Uncovering Black History In Montana
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
"Uncovering Black History In Montana"
By Karen Ogden
February 5, 2007

In the archives of the Cascade County Historical Society are tens of thousands of black-and-white photographs of Great Falls' early citizens ...

Black and white - and Native American - but mostly white.

In fact, local historian Ken Robison could find only a handful of images depicting what was a vibrant African-American community in Great Falls in the early 20th century.

"That's one area where we're pretty desperate," said Robison, who points out that the dearth of materials is statewide.

He's part of a large-scale effort, led by the Montana Historical Society, to preserve and document Montana's African-American heritage before precious information slips away in fading memories and musty attics.

As Black History Month kicks off nationwide, the Historical Society is asking the state Legislature to approve a $14,000 grant to move the project forward.

"It's an easy task for us to convince people that this is a worthwhile project," said Kate Hampton, National Register historian for the Society.

African Americans were among the many ethnic groups who shaped Montana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hampton said.

"There were large pockets of African Americans in Great Falls, in Miles City, in Butte," she said. "But in fact every community did boast diversity."

Contemporary Montanans can find lessons in their experience, said Cultural Anthropologist Alan Thompson, one of the lead researchers on the project.

"Just like the importance of Indian Education For All, we have a real opportunity as communities to learn from each other," said Thompson, of Helena.

Thompson is continuing the legacy of his aunt, the late state librarian Alma Jacobs, who led some of the earliest efforts to document Montana's African-American History.

The documents, artifacts and photographs that Alan Thompson and other researchers find are being compiled in a computer database that will be available to the public at the Historical Society.

The Society hopes to eventually secure funding to put the database on its Web site.

"Students and educators will for the first time have a substantial historical database available to steer their study on Black history," said Robison, who is on the project's advisory committee, along with fellow Great Falls resident Bob Harris.

Women preserve history

The project was launched with a two-year, $14,000 Cultural and Aesthetics grant through the Montana Cultural Trust.

In the first phase, to be finished in June, researchers are scouring the Society's archives for any artifacts, documents or photographs related to African-American history.

Although much of the information was previously catalogued, it often was split up in different collections and not referenced as pertaining to black history. Related materials, such as photos and documents on a particular event, often weren't cross-referenced.

Among the items researchers found are a collection of attendance ribbons from the Montana Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, including one worn by Jacobs, who also served at the helm of the Great Falls Public Library. Jacobs oversaw construction of the new library building in 1967.

The ribbon collection is "just a wonderful tangible representation of a part of history that we're trying to get uncovered," said Patty Dean, project historian.

By the early 1930s, the club had chapters in Great Falls, Kalispell, Bozeman, Helena, Billings and other towns across the state.

The club's minutes span its post World War II years, when the group lobbied for civil rights legislation, to its vote to disband and start a college scholarship fund for African Americans in 1971.

"It illustrates for one thing how a lot of times women are the ones who keep the history of a family or a community," Dean said.

The club's minutes, photos and ribbon collection are now cross-referenced in the database.

Good jobs beckon

The second phase of the project will expand the research to communities across the state.

The Historical Society will instruct community historians on how the database was constructed so they - likely through their county historical society - can conduct similar research.

For that work, the Society is seeking a second, $14,000 Cultural Trust grant although, because of a funding shortfall, it is only recommended for $7,000, Hampton said.

Much of the project's work is documenting everyday, working people, Dean said.

Researchers, with the help of senior citizen volunteers, are combing Census data from 1870, the first Census taken in Montana, through 1930 for African American citizens.

So far they've documented 2,810 people. Montana's black population grew from 183 in 1870 to 1,834 in 1910. That compares with 2,692 in the 2000 Census.

Gus Thornton is among the earlier arrivals. He was first counted as an 18-year-old miner in Unionville, near Helena, in 1870. By 1910 he was 59 years old and widowed, but still mining. He lived in Helena with a 66-year-old quartz miner named Andrew Smith.

Peter Hambright, a Tennessee native, fought in the Spanish American war and was deployed to Cuba before arriving in Montana with the military shortly after 1900. He played in the band of the U.S. Army's 10th Cavalry, a black regiment also known as the "Buffalo Soldiers."

