Monday, February 27, 2012

Calling London

Walter Font, our curator, is working on the 75th anniversary edition of the Old Fort News. While going through our archives to pull photographs for the issue, he pulled this photograph which he thought our blog readers would like to see. The copy below the photo was saved with the image.

The first telephone call made between Fort Wayne, Indiana, and London, England, made February 10, 1927 by means of wire land lines and radio over the Atlantic ocean (sic). The call was made by Mr. Frank E. Bohn, Vice President and General Manager of The Home Telephone and Telegraph Company of Fort Wayne, who talked with Sir Alexander Roger, Chairman of the Telephone Development Association of Great Britain.

Those “listening in” in the picture, seated left to right are:

1. E. A. Crane, Pres. Rotary Club

2. Agatha Diek, Sec’ty Board of Works

3. J. T. Johnson, Board of Works

4. Wm. S. O’Rourke, Board of Works

5. Wm. E. Geake, Mayor of Fort Wayne

6. Frank E. Bohn, V.P. & Gen. Mgr., The Home Tel. & Tel. Company

7. C. M. Neizer, Pres. H.T. & T. CO.

8. Walter Kavanaugh, Chief of Police

9. G. Max Huffman, Director H.T. & T. Co.

10. Ed. M. Wilson,

11. C. I. Kuppinger, Representing A. E. Inc., Chicago

12. Angus McCoy, Board of Works

Standing, left to right:

1. E. C. Miller, Director H.T. & T. Co.

2. O. Marahrens, Sec’ty H.T. & T. Co.

3. Robt. Snyder, Sec’ty Rotary Club

4. Arthur Remmel, Editor Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel

5. L. G. Ellingham, Owner Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette

6. Thos. Snook, Board of Works

7. C. I. Hall, Research Dept. G. E. Co.

8. W. A. Bohn, Director H.T. & T. Co.

9. L. H. Moore

10. H. E. Bodine, Sec’ty Chamber of Commerce

11. B. J. Griswald, Sec’ty Real Estate Board

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Letter "To My Old Master"

Letter-writing has become a lost art, to the dismay of historians and our own empty mailboxes, so in coming across the blog "Letters of Note," I was impressed by the grace, wit and eloquence with which so many of these letters, long and short, have been written.

In honor of Black History Month, here is a particularly sly, forthright and striking letter written by a freed slave. You can access the original, published in an 1865 newspaper, via the link below.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

The Power of Indiana's Early Colored Women's Clubs (Part 2)

By Marsha Smiley

The Black Experience in Indiana

(see Part I, posted in January 2012, here)

In Indiana, black migrants found many of the same impediments they’d faced in the South. Significantly, in response to their oppression, Hoosier blacks formed a multitude of fraternal organizations to meet the needs of their communities. Due to discrimination and being shorn of their basic human rights, Indiana blacks founded numerous “religious, fraternal, social welfare, cultural, and educational organizations, institutions and societies… from the 1860’s to the 1930’s.”15 While auxiliary women’s groups have always sprung up to complement male lodges, women have independently formed clubs to meet specifically their own needs and purposes. Black women, however, would be called upon, due to the dictates of black society, to not only focus on their own self-improvement but to work for the advancement of all African Americans. Closely tied to the church, black society saw the role of women primarily as one of moral uplift. Although faced with both racial and gender discrimination, black women played a pivotal role in the development of black society, leading the way in philanthropic projects and elevating the status of black people through the granting of educational scholarships to youth, enrichment activities and cultural programs for the community.

