Why did the Carpentry Club close?
on August 31, 2006
In looking through a pamphlet about the Starr Centre at HSP, I found an essay about a Carpentry Club held from 1890-1895. The Starr Centre was a community service organization that began with Philadelphia’s first Progressive Working Colored Men’s Club. The Starr Centre mostly served the African American population and was located in the Seventh Ward. The Carpentry Club was for boys, and there was a small fee for each lesson, with the view of making the boys “self-respecting.” The lessons were open to black and white boys, but there were certain nights reserved only for African Americans. The boys helped build parts of Stuart Memorial Church, such as a library desk, cellar steps, benches in the kitchen, etc. They each earned 5 cents an hour for the work, and made about $61 total. Instructor A. Whitehead’s notes on the boys:
G.C.S sent home for misconduct and laziness on the 28th of February. Reported on the third of March, and has been very steady since.
W.M. is doing remarkably well, is very steady and attentive, and has the makings of a good mechanic.
W.J. has also made a marked improvement during the week; has been both steady and attentive.
A.F. and J.A. broke a light of glass by throwing sticks at one another. Would advise twenty cents apiece be deducted from their wages.
W.L., W.J., W.M., F.H.—Fined five cents each for driving screws in bench and tehn laughing when asked who did it.
W.M. is improving very rapidly and is very attentive.
F.H. is working but not able to do much on account of being a cripple.
After the church work was over “all the boys came around inquiring when they are going to work again.”
The essay concludes with this:
“In the report of 1894, it states that ‘heretofore the classes in the shop have been composed entirely of colored boys.’ White boys were also admitted this year. The shop discontinued on June 21, 1895.”
This is an interesting statement for the author to make, and I wonder how it would be read in 1900. I took it as a criticism of racism in the executive committee, and it reminds me of newspaper article I read in a book called African American History in the Press, 1851-1899. The article was from the Atlanta Constitution, and it was called “The Body in the Tree” (May 1, 1891). In it, the author writes of a man found dead,
“lodged in the forks of a tree, where it was supposed to have been left by the high waters of January last [three months ago]. The wonder is that a body, and especially a human body, could remain in an exposed position to sun, to rain and to the general elements, without corroding, or putrefaction. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was: ‘We, the jury, empaneled to hold an inquest over the dead body of a colored man (name unknown), find to the best of our knowledge and belief, the said person came to his death by accidental drowning…The verdict of the coroner’s jury, the statement of Mr. Gause himself, the facts, circumstances and surroundings—all show that this is a most extraordinary case. There are parties who think that there is some mystery connected with the finding of the body, and the circumstances certainly do partake of the mysterious. The body could not have remained in the tree for so long a time without decaying. But it was certainly found in the forks of the tree. How did it get there?”
In both of these instances, the Carpentry Club, and the body in the tree “mystery,” there seems to be a subtle protest against racism. I imagine these articles would have been read in much the same way as I have, so is this a way for the authors to protect themselves while exposing racial injustice?