African-American history



A new addition to the many places that save bits and pieces of history in our area, is the Doleman Black Heritage Museum, Hagerstown, Md.  (At the time of this writing the collection of pieces from the pre-Civil War era is located in a private home after some time spent on public view in Hagerstown, while funds are needed to underwrite a permanent home.   Funds are being   sought from the Commission on African American History and Culture.)   Those bits and pieces of history center on Washington County but, on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line there is a great deal of black history that could be included in the topic.   Some of that history has been told in the space before, but there is more

Many people have heard of the Buffalo Soldiers. The name was given originally to the 10th Cavalry by Cheyenne warriors out of respect for their fierce fighting in 1867.   In the late 1800s and early 1900s these units were consistently assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts to subdue Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, commancheros, rustlers and hostile Native Americans, and to explore and map the Southwest.   They also strung telegraph lines and established frontier outposts.   They served in Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish American War.

African Americans have served it the U.S. Army since the Revolutionary War, segregated in all black units until the Korean War, as directed by President Harry S. Truman.   The men served their country in the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments.   Created by an Act of Congress in 1866, these units represented the first African-American professional soldiers in a peace time army.

There was the Lyon Post 31 of the Grand Army of the Republic, Civil War veterans of the Hagerstown, Md., area.    Posts were segregated and, with the help of the white GAR post in Hagerstown, this service organization was formed.

In December 1898, the Sunday School of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greencastle (History's Echoes, Feb. 15, 2006) would celebrate Christmastide.   There was music, recitations and dialogues appropriate to the occasion.   Gifts were distributed to the members of the school.

In June of the next year, there would be an entertainment in the Town Hall on East Baltimore Street, to benefit the AME Church.   There would be specialties between each act by the 'Silver Wreath Club' of Hagerstown.   A grand march would close the entertainment.   The Greencastle Brass Band would furnish music for the occasion.   Admission charged was 10 and 15 cents.

The colored band of Greencastle (as it was called in those times) under the direction of James Miller, which was organized just a short time before, would appear on the streets for the first time on a Saturday evening that same month, and treat citizens to some good music.   'The boys showed determination to stick it out until they had attained a degree of first class musicians,' according to the paper at the time.   'The whole community was delighted in their success so far. '

The colored lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Greencastle, would celebrate their anniversary with a trip to Waynesboro.   George Lewis (History's Echoes, 'Notes on Black History' Feb. 1, 8 and 15, 2012), one of the prominent members of the IOOF, and several others, were there to arrange for the program that was planned for August.

The Willing Workers of Greencastle gave an entertainment composed of speaking, singing and tableaux for the benefit of the AME Church.   Everyone was invited to attend.   Admission was 5 and 10 cents.

The fourth quarterly meeting of the AME was observed on an August Sunday in 1901, with special services.   The pastor, the Rev. E.H. Norris, was very ably assisted by the Revs. William Grant, Fairfax Branson and T.F. Harris, the noted evangelist.   Visitors were present from Waynesboro and Hagerstown.

Walter Washington Smith (History's Echoes, 'Walter W. Smith',   Feb. 7, 2007) of Pittsburgh, one of the old Greencastle boys, was visiting his father, Willoughby Smith, and his brother James that month of September.   Mr. Smith was employed as an engineer in one of the leading hotels in Pittsburgh.  (Some of this artist's paintings can be seen as part of the collection at Allison-Antrim Museum.)

A 'Gold' cakewalk would be held in the Town Hall, under the auspices of the AME Church, with Mrs. J.S. Hemsley, wife of the pastor, as hostess.   Music for the occasion would be furnished by the Mosely Band of Hagerstown, which would precede the program with a street parade after their arrival on the 4:14 train.   In addition to the cake walk for a handsome prize cake, all the delicacies of the season would be served by a committee of the ladies.   The walk and cake would be conducted by George W. Lewis, and the 'General Supervisors' of the evening's entertainment would be Messrs. R.P. Lewis and Yancie Davenport.

An immense oak tree on the Ezra Shoemaker farm, near Guilford Springs in Franklin County, was cut down in June 1904.   Tradition told that under this tree the last public sale of slaves was held in Pennsylvania.   The tree measured 4 1/2 feet in diameter and was believed to have been over 200 years old.   Under this tree in 1828, Colonel Young sold two slaves; Samuel Grove was the auctioneer.

The Orpheus Band, a musical group of colored young men, under the direction of George Lewis, gave a concert on the Public Square on a Monday evening in June 1915.   The crowd was very pleased with the selections played.   The name for the group was taken from Greek mythology.   It stands for the son of a Muse whose singing to the lyre could charm beasts and even rocks and trees.

The band held a fair and festival in the Lininger building on the corner of   West Franklin and Jefferson streets several evenings in January 1916.   Many attended the events and the concerts given by the group on the Public Square.

The next year the band, assisted by a Chambersburg organization, would give an entertainment in the Gem Theater.   The audience filled almost every seat in the East Baltimore Street theater.   The band would also be part of the final program of Old Home Week.   Touching farewell serenades were presented that lasted into the wee hours of morning.