In the spring of 1919, a decade after the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) originally the National Negro Committee, a group of men and women gathered in West Chester, Pennsylvania for the purpose of establishing a local branch. Just as with the bi-racial activists who gathered l0 years earlier in New York City to form the national organization, the like-minded individuals who met in West Chester sought to make whites aware of the need for racial equality.
DAILY LOCAL NEWS:
According to an article in the Daily Local News of April 5, 1919, a total of 88 people signed their names to the petition and the following officers were elected: Rev. C. C. Dunlap (President, pastor of Bethel AME), John Reed (VP), Marshall Cain (recording secretary), C. H. Wilson (corresponding secretary), and Cyrus Williams, (treasurer). At its inception, the national organization launched a program of speech making, lobbying, and publicizing the issue of racial discrimination and inequality in housing, education, employment, voting, and transportation. With the start of the West Chester Branch coming in 1919 at the end of World War I, one of the local organization's first priorities was to form a committee to interview local political leaders and ask that returning veterans "be remembered when patronage is to be distributed."
Daily Local News. A program of "selective patronage" was announced by Robert T. Butler, head of the WC NAACP, and Dr. W. T. N. Johnson, head of the WC Human Relations Council. Shoppers will be encouraged to avoid businesses that do not engage in fair hiring practices. lt was modeled after a similar program that started in Coatesville last winter.
During its second year, Branch officers were Joseph R. Fugett, John Reed and Mrs. Harry Edwards. Cyrus Williams continued to serve as treasurer. Cornell. University graduate, Mr. Fugett was a respected teacher and principal in the West Chester area for many years. He served as the first principal of the original Gay Street School, which was designated the "Black" school for the District. The Gay Street Elementary School was renamed the Joseph R. Fugett School upon his retirement to honor his many years of dedicated service. The school closed in the 1980's and the honorary name switched to what was then East Junior High School and is now the present day J.R. Fugett Middle School.
ln his book, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen, author Jervis Anderson, offers a glimpse into the early days of the West Chester Branch when he writes of Julia Davis Rustin, grandmother of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Mrs. Rustin often opened her West Chester home to visiting leaders from the national NAACP. Dignitaries included James Weldon Johnson and intellectual leader Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who was then editor of the NAACP magazine, "Crisis". Mrs. Rustin was active in local African American organizations, such as the West Chester Community Center Garden Club, Summer Bible School Day Nursery and Nurses Association. According to an article in the program booklet printed for the Henderson High School Black Student Union Banquet of 1999, re-organization of the NAACP West Chester Branch took place in October, 1942. At that time, a meeting was held at the West Chester Community Center (now the Charles A. Melton Arts & Education Center) and the following officers were elected: Rev. A. E. Mann, president; William Johnson, vice president; Maria L. Brock, secretary; Ethel Y. Closson, assistant secretary; and Catherine Waddelton, treasurer.
Records show that an NAACP dance was held at the Center on April 26, 1943. Further evidence of branch activities in the 1940s is found in a 1948 letter to James A. Norris, President of NAACP West Chester Branch, from J. Dewees Mosteller, General Chairman of the West Chester Civic Association's Community Chest Campaign for 1948 Funds, asking for a repeat of the NAACP's gift of October 8,1947.
THE CHAPTER REORGANIZATION:
The Chapter underwent a reorganization in the mid 1950s. A copy of a May 9, 1955 charter for a West Chester, Pennsylvania, Branch can be found in the records of the Chester County Historical Society. Another document indicates the branch had two members in 1958 and 148 members in 1959. The Branch began the turbulent 1960s with John L. Melton, Jr. at the helm as indicated by documents found in the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) clippings file, "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. " Correspondence from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of State to Mr. Melton includes a renewal letter and Certificate of Registration under the Solicitation Act dated September 13, 1961.
Additional items found in the CCHS files illustrate what was happening in West Chester during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.