Hambright is listed in the 1910 Census in Billings, where he worked as a railroad clerk and lived in a white neighborhood.

He left Billings with his wife, Mattie, and three children in the 1920s and moved to a predominantly black neighborhood in Chicago.

Suppose Hambright's descendants want to explore their family history.

When the database is online, they will be able to learn about his Montana years with a simple Google search.

"Black genealogy is huge," Dean said. "There's a whole family reunion industry and self-published books about families and it's very, very popular with African-American families."

A better life

Historians also would like to know what became of Montana's prominent, early African-American figures.

George Williams, for example, worked as Great Falls' first black police officer in 1892.

He patrolled the upper-class, white lower north side.

"His part of town was an area where blacks were even dissuaded to own property," said Great Falls artist Brian Morger, who recentlydepicted Williams in a painting honoring the city's early lawmen.

The Montana Law Enforcement Museum is selling prints of the painting as a fundraiser for a permanent museum location.

As he prepared to paint, Morger searched in vain for a photo of Williams

"I just kind of intuited what he looked like," he said.

Like Williams, many African Americans came to Montana looking for good jobs.

Many wanted to escape post Civil War violence toward blacks in north/south "border states" such as Kentucky and Missouri, Dean said.

Some came with the fur trade, or to work as woodcutters for steamboats traveling to Fort Benton.

Later, the railroad drew African Americans, often as porters or clerks. Like today, many came with the military, Dean said.

"Mostly they were people coming in for the same reasons that non-African Americans were coming in," Hampton said. "They were interested in farming, they were interested in business and they succeeded in every corner of the state."
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
"Black American Steamboatmen On The Upper Missouri"
By Ken Robison
Published in the FORT BENTON RIVER PRESS February 15, 2006
- - - - - - - - - - - -

"On Being a Black American in Territorial Fort Benton"
By Ken Robison
July 31, 2005
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
"Soldiers, Miners, Police, Businessmen - Blacks Arrived Early"
By Ken Robison
February 5, 2007

Throughout American history, African Americans have fought and died in every war.

Great Falls' early population included black soldiers who fought for their freedom in the Civil War and younger men who served in the Indian Wars. These veterans emerged as leaders and made important contributions in the founding of Great Falls.

From the arrival of the first black resident of Great Falls in 1886, a black community began to emerge on the lower southside. Their biggest challenge was to seize opportunity while overcoming racial boundaries.

Here are profiles of several soldiers who made their mark in the face of adversity.

George Williams, first African American police officer

George Williams served as one of four police officers on the Great Falls police force in 1892 and 1893, a remarkable achievement.

Williams was born during the Civil War in 1862 into the slave society of Mobile, Ala. He joined the U.S. Army at an early age and served in the black 25th Infantry Regiment, one of the four Army black regiments, famed as the "buffalo soldiers." Sgt. Williams of Company C came to Montana Territory in 1888 when the 25th was assigned to the Fort Shaw military post.

Williams retired from the Army and became one of the earliest black residents of the small town of Great Falls. He set up a retail store, the Big B, at 713 7th Ave. S., and in November 1890, married Sallie Merchant. George and Sallie were active members of the newly formed Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Williams joined with nine other men to form a black Masonic Lodge, Sunset Lodge No. 12, and served as an officer in the new organization.

In June 1892, George Williams was appointed to the Great Falls police force by the city council. He joined a small force of just three other officers. Remarkably, Officer Williams was assigned to patrol the north side of Great Falls, an area that was not open to black residency. Despite some challenging incidents, Officer Williams served effectively on the police force for about two years. He was one of the earliest black police officers to serve in Montana.

Charles M. Meek, Civil War veteran and first black juror

Charles M. Meek (or Meeks), a soldier, miner and political leader, was one of the most dynamic black leaders in early Great Falls.

Meek was born about 1845, a slave on a plantation in Tennessee. He spent his boyhood days as a house servant for his master. When the Civil War broke out, he headed north, joined in with Union troops, and became a "handy man" for General Ulysses S. Grant. He was in Grant's service for much of the war, but later joined a black regiment and saw considerable fighting.

