Friday, February 27, 2015

Black History Scant in Junction City

             Our records at the Museum indicate there was an African-American presence in Geary County right from the beginning, finding information about them is another matter, Often it appears that personal or family histories of these early residents are non-existent, and then, out of the blue, in a newspaper or via a letter from a descendent information surfaces that brings these pioneers to life. Such was the case with our subjects for today's article.
In the Main Hall of the Museum is our Pioneer Settlers photograph collection. The faces that peer out above the names "Geo. Young" and "Mrs. Geo. Young," don't differ greatly from the other 243 images on the wall. They are dressed in the fashions of the time, the 1860s, and their hairstyles look very much like those of the other subjects. But they are different.
George and Mariah Young are the only African-Americans represented in the collection, which was compiled by photographer Louis Teitzel in 1909 in observance of the 50th anniversary of Junction City's founding.
Mariah and George Young came to JC in 1865 and were considered prominent citizens, as demonstrated by their presence in the Pioneer Photograph Collection created in 1909.
We at the museum knew little else about the George and Mariah Young until 1995, when one of their descendants, Greggory Hickman-Williams of KC, MO, presented the museum with a wedding photograph of one of their sons, John Huston Young, and his bride Mary Hart, made in Junction City in 1888. Then Susan Lloyd Franzen, while researching her multicultural history "Behind the Facade of Fort Riley's Home Town," contributed some additional information. Most recently, we learned a bit more about the impact the Young family had on early Junction City while researching the article on Junction City's first school.
According to Gregory Hickman-Williams, the George and Mariah Young family was one of the first, if not the first, African-American family to settle in Junction City, coming in 1864, prior to the end of the Civil War. George Young was a barber by trade.
Susan Franzen, writing for Museum Musings in 1999, noted that Union editor George W. Martin provided unusually good coverage of African-American achievements in that early era: "When Love's Barbershop was opened by four black men in 1867, the Union made note of it. By the time of the US Census of 1870, one of the barbers, George Young from Tennessee, was quite wealthy. His real estate was valued at $1000. A white grocer and a physician in the same census each had $1500 in real estate, so George Young was successful by local standards of the day.”
One of those children born in Tennessee, the Young's oldest son, Willowby, caused considerable uproar in Junction City only a short time after the family's arrival.
At the beginning of 1866, although the Civil War had ended eight months before, feelings were still strong and loyalties divided in Junction City. There was yet to be built a permanent school building in Junction City, so from term to term, school was held in rooms located above the businesses downtown.
In 1865-66, school was being conducted in Ganz Hall, located in the upper floor of the stone building that housed J. H. Blake dry goods store. It was situated across from the City Park on West Sixth Street, where the Bartell stands today.
At the beginning of the new school term, in January of 1866, Willowby Young, was enrolled in this city school. The presence of the one African-American boy in the public school caused a great uproar and much heated debate, both on the street and in meetings and gatherings all over town. The Youngs immediately withdrew their son, but this did not end the dispute.
The Union reported that a meeting was held the next evening, with a lively debate on the subject of school integration. Those in favor of educating young Willowby with the white children of the town finally prevailed, and the school board ruled to that effect. However, inflammatory letters and articles continued to appear in print. On January 18, 1866 the Ganz building mysteriously burned down.
The general supposition was that the fire was the result of this racial controversy, and Editor Martin went so far as to accuse segregationist parents of arson, saying that they'd rather burn down the school than have it integrated.
Little else on the Young Family is in our files, we know they stayed in JC, and it is apparent by their presence in the Pioneer Photo Collection that they were considered contributing and significant citizens within the community they had helped to build. Now if we just knew the rest of the story from their perspective....
May be some of you out there can help us. Little by little, our files on the African-American community are growing. However, we do send out a plea to those within the community here to share their family and personal histories with the museum so our records and archives can more accurately reflect the whole history of our town.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Growing Up Black in Junction City: Part III