From 1890 -1895, society witnessed a period of time when organizational activity escalated among all strata of Americans across the country, with Indiana not being left out. Due to the combined impact of industrialization, changes in transportation, and urbanization Americans sought ways to preserve their past mores and values. Americans believed societal concerns could be addressed by organized group action. Black women agreed, feeling this method was the best way “to address the overt causes of and a potent antidote to corruption, racism, poverty, and disease”.16 A myriad of women’s clubs took form. In 1890, white women organized the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. In keeping with the accepted practices of that time, GFWC would not allow any black women to join their ranks.17 During that era, white women were indifferent or unaware of black women’s groups and were actively opposed to the establishment of any linkage. “Most white women did not experience social ostracism, segregation and the denial of basic rights. Nor were white women encumbered with the elevation of an entire race”.18 Their realities and identities differed. One notable exception, however, was May Wright Sewall, whose accomplishments render her one of the most important women in Indianapolis history. One of the founders of the Indiana Museum of Art, a founder of the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women, she was one of the leading feminist of her generation.19 Unlike her peers, Sewall was actively interested and engaged in the problems of black women. She was one of the principal speakers at the forming of the Indiana State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, in 1903, in the Hoosier capital.20

The clubs of African-American women are deeply rooted in the church. Without question, the church has played a crucial role in black social development and history. At the turn of the 20th century the black church, the foundation and center of black life, began to assume the role of community leadership, merging both sacred imperatives with secular concerns. It was black women who prodded the church towards service as a welfare agency, shaping it into an institution for social, as well as, spiritual uplift. The black church is where the first organized grouping or meeting of black women occurred. Due to the religious ties and the location of club meetings in the churches many of the women’s clubs were inextricably bound to the churches. The clubs, associations, and societies within the church provided its women members the opportunity to develop leadership, (granted surreptitiously), organizational and governance skills. Women in black churches initially acquired training and organizational skills through their involvement in administering various church activities such as missionary societies, social events, fundraising, and aid society programs for challenged members. For example, several black churches in Terre Haute, in 1914, through their women-led aid societies, banned together to establish a much needed day care nursery, for the many working mothers of their congregations.21

Even though women in the black church showed through their church work and activities many qualities, black society refused to budge from viewing a woman’s role solely as one of moral uplift. By the late 1890’s, large numbers of black women became involved with more secular based clubs, associations, organizations, and societies. While they did not abandon their church clubs, it became apparent to them the inherent structural and organizational limitations imposed by church clubs kept them from working with a broader section of women. They found limiting club membership to solely church members and concentrating power in the hands of men too restrictive. Gradually, black women, in Indiana, made it known club structure needed to be flexible and more inclusive. Black women knew in order to be able to create and influence black social development they would need to organize more inclusive secular institutions where new coalitions could be forged and collective action could shift to a broad spectrum of community issues.22

There were commonalities in the establishment of black women’s clubs. “Usually one woman, or a small group, would found a club by calling a meeting of a few friends. Once assembled in a private home, church, or lodge building the group would debate, discuss, argue, and eventually agree to organize for a particular purpose…It was not unusual for one woman to belong to several clubs and to hold leadership positions simultaneously in each organization. By the way, there appears to be an exception to the rule even here. According to a 1953 state federation booklet the Alpha Art Club, now defunct, was organized by a Dr. Charles E. Hawkins on November 16, 1916 in Gary, Indiana, and was the only church club to hold membership in the Indiana State Federation.

For the most part, with black life dominated by low-skill paying jobs, wretched living circumstances, housing limited to ghetto areas, and white bigotry, the present and future for them looked inexorably bleak. Therefore, most clubs regardless of their particular socially uplifting project, justified their existence in almost identical terminology: they sought to protect either the sanctity of the home, guard the welfare of black children, improve the status of black women or to elevate the race.”23 All clubs raised funds for projects, performed important welfare and charitable functions in their communities where many inhabitants were poverty-stricken and often new migrants from the rural areas of the South requiring assistance in adjusting to a new and sometimes hostile environment. The very transition of living in an urban setting had its own challenges for those who had just recently arrived from rural areas of the South.