When Meek first joined the U.S. Army he could neither read nor write, but one of the officers in General Grant's staff became interested in him and taught him how. Before leaving Grant's service, the general offered to send him to college, but Charles didn't care to go. He married in Kansas, but his wife died and he never remarried.

About 1880, Meek and his brother, Joseph, came up the Missouri River by steamboat to Fort Benton and took part in the first mining stampede to Barker.

In 1887 Meek came to Great Falls, where he worked as a porter. In November 1888 he served as a District Court juror, the first-known black juror to serve in Montana.

Meek became active in Republican Party politics, serving as delegate to Cascade County Republican conventions. In the 1894 county convention, he gave an eloquent speech that led to the nomination of William Morgan to run for Great Falls townsite constable, the first black man to be nominated and elected to public office in Cascade County, and probably in Montana.

Meek was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an active member in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veteran's organization. In March 1891, he served a second time as a District Court juror.

After farming near Great Falls for several years, Meek left Great Falls in 1898 to join the stampede to the Klondike gold rush. Two or three years later, he moved on to mine in Idaho and Washington. He was badly injured in a mining accident, and in 1909 returned to Great Falls where he died in April 1910.

Albert W. Ray, soldier and church leader

Albert W. Ray was a pioneer and leader in the early black community in Great Falls.

He was born in Georgia and served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War and Indian Wars. He held the rank of 1st Sergeant, Company F, 25th Infantry Regiment at Fort Shaw. In June 1890, Sgt. Ray was discharged from the Army and moved to Great Falls where he built a one-story, five-room house on Seventh Avenue South.

Ray became a leader in the new Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church as one of the three charter trustees in 1891. The work of Ray, Ed Simms and William Morgan led to construction of the first black church in Great Falls at 516 5th Ave. S. Today, the Union Bethel A.M.E. Church is on the National Register of Historic Places and still has an active congregation.

Ray was a leader in black Republican political politics. By 1893 he moved on to Helena.

Roy Winburn, World War I combat vet

Roy C. Winburn, son of a soldier, became a combat veteran in World War I. He was born in Fort Buford, N.D., in 1894. His father served with the 10th Cavalry and was later assigned to Fort Assiniboine, near today's town of Havre, while Winburn was a child.
Winburn came to Great Falls in 1912 and worked for the Great Northern railroad. He worked as a baggage mailman for the railroad for about 30 years. He married Mollie Simms Monroe, daughter of Ed and Elizabeth Simms.

In October 1917 Winburn was called up for military service as part of the fourth draft, and the first black contingent from Cascade County. This black contingent of seven men departed Great Falls on Oct. 27 for training at American Lake, Washington. Roy was sent overseas and suffered combat wounds from a gas attack.

In 1919 he returned to his family in Great Falls, where they stayed. Upon his death, he was buried with military honors at the Veteran's plot at Highland Cemetery.
Posted by Bridgier (+9506) 16 years ago
But where did they all go? Was it just too cold for them in MT?
Posted by Johnnie Lockett Thomas (+399) 16 years ago

Thank you for your posting. Interestingly, I recently had quite a spirited conversation with a local resident who told me there were no Blacks in Miles City in the early days. My husband's Great-grandma Sadie was listed in the 1880 census here, along with other African- Americans. Members of the Black population are also mentioned in my book Saints and Savages.

The are are two short answers to the question of "What happened to them?"

Firstly, some of us are still here. Thank God.

Secondly, They died. There are a whole lot of our family buried in the Custer County Cemetery where I'll probably join them sooner rather than later.

More importantly, others of all the minority populations left to seek better oppportunities in a less hostil environment. My husband left when he could not join the railroad where he worked.

Finally, Many African-Americans married into the general population and 'disappeared' as "Negroes." An ancestor of the Custer scout Curly was the son of an African-American woman. She asked if I coild help her research that part of her background. In the 1900 census, Sadie Thomas is listed as white with a big W scrawled over the B.

I can only assume that your comment about the cold was an unfortunate one with historical roots in ignorance and prejudice as evidenced by statements made by a number of high ranking Army Officers in 1880, when the military wanted to eliminate the US Coloured Troops,known now as the Buffalo Soldiers. One officer wanted these brave men stationed in the "as far South as where the Yellow Fever is prevalent." Another objected to these same men being stationed in Dakota Territory as he was of the opinion that the extreme temperatures "would make them as useless as dormice."

