Memorial Day Celebrations
From the Past:
following article was made possible by the Friends of Midland
organization, which contributed photographs, information and primary
research materials from their archives. Originally formed to rescue
and rehabilitate the historic Midland Cemetery, the Friends of Midland
also have an interest in local African American history, including the
Hygienic School and Steelton's African American churches, community
groups, daily life and organizations. They are very interested in hearing from former
students of the Hygienic School, former residents, and anyone interested
in Steelton's African American history, and can be contacted at the following address:
Memorial Days Past
The photograph above, depicting
a gathering of local dignitaries on a Memorial Day past, was sent by Mr. Edwin Dornell of State College,
who estimated that it was taken in the mid-1940's. 1
American community of Steelton has a long and vigorous history of honoring
our nation's fallen heroes on Memorial Day, with traditions dating back to
the nineteenth century. Parades and ceremonies were big events, and
included participants from most of the local schools, churches and social
organizations. A description of one such event that began on Adams
Street and ended at Midland Cemetery was published in the
local newspapers in 1900:
Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson, Jr. pointed out "this description of the 1900 Memorial Day exercises tops them all. W. Justin Carter and James Howard spoke. [James] Auter was the son-in-law of Jane Chester. Other notables were there. The Steelton Cornet Band was in existence for many years." He related some of the practices to very early observances documented in Harrisburg: “The custom of dressing marching children in colors of the flag is mentioned as far back as the 1865 Harrisburg USCT parade." He added “Peter S. Blackwell and W. Justin Carter spoke in 1899, but a full description of the exercises was not reported by newspapers.” 2
Parades and speeches continued to be popular
through the twentieth century. Edwin Dornell recalls his own
participation, one Memorial Day, on which there were multiple parades:
A Remarkable Gathering of Leaders
When Mr. Dornell submitted the photograph, he identified some of the persons posed for the group portrait, but could not identify all of them, noting "I am sure there are those involved with the Afrolumens Project who will be able to shed some light on the unidentified persons depicted in the photograph." True to this prediction, Calobe Jackson, Jr. saw the photograph used in the Midland Cemetery Memorial Day 2006 program and wrote to us with identities of all the leaders in the image:
"Front row: W. Justin Carter, Esq; Dr. Charles Hoyt Crampton, MD; Mrs.
Maude B. Coleman; Rev. Dr. Vernon James.
"The picture was probably taken in 1946. W Justin Carter died in March 1947. Maude Coleman died in 1953 and Dr. Crampton in 1955.
"Coleman and Collier seem to be wearing WW1 uniforms. Maude Coleman was commended by Gen. Cornelius Vanderbilt of Camp Lewis, Washington, for her services during WW1. Crampton and Coleman are graduates of the Harrisburg School District. Maude Coleman founded the Phyllis Wheatley Colored YWCA in 1920 at Harrisburg." 4
The significance of this photograph, then, goes beyond capturing a moment during a local Memorial Day observations. It shows a group portrait of the most important African American leaders in the Harrisburg area at the time. W. Justin Carter, at left, was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, aligning himself with W.E.B. DuBois to actively fight for African American rights. Under Pennsylvania Governor George Earle, Carter rewrote Pennsylvania's Workmen's Compensation Act to give better protection to the state's workforce. He also worked closely with Maude B. Coleman, third from left, in the 1920's to enact anti-lynch legislation in Pennsylvania, as part of a nationwide campaign by Mrs. Mosell Griffin. 5
Calobe Jackson pointed out Maude Coleman's World War I service, but he also provided a link to details about her work in Harrisburg as a lobbyist for the national campaign to pass the anti-lynch Dyer bill. Although the Dyer bill was never passed by Congress, Coleman's work in the state capital was successful, as Pennsylvania passed anti-lynch legislation in the early 1920's. W. Justin Carter was one of the attorneys who worked with her in the fight. The leader of the national campaign, Mrs. M. Mossell Griffin, called Maude Coleman a "live wire," noting she "was with me in the thickest of the fight at Harrisburg." 6
Doctor Charles Hoyt Crampton was raised and educated in the Harrisburg School system and Howard University. His influence in the Harrisburg area was huge, due to his large practice. A 1910 biography noted his "unlimited acquaintance throughout the city." Later he became athletic trainer at John Harris and William Penn high schools, extending his influence to generations of city youths. 7 Another famous educator, Doctor Vernon L. James, is shown on the extreme right of the front row. Dr. James was associated with the Hygienic School in Steelton for many years. Highly respected by the community and particularly by his students, James was one of the founders of the Douglass Association, an alumni association for Black Steelton High School graduates, who were barred by racism from joining the whites-only Steelton High Alumni Association. The Douglass Association was active in the community and vigorously supported education for African Americans. 8
Rounding out the photograph are two important community religious leaders, Rev. Brown of the Steelton Mt. Zion Church, and Rev. E. L. Green of the First Baptist Church in Steelton. A longtime leader, Rev. Green and his wife were honored at a special anniversary celebration at their church (see the photograph at right.
► Front, seated left to right: Rev. J. B. Williams, Second Baptist Church, Harrisburg, Mrs. E. L. Green, Rev. E. L. Green, Rev. Toland of St. Paul Baptist Church on 17th Street in Harrisburg.
In the rear, center, is Deacon Rowland, his daughter Ruth Reed. The other persons remained unidentified.
Finally, the respected physician, Doctor Collier, is at the left in the World War I uniform. Practicing in both Steelton and Harrisburg, Dr. Collier was another well-known and influential member of the community. Clayton Carelock, of the Friends of Midland, recalled that at one time, Dr. Collier maintained an office in the Carelock family home at 320 Ridge Street. He believes this was in the 1930's. 9
1. Correspondence, Ed Dornell to Friends of Midland Cemetery,
10 March 2006.
Other Steelton Articles:
material on this page copyright 2006 Afrolumens Project
The url of this page is http://www.afrolumens.org/century_of_change/memorial.html
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This page was updated July 11, 2006.