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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Booker T. Washington Progressive Club


One of the most active community-based organizations in Lake County was the African-American led Booker T. Washington Progressive Club of Zion (1936 - 1982).

The club was founded by retired railroad porter, Richard Henry Williamson (1865 - 1953), who came to Zion in 1902 to join John Alexander Dowie's church. Dowie's strongly enforced policy against racism attracted African-Americans to join his church and settle in Zion.

Club brochure for 1939-1940 LCDM 94.26 (above and below)

The Booker T. Washington Club's purpose, as stated in its constitution was to "bring together at frequent intervals those who are interested in promoting the cause of good citizenship, better civic relations and any topic that may improve local relationships." Membership was open to all, not only African-Americans. People from Kenosha, Zion, Waukegan and neighboring communities joined.

Club members during one of their broadcasts on WKRS Radio in Waukegan, circa 1955. At left is Naomi Williamson Marshall (1895-1968), the daughter of the club's founder, and standing behind her is Samuel Payne. LCDM 94.26.

The club's civic contributions included sending care packages to service men and women during World War II, making contributions to the Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi, raising money to build the Pierce Campus for Zion High School, raising money to maintain the Faith Sunshine Nursery in Waukegan, and sending clothing for the students of the Tuskegee Institute, an African-American college in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington.

In this rare color photograph of club members, the ladies are in costume for a play production, circa 1960. LCDM 94.26

Labor Day parade float, Zion, circa 1955. LCDM 94.26

The club was instrumental in bringing well known African-American artists to the community to perform, including the popular tenor, Pruth McFarlin, and Booker T. Washington's son, who spoke at a club ceremony.

The club was most active through the 1960s after which membership began to decline. In 1982, the club dissolved, selling its clubhouse at 2103 Gabriel in Zion. Today, the building is used as a gathering place for Islamic worshippers.

The photos and brochures used in this post are from the club's scrapbook album, which was donated to the museum in 1994.

1 comment:

Cat said...

Thank you so much for covering the Booker T. Washington Progressive Club in your blog. My father, William Meehan (Citizenship Committee Chair on the document in this blog and later President), was a member of the Club for years and I remember attending banquets in the 1950’s. The individual members and the Club as a whole stood for something, and in doing so they made indelible positive imprints on many lives.

I have several items from the Club (pictures, membership book and cards) and while preparing them for Dad’s genealogy section on the family tree, I searched for the history of the Club and any other available information. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be much information available. Your blog was a joy to find and information found here is a nice addition to what I have.

Although Lake County, IL isn’t an area I’m researching other than the Club (and the Zion Passion Play), I’ve really enjoyed reading your many entries. Thanks for providing so much wonderful history!

Catherine Meehan Blount