I must say I'm extremely disappointed that anyone would be of that same frghtening mindset in the 21st century. Alas. Alas. Woe is me.

Johnnie Lockett Thomas
Posted by Bridgier (+9506) 16 years ago
Actually, I thought it might have something to do with this: http://dneiwert.blogspot....a-vii.html

As for the climate issue, well, it's an idea that's still alive and well, at least here in idaho: http://www.newwest.net/in...d_as_she_/
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
>> Hal, Thank you for your posting. . . .

Well my thanks to you Mrs. Thomas for your posts, publications, and the work you've done over the years to bring the history of Montana's African-Americans and others minority to light. You are laying down some ground breaking work that cannot help but bear fruit in the years to come.

In the eight years that I've hosted the Montana History Discussion group, this "it's too cold for them" thing has popped up nearly every time that the topic of Blacks in Montana has arisen. In the group we've been able (as you just did so well) to use the "it's too cold" thing as a springboard to further discussion.

Myself, I have trouble understanding where the "cold" thing comes from. Given that African-Americans were present in Montana from the days of Lewis & Clark forward - I can't imagine that the rigors of Montana's cold winters suddenly drove them out at the beginning of the 20th century. After speaking with some folks on the topic - I think in part the misconception comes from simple lack of knowledge on the presence and role played by Blacks in our State's history.

And I think in part the "cold" is used by some Montana of good intention as an excuse so that they will not have to look at what is probably the real explanation.

It's a convenient way of not having to confront some ugliness in our past. The "cold explanation allows us to ignore the fact the racist elements our shared past - and for some of us, ignoring that past is the easiest and most comfortable route to take. (and that's one reason why discussions such as this are valuable - it's hard enough sometimes to learn those mistakes we are aware of - it's virtually impossible to learn from mistakes we remain ignorant of)

The article that Bridgier provides the link for seems to cover the matter quite well . . . at least it seems to be in keeping with the little I know about the topic:

Myself, I've done very little research into the role of Blacks in the making of Montana . . . obviously you are light years ahead of where my understanding is in the field. The little research I've done was sparked by an item I saw in an old issue of the ENGINEERING & MINING JOURNAL (see below). My curiosity was aroused upon learning that African-American residents of Butte were (with help of investors in Harlem, New York City) attempting to compete with the Anaconda Company.

I was curious enough to set aside the project I was working and spend a few days trying to learn more about the African-American Mining Company of Butte Montana. This research led me to the several Black owned and published newspapers that were in operation in the early 1900s (see below) - and from there to some research into the session laws of the Territory and State. But before I could spend much time on the topic, I had to return to the other project (which paid money and thus paid my bills). Subsequently I managed to loose my notes from that research . . . So this is all off the top of my head from what I remember from some ten years back and what I've read since then.

Anyway, the rambling passage below was my response to the "cold" thing the last time it came up before the Montana History group. I apologize for the sloppy nature of this - my time is limited today, so I've done a lot of copy & paste and too little quality control.

As I remember, it wasn't after the turn of the 20th century that formal segregationist laws were passed in Montana at the state level. (although Jim Crow had been present in Montana at the local level for many years prior to that). From looking through the session laws, there seemed to have been a definite correlation between the arrival of Jim Crow in Montana and the homestead boom of the early 20th century.

From looking through the session laws I learned that at the very first session of the Legislative Assembly of Montana Territory a measure was introduced that would have barred non-whites from attending public schools in Montana. Given that Granville Stuart and a couple other members of those first Assemblies had mixed race children, early attempts at formally legislating school segregation failed.

Periodically throughout the remainder of the 19th century measures were introduced at the Territorial / State level to bar non-whites from attending public schools. The stumbling block to passage of these laws seemed to be (from what I could gather) the added expense that would arise from providing separate schools for non-whites.

