afrolumensproject
  central pennsylvania african american history for everyone
              ten years on the web 1997 - 2007

 

A. Dennee Bibb
community hero

aCentury
ofChange

the 20th Century

 

This brief biographical sketch is meant to shed light on one of Harrisburg's hitherto lesser-known community heroes.  Alexander Dennee Bibb is the subject of a proposed Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical marker, at the suggestion of Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson, Jr. and Lincoln University trustee Nathan Waters, Esq.  Calobe Jackson, Jr. supplied the biographical information and the photograph.

Born in Harrisburg in 1887, Alexander Dennee Bibb grew up in a growing and thriving African American community during America's Gilded Age. The sense of prosperity and promise of this time offered many opportunities to all American citizens, including its politically and economically marginalized African American population. One of the most fervent promises, and the one that would be the most enduring, was a dedication to education as a means to self improvement.  A. Dennee Bibb attended local schools, which, under the watchful eye of such pioneering African American educators as William Howard Day and John Powell Scott, began offering opportunities to African American students on par with those offered to white students.

Graduating from Central High School in 1907, Bibb was encouraged to continue his education on a higher level.  His family boasted of many local community leaders, including his maternal grandfather William Dennee, a well-known barber whose influence led to his appointment as the first African American tax collector in Harrisburg's old Eighth Ward.  Bibb's family was related to the Marshall and Layton families; his aunt married the Rev. William Marshall, a well-known local school teacher and pastor of Harris A.M.E. Zion church.  It is no wonder then, with this rich mix of heritage and family tradition, that Bibb chose Lincoln University, which was known "to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences to male youths of African descent,"  to continue his education.

It was while Bibb was a student at Lincoln that he was inspired, no doubt by his long family history of service to the community, that he wrote the college's alma mater.  Bibb graduated in 1913, leaving the school, but his composition remains as an enduring legacy for all Lincoln University students and alumni.  Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson, Jr., notes, "Learning the words of this Alma Mater has been a tradition for students of Lincoln University. The song is sung at graduations, athletic events and campus affairs. Alumni members often mention 'Dear Old Orange And Blue,' in their correspondence. Students from around the world and of all nationalities recognize the words and recall their golden days at the college."

After graduation from Lincoln, A. Dennee Bibb returned to Harrisburg where he was appointed to the city police force.  Political and cultural clashes overseas, however, were causing a chain of events that not only threatened European stability, but would eventually drag America from her post-golden-age revelry into the storm of a world war.  Following the lead of hundreds of thousands of American young men, including tens of thousands of African American men, Bibb entered the army in 1917 as America prepared to come to the aid of her European allies.  Although about 350,000 African American males would serve in segregated units during the war, most were part of labor and support battalions, and only a few thousand actually saw combat.  Bibb was one of these men.

Enlisting in the 351st Field Artillery unit, an all African American regiment, Bibb saw action in France in 1918.  The 351st Field Artillery was part of the 92nd Infantry Division, which was organized November 29, 1917, its enlisted ranks composed entirely from the first African American enlistees.  Although the African American volunteers were placed in segregated units, the War Department had not made arrangements to place the entire division in a separate camp.  As a result, the division was split up among seven camps across the country for training and organization prior to deployment.  Bibb found himself, with the other members of his artillery unit, in Camp Meade, Annapolis Junction, Maryland.

Alma Mater

Dear Lincoln, Dear Lincoln
Thy Sons will e're be true!
The golden hours we've spent beneath
The dear old Orange and Blue

Will live for e're in memory,
As guiding starts through life;
For thee our Alma Mater dear,
We'll rise in our might.

For we love every inch of thy sacred soil
Every tree on thy campus green:
And for thee with our might
We will ever toil
That thou mightest be supreme.

We'll raise thy standard to the sky
Midst glory and honor to fly;
And constant and true.
We will live for thee anew
Our Dear Orange and Blue
Hail! Hail! Lincoln!

