Part 1: Manuscript Collections Part 2: Institutional Records Part 3: Photographs and Newspapers

By Samuel W. Black
Associate Curator for African American History
The Western Reserve Historical Society

In addition to the many papers of individuals and families the African American Archives houses records of institutions, organizations, businesses, and agencies. Noted among these collections and covering the period 1900 to 1915, are the Phillis Wheatley Association, the Eliza Bryant Center (Cleveland Home for Colored Aged), Boyd’s Funeral Home, and Karamu House, Incorporated. These collections contain administrative files as well as some subject files related to the operation of the entity.

Jane Edna Hunter established the Home for Working Girls in 1911. The goal was to provide a home for single Black women and offer the opportunity for jobs, job training, education, and fellowship. The collection consists of Trustees files, financial reports; subject files, correspondence, and files related to Camp Mueller, one of the agency properties.

The first African American institution of social welfare in Cleveland was the Cleveland Home for Colored Aged People or today, the Eliza Bryant Center. Plans for the institution began as early as 1893 when Eliza Bryant and a number of concerned women began to meet to discuss the care of the African-American elderly. By 1897 these plans developed into the Home for Colored Aged and a building was purchased on Giddings Avenue (East 71st Street). By 1914 the institution had relocated twice to settled on Cedar Avenue. The collection ranges from 1898 to 1963. The bulk of the material for 1900 to 1915 include records of guests, membership, patients, secretary’s correspondence, managing board files, financial records and records of the men’s auxiliary. The Men’s Auxiliary was a support group of local men who raised money and resources for the institution and counted among its membership some of the leading political and businessmen of the community. Longtime president of this group was Jacob Reed, co-owner of Reitz and Reed Fish and Oyster Store; other members were George Myers, owner of the Hollenden Hotel Barbershop, Charles W. Chesnutt, stenographer, Elmer F. Boyd and J. W. Wills, funeral home directors, and Albert D. Boyd, café owner. The records of this institution shed light on the philanthropic activities of African Americans as well as the general community of Cleveland.

Business records for the period are limited to the E. F. Boyd Funeral Home. Spanning 1906 to 1944, the records consists of financial and burial files, newspaper clippings, a program and newsletter. Boyd’s Funeral Home is one of the oldest existing business establishments in Cleveland. It grew in size and services along with the community. Its initial location was at East 27th Street and Central Avenue. In 1917 Boyd’s moved to East 43rd and Central Avenue and a generation later moved to its present headquarters at East 89th and Cedar Avenue. This collection will help any researcher looking for information on African-American business as well as genealogical research on family members.

Significant for this time period was the settlement house movement. In Cleveland a number of settles were established that offered services to the community. Most of these were geared toward the European communities and included Hiram House (Jewish), East End Neighborhood House (Hungarians, Slovaks), Friendly Inn Settlement, Goodrich House (Slavic) and Alta House (Italians). In 1914 the Men’s Committee of the Second Presbyterian Church set out to establish some legacy in the community of the church because of their plans to move to the University Circle area. The result of this legacy was the Playhouse Settlement. Opened in 1915 and directed by a white couple from Oberlin College and the University of Chicago, Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, the Playhouse Settlement began to serve the youth of the "Roaring Third" community. Although this area was not exclusively African American, the focus was on the increasing African-American migrant population in the city’s third ward. In the 1940s the organization changed its name to Karamu House and incorporated as such. Its programs offered theater arts, fine arts, job training, recreation, meeting space and social welfare assistance. Over the years its theater arts program had taken off and the settlement house aspect has diminished.

The Karamu House, Inc. records stored in the African American Archives consist of a wide range of files and documents evidential to the activities and history of this institution. The collection spans from 1914 to 1980 and contain administrative records, subject files, financial records, histories, articles of incorporation, trustee files, proposals, reports, publications, correspondence, plays, memoranda, date books, schedules, newspaper clippings and other documents. The list of correspondence is legendary and includes people in education, politics, social work, entertainment, the arts and government. Included is correspondence related to the 1914 planning committee of the Men’s Club with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Other correspondants include Ida B. Wells Barnett, Jane Edna Hunter, and Charles W. Chesnutt. The collection is vital to any study of African American settlement houses and social agencies of early twentieth century.

Part Three: Photographs and Newspapers

The Western Reserve Historical Society is located in University Circle and is open everyday for the Museum and Tuesday through Sunday for the Library.