Although I didn't get far along in my research at the county level, I did learn that at the local level, there were "unofficial" measures implemented to keep Native American children, African-American children, and children of Asian heritage from attending public schools. However these "unofficial" school segregation policies varied from county to county, district to district, school to school, and from year to year. In some instances no barriers were in place - in others, it was very unlikely that minority children ever saw the inside of a public classroom.

Beginning early on and continuing through the 19th century there were periodical attempts at the Territorial / State level to pass anti-miscegenation laws in Montana. The earliest being aimed at preventing white and Native Americans from marrying - again, the presence of "founding fathers" such as Granny Stuart in the assembly prevented the passage of such laws. Later in the 19th century there were also attempt to pass legislation preventing whites and Asians and whites and African Americans from marrying.

As I remember, it was sometime between 1905 and 1910 when the legislature finally passed anti-miscegenation legislation. This law remained on Montana's books until 1954. The only reference I could find to Montana's anti-miscegenation in case law, involved a case in which a white woman who lived Alberton attempted to collect death benefits from the railroad when her Chinese-American husband was killed in an on the job accident. The railroad successfully asserted that since Montana law did recognize the marriage, she was not entitled to collect survivors' benefits.

At the county level, it seems that Jim Crow-like ordinances and de facto segregationist laws were long in effect in Montana. One need only to read through the old newspapers to see that racism against non-white (and discrimination against many white ethnic & national groups) was a strong force in Montana's cities and towns. I'm told that a review of old police blotters and county and municipal court records shows that law enforcement and the courts practiced often acted in the spirit of Jim Crow.

Despite this, at the onset of the 20th century, it seemed from the little I Know of the topic, that Montana was home to a vibrant, if not large, African-American community. Butte, Great Falls, Billings, and Helena were all home to relatively large African-American communities. And it was possible to find African-American living in many other cities and towns in Montana, especially those along the railroads. There were (that I know of) African-American churches in Butte, Helena, and Great Falls, including the Union Bethel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church in Great Falls. Union Bethel, the first AME church constructed in the state, still stands today and, in 2003, became only the 3rd such AME west of the Mississippi to be listed on the Register.

There were three African-American newspapers published in Montana around the dawn of the 20th century:
- - THE NEW AGE, published in Butte, ca. 1902 - its masthead stated: "Published In The Interests Of The Colored People."
- - THE COLORED CITIZEN, published in Helena, ca. 1894 - its masthead stated: "Devoted To The Interests Of Colored Americans."
- - [b][i]TH
Posted by Johnnie Lockett Thomas (+399) 16 years ago

How rewarding to read such a well researched and thoughtful essay.
I am anxious ti re-read and add what I know to a rational discussion.

I am familiar with the 1872 Territorial law that kept Blacks out of the schools and where and how they were enforced. As I remember, the majority Black population was in Fort Benton. I also some of the documentation of individual children of color who were banned from Montana schools. In the 19th century, the Blacks in Miles City went to the public schools without incident, but only through elementary school (by choice)as far as I know. Although the law was off the books by the time my father-in-law turned 6 (1916?), a goodly number of the citizens of Miles City held a town meeting at which there was a cry for re-segregation. They drew up a petition, signed by more women than men. The petition was sent to the state school board, but when I tried to trace it down a few years ago, Dave Walter (the late Research Historian) could find no trace of it. Fortunately, he had a couple of classmates who were quite helpful to me in remembering those days.

My very bad memory thinks that the anti-mixed marriage laws were passed in 1905. All of the blacks who got married here during the 50 or more years of that law went to Minn. to get married. Some of those relatives still live here in Miles. The folks who were in favor of these laws used the same Biblical arguments that we hear today in the matter of same sex "marriages."

From the earliest of days all states and territories had what was referred to as "Black Laws." They were the scariest things around, and vary in each jurisdiction. Some of the worst were in Oregon.

