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Trennor Thomas Beckwith
veteran post adjutant
by Barbara B. Barksdale

aCentury
ofChange 

the 20th Century

 

This biographical sketch was researched and written by Barbara B. Barksdale, president of the Friends of Midland Cemetery organization.  The tremendous work of that organization in preserving not only the historic Midland Cemetery in Swatara Township, but in uncovering the vibrant history of Steelton's African American community, is featured on other pages on this site.  One of their recent projects involved rescuing and preserving membership records of Steelton's first African American American Legion post, the Andrew Askins Post 479.  The records--hundreds of membership cards dating from 1927-1935--were saved from an abandoned house and transcribed by volunteers.  Those cards, which were almost lost to historians, told a story of Steelton's African American involvement in the "Great War" and yielded a snapshot of the lives of those veterans in the two decades following the war in this steel town.  This column was first published in the Middletown Press and Journal, November 5, 2003, and Ms. Barksdale has kindly given her permission for its republication here.

   Some months ago, I wrote a story about the veterans of the American Legion “Andrew Askins,” Post 479. As a continuation of that story, I wanted to introduce you to a very special man, Trennor Thomas Beckwith, a longtime resident of Steelton. Trennor Thomas Beckwith was born Aug. 27, 1893 to Charles W. and Mary L. Beckwith. Most of his life, his family resided in the 2-1/2 story wooden frame house located at 162 Ridge St. in Steelton. Trennor attended the Hygienic School located on Hygienic Hill at Bailey and Adams Streets. With an aptitude for study, he mastered the Steelton School District curriculum graduating in 1912 in a class of five girls and five boys. With the help of Prof. James Howard, an educator who could see the academic talent of Trennor, it impressed upon him and the other students the rewards of learning. Professor Howard, being an African-American as well, knew the importance of a sound education. Trennor and the other students probably would credit the professor for being a strong mentor in their lives.

What Trennor did prior to the war is unclear. He was 19 when he graduated from high school and it was several years before America became part of the war (1917-1918). However, I surmise that he, like so many other men, probably went to work in the Bethlehem Steel Company. By the age of 25 he enlisted into the United States Army. On May 28, 1918 he became a member of the 351st field artillery unit during World War I and according to his headstone became a corporal. His membership post card shows that he was honorably discharged on Mar. 6, 1919. It is noted that Trennor became the post adjutant at its conception around 1927 until the mid-1930s. The post was located on the street that he lived on making it convenient for him to be available.Photograph from Scott's American Negro in the World War.

The photograph at left is from Emmett J. Scott's American Negro in the World War (1919).  The original caption is "Part of Squadron 'A,' 351st Field Artillery, colored troops on the Transport Louisville.  These men are mostly from Pennsylvania."  This photograph is from chapter III, betwen pages 64 and 65.

 Trennor T. Beckwith could easily be one of these men facing the camera.

With the position of adjutant came a large amount of responsibility and respect. Reviewing the numerous cards that contained his signature shows that he made an effort to encourage others to join the post and share in the rewards of being an American war veteran. One of his duties was to inform the honorably discharged men of the benefits that were available to war veterans. Of course, a membership meant you could attend the many events, dances, meals and social gatherings. This gathering of men and women helped to relieve the daily stress of everyday life and was something to look forward to after a week of hard work. In the early part of the 20th century, based on the history of this country, I can only envision the hardships that so many people had to endure, but with the help of the African-American Andrew Askins Post 479 it gave a relief that only its walls could give. As they say, “If these walls could talk.” Trennor made sure that the veteran men of color had a place to call their own.

Trennor had a long working history in and out of the post, some of which was documented on his cards. Information obtained from his membership cards show that he worked as a steelworker in 1929 for the Bethlehem Steel Company. In 1930, he was listed as a clerk. I also found him listed as a census taker in the Borough of Steelton for the 1930 census. In 1933 he became a waiter for several years and he is listed as a bellman during that same time period. By 1934 he was a messenger and later in that same year became a clerk again. From all appearances it seems that Trennor was a very busy man. Judging from his handwriting he took pride in his work and what he stood for. In my archives of papers, I found his name handwritten on some of the papers. You could feel his determination as you viewed the letters that formed the sentences. The flow of the ink from the pen being heavier in some places and lighter in others could be detected as he carefully wrote out his information, bringing forth his intensity at communicating the task at hand. This evidently led to his involvement in the community and political activities.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jacob Franklin, another longtime resident of the area, and asked if he knew of Trennor Beckwith. To my delight he was able to recollect that Trennor was a brilliant man with a strong ability to speak publicly. Franklin told me that Trennor would set up the program for Memorial Day, May 30, and would recite the Gettysburg Address every year at Midland Cemetery in Swatara Twp. I found this information in my papers also which adds to his story. He was described as a handsome person of caramel colored skin, weighing about 200 pounds, 5 feet 7 inches with a full head of soft curly hair. It was Clayton Carelock, a former resident of Steelton and one of my board members, which informed me that Trennor worked as a janitor in the Dauphin County Courthouse. He, like so many of his educated brothers, could not get a job that was above the level of laborer. Regardless of his situation, he kept a pleasing personality and was a great role model who touched many lives.

His life, his story of the post and community activities, will not be forgotten. He will live on in the memory of the Midland files. Trennor never married and I could not locate any information that he fathered any children. He died July 27, 1957 and was buried in the historic Midland Cemetery in Swatara Twp. next to his parents.

For more information on Trennor or any resident of the Midland Cemetery please contact the Friends of Midland at 717-939-0242 or e-mail Mscmtyldy@aol.com.  For research information, view our site at http://www.afrolumens.org/rising_free/friends.html

Related articles:
American Legion Andrew Askins Post 479, Transcription of Membership Cards
Biography of Alexander Dennee Bibb, another veteran of the 351st Field Artillery
The Hygienic School in Steelton
Midland Cemetery and World War Veterans buried at Midland

 

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Original material on this page copyright 2003 Afrolumens
"Trennor Thomas Beckwith, Veteran Post Adjutant" copyright 2003 by Barbara B. Barksdale
 and the Friends of Midland Cemetery.  Used by permission.
The url of this page is http://www.afrolumens.org/century_of_change/beckw01.html
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This page was updated December 30, 2003.