It was from the financial proclivities of those employed in the fields of semi-skilled and/or domestic services and the black middle class that funds were derived for instituting socioeconomic projects to elevate the status and raise the living conditions of black people. As previously pointed out, blacks migrating from the abominable conditions in the South, found themselves in similar circumstances in their new locales-- relegated to sub-par shelter, deplorable living conditions, untenable health care, dead-end, penury paying jobs, and unequal education. A small minority of African Americans, however, were able to earn degrees in such professions as lawyers, physicians, businessmen, ministers, and teachers. On the whole, many of the professionals in the black middle class were women teachers, forming the largest educated segment of black society.24 It was teaching in segregated school systems that principally afforded the most opportunities vocationally for educated blacks, particularly women. “Black women teachers exerted incalculable influence in the classroom as well as in civic and cultural life.”25 They were the most revered, enjoying more prestige and providing more leadership than their counterpart in the white community. An upwardly mobile black middle class did develop by providing services and products to the black masses that patronized them and supported their entrepreneurial ventures. The black middle class grew wealthy, bought real estate and built posh homes while accepting community leadership roles, ultimately they set the mark of success within the black community.

The reason, usually, women professionals exceeded their counterpart was simply economics. Since it was necessary for every member of a black family to work in order to exist, keeping children in school meant sacrifice. Girls often received the most schooling, while boys entered the workforce at an early age to help supplement family income. In fact, in 1876, the first black graduate from an Indianapolis public school was a girl. Most young women attended teacher training schools, after completing normal school. Gertrude Mahorney became Indy’s first black college graduate, graduating from Butler University in 1887. During her long tenure in the Indianapolis public school system, she would be the only black teacher who taught German.26


15. Darlene Clark Hine, When the Truth is Told: A History of Black Women...Indianapolis, 1981, p.13.
16. Gerda Lerner, Early Community Work of Black Club Women, Journal of Negro History 59, April 1974,
p. 158-167.
17. Black Women in White America, N. Y.: Pantheon Books 1972. When the Truth is Told, p. 33.
18. William H. Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles 1920-1970, Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 16-17.
19. Wilma Gibbs, Indiana’s African American Heritage: Essays, Indianapolis, 1993, p. 77.
20. Ibid., p. 77.
21. Ibid., p. 72.
22. When the Truth is Told, p.32. Gerda Lerner, Black Club Women.
23. Indiana’s….Heritage/History of Black Women p.74. When the Truth is Told, p. 33.
24. Ibid., p.72-73.
25. Ibid., p. 13. History of Black Women, p. 73.
26. Ibid., p.73

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A view of Rastetter Furniture

John Beatty's blog post on Rastetter furniture prompted us to take some photos of a recent acquisition courtesy of the Scottish Rite as well as a photo of one of our exhibits at the museum.

The chair above is one of many that were in the original Scottish Rite on the corner of Washington and Clinton.

The labels above are on the back of the chair (manufacturer's seal) and the front (Scottish Rite seal).

This chair is part of the display at the History Center featuring Rastetter's work.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Louis Rastetter & Sons Folding Chairs and Tables

Many area families are fortunate to own a set of matching card table and chairs manufactured by the Fort Wayne firm of Louis Rastetter and Sons. The furniture was made of fine hardwood in a variety of styles. All could be folded, and it was so well made that even 70 and 80 years later, many pieces are still in fine condition and in regular use. Indeed, a Rastetter set remains a highly collectable local antique and can still be found at many local garage and estate sales.

The firm began in 1882 in a small machine shop at the corner to Jefferson and Calhoun streets. Its founder, Louis C. Rastetter, a native of Baden, Germany, had arrived in New York in 1854, and after several years in that state, finally reached Fort Wayne and found work in the Wabash Railroad Shops. He manufactured clocks, including one for the 1860 courthouse, and by 1882 began developing a line of bent wood bows of various sizes for use as the framework for buggy tops.

The firm continued to grow. In 1887, Rastetter moved his business to Broadway, near the junction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he began making fuse and connection boxes for the Jenney Electric Light Company, the forerunner of General Electric. In 1890, he won a contract with the A. G. Spalding Company for making bent wood frames for tennis rackets. Spalding was so impressed that it bought all of Rastetter's tennis racket equipment and moved it to its own plant in Massachusetts.