Part III
Growing up black in Junction City limited recreational activities, though, Gilbert Hammond, Jerry Turner, Joyce Peoples, Minnie Boyd, and Lee Gates recalled.
Blacks could go to see movie, but sitting in the theaters was restricted, Joyce said. In the Colonial theater, blacks could only sit in the upstairs balcony. At another theater, they had to sit- in the last three rows on the bottom floor, she said.
"We could not go to the skating rink until after the rink was closed, for maybe an hour at night on certain days," Gilbert added. "We couldn't swim in the city swimming pool except on Wednesdays after everyone else had gotten out and before they were going to clean it."
He and other black children were not even allowed to play in the wading pool on Fifth Street.
"I lived four blocks from there but we had to go a mile and a half to the wading pool on 13th Street."
Black children who could go on post had a pool where they could swim, he recalled, but it was just for blacks. Whites had their own pool, he said. “But, some black kids learned to swim there," he said, adding that he didn't because he didn't like to put his head below the water’s surface.
Junction City has a teen club for its white children. It was located over the JC Penney store. Later, black children also got a teen club of their own, in the Pawnee housing area adjacent to where the Buffalo Soldier Memorial stands today. That area was where black military families lived back then.
Before that, black youth would gather in the Johnsons' yard in the 500 block of West 12th Street beneath a big tree that had a circular bench built around it, Gilbert said. "We called it 'Lover's Lane,'" he laughed, remembering those times when "the boys would go there to meet and talk with girls."
Jerry scoffed at the "Lover's Lane" tag Gilbert had applied to the spot. "They just all gathered to talk," she said.
Attitudes in Junction City are different today all five agree, but even back in their youth, the kids usually mixed well, Minnie recalled. "It was the powers that be that laid down all these rules. We had many white friends that I'm still friendly with to this day.
"I stayed all night in homes of certain white families, but it wasn't the children (who caused the separation of races), it was the parents," Jerry added.
"We had to accept it at that time, but now we've progressed a whole lot and kids today won't put up with it," Joyce observed. "Times have changed, but at that time, there wasn't nothing we could do about it."
All five say they are satisfied living in Junction City today. Blacks and whites generally have equal opportunities, they agreed.
"Everywhere you look there's somebody (black). A lot of them got nice jobs. There are plenty of black teachers in the school system now. I don't think there's any reason anybody couldn't get a good job of their choice in Junction City now," Minnie said.
"I like living here and see that we have progressed a lot," Minnie said. "Even our churches have grown to be just as good and nice as the white churches and ... we have mixed denominations and we get along fine. Living here had improved so much," she said. It’s not bad living here.
"Things have really improved. This shows how much Junction City has come up to standards for my children, my grandchildren," Joyce added. "They have opportunity to go to college. Before,, you couldn't if you didn't have the money, but nowadays they're on an equal basis. So they're not held back."
"I came back here in '65 because I liked living here. I liked the town much better when the town was much smaller, but I like living here today because there's opportunities to go where you want to go and do what you want to do. You can participate in whatever you want to now," Minnie said.
Jerry said she feels the same as Minnie does. "Everything is open. There are opportunities for blacks," she said. "There will always be prejudice. You can't stop that, but we want to know we have the same rights as everybody else. It's really good to see how much we have progressed."
Minnie, Jerry and Joyce said they believe Fort Riley played a significant role in how Junction City changed, even though part of that time it, too, was segregated. "The city had to kind of give in because that was where a lot of the families were coming from," Minnie pointed out.
Jerry added that the NAACP also played a key role. one important break came when the NAACP representatives sent young Junction City blacks to local stores to apply for jobs, eventually forcing those stores to open up jobs previously restricted for whites to black workers.
The local NAACP worked with sit-ins at the local "five-and-dime Woolworth's," Jerry recalled. She an another black woman were sent to order food at the store's food counter.
"The waitresses said she couldn't serve us. We asked why, and she back to the kitchen to get the manager,, who finally said, 'We don't serve blacks,' and that's just what the lawyer wanted to hear," said, adding that it wasn't long before "we were eating at restaurants in town."
Junction City has made a complete about face, Gilbert concedes, although he claims it still has a long way to go before it truly becoming a melting pot, mixing its population of Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, blacks and whites with equal opportunities.
"We can see that drastic change because we were here when it wasn't the way it is today," Jerry added. 

