The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State in February 1970. Prior to that time, the second week of February was known as “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates Black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.
Both Albion and Marshall have ties to Black History. There is also a trail of Civil Rights monuments in Michigan to Canada.
Albion College and Marshall Middle School choirs at the 2017 MLK Convention at the Bohm Theatre
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post journalist at the MLK convention
Wes Dick, professor at Albion College explains how black workers were brought to Albion to work in the foundries in 1917.
MLK Convocation and Community Celebration Keynote speaker from Washington Post about these times
The annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation and Community Celebration will be on Monday, January 30, 2017, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Bohm Theatre in downtown Albion.
Keynote speaker Eugene Robinson, a nationally acclaimed columnist for The Washington Post, will bring his unique insights on life in America in an address titled: “We’re Someplace We’ve Never Been: Race, Diversity, and the New America.” This event is co-sponsored by Albion College and the Albion branch of the NAACP.
Eugene Robinson, nationally acclaimed columnist for The Washington Post, will bring his unique insights on life in America to Albion’s 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration. He will present “We’re Someplace We’ve Never Been: Race, Diversity and the New America” as part of the Monday, January 30 event, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Bohm Theatre
Read more about this historic event on the Albion College website:
There was a trail to the north before the Civil War, that was unmarked, except for stories of following the North Star, looking for moss on the north sides of trees, and key words that helpers would know. This was called the Underground Railroad. Across Michigan and into Canada, there is a trail today, that is marked with much more visible reminders of this challenging time in our history. Today we can visit monuments, or just read about them here online, and learn about how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.
Underground Railroad Memorial honoring Adam Crosswhite
Holland Park has a monument to local civil rights activist Robert Holland.
Dr. Martin Luther King Sculpture, Kalamazoo
Adam Crosswhite tombstone, Oakridge Cemetery Marshall Michigan
The public was invited to the grand opening of the newly installed West Ward School History panels in Holland Park at on Saturday, Aug. 13th 2016.
As part of the Holland Park Transformation, a Michigan Humanities Council Heritage grant was awarded to the City of Albion and Albion College to display the West Ward School story. For this project, historians Robert Wall, Leslie Dick, and Dr. Wesley Arden Dick interviewed more than 20 former West Ward students. This history will be a permanent exhibit on History Hill in Holland Park. Park visitors will be able to access the Albion West Ward School website to discover more and to hear the voices of the West Ward students.
History Hill at Holland Park
West Ward Elementary School was built in 1873. For 45 years, its students were primarily the children of white, European immigrants who worked in the nearby iron foundries. European immigration was cut off during World War I, and the Albion Malleable Iron Company sent a recruiter south to Pensacola, Florida. In November of 1916, almost 100 years ago, 64 African American men arrived at the Albion railroad depot, ready to go to work at “The Malleable.” Soon, their wives and children arrived, posing a question: where would their children attend school? At first, those children were educated at an Albion African American church. When Dalrymple Elementary School was completed in January of 1918, the white West Ward School children were transferred to the new school and West Ward became an all-Black elementary school.
Previously, the African American children had been educated in the segregated, Jim Crow South in all-Black schools. The only way the new arrivals would have Black teachers in Albion in 1918 was to make West Ward a segregated school. Although segregated public education was against Michigan law, West Ward remained an all-Black school until 1953. While African American parents and community leaders initially favored the segregated arrangement, racial attitudes concerning justice and achieving the American Dream changed over time. By 1953, key Black parents considered West Ward to be “separate, but unequal,” and they kept their children out of school that fall. This led to a showdown with the Albion Board of Education. Confronted by the boycott and threatened by an NAACP lawsuit, the Board ended classes at West Ward in October of 1953. The West Ward story thus changed from northern segregation to an Albion Civil Rights movement. After the school was closed, it was tor! n down, and the school grounds became a city park, which was later dedicated in honor of Robert Holland, Sr., one of the boycott leaders. West Ward is a reminder that Albion’s story is America’s story.
The historical display was made possible by a Heritage Grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.
A quote from that article: “ In looking through the Census records of the period, we find that the majority of Albion’s early black men listed their occupations as either barbers, such as a Richard Randolph, who lived in Albion Township. Some were listed as housekeepers. One is listed as a “calciminer.” No, he didn’t mine calcimine, but that was the term for a “white-washer” of walls in the days of dirty fuel sources for heating homes. This particular person was listed later as a paper hanger (wallpaper).” “
“The exact circumstances and reasons surrounding the transformation of West Ward School into an all-black school are varied. Decisions were made in special meetings between various parties during the 1917-18 school year, and school board records do not record the details of such meetings. Two prominent opinions have been given concerning the reasons West Ward School was turned into an all-black school.
The first reason states that it was local black leaders who ironically themselves wanted West Ward School to be a school exclusively for their people, and taught by their people. This would supposedly provide a more familiar and less hostile atmosphere for the students than they would experience if they had to attend other schools. Related, the students could thereby be taught according to the style to which they had been accustomed.