The Rastetter Company remained innovative. It continued to make buggy tops but added to it the manufacture of bicycle rims to keep up with the new craze in cycling in the 1890s. The factory moved again in 1895 to Wall Street at the corner of Nelson, one block west of Garden Street. When Louis Rastetter died in 1898, he was succeeded by his son, William, who shifted the business focus from bicycle rims to wooden steering wheel rims for newly-manufactured automobiles. As these began to evolve away from horseless carriages with buggy tops to more substantial, closed-body vehicles, the company's business declined, and William began to look for something else for his company to manufacture. He then arrived at the decision that would transform the firm and make it well-known across America: the manufacture of folding furniture.

Folding furniture was a natural fit for a company with a long experience in making foldable buggy tops. The chairs were strong, durable, and were soon designed to accompany matching folding tables. By the 1930s, the company made the largest assortment of such card tables and chairs of any in the United States. A radio script on the history of local businesses from WGL in 1937 praised Rastetter's work and the diversity of its craftsmanship. "Such beautiful period types as Duncan Phyfe, Chippendale, New Classic, Sheraton, and Moderne are now included as standard in their line. Their folding tables have been immensely improved - tables without braces showing on the legs - that are far more rigid than the old type." Rastetter also won large contracts with cruise ship companies and manufactured folding chairs for ocean liners. Churches, businesses, and clubs all over the country also purchased many of the chairs. The standard label read the "Solid Kumfort Folding Chair." The company remained in business until the early 1960s.

By looking at the original label on a Rastetter chair or table, it is possible to tell the date of its manufacture. The company offered many different styles, coverings, and varnishes over its long history. Because the furniture was so widely distributed and associated with quality, each piece served as a kind of ambassador for Fort Wayne and the people who made it. Or as the radio script from 1937 stated, "Naturally, this reflects in no small way the increasing evidence of Fort Wayne as a diversified manufacturing center."

So if you have a Rastetter table and chair set, especially in pristine original condition, treasure it. Such sets are highly sought after by collectors. The several sets my wife and I own are still in regular use on gaming nights with our children or when we have extra company at our dining table. How do you use yours?

Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History

As we prepared for the two programs the History Center presented this year for Black History Month, it dawned on me that I knew nothing about how Black History Month came to be. In the process of my research, I discovered a children’s book about Carter G. Woodson, written by the parents of local author Fred McKissack. Since Fred is a friend, I contacted him to see if his parents had any thoughts on Woodson (whose work led to Black History Month) after their research and writing about his life. And I gained some insights into how our educational system has not always worked for the positive for African-American students.

Carter G. Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, the son of former slaves James Henry Woodson and Anne Eliza Riddle. James Woodson joined the Union army near the end of the Civil War and he and Anne married after the war, settling in Huntington, WV. In 1874, they moved to a farm in New Canton, VA where Carter was born.
James Woodson could neither read nor write but as Patricia and Fredrick McKissack say in their book, he told his seven children, “It’s never too late to learn.” They carry this theme throughout their book, a fine lesson for children. (Carter G. Woodson : the father of Black history / Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, copyright 2002, Enslow Publishers Inc.)

At age 16, the younger Woodson went to West Virginia to work in the coal mines and on the railroad. By 1893, his parents had moved back to Huntington. They had two daughters who wanted to go to school, as did their son. Since he was 18, past the standard age of graduation, he had to convince the principal that his attendance would be a positive for the school and after proving his worth as a student graduated within 18 months.
Woodson then went to Berea College in Kentucky, completing his undergraduate degree in the summers while working as the principal of a school. In 1900, he became principal of Fredrick Douglass High School, his alma mater, and remained in that position for three years.