Woodrow Wilson's administration was one of the worst for Black Americans and is well documented. The 1919 plus horrors perpetrated against Blacks was a direct reaction to returning Black veterans of the "Great War For Democracy" My father was one of those. And contrary to my most Americans believe, Black soldiers did see action on the front. There were not allowed to fight with America's White soldiers, so they fought with the French. My father was shot in the belly and gassed in the Bois Frehaut on the last day of the war. He remained in France for almost a year. Back in this country though, 1919 was a year marked by race riots by Whites against Blacks where dozens of Black soldiers, some in uniform, were lynched, burned, bombed, etc. My father was totally and permanently disabled and eventually died from the effects of war. He spent the rest of his life in a Black VA hospital with Black nurse, Black doctors, Black administration, etc. It was the 3d largest VA Hospital in the country behind Walter Reed and Los Angeles. But he couldn't vote for many many years. And when I turned 21, just out of college, I "failed" the literacy test that Whites did not have to take. (I have a copy and I love to give it to people who think it was a valid test will never forget the experience and especially the "reason" for my failure. I passed the written part of the test that had about 100 questions. I failed the last task which required me "read and interpret a portion of the Constitution to the satisfaction" of the examiner. I also remember that it was on a hot summer's day and the examiner's, tobacco chewing crony spat out of the screenless window. There was also a requirement that each of us had to be vouched for by 2 registered voters and reach register voter had a very small ( 1 or or 2 person) limit for whom they could vouch.

Black newspapers were prosecuted under the sedition laws on the ground that they were guilty of "un-American" activities by printing stories about the segregation. lynchings and injustices in America. I discovered this in 1991 when I was one of the scholars contracted by Columbia University to write about the history of Blacks in the Post Office.

The most fabulous info I found had to do with laws passed from about the second decade of the 18oo's through the end of the Civil War that forbade the hiring of "Negroes" by the Post Office. The Senate debates were eye-opening and secret.

I amone of those who lived through some of the ugliest of America from riding the segrgated trains and eating behnd the curtain in the diner,to being told my reserved seat wasn't on the train and having to wait until the conducter disappeared whereupon I'd grab my suitcases and find my rightful seat and suffering the spleen heaped upon me when the conductor discovered me,to my specially selected roommate and I being told upon my arrival at college that "Your behavior will determine if any other colored girls will ever live in the dorms to being throught out of a doctor's office because he did't treat Negroes, to not being allowed to share a dorm room with my blonde best friend (even after her parents approved). Mine wern't consulted, to being shot at when I was about 10 by the good white citizens in Tuskege who objected to the military police among th Tuskegee Airmen to the racist story told at a Montana gathering a few years ago where almost all of the 400 or 500 people in the audienced laughed their guts out - everybody except for me, the Indian scholars, a professor from Duke University and Mark Browning who was terrorized by what he was afraid my reaction would be.

Finally, "the weather was too cold" nonsense ranks right up there with so many long held myths that kept us out of so many venues. Remember the days when "Blacks can't be quarterbacks" "Whites are intelligent thinking sportsmen. Blacks are something less." "Blacks can't play baseball." "Blacks can't play tennis." "Blacks can't play golf" "Blacks can't be doctors...etc. ad ..."

My life has been a fabulous one with the sorts of challenges that most people can't imagine. How many people can boast that they were thrown out of a town? I used to tell people "we" were thrown out of Bakersfield, CA, but my husband always countered, "No, you were thrown out of town. The children and I were gracious enought to come with you."

Life is a great adventure when you love and are well loved in return, courageous enough to stand up for what you believe in and willing to wait to win the victory.

Hugs to the world.

Johnnie Lou Lockett Thomas

PS Excuse the typos, but that happens you can't type and you're engaged in passionate discourse.


[This message has been edited by Johnnie Lockett Thomas (edited 2/6/2007).]
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
>>Finally, "the weather was too cold" nonsense ranks right up there with so many long held myths that kept us out of so many venues. . . .

Yes, you are quite right there.

I've also come to the conclusion that this (and some other Montana) myths are (sometimes) embraced by people of good will, simply because it allows us to ignore (or remain) ignorant of certain darker episodes in Montana's past. For most Montanans (excepting our Native American citizens of course) our history is short and immediate. For many of us Montana's history just goes back to our grandparent's or great grandparent's day. The "too cold myth" (and others) provides with an escape hatch, so that we don't have to examine certain unpleasant truths that took place in a not so distant past.

Myself, I don't have a problem with these folks - as I said, they are people of good-will, and are almost universally open to learning that there may be alternative explanations to the myths.

