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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Booker T. Washington Progressive Club

Booker T. Washington Progressive Club brochure, 1939-1940. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum, 94.26.

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 page listing officers and committees. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum, 94.26.

The Booker T. Washington Progressive 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 regular broadcasts on WKRS Radio in Waukegan, circa 1955. At left is Naomi Williamson Marshall (1895-1968), club president and the daughter of the club's founder. Standing to the right of Mrs. Marshall (left to right) are Samuel Payne, Pearl V. Payne, Beatrice Carter, unidentified man, and Rachel Penny. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum 94.26.78.

The Club collaborated with local schools and organizations to present musical programs and plays. Shown at this program are Naomi Marshall at far left and Rachel Penny singing. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum 94.26.68.

The club's civic and social contributions included sending care packages to service men and women during World War II, 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.

Club members in costume for a play production, circa 1960. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum 94.26.77.

The Booker T. Washington Progressive Club’s Labor Day Parade float, circa 1960, represented a message of equality and inclusiveness with beauty queens of different races, and individuals in traditional ethnic clothes. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum, 94.26.83

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.
Cornerstone placed on the Club's clubhouse in Zion, Illinois, 1956. On exhibit at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum, Libertyville, Illinois. Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection, Dunn Museum 2020.0.1.
The club was most active through the 1960s after which membership began to decline. In 1982, the club dissolved and sold its clubhouse at 2103 Gabriel in Zion. Today, the building is used as a gathering place for Islamic worshippers.

For more information on the Booker T. Washington Progressive Club Collection at the Dunn Museum, please email collections staff at Lake County History Archives 

- Diana Dretske


Unknown 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

Lpenn1 said...

My name is Lisa Penny and I'm so excited to hear about this club! My grandmother Rachel Penny in the photo on the far right singing at WKRS Radio show and she is the one in the photo singing a solo in the polka dot dress! This is so awesome!

Diana Dretske said...

Hello Lisa,

Thank you so much for commenting! I will update the captions with your grandmother's name. It's wonderful to hear from you.

In early 2019, we did an exhibit on the Club, which was very well received.

Best wishes,