In the spring of 1919, a decade after the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) originally the National Negro Committee, a group of men and women gathered in West Chester, Pennsylvania for the purpose of establishing a local branch. Just as with the bi-racial activists who gathered l0 years earlier in New York City to form the national organization, the like-minded individuals who met in West Chester sought to make whites aware of the need for racial equality.
According to an article in the Daily Local News of April 5, 1919, a total of 88 people signed their names to the petition and the following officers were elected: Rev. C. C. Dunlap (President, pastor of Bethel AME), John Reed (VP), Marshall Cain (recording secretary), C. H. Wilson (corresponding secretary), and Cyrus Williams, (treasurer). At its inception, the national organization launched a program of speech making, lobbying, and publicizing the issue of racial discrimination and inequality in housing, education, employment, voting, and transportation. With the start of the West Chester Branch coming in 1919 at the end of World War I, one of the local organization's first priorities was to form a committee to interview local political leaders and ask that returning veterans "be remembered when patronage is to be distributed."
During its second year, Branch officers were Joseph R. Fugett, John Reed and Mrs. Harry Edwards. Cyrus Williams continued to serve as treasurer. Cornell. University graduate, Mr. Fugett was a respected teacher and principal in the West Chester area for many years. He served as the first principal of the original Gay Street School, which was designated the "Black" school for the District. The Gay Street Elementary School was renamed the Joseph R. Fugett School upon his retirement to honor his many years of dedicated service. The school closed in the 1980's and the honorary name switched to what was then East Junior High School and is now the present day J.R. Fugett Middle School.
ln his book, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen, author Jervis Anderson, offers a glimpse into the early days of the West Chester Branch when he writes of Julia Davis Rustin, grandmother of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Mrs. Rustin often opened her West Chester home to visiting leaders from the national NAACP. Dignitaries included James Weldon Johnson and intellectual leader Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who was then editor of the NAACP magazine, "Crisis". Mrs. Rustin was active in local African American organizations, such as the West Chester Community Center Garden Club, Summer Bible School Day Nursery and Nurses Association. According to an article in the program booklet printed for the Henderson High School Black Student Union Banquet of 1999, re-organization of the NAACP West Chester Branch took place in October, 1942. At that time, a meeting was held at the West Chester Community Center (now the Charles A. Melton Arts & Education Center) and the following officers were elected: Rev. A. E. Mann, president; William Johnson, vice president; Maria L. Brock, secretary; Ethel Y. Closson, assistant secretary; and Catherine Waddelton, treasurer.
Records show that an NAACP dance was held at the Center on April 26, 1943. Further evidence of branch activities in the 1940s is found in a 1948 letter to James A. Norris, President of NAACP West Chester Branch, from J. Dewees Mosteller, General Chairman of the West Chester Civic Association's Community Chest Campaign for 1948 Funds, asking for a repeat of the NAACP's gift of October 8,1947.
The Chapter underwent a reorganization in the mid 1950s. A copy of a May 9, 1955 charter for a West Chester, Pennsylvania, Branch can be found in the records of the Chester County Historical Society. Another document indicates the branch had two members in 1958 and 148 members in 1959. The Branch began the turbulent 1960s with John L. Melton, Jr. at the helm as indicated by documents found in the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) clippings file, "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. " Correspondence from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of State to Mr. Melton includes a renewal letter and Certificate of Registration under the Solicitation Act dated September 13, 1961.
Additional items found in the CCHS files illustrate what was happening in West Chester during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
1963/1 0/10 "Why We Picket: A Message to the Citizens of West Chester, Pennsylvania" in Daily Local News. ln an advertisement paid for by the NAACP, the Human Relations Council (W. T. Johnson, president) and the Student Equality League, a challenge was issued to employers in West Chester to hire African-Americans (Negroes). The pickets were planned for the next day at the First National Bank, National Bank of Chester County and Trust Company, and the Dimes Savings Bank, all in the first block of North High Street.
1963. Daily Local News. About 300 people protested peacefully in front of the banks on North High Street.
1963 Barbara Wenlock, "This is your NAACP" in The Quad Angles WCSC students formed a new chapter of the NAACP on campus. The president is Tina Congleton, and the other officers are Samuel Thompson (VP), Nancy Barbour (secretary) and Ron Jenkins (treasurer). They have roughly 40 members. Their goals are to raise awareness of the "new Negro" on campus, to initiate a tutoring program for underprivileged youth in the neighborhood, and reduce instances of discrimination on campus.
