront next to her husbands print shop on Emerson Street. There, she marketed her own product, “Twiggaline”, a hair growth product.

In 1916, Madam C. J. Walker’s came to Evanston to deliver her Lecture on “The Negro Woman in Business” at both Second Baptist and Ebenezer A.M.E. Church.1 In her lecture, Madam Walker “Urges her Sisters to Rise above the Wash Tub and Cook Kitchen and Make a Place in the Commercial World.”2 One wonders if Martha Twiggs may have been inspired by the lecture and ventured off to follow the shared tenants from Madam C. J. Walker lecture. Shorefronts only wish is that someone may have a sample of the Twiggaline package or product today.

Several years ago, Shorefront began acquiring samples of contemporary “products” for Shorefronts archive that illustrate the entrepreneurial ethics of these North Shore communities. Which leads us to wonder . . . who we have not come across at this time that have produced their own product for distribution . . .

Carrying the tradition of Martha Twiggs today includes, Georgia Parker, Larry Alexander, Ashley Askew-Bell and former Evanston resident Lauryn N. Nwankpa, all have products geared to hair and skin care.

Lauryn, through her business Hair To There LLC, produces a product for natural hair care. She markets her product on line, at related conventions and other showcase venues. Recently, she redesigned her packaging and website and included an infomercial focused on natural hair care.

A degreed chemist, Georgia Parker has over 20 hair and skin care products under the name Ashley Lauren Products. Ashley Lauren at one time had a storefront on Davis Street in Evanston across from the post office. Now, focused on distribution, her products can be purchased on line and at a few retail outlets in the Chicago area.

Scrubfusion owner Ashley Askew-Bell, offers several body scrub products, beard oils and candles on her site for both men and women. Customers can also request custom orders for special events.

Patent holder, and former Salon owner, Larry Alexander, also known as Mickey III, developed an applicator instrument for laying relaxer in a clean and consistent manner under the name AppliTech. Video demonstrations showcase the proper use of his patent protected tool.

A couple of Food and edible products are offered by barbeque owner Hecky Powell and Chef Journey Shannon.

A chocolatier, Journey Shannon has a line of chocolates and other crafted editable foods under the name Noir d’Ebene, and can be ordered online, at select events, fairs and industry shows.

And of course, Heck’s Barbeque line of sauces, spices/rubs and most recently added, soda. The product can be found in retail, online and at his place of business. Proceeds from his “Juneteenth” soda sales, helps to fund projects through the family’s Forrest Powell Foundation.

Shorefront is sure that it is missing so many more entrepreneurs who have packaged products. Though this article focuses on products, we know there are some interesting inventors who lived in the North Shore area. Industrial Designer Charles Harrison who’s work with Sears has designed many iconic items. Evanston residents Delbert Alexander Sr. and Jr. both have created workable prototype machines (baseball and tabletop bowling). In the 1950s, Glencoe resident Asa Taylor prototyped what would lay the foundation of the modern hydraulic hospital beds used today . . . But that is another article and initiative in hopes to acquire prototypes if they still exist.



  1. Chicago Defender: “Will Lecture in Chicago”, January 29, 1916, p. 8; “Prairie State Events. . . ,” By J.R. Moore, Feb. 12, 1916, p. 5; “MME. C. J. Walker Royally Received Here”, Feb. 19, 1916, p. 2.
  2. Indianapolis Freeman, “The Negro Woman in Business”, September 20, 1913, p. 1.