I was "berated" yesterday by someone who saw my post (and lacking the courage to speak out publicly chose to email me privately) asking why I was a race-traitor . . . why I was defending Blacks (although he chose to use a different word).

These "types" I do have a problem with and should this person find the wherewithal to pose his questions in public, I'd be happy to explain my reasons for preferring to explore the truth over choosing to wallowing in fear and ignorance.

But enough of that . . . thanks for the great post Mrs. Thomas, once again you've added something to the discussion that cannot come from text books.
Posted by Bob L. (+5098) 16 years ago
Thanks Johnnie!

I'm gonna look for you BHS weekend and give you a hug (as long as you don't mind being hugged by a big drunk guy).
Posted by Johnnie Lockett Thomas (+399) 16 years ago
Bob L.

I Love hugs, but you gotta sober up first. I think I metyour Mom once when I spoke at a local church. She was delightful.

The 1872 Montana Territorial Assembly passed the law that read:

Sec. 34. The education of children of African descent shall be provided for in separate schools. Upon written application of the parents or guardians of at least ten such chidren to any board of trustees, a separate school shall be established for the education of such children.....

The same session passed a 2nd law that provided:

"Every white male inhabitant over the age of twenty-one years, who shall have oaid or be liable to pay any district tax, shall be a legal votwe at any school meeting and no other person shall be allowed to vote."

I've also collected a fairly large number of Montana newspaper stories on the racial divide. This editorial that was published in 1909 by the Laurel Outlook is one of my favorites.

"By nature, by ancestry, by temperment and environment, the Negro is wholly unfit for association with the white race, and he should not only be kept at a respectful distance, but made to know that as a member of an inferior race he must not indulge in any silly aspirations in regard to placing himself on an equality with those whom God Almighty, in his infinite wisdom, has created his superiors."

What a genius.

In my last rant I forgot to mention that my husband's grandfather and some of his family left Miles City in 1919-1921. When the Black community was threatened with being lynched in 1936, most of the "colored" people left town on boats. Grandpa Bill declared he'd been run out of town once, but he wasn't gonna be run out again. They boarded up the windows and doors and stationed one armed adult at each window for the night.

Hal, life works best if you don't get too riled up about these folks. If they knew better, they'd do better. Remember, the government has declared me a terrorist, so I ought to know.

Love to the world.

Johnnie Lou

[This message has been edited by Johnnie Lockett Thomas (edited 2/8/2007).]
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 16 years ago
>>Hal, life works best if you don't get too riled up about these folks. If they knew better, they'd do better. . . .

I don't let `em bother me . . . mostly I was hoping to goad him into coming out in public. I offered to pay for the sunblocker and shades so he could crawl out from under his rock into the light of day, but guess he's not going to take me up on it.

Thanks for another great post. In my book, you've earned that Governor's award many times over.

I thought you might find this article of interest (if you've not already read it). It's somewhat off-topic, but Chris is an old friend of mine, so I'll go ahead and give her some publicity She's currently working on a book on the same topic.

Erickson, Christine K. "'Kluxer Blues': The Klan Confronts Catholics In Butte, Montana, 1923-1929," MONTANA: THE MAGAZINE OF WESTERN HISTORY, Spring 2003.

- - - - - - - - - -

>>Remember, the government has declared me a terrorist, so I ought to know.

Since moving to Alaska I've learned that Senator Ted Stevens' wife is also a terrorist. Her name is Katherine. Apparently our security agencies are concerned that Katherine Stevens might be one in the same as Kat Stevens - the notorious English songster and convert to Islam.

It is an interesting world we live in, isn't it?
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 15 years ago
"Montana Wasn't Always So White"
By Rob Chaney
January 20, 2008

MISSOULA - The residue of Montana's black history has faded like the newspapers on which it was printed.

The Colored Citizen didn't last a year when it started publishing in Helena in 1894. The New Age made it about a year in Butte between 1902 and 1903. The Montana Plaindealer did best, coming out weekly in Helena from March 16, 1906, to Sept. 8, 1911.