1963 W. A Hurd, "Hope for Better Future" in Daily Local News Ms. [Wilma] Hurd lived at 145 E. Miner Street. She wrote this letter to challenge assertions that the NAACP was a subversive organization. She asked if the John Birch Society or the folks who killed civil rights workers were subversives. She wrote: "Your correspondent, like so many, talk out of both sides of the mouth-you like the Negro only when he scrubs floors, washes dirty clothes (not his own) when he can't get a better job, when he is forced to live in a ghetto-Oh yes, this is the only time you really like them. By your own admission, you do not like those that have become well educated, in prominent positions, or lives as well as you. These you don't like because they can stand up for the right moral issues of our times and be heard, also they have the know how to fight the bigots at their own game."
1963 E. Saunders Dixon lll (Thorncroft Stables, Malvern), "Segregation Persists" in Daily Local News. This letter argues that segregation still exists in WC. lt specifically mentions the YMCA, one of whose board members refused to discuss the problem with the community. The churches are all segregated, even the Friends Meeting. Schools desegregated at the last moment, "one jump ahead of the law." Restaurants were desegregated because of he efforts of many of the people who were involved in the picketing of the banks.
1964 "College Denies Rustin Charge" in Daily Local News A spokesman for WCSC denied allegations that a Negro girl was threatened with expulsion if she participated in a civil rights demonstration last fall. The civil rights leader speaking at the annual Brotherhood meeting of West Chester, Bayard Rustin, said he was told of such an incident. lt was also reported that when a group of students applied for an on-campus faction of the NAACP, the group was told that no off-campus demonstrations were permitted because it may be implied as officially representing the college. This type of regulation applies to all organizations, and is not solely applied to the NAACP
Daily Local News. A program of "selective patronage" was announced by Robert T. Butler, head of the WC NAACP, and Dr. W. T. N. Johnson, head of the WC Human Relations Council. Shoppers will be encouraged to avoid businesses that do not engage in fair hiring practices. lt was modeled after a similar program that started in Coatesville last winter.
1966 "NAACP commences lecture series on'Black Power"'in The Quad Angles The WCSC chapter of the NAACP invited speakers from Philadelphia for a panel on "Black Power."
1967 Reverend Amos C. Brown (President West Chester NAACP) and William T. Bode (Chair West Chester Human Rights Commission), "Declaration of Need for Fair Housing Practices in West Chester, Pennsylvania"
1968 Borough of West Chester, "Minutes of the Special Meeting" Fred Beckett was appointed to Council to fill the seat vacated by the death of Mosteller. A large group of people attended and many spoke in his support: Reverend Amos E. Porter (Human Relations Council), Verda Grant (NAACP), Richard Stonewall (Black Action Committee), Cindy Downing, lVlercedes Greer, Elaine Weimer, Robert L, Woodson (with a petition with 600 signatures) and Reverend Amos C. Brown (West Chester NAACP). Change was a long tin.re coming but it did occur thanks, in large measure, to the work of the West Chester NAACP. In 1969, for example, members of the West Chester Area School Board appointed Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of St. Paul's Baptist Church and former president of the West Chester NAACP, to the School Board in 1969, making him the Board's first black member.
An article in The Quad "Borough candidates present platforms" (November 06, I 973), lists Robert T. Butler as one of the candidaes running for West Chester Borough Council. In addition to being President of the West Chester NAACP, Mr. Butler, who was retired from Allied Chemical Company, Marcus Hook, served on numerous other Boards and committees including the Board of Directors of the West Chester Community Center; a county-wide non-partisan voter registration commltittee; the liaison committee of the West Chester School District; and the School District Tax Revision Board.
When asked "What steps would you take to maintain West Cliester as the nucleus ofarea economic and cultural life?" Butler answered: Reroute traffic away from Cay Street, remove parking meters and all parking from both sides of Gay Street, refurbish existing buildings to encourage people
to shop in West Chester and enjoy its historical beauty."
(Sincere thanks to Penny L. Washington and Jim Jones for all Iheir work in researching lhe informalion contoined in this article ond to Dorolhy Kennedy for putting it together.)