On December 19, 1903, he began work in the Philippines as a teacher and had an epiphany that would change his life and that of countless students. The Philippine children had little interest in the books and other materials provided for them because they could not relate to the experiences of white, American children who were the focus of the textbooks. When Woodson realized this, he changed his teaching methods and related the schoolwork to experiences that Philippine children would have. Along the way he realized that black children faced the same dilemma—trying to learn based upon a culture they did not know or particularly understand.

Woodson spent his summers studying at the University of Chicago and in 1908 came home to stay and complete his masters degree. He went on to Harvard and received his PhD in history in 1912. He took a job at M Street High School in Washington DC where he taught history, French and Spanish. He taught black history in his school, not common in American schools of the time, with the philosophy that Black Americans “must teach ourselves”.
Woodson was laying the foundations for the state of African American history and Black Studies as we know them today. Woodson is the only individual of slave parentage to earn a doctorate in history from Harvard and was the first professionally trained historian to devote his scholarly career to advancing black history.

“To date, with few possible exceptions, no individual has contributed as much as Woodson did to the evolution of African American history.” (“The Early Black History Movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene” by Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, University of Illinois Press, 2007)

In 1914, Woodson became a member of the American Negro Academy, a group that found and saved African American writings. In 1915, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to teach black people about themselves and their history. He became a prolific scholar, writing, co-authoring and/or editing more than 20 books, more than a dozen major articles and countless newspaper columns and book reviews.
Two heroes of Woodson’s were Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February. He used the month as the time in 1926 to implement “Negro History Week”, which later became Black History Month. He received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for his effort.

Woodson eventually left teaching to run the ASNLH full time. According to Dagbovie, one of Woodson’s most important contributions to the early black history movement was “his mission and ability to transform black history into a practical and popular medium for uplifting blacks and challenging racial prejudice”. He “democratized the study of black history by extending the discipline to various groups of scholars that were not professionally trained…” maintaining that “the study and dissemination of black history needed to extend to the working-class and youth sectors of the black community”.

“Woodson reasoned that the knowledge of African American history was, after all, an important and practical (though nonmaterial) way in which black people could become liberated and empowered.”

Negro History Week was the first major achievement in popularizing black history, says Dagbovie, and unique because it focused on black youth.

“Although some critics deemed Woodson’s strategy of gradually introducing black history as a supplement to ‘white-stream’ American history as too conservative, the approach was pragmatic and very radical when analyzed in the broader context of his agenda. Woodson knew that if he had demanded that black history be integrated into the American educational system all at once, his plan would have been too easily dismissed. A modest, week-long celebration during the winter season appeared much less threatening to the white public, to philanthropists, and to those ‘highly mis-educated Negroes’ whom he sought to convert into devout black nationalists.”

Woodson wrote a book in 1933 entitled “The Mis-Education of the Negro”. In the chapter “How We Drifted from the Truth”, he writes:

“Negro educators of today may have more sympathy and interest in the race than the whites now exploiting Negro institutions as educators, but the former have no more vision than their competitors. Taught from books of the same bias, trained by Caucasians of the same prejudices or by Negroes of enslaved minds, one generation of Negro teachers after another have served no higher purpose than to do what they are told to do. In other words, a Negro teacher instructing Negro children is in many respects a white teacher thus engaged, for the program in each case is about the same.”

Woodson wanted blacks to study history seriously and incorporate it genuinely into their world views. He argued that the fact that blacks do have a history could significantly decrease racial prejudice and that if blacks knew their history they would be inspired to act, telling teachers a historian was a “rigorous collector and organizer of facts, that children could be historians by recording their families’ pasts, and that even those not formally educated could be historians of some sort by writing down, in whatever language, the histories of their communities.”

He firmly believed that black history needed to be recorded by black people.

