In an Old Fort News published in 1982 (Vol. 45 No. 4), Marjorie D. Wickliffe provided a “History of the Negro in Fort Wayne, Indiana”. Here, in celebration of Black History Month, is a recap of her article. (Please note that names, dates, etc. have not been verified by further research.)
Andrew Franklin Dickerson, Mrs. Wickliffe’s father, came to Fort Wayne after his father was killed in the Civil War. Dickerson was born in Salem, Ohio and moved to Indiana in 1861 with his mother, Sarah Ann Dickerson, and his sisters Mary and Louise. The family traveled by horse and buggy to Weaver, IN, where they stayed for several months, finally spending five days on the road from Marion to Fort Wayne, where they settled. The family found a home on Baker Street with the assistance of Mr. and Mrs. Chaplain Rhodes and Mr. and Mrs. Moses Moten. Moses Moten was a night watchman at Kerr Murray Foundry and Chaplain Rhodes was a janitor. Both are buried in Lindenwood Cemetery.
Moten’s son, John, worked for the Pennsylvania Shops and was asked to go South to bring more African-Americans to Fort Wayne to work for Bass Foundry, Pennsylvania Shops and the Rolling Mills. Rolling Mills was located in a section of the city known as Westfield, owned almost solely by the Rockhill family. Many of the black families lived in this part of town. Rockhill encouraged the purchase of property by blacks in Fort Wayne and Mrs. Wickliffe’s father and mother purchased property at 1210 Erie Street, now East Berry. For 31 years, they were the only black family living on Erie Street.
Other African-American families of note were “the Bradshaws, the Ridley family, Edward Jones, the Charles Lacklins, the Ransom Youngs, Thomas Adams, William Warfield, Elias Bassett, Frank Brown, the Alsups, the Noah Green family, Rev. and Mrs. John Curtiss, John Black and several others.”
Miss Emerine Hamilton gave Turner Chapel, located at East Wayne and Francis Streets, to a group of African-Americans and a group organized “the first Negro church in Fort Wayne in 1871. Under the leadership of Rev. John Green the first Baptist Church was organized. Coming later were the Rev. and Mrs. Graham Jordan who built a church, the first Negro congregation to build a church. It was called Mount Olive Baptist Church.”
International Harvester attracted a number of African Americans who had worked for the company in Akron, OH and were able due to their seniority to save enough money to buy and build homes.
According to Mrs. Wickliffe, “Looking back over the years since 1861, the Negro feels that he or she is an integral part of the city of Fort Wayne. With the churches, Wheatley Social Center, NAACP, fraternities, sororities, Lodges, both Masonic and Elks, McCulloch Recreation Center and playground, ‘Old Fort Y’, Fort Wayne Urban League, and the unique understanding between races of people, the Negro is proud to be living in Fort Wayne with its many opportunities for advancement. Scholarships for our children all were made by the many sacrifices and the sincerity of our foreparents who labored in the fields, over wash tubs, and burned the midnight oil with a desire to make an honest living. All this has helped Negroes to be good citizens and kept their hands in God’s Hand.”
Mrs. Wickliffe lived in Fort Wayne her entire life. She was a charter member of Wheatley Social Center and the NAACP. “Both organizations gave me the encouragement to keep trying to reach for higher goals.”
With her husband and children, she organized the Wickliffe Concert Company, which arranged concerts featuring her husband, who had a “rich baritone voice”, and her daughter and son, who had studied at the School of Dramatic Art with a Mrs. Whitely. The family’s first concert was in the Packard Hall on West Berry over the Packard Piano Company and subsequent concerts led them to Lima, OH; Danville, IL; and Detroit. They also appeared on Edgar Guest’s radio program.
Her children were both college graduates and Mrs. Wickliffe studied business administration at Purdue leading to her being hired by Magnavox Radio and Television.
In Part II of her article, Mrs. Wickliffe offered brief profiles of some other notable Fort Wayne African-Americans.