A related second opinion which has been circulated is that local blacks wanted to have black teachers hired into the school system, thus providing some employment for their own people. Whatever the reasons were, history proved that the “establishment” was more than happy to oblige, and placed the black children in West Ward School.
West Ward became an all-black facility on January 2, 1918. This fact can be deduced from several sources. Dalrymple School, under construction for two years, opened on the aforementioned date. The white teachers who formerly had been teaching at West Ward in the fall of 1917 were transferred there, according to the teacher salary lists of 1917 and 1918. Individual records of white students living in the West Ward “colored” boundaries are listed as being taught by these white teachers who were all transferred to Dalrymple School. Apparently there was no mixing of the races at West Ward School after December, 1917.
A two-room addition was built onto West Ward School in 1919 at a cost of $7,500 in order to accommodate the increased number of students. This followed a vote of taxpayers on July 7, 1919 for the additional funds, which was heartily approved, 95 to 8. Thus West Ward School was officially segregated, a situation which continued until the school closed in late 1953.
Judy Powell wrote:
West Ward was described as being dark, damp, small and cheerless. In one teacher’s opinion, the limited supplies and equipment that were available to the school were discarded from the other elementary schools.”
Isaac David Kremer, Albion Interactive History, www.placepromo.com/aih, 2001-2011, [4-23-16].
This portrait of Juliette Calhoun Blakeley is in the Gardner House Museum.
On May 13, 1877, the second Sunday of the month, Juliet Calhoun Blakeley stepped into the pulpit of the Methodist-Episcopal Church and completed the sermon for the Reverand Myron Daughterty. According to local legend, Daughterty was distraught because an antitemperance group had forced his son to spend the night in a saloon.
Proud of their mother’s achievement, Charles and Moses Blakeley encouraged other to pay tribute to their mothers. In the 1880’s the Albion Methodist church began celebrating Mother’s Day in Blakeley’s honor.
From Frank Passic’s historical essay:
“The original Blakeley home stood on the southeast corner of W. Cass and S. Clinton Sts., the present site of a city parking lot across from the fire station. Mrs. Blakeley allowed her house to serve as one of the local hiding stations for the so-called “Underground Railroad” which transported fugitive slaves to safety in Canada. The entire Blakeley family was involved in the operation out of their home. The family would hide the fugitives in the bottom of their wagon under bags of grain, or covered with ears of corn, and transport them along the predetermined route.
Julia’s son Charles Blakeley (1852-1935) often served as the driver. On one particular mission when he was accompanied by his father, Charles was held up by slave catchers who, in their search for fugitives, poked long sharp sticks through a visible bottom coop-type area covered by grain sacks, located under the wagon. They found no one however, because the slaves were hidden higher up under the main portion of the wagon. The artificial coop had been purposely placed there to distract the slave catchers.
Years later when Mrs. Blakeley was publicly honored by her church, two local black youth, Wilbur Moore and Claude Thomas, ages three and four respectively, were given the honor of pulling a rope which unfurled a large American flag at the church. This was done in recognition of Mrs. Blakeley’s participation in the Underground Railroad many years earlier.
Unfortunately, the original Blakeley home at 121 W. Cass/103 S. Clinton St. that served as an Underground Railroad stop here was demolished years ago.”
We liked these words about Albion from Wes Dick at a recent City Council meeting where he received a proclamation of thanks. We are sharing them here.
“Thank you Dr. Mitchell, Mayor Domingo, City Council Members for this honor. Last night, Dr. Harry Bonner and the Kids at Hope hosted a splendid banquet in my honor and in honor of my wife Leslie.
Years ago, L. J. McKeown, police chief who had recently arrived in Albion, confided to me: “Albion is one interesting place.”
As historians, Leslie and I have been fortunate to live in a community that has a very interesting history.
I like to say:
Albion’s Story is America’s Story. A defining dimension of the Albion story is its racial and ethnic diversity. And central to Albion’s story has been a vibrant African American presence.
2016 marks the Centennial Year of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to Albion. In November 1916, the Albion Malleable Iron Company brought 64 African Americans from Pensacola, Florida on a train to Albion. The rest, as they say, is history.
We are blessed with a community with a rich history. And the story is still unfolding…
There is more Albion history to be made and the Kids at Hope and the Mayor’s Youth Council are the rising generation of who will shape the history of “Albion & the American Dream.”
To everyone, thank you for your support.”
— Words of Appreciation at City Council Meeting, January 19, 2016,”
(Dr. Wesley Arden Dick)
Theatrical performance “In Search of Giants” was truly amazing. It took place Friday Feb 12, 2016 and Saturday Feb 13, 2016 at Washington Gardner School. It was a fundraiser for Holland Park Transformation. The play is by Dr. Von Washington who was a professor of theater for many years. It featured the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” The phrase drinking gourd – referred to the Big Dipper and the north star as a way to find the way north. Albion Public School students learned this song in Albion schools. Music and art might be a great a way to share some of Albion’s heritage with Marshall Schools since there is increasing overlap. Word has it “In Search of Giants” might even take place in Marshall Schools before too long.