Back then, the U.S. Census registered black residents in every county of Montana (there were 28 counties at the time). The Montana Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was a network that included Great Falls, Billings, Butte and Helena. It lasted from 1921 to 1978. The black-owned Hawthorne Club on West Front Street in Missoula is now an architect's office.

Between 1870 and 1930, Montana was more attractive to black people than any neighboring state. African-American Heritage Resource Project historian Patty Dean cites census reports showing that Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming all trailed Montana for most of that period. Today, those states all outrank Montana both numerically and as a percentage of population.

"Like a lot of people, they were trying to find economic stability," Dean said of black migration after the Civil War. "They went where earnings were best." . . .

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There is some information on Jim Crow in Montana mid-way through this article:
Posted by Levi Forman (+3716) 15 years ago
I haven't read this whole thread, but after living in other parts of the country, I think I should point out that most white people also think that Montana is too cold .

[This message has been edited by Levi Forman (edited 1/21/2008).]
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 14 years ago
A History Of Pride
By Martin J. Kidston
January 18, 2009

More than 75 years had passed since Clarissa Jane Powell, age 10, was taken as a slave from her parents in Virginia. Five years after arriving in Montana Territory, she married a Civil War veteran, becoming Clarissa Jane Crump, a name she would keep throughout her life.

At the age of 87, she was dead.

When the story announcing Clarissa Crump's passing broke in Montana newspapers in 1941, it recounted in four short paragraphs a little-known piece of state history, one passed down by those in the family, but otherwise forgotten on rolls of microfilm or in stacks of old newspapers.

"She was born of slave parents and was taken by her owner, Phil Evans, into Montana Territory," the story read the day Clarissa died. "It was on a Missouri river steamboat, the `Lily Martin,' that word of Abraham Lincoln's emancipation proclamation was received and the girl learned she was free."

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See also:
Posted by Steve Allison (+972) 14 years ago
Thank you for posting and bringing this thread out again. It was very enjoyable to read through again and lightened my heart to read Johnnie Thomas's voice again.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 13 years ago
African-Americans in Montana: Heritage Resources
Montana Historical Society
Posted by Tucker Bolton (+3860) 13 years ago
Hal, thanks. I never want to forget just how much I miss Johnie Thomas and what a privilege it was to have known her.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 12 years ago
Montana State University Libraries:

Montana Historical Society: African-Americans in Montana Heritage Resources Project

Buffalo Soldiers in Montana (1888-1898)

Library of Congress: African American History
Posted by Jeff Denton (+755) 12 years ago
In the seventies a house on the north side of Great Falls had a big sign in the yard identifying it as where Charley Pride used to live. I don't really know the story other than that. Wikipedia lists Helena as his home in the early sixties.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 6 years ago
One for Johnnie. I surely miss her.

There is perhaps no fuller representation or more significant example of the legacy of Montana’s African American community than can be found in the stones, bricks, and stain-glass of its historic Black Churches. In all, six African Methodist Episcopal congregations, and about a half dozen or so Black Baptist churches established permanent locations of worship in Montana between 1889 and 1950. In all likelihood, many other church bodies existed in the smaller cities and towns across the state wherever African Americans made their homes, but were without a physical building.

“African American Churches of Montana”
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Posted by Amorette F. Allison (+1908) 6 years ago
Johnnie and Robin Gerber and my Mom. All my great sources of area history.
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Posted by Jeri Dalbec (+3264) 6 years ago
Johnnie's book, "Saints and Savages" is the best ever. Great information?
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) 4 years ago
One for Johnnie.

"Early history of African-Americans in Montana"
--Ellen Baumler
Nov. 3, 2015
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Posted by Jeri Dalbec (+3264) 4 years ago
Interesting article, Hal. One thing, though, I went to school in Cut Bank in the 40's and early 50's and we did have a black man who lived and worked there. My only memories of him was seeing him and other people going into a Cafe on Main Street. Never an issue.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10304) one year ago
Black History Month – One for Johnny Lockett Thomas.

On April 10, 2012, Montana honored Sarah Bickford by inducting her into the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in the Capitol Rotunda in Helena. A former slave who became one of Montana’s most prominent businesswomen, Bickford richly deserved this honor. She was the first and only woman in Montana—and probably the nation’s only female African American—to own a utility.

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