The Colonial Theater, pictured here in the 1980s, located at 7th and Jefferson, had segregated seating. African Americans had to sit in the balcony. The Colonial Theater was formerly and is currently, the Opera House.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Growing up Black in Junction City: Part II

Part II
Last week we brought you Part I, this week we continue our story with daily life in Junction City.
In town, Jerry Turner remembered the only types of jobs available for blacks were as a domestic, in the hotel or a cafe. "It bothered me because I saw a lot of the (white) graduates I graduated with working in the stores. I applied for a lot of those jobs but we were not hired."
Getting hired back then seemed a "Catch 22" in at least one instance, Jerry recalled, "I went (to the telephone company) and I was told by the manager that I didn't have the experience. I asked, ‘how can I get this experience?’ He said, ‘I would have to work in the telephone company.’"
Not knowing how she could work in the telephone company without being hired. Jerry said she asked if I could work free of charge for as long as it took to train on the system. "He said, no, he didn't have the time to do that," Jerry said. "I had to go to Fort Riley to try to get a job and could get even more than what they offered in town."
Joyce agreed it was easier to get work at Fort Riley than it was in town, but even at Fort Riley "the blacks were held back. One black woman she worked with are now GS10s and 11s," she said.
"My father was a truck farmer that took vegetables to Fort Riley," Gilbert said, remembering those times with some bitterness. "When it came to getting a job, the jobs they had would not push a black person up the ladder. It would bring you down because you were always using your back, not your brain."
School counselors kept in step with the general work standards prevalent in those times, Gilbert pointed out. He graduated from Junction City High School in 1950.
Gilbert Hammond: 1950 Pow Wow
"They told me and the black students it wasn't necessary to take typing, it was not necessary for you to take  mechanical drawing, it wasn't necessary to take shop—working with carpentry and things like that, because "they would recommend you get a job being a boot-black shining shoes or become a porter on a train or something  like that. It was nothing that would upgrade you, like being a lawyer or a doctor or a nurse or anything like that," he said.
"I worked for years in the Bartell Hotel with Jerry's father, I ran the elevator, working a little lever," Gilbert said. "We could work in the hotel but we could not eat in the restaurant in the hotel. You had to eat in the kitchen in the back. They did not want you to come in the entryway; they wanted you to come in the back," he went on.
"My cousin and I shoveled coal into the stoker to heat up the Colonial Theater, but we could not sit downstairs" in the theater seating, he recalled. "We would have to sit in the balcony, which was the hottest place in the theater."
Since those years, Gilbert has gone on to be a self-employed businessman and landlord in Junction City.
School counselors aside, all five Junction City residents recalled happy times in the Junction City school system. Most of the education they got was equal to what white children were getting, Jerry pointed out, so they didn't really feel slighted in that regard.
Most recalled being active in music programs, including the a Capella choir, and Joyce belonged to Spanish Club.
Generally, "We took part in all that they let us take part in," Joyce recalled.
But, a black girl couldn't try out to be a cheerleader or majorette in the band, she added, even though the black boys were allowed to play sports and were a primary reason Junction City kept beating Manhattan. "You couldn't try Gilbert said the civil rights commission helped to change that. Although, a few black girls and had been cheerleaders before his daughter tried to make the squad, a representative of the Civil Rights Commission was called to town to investigate why she hadn't made the squad after it was learned she had scored higher on the tryout than a white girl picked had made.
Gilbert's daughter would up replacing the white girl as a cheerleader, he said.
For the school yearbook, seniors were listed alphabetically but in the corresponding photo, all the black students were placed at the rear of the photo, Joyce added.