From Dagbovie’s book:

“Woodson instructed blacks to become more radical in their politics. He wanted blacks to use politics only to better secure their goals when practical and to create a brand of politics from within. Woodson believed that the political tradition in America, which had oppressed his people for so long was not designed to empower black people. He advocated a straightforward, bourgeoisie, economic nationalist platform. He believed that blacks should patronize black businesses and warned his readers that such an alternative would work only if the black businesses had the community’s well-being at heart. He advised blacks not to become enslaved by the vices of materialism. He counseled blacks not to waste money on unnecessary items. While he valued hard, manual labor, he discouraged blacks from leading a life in traditional industrial education. By the 1930s, such an approach was becoming impractical in his mind.”

Woodson never married and spent the bulk of his time writing, researching and promoting the study of history. He had a tight circle of seven younger black historians who served as his apprentices for varying lengths of time: Alrutheus A. Taylor, Charles H. Wesley, Luther Porter Jackson, Lorenzo Johnston Greene, Rayford W. Logan, William Sherman Savage and James Hugo Johnston. Woodson and Greene (1899-1988) took “black history to the masses, the working class and youth throughout the nation,” says Dagbovie. His protégés were reluctant to write about Woodson and he did not encourage academic looks at his work.

Woodson died on April 3, 1950. He was praised by many after his death, but not W.E.B. Du Bois, who “wrote a scathing critique of Woodson in Masses and Mainstream….According to Du Bois, Woodson had ‘a good mind, but was by no means brilliant.’”

Du Bois said Woodson overate, was stubborn, had no ties family or social, and was a loner with a “rather narrow outlook…a cramped soul. There was in him no geniality and very little humor. ….he did develop a deep-seated dislike, if not hatred, of white people of the United States and of the world.”

It is important to note that by 1950 Du Bois had “established a tradition of openly criticizing black American leadership”…and that he and Woodson also did not have a close relationship Ebony Magazine, founded in the mid-1940s, paid homage to Woodson in the late 1950s:

“His achievements won him many admirers, but few of them became close friends. To Woodson, a stubborn, single-minded individualist, this was not of the slightest importance. He never consciously sought to be liked, never cultivated those habits and personality traits which could endear him to the public. He was, quite possibly, too busy. For decades, it was his custom to devote virtually every waking hour in research, writing and editing. Nothing else mattered. He had not ties to anyone, depended on no one, came as close as any man to being an island ‘intire of it selfe.’ “

John Hope Franklin, considered one of the most respected and established authorities on African American History, wrote “The New Negro History” published first in The Crisis, in February, 1957:

“This (Woodson’s effort) was, perhaps, the most far-reaching and ambitious effort to rewrite history that has ever been attempted in this country. But it was more than an attempt to rewrite history. It was a remarkable attempt to rehabilitate a whole people—to explode racial myths, to establish a secure and respectable place for the Negro in the evolution of the American social order, to develop self-respect and self-esteem among those who had been subjected to the greatest indignities known in the Western world. Finally, it was a valiant attempt to force America to keep faith with herself, to remind her that truth is more praiseworthy than power, and that justice and equality, long the state policy of this nation, should apply to all its citizens and even to the writing of history.”

Negro History Week became Black History Month sometime in the late 1970s and the USPS issued a commemorative stamp of Woodson in 1984 as part of their Black Heritage Series.
On an interesting side note, “Woodson’s views of black women may appear to have been at times ambiguous, but overall they were quite progressive when compared to the views of other black male scholars and historians of his time,” wrote Dagbovie.

“The place of women in Woodson’s mind, scholarship, and program can be interpreted as one of his most important yet largely overlooked contributions to African American history and the historical profession…In his characteristically iconoclastic tone, Woodson argued that black men who opposed the term ‘Negress’ were hypocrites ‘since many of us treat our women as if they were not better than dogs.’”

Woodson rarely discussed black women in his publications in detail and they were not featured extensively in the Journal of Negro History. There was a lack of women writers at the time but at least ten Journal articles authored mostly by men explored dimensions of black women in history.

Black women did have important roles in Woodson’s lifetime in the ASNLH. In 1935, Lucy Harth Smith and Mary McLeod Bethune became the first black women elected to the Association’s executive council. Bethune had a particularly close relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and from 1936-1945 was, in one scholar’s estimation, “the pre-eminent race leader at large”.

