Samuel W. Black
Associate Curator for African American History
The Western Reserve Historical Society
The collection houses among its manuscripts a diverse assortment of papers of individuals and families, as well as records of organizations, businesses, institutions, special events and community phenomenon. Among the papers that cover the period 1900 to 1915, one would find George A. Myers, Charles W. Chesnutt, John P. Green, Myrtle Johnson Bell, the Henry Lee Moon Family, Lethia Fleming, Walter L. Brown and Garrett A. Morgan. These collections include such topics as politics, education, business, civil rights, women, literature and invention.
The George A. Myers papers are contained in two collections. Manuscript number 1199 contains correspondence from 1912 to 1923. An eight-roll microfilm collection (originals owned by the Ohio Historical Society) contain the bulk of Myersí papers, with correspondence ranging from 1890 to 1929. The collection contains significant correspondence with Ohio African-American politicians and leaders such as John P. Green, Ralph Tyler, William Parham, William Clifford, Jere Brown, Charles Cottrill, William T. Anderson and Harry C. Smith. Other noted correspondents were Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Theodore Burton, Marcus Hanna, William McKinley, Joseph Foraker, T. Thomas Fortune, Richard T. Greener, James Weldon Johnson, Reverdy C. Ransom, Robert H. Terrell and John R. Lynch. Myersí papers are especially significant for the study of African-American political thought during this progressive era. The content of the correspondence covers politics, both local and national. Issues discussed are a lynching in Urbana, Ohio in 1897; political appointments by McKinley and local African-American Republican political matters.
Charles W. Chesnutt was a Cleveland-born novelist, writer, stenographer and activist for the rights of African Americans. The Charles W. Chesnutt papers range from 1889 to 1932. They contain mostly correspondence but also some unpublished short stories with the authorís handwritten notes throughout the pages. Chesnuttís activities during this period included the publication of three novels, participation in the Niagara Movement meeting at Oberlin College in 1908, the founding of the NAACP in 1909 and he assisted the Second Presbyterian Church Menís Committee with their plans to establish a settlement house on Clevelandís east side. The correspondents in the papers include Chicago Defender publisher Robert S. Abbott, Newton D. Baker, Walter Hines Page, Albion Tourgee and Booker T. Washington.
An associate of Myers and Chesnutt was John P. Green. Green served as a state representative and senator in the late 19th century. He is known to be the first African American elected to office in Cuyahoga County (justice of the peace, 1873). The John P. Green papers range from 1869 to 1910. In addition to his political career, in 1896 William McKinley appointed Green as U.S. Postal Agent. After that appointment he returned to Cleveland in 1905 and practiced law with his sons, William and Theodore. Similar to the Myers and Chesnutt collections, the bulk of Greenís papers consists of correspondence and is also accessible on microfilm. Letters are from members of Greenís family, including his first wife Anne, second wife Lottie, and his children. Non-family correspondence is from the Reverend Sterling Brown, West Point Grad John Alexander, former U.S. Senator Blanch K. Bruce, Wilberforce University President Samuel T. Mitchell and The Guardian publisher William Monroe Trotter.
The Mytrle Johnson Bell papers range from 1907 to 1969. Bell was an educator in the Cleveland Schools and the first African-American woman CPS administrator. Interesting items in the collection include a program for the Alpha Mu Clubís presentation of a Japanese play, "In Revenge of Shari Hot Su" dated May 26, 1915 at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, Cleveland. The Club was one of many African-American women cultural organizations. Also included is a booklet from the Minerva Reading Club that was established in 1898. The Minerva Club was one of the more respected womenís clubs in the area. Bell was a longtime member and an officer in the club.
Associates of Myrtle Bell were Henry Lee Moon and his family. Henry Lee Moon was a journalist, writer, and executive employee of the national office of the NAACP. Significant for this time period is not necessarily Henry Lee but his mother and father, Roddy K. and Lena Moon. Roddy K. Moon was the founding president of the Cleveland Branch NAACP, serving from 1912 to 1916. He and his wife remained as life members of the organization. There are two series of papers of this family. The first series spans from 1910 to 1964, and the second series spans from 1868 to 1992. Most of the documents during the period consist of letters concerning the career of Roddy K. Moon who was a meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Lethia Fleming was the wife of Clevelandís first African-American councilman, Thomas W. Fleming. She was also an activist for women causes and served the Phillis Wheatley Association as a charter member and one of its chief supporters for many years. She was responsible for raising $2,500 for the purchase of the first building for the PWA. Fleming moved to Cleveland in 1912 after her marriage to Thomas Fleming. She was teacher for twenty-years in the Virginia and West Virginia schools. In 1914 she became president of the Cleveland Home for Aged Color People. Fleming was a member of national organizations as well. She was on the executive board of the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council of Negro Women. She served as president of the National Association of Republican Women and was Executive Director of the Republican Colored Women organization. The collection includes a handwritten bio that covers the years 1907 to 1912 as well as documents on the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People, an institution that also involved her husband. This collection ranges from 1900 to 1963.
Politics seemed to dominate the collection in the African American Archives for the period 1900 to 1915. An interesting collection of material is the Walter L. Brown scrapbook. Brown was one of the few African-American members of the Democratic machine between 1900 and 1910. He moved to Cleveland from Tennessee in 1891. In Tennessee, Brown was a practicing attorney and involved himself in community politics. George Myers, Charles W. Chesnutt, John P. Green and Lethia Fleming were all Republicans. Brown represented a very small contingent of Democrats in the African-American community. This collection brings some balance to the study of political activism in the community during the early years of the twentieth century. The scrapbook contains newspaper clippings from local papers including the Cleveland Gazette, Plain Dealer, Leader, the Detroit Free Press, the Cincinnati Inquirer, the Cleveland Press, the Cleveland Call and the Detroit Tribune. Also included are correspondences from Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson, political allies of Brown, permits, certificates, programs, photographs, memos, cards and letters. Interesting materials are programs, clippings and correspondence related to the activities of the Independent Colored Voters League and its support of the Presidential Candidate Senator Robert M. LaFollette. The Independent Colored Voters League was one of a number of African-American attempts to form a political party that directly addressed the issues and concerns of blacks. Brown political philosophy seemed to wane on the support a candidate or elected official would lend to these concerns. Biographical information on Brown and his family include photographs, clippings, programs and letters.
One of the more dynamic people of the period 1900 to 1915 was Cleveland inventor and entrepreneur, Garrett A. Morgan. The Morgan papers range from 1894 to 1970 and include correspondence, petitions, pamphlets, legal and business papers, memorabilia, drawings of inventions, blueprints, and floor plans, all concerning Morganís professional and personal life. Morgan was a migrant to Cleveland arriving in 1895 and immediately got involved in the African-American community. He was a member of the LíOverture Rifles, an all-black militia, the Cleveland Association of Colored Men (f. 1908) where he served as treasurer, and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity of Western Reserve University. Morganís inventions, a hair straightener, safety helmet (gas mask) and traffic signal, made him renowned. But his local community activities are significant enough for note as well. The bulk of the collection deals with Morganís inventions, specifically the safety helmet and his use of the helmet in the 1916 Lake Erie crib incident where he saved two lives wearing his helmet into the gas-filled tunnel.
Much of the response to the snub that Morgan and his brother Frank received from local politicians, rescue workers and the Carnegie Hero Commission can be found. Hundreds of signatures on petitions for Morganís rightful recognition are in the collection as well as clippings of his role in the rescue. The Garrett A. Morgan collection is accessible on one roll of microfilm.
Part Two: Institutional Records