Tommy Adams moved to Fort Wayne from Ohio and lived with his family, working in the machine shop of the Pennsylvania Railroad, later becoming a porter on the train that ran from Fort Wayne to Chicago on a daily basis. He, his wife and daughters Goldie and Blanche, lived on Hayden Street.
The Bassetts—Elias and Lydia—moved to Fort Wayne from Kokomo and lived on Melita Street. Bassett was a chef on the Wabash Railroad. The family eventually relocated to a new home on Eliza Street.
Black moved to Fort Wayne from Weaver, IN and was raised by his sisters after the death of his mother. He has a family connection to the Rev. George O. Curtiss, who served as one of the clergy at Turner A.M.E. Church.
Bradshaw’s parents were the first African-Americans to live in the Bloomingdale area of Fort Wayne. Bradshaw was the first known black chiropodist in Fort Wayne, going “from house to house with his little black satchel to care for feet of the wealthy white people. Mr. William Shambaugh was one of his regular customers. His feet were bad because he did a lot of walking.”
Mrs. Ollie Bradshaw, a relative, traveled the United States, singing and playing the piano. She eventually returned to Fort Wayne and became the organist for Turner Chapel A.M.E., which “had the only Negro Choir in Fort Wayne.”
Brown and his wife Leana lived on Canal Street. He worked as a janitor in several buildings on Calhoun Street and enjoyed a reputation as being good at his work and willing to help other black men obtain jobs cleaning offices.
Butts worked as a porter for the Pennsylvania Station and later as a baggage man and train announcer.
Mr. and Mrs. Brannigan
The Brannigans moved to Fort Wayne in 1900 from Ohio and purchased a small farm west of the city. They sold milk and chickens and were eventually able to buy a horse and wagon so they could deliver their products to blacks within the city. As they grew older, they sold their property, which is adjacent to where the Fort Wayne Country Club is now located, and returned to Ohio.
Green, his wife and seven children moved to Fort Wayne from Darke County, Ohio in 1900. His daughter, Adeline Rhodes, was hired as an information clerk by General Electric after her husband’s death, and “was well known by many who came to her desk for information. She, too, was so well liked that many General Electric employees came to visit Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church to meet many Negroes. Mrs. Adeline Rhodes’ name will live always because of her kindness to many.”
Harrison was the first African-American to be hired at the “Feeble Minded Home” on State Street where he worked in the laundry. He slowly lost his vision, quit his job and went to live at the Soldiers Home.
Edward I. Jones
Jones was one of the first African-Americans in Fort Wayne to make a living hauling trash, rags, etc.
Sarah Ann Dickerson and Nettie Davis
Dickerson is mentioned earlier in the article and was a cousin to Davis. Both moved to Fort Wayne from Marion in search of work. In a short amount of time, they found “day work” in the homes of white residents, many of whom found small jobs for the children the women had in tow.
Lacklin was a chef at the Wayne Hotel when he decided to become a clergy person. He married the oldest daughter of Sarah Ann Dickerson and was known for his preaching on Sunday evenings at Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church.
Moses and Amanda Moten
The Motens moved to Fort Wayne from Kentucky. Moten worked at Kerr Murray Foundry at night and was responsible for blowing the curfew whistle for all children to get off the streets.
Mr. Rom Peters, Barber
Peters opened the first barbershop for blacks at the corner of East Wayne and Barr Streets. He also formed a band and marched in fraternal parades.
This family moved to Fort Wayne from Nashville, living and working here for many years.
Smith was the first African American employed by the Fort Wayne Post Office.
Warfield and his wife, Anna, moved to Fort Wayne from Ohio. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The company purchased a house for the family on Montgomery Street, where they boarded the waiters and cooks for the railroad.
Young and his family moved to Fort Wayne from Weaver, IN. He worked at the Pennsylvania Depot and later as a porter on the trains.