Dagbovie wrote, “Clearly, Woodson welcomed many black women into the Association as equals in popularizing the past of black people. He supported and praised many black women’s ‘unselfish work’ and publicly celebrated the devotion of many black female teachers and social activists who were committed to promoting African American history. He encouraged and promoted their writings. In fact, at one level Woodson himself was more like the black female amateur historians he praised than his highly specialized fellow male disciples. Like Jane D. Shackelford, Helen A. Whiting, Jessie Roy, Geneva Turner, and countless others, Woodson produced texts for a broad readership. He shared with his female educator counterparts a primary concern for the youth. This interest was something unique among male scholars of his time, many of whom avoided producing scholarship suitable for the masses and focused instead on combating racism in the academy.”
So how do the McKissacks view Woodson?

“As a preeminent historian and the father of what would become Black History Month, it was an extraordinary honor to research and write a biography on Carter G. Woodson. He knew this country's official narrative was incomplete, but Woodson made sure the record would reflect the richness of American history. It is impossible to quantify the positive effects of his scholarship concerning the often ignored or overtly suppressed contributions of African-Americans in building and shaping the United States. Where would we be as a country without Carter G. Woodson?”

Resources used in this blog post include:
Carter G. Woodson : the father of Black history / Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, copyright 2002, Enslow Publishers Inc
The early Black history movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene / Dagbovie, Pero Gaglo. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, copyright 2007.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Komet Tales

By Blake Sebring

Throughout the city's history, Fort Wayne sports fans have never been shy about expressing their favorites, which has led to some great rivalries. Indiana or Purdue? North Side or South Side? Bishop Luers or Bishop Dwenger? Northrop or Snider? Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts?

But the one team everyone in the Summit City roots for has been the Fort Wayne Komets. Maybe that's because the Komets have always been Fort Wayne's own team, a franchise we didn't have to share with everyone else. It's also because of players who came back year after year and built continuity, and the more than 70 who made Fort Wayne their permanent home when they retired.

The majority of the players weren't going anywhere once they got here, and they kept coming back to build continuity. The Komets were part of us when they played, and they still are. The Komets became a part of the community and the community adopted them.

One of the cool things about the Komets is that every generation of fans had its own favorites, almost by decade. A grandfather might have started in the 1950s, and his son followed in the '70s, and then the grandson in the '90s. They all had distinctly different experiences with the team and the players, but they all loved them the same.

Now the Komets are part of Fort Wayne's identity as much as Glenbrook Square, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo or the Johnny Appleseed Festival. They are part of who we are as a city, something we realized even more three years ago when they had to switch leagues. Suddenly everyone understood what the Komets meant to them.

All the media coverage helped make the Komets one of the home bases that people who have left Fort Wayne still connect with. Maybe as kids they hid under the covers to listen to playoff games on WOWO, but now they listen to Chase question a referee's vision on the Internet. They also participate on blogs and on Facebook by the thousands. The Komets are something they can talk about with their friends and family who remain here, once again, a common bond and cause.

Books about the Komets, several of them written by Sebring, are on sale in our gift shop. For photos and other information, see the News Sentinel’s page about the Komets:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Short Presidency but a Lasting Impact on Campaigns

William Henry Harrison had the shortest presidency ever at 31 days. But his campaign changed—for better or for worse—the way candidates seek the highest office of our land.

Gail Collins, a New York Times op-ed columnist, has authored one of the American Presidents series of books on Harrison, now available at book stores and the Allen County Public Library.

In case you are not aware, the presidential series by Times Books is “a publishing partnership between The New York Times and Henry Holt and Company. … Approximately half of the imprint’s books are written by New York Times reporters, and the rest are written by America’s leading intellectuals, journalists, and public figures; all of these works are informed by their authors’ unparalleled expertise on the most important issues of our day.”

Presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. served as general series editor until his death in February 2007 and now Sean Wilentz, a Princeton University historian, has taken over the reins as series editor.

The series presents “the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the scholar. Each volume will be an incisive, meditation-length biographical essay that focuses on the subject's presidency, even as it offers a distillation of his life, character, and career.”

Collins chose to write about Harrison “as an act of familial penance”. Her father was among the workers of the North Bend (OH) power station that tore down Harrison’s home on the grounds belonging to the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company. No group came forward to acquire and move the house and so it was demolished. Fortunately, another Harrison home, that being Grouseland in Vincennes, IN, has been preserved and stands today as a historical landmark. (

According to Collins, Harrison is remembered for many things he didn’t do. But his campaign “is still celebrated as one of the most ridiculous presidential campaigns in history.”

Harrison was the first presidential candidate to personally campaign for the job. This came fairly easily for him as he was used to campaigning for employment, having spent most of his adult life trying to support a large family of ten children and several orphan wards without many personal financial resources behind him.

Collins doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the “what ifs” had Harrison lived to serve at least one full term. But she does focus on the campaign.

“…the campaign of 1840 seems so…modern. Besides the cold pragmatism of the Tippecanoe mythmakers, what stuns us about the Harrison campaign is the apparent gullibility of the voters. The Whigs were describing him as a simple product of a log cabin in one breath and bragging about his father signing the Declaration of Independence in the next. Didn’t they think the people were listening?”

Because Harrison was not a young man—he was 67-- when running for our nation’s highest office, the Democrats tried to portray him as feeble—much easier to do then since television had yet to be invented in Fort Wayne. One Democratic newspaper went so far as to call him “a living mass of ruined matter”. And so the Whigs asked Harrison’s doctor to issue a public report on his physical health—something that would not be routine in campaigns until the late twentieth century. The good doctor declared his surprise at Harrison’s “vivacity and almost youthfulness of feelings.. his intellect is unimpaired. Bodily vigor as good as that of most men his age. Subject to no disease but periodic headache.”

Collins sums up the campaign by saying, “In the stories about the Log Cabin campaign, the voters generally are depicted as happy dupes who were played for suckers by cynical candidates who dodged all questions about the issues and diverted the dim-witted public with stories about log cabins and frequent swigs of hard cider. But although Harrison could be very, very vague, he was not much more so than many modern candidates. Voters could deduce from his history and his public comments that he believed in economic development, federal road projects, and public schools, and that although he would never celebrate slavery he would never do anything to restrict it either.

“Moreover, then as now, the basic question of the campaign was whether the country was happy with the current administration. If not, people would be very receptive to calls for change.”

Harrison beat Van Buren by 145,000 votes, a narrow defeat when you consider that 2.3 million votes were cast. But in the Electoral College, Harrison received 234 votes to Van Buren’s 60.

“One thing the wild, carnival-like election demonstrated was that people really enjoyed voting when they were encouraged to identify with one party and regard the other as villain, when they got to take direct physical part in the campaigns through parades and pole raisings and cider-filled parties. The turnout was 80.2 percent—an astonishing increase from 58 percent in 1836. It was a leap that would never happen again in American politics. New voters constituted more than a third of the turnout, and the election was perhaps the last in which the parties focused on converting the newcomers rather than turning out the base and trying to tack on added support from the uncertain middle. Democrats as well as Whigs were moved by the excitement of the campaign—Van Buren received almost four hundred thousand more votes in 1840 than he had as the victor in 1836.”

In a note of irony, Harrison, when governor of the Indiana Territory, had written his friend Thomas Worthington a letter upon Worthington’s election to the US Senate from Ohio, reminding him of the importance of not making long speeches. Yet Harrison’s inaugural address – a record two hours long – has gone down in history not for its content but for leading to the death of the speaker, who, exhausted from the campaign and the inaugural events, took a chill and contracted pneumonia, dying just 31 days later.