Colored Work Department records
SCOPE AND CONTENTS OF THE COLLECTION
The records include reports on national policy concerning fundraising, personnel, and programming; these materials also include correspondence of the senior department secretary and his staff, documenting their efforts to promote the development of the YMCA movement in Black communities around the country. A collection of speeches covers many aspects of the department. Of particular note are speeches by William Hunton on the growth and prospects of the department and by Booker T. Washington on the Y's student work. Monthly reports of national secretaries (1901-1946) are one the largest series of departmental records in the collection and cover topics such as meetings attended, establishing associations and branches, fundraising, and staffing. Secretarial newsletters (1902-1929) cover similar topics. There are also reports on social conditions in various cities where the YMCA was considering expanding, and a series of correspondence and reports concerning conditions and experiences of African American soldiers during World War I.
The collection also includes correspondence, reports, newsletters, and other promotional materials from black YMCAs around the country. Local promotional materials include handbills, event programs, pamphlets, and newsletters from various associations, including Harlem, New York; Lynchburg, Virginia; and Toledo, Ohio.
A series of subject files includes material on other YMCA departments and outside organizations with which the YMCA Colored Men's Department worked. Among the best documented of these organizations is the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, a group founded by YMCA officials and church ministers to address racial tensions following the return of African American World War I veterans.
- National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America. Colored Work Department. (Organization)
Language of Materials
Use of Materials:
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HISTORY OF THE COLORED WORK DEPARTMENT
YMCA work with and by African Americans began in 1853 when Anthony Bowen established the first "Colored" (as it was referred to at the time) association in Washington D.C. As Anthony Bowen's work in the 1850s indicates, African Americans embraced the YMCA early on. In the YMCA, Black leaders saw not only a means of providing a wholesome, Christian, environment for young men, but through educational and leadership opportunities, a means for racial advancement.
Social and financial conditions for Black people made it difficult for the movement to grow very quickly. Nevertheless, by the late 1860s, the YMCA found a firm foothold in the community with associations established in New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston, S.C., and Harrisburg, Pa. In 1867, E. V. C. Eato of New York City became the first Black delegate to attend the YMCA's annual convention. There were 36 Black associations (two-thirds of which were in historically Black academic institutions) in 1890 when a national "Colored Work" Department was created under the leadership of William Hunton. Jesse Moorland and Channing Tobias later succeeded him as senior secretaries of the department.
In 1910, the Black YMCA movement was given a boost when philanthropist Julius Rosenwald offered financial help to black communities wanting to build YMCAs. Black leaders in 24 cities took advantage of the offer and constructed buildings in the 1910s and 1920s. The program suffered some financial difficulties during the depression, but the number of local associations decreased only slightly, and by 1945, the last year that African American associations were reported as a separate category, the YMCA listed a total of 84.
Although there were calls for an end to discrimination against Black people in the American YMCA movement almost from its beginnings, the effort gained more momentum in the 1920s. During World War I, the YMCA sent workers to France to provide relief to soldiers. This work was carried out on a segregated basis, with both Black men and women serving Black army units both in the U.S. and in France. Postwar concerns in the United States that returning Black soldiers would rebel against the Jim Crow system led to the YMCAs participating in a Commission on Interracial Cooperation, which operated throughout the 1920s in an attempt to ease racial tensions. But despite a growing recognition that change was inevitable, real progress was slow to come. With the rise of Hitler during the 1930s and 1940s, additional pressure was created by embarrassing comparisons between segregation in the United States and anti-Semitism in Germany. Increasingly vocal protests came from African American World War I and II veterans no longer willing to fight the Nazi regime and its theory of a superior race in Europe and remain content to live with policies supporting the same theory in their own land. The growing realization that racial discrimination was incompatible with the YMCA's Christian ideals forced a reexamination among its white leaders of the YMCA's Jim Crow policies, despite fears that desegregation would split the organization.
Segregation of YMCAs as a national policy ended in 1946 when the National Council passed a resolution calling for local associations to "work steadfastly toward the goal of eliminating all racial discriminations," dissolved the Colored Work Department and the abolished racial designations in all its publications. The YMCA continued work towards the promotion of interracial policies within the YMCA and to provide support and services to the African American community under the auspices of various commissions and committees.
5.2 Linear Feet (12 boxes and 1 oversize folder)
Reports, correspondence, publications, and other records of the Colored Work Department and predecessor programs, established as avenues for African American participation in and service to the YMCA.
ORGANIZATION OF THE RECORDS
These documents are organized into the following sections:
- Background Information
- Correspondence, Reports, and Minutes
- Speeches, Articles, Pamphlets, and Newsletters
- Financial Records
- Local Black Association Records
- Subject Files
Note on Language in the Collection and this Guide
Please note that some of the descriptive language found in this collection guide reflects and re-uses the words and ideas of the people and organizations that created the material. Historical records represent the opinions and actions of their creators and the society in which they were produced. This historical language was retained in cases where we believe it provides important context about the materials, is a Library of Congress Subject Heading, or is the official title of an item, organization, or event. As such, please be aware that this material and the guide describing it contains racial and other language and/or imagery that is outdated, offensive and/or harmful.
Catalog Record ID number: 3744036
Processed by: David Carmichael; Jessica Dagen and Lara Friedman~Shedlov, 2003.
Material was substantially rearranged and reboxed in 2003. Post-1946 records which were formerly interfiled with Colored Work Department records have been separately cataloged as Interracial Program records.
- African American soldiers -- France. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- African Americans -- Segregation. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- African Americans -- Social conditions Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Church work with students. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
- Hunton, William Alphaeus, 1863-1916
- Julius Rosenwald Fund.
- Moorland, Jesse Edward, 1863-1940
- National Conference on the Christian Way of Life (U.S.). Interracial Commission.
- Race relations -- Religious aspects Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932
- Social work with African Americans. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Tobias, Channing Heggie, 1882-1961
- United Service Organizations (U.S.)
- Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915
- World War, 1914-1918 -- African Americans. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1914-1918 -- War work -- Young Men's Christian associations Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Young Men's Christian Association (Lynchburg, Va.).
- Young Men's Christian associations -- Administration Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Young Men's Christian associations -- Finance Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Youthbuilders, Inc. (New York, N.Y.).
- YMCA COLORED WORK DEPARTMENT:
- An Inventory of Its Records
- Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- 2021-11-24: Language was changed to reflect more current and respectful terminology and conventions, e.g. capitalization of the word "Black" in reference to people, and eliminating the use of the term "Black" as a noun referring to people. Small edits were also made to the historical background note to adjust the tone and reduce aggrandizing language. A content warning note was also added regarding language that was retained.