A. Dennee Bibb, '13

source: Lincoln U. Class Reunion Site  

Image from American Negro in the World War by Emmett J. Scott.The photograph at left is from Emmet J. Scott's American Negro in the World War (1919).  The original caption was "The Salvation Army Draws No Color Line. Soldiers of the 351st Field Artillery are receiving candy from Salvation Army lassies on their return to New York." (Chapter VII, photo section between pages 96 and 97)

The War Department used only better educated men for artillery regiments.  Emmett J. Scott, in his book American Negro in the World War, wrote:

     It was doubted whether or not an artillery brigade made up of Negro soldiers could be developed and sufficiently trained in the technique of artillery to make an effective fighting artillery unit. Men were needed for this branch of the service who were educated and who could be depended upon to know fractions and be able to read scales, deflections, and other technical details. In the ordinary run of the enlistment, the draft did not furnish enough men qualified along these lines to build up the artillery regiments, and it therefore became necessary for the officers of the artillery brigade to make special canvasses to secure a sufficient number of qualified men. In this work, voluntary enlistments were called for. In the course of time enough men were enlisted to make up the Artillery Brigade. Tuskegee Institute furnished a group of students. Baltimore, Pittsburg and other cities furnished men from the high schools and other institutions. Through this special canvass the great bulk of the artillery troops was secured.

The artillerymen reached France in June 1918 and went through an additional training period lasting into early August in their base at Montmorrillon.  They eventually supported the division through the final assaults on German sectors at the end of the war.  Though it distinguished itself in the vicious trench warfare, the division suffered heavy casualties, including over 600 victims of the feared mustard gas.  A. Dennee Bibb was one of these casualties.  Although he survived the attack and the war, the effects of being wounded by the gas stayed with him the rest of his life.

Following the war, Bibb resumed his job as a policeman in Harrisburg.  It was not long, however, before his desire for more education led him to enroll at Dickinson Law School.  His experience with law enforcement, coupled with his family's deep respect for education--an education that had already allowed him to serve his country as an efficient artilleryman--seemed to be leading him to a law career.  This dream was not to be realized, though.  The lingering effects of the gas attack contributed to his ill health, and his studies were seriously affected.  Bibb was forced to drop his study of the law, but he retained his interest in, and dedication to, his community.  Active in the Buffalo Post 148, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bibb shows up in a group photograph of post members, assembled outside of the building, proudly wearing his original artilleryman's uniform.  He would later assume command of that post, until his death on May 3, 1934.  He also served as an enumerator for the 1930 census, and was so well respected that he was elected committeeman in the city's Seventh Ward posthumously.

Sources: 

  • Correspondence, Calobe Jackson, Jr. to Afrolumens, December 19, 20, 21, 29, 2003.
  • Barton, Michael and Jessica Dorman.  Harrisburg's Old Eighth Ward (Charleston, SC, Arcadia Publishing, 2002).
  • Boyd's Harrisburg and Steelton Directory, 1887.
  • Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton, 1919.
  • Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton, 1930.
  • Scott, Emmet J.  Scott's Official History of The American Negro in the World War (1919).
Buffalo Post 148, 1930.  Photo courtesy of Calobe Jackson, Jr. Click for a larger image.This photograph, dated 1930, shows the members of VFW Buffalo Post 148, gathered for a group portrait outside of the old post headquarters.  Named in honor of the famed Buffalo Soldiers, who saw service in the West following the Civil War, the post was located at 664 Boas Street and was commanded by George Richards at the time of this photograph.  Please click the thumbnail for a larger image.

A. Dennee Bibb is standing at the far right, wearing his WWI uniform with original issue leggings.  When Bibb died, in 1934, he was commander of Buffalo Post 148.

Calobe Jackson notes about this picture, "Dennee Bibb and Thomas Beckwith were both in the 351st F. A. in WW1. Barbara [Barksdale] wrote the great article about Beckwith and Legion Post 479. Beckwith may also have been a member of VFW Post 148, and may be on the 1930 picture. Speaking of the picture, Robert Williams, son of William Williams and brother of Clarence Williams is on the picture. Robert served in the 10th Calvary and played baseball with the Harrisburg Giants under Colonel Strothers."

Afrolumens Home Page | Slavery | To Seek Freedom | Rising Free | Century of Change

Original material on this page copyright 2003 Afrolumens
The url of this page is http://www.afrolumens.org/century_of_change/bibb01.html
Contact the editor

This page was updated December 30, 2003.