Light In The Darkness

Light In The Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Light In The Darkness
    Book Description:

    From the time of its emergence in the United States in 1852, the Young Men's Christian Association excluded blacks from membership in white branches but encouraged them to form their own associations and to join the Christian brotherhood on "separate but equal" terms. Nina Mjagkij's book, the first comprehensive study of African Americans in the YMCA, is a compelling account of hope and success in the face of adversity.

    African American men, faced with emasculation through lynchings, disenfranchisement, race riots, and Jim Crow laws, hoped that separate YMCAs would provide the opportunity to exercise their manhood and joined in large numbers, particularly members of the educated elite. Although separate black YMCAs were the product of discrimination and segregation, to African Americans they symbolized the power of racial solidarity, representing a "light in the darkness" of racism. By the early twentieth century there existed a network of black-controlled associations that increasingly challenged the YMCA to end segregation. But not until World War II did the organization, in response to growing protest, pass a resolution urging white associations to end Jim Crowism.

    Using previously untapped sources, Nina Mjagkij traces the YMCA's changing racial policies and practices and examines the evolution of African American associations and their leadership from slavery to desegregation. Here is a vivid and moving portrayal of African Americans struggling to build black-controlled institutions in their search for cultural self-determination.

    Light in the Darknessuncovers an important aspect of the struggle for racial advancement and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the African American experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5816-7
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    IN 1949 Carl Murphy, president of the BaltimoreAfro-American,complained to the National Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association that he could not “get a cup of coffee or a piece of pie” in the cafeteria of the city’s Central YMCA. Humiliated and outraged, Murphy suggested that the YMCA “take the ‘C ’out of the YMCA sign and put it into practice.”¹ Murphy was but one of a growing number of African Americans who challenged the YMCA to end its longstanding jim crow policy. The YMCA had excluded blacks from membership in white associations since its emergence in the...

  5. 1 The Origins of Racial Divisions in the YMCA, 1852-1875
    (pp. 8-23)

    DURING the 1850s the debate over slavery threatened to tear the United States apart. The Compromise of 1850 had provided a temporary sectional truce, but it satisfied neither North nor South. White southerners insisted that the territorial expansion of slavery was essential for the survival of the peculiar institution. White northerners hoped to keep new territories open for free white labor. Abolitionists were particularly critical of the passage of a stringent new Fugitive Slave Act, which touched off a mass exodus of African Americans to Canada. Antislavery sentiments in the North reached new heights following the publication of Harriet Beecher...

  6. 2 White Supervision of African-American YMCA Work, 1875-1891
    (pp. 24-38)

    DURING the 1870s federal troops withdrew from the South, and white southerners returned to power, ushering in a new era of race relations. White redeemers attempted to reestablish the racial order of the Old South and systematically excluded African Americans from political participation through legal means, intimidation, and physical violence. They devised a set of laws that provided for the physical and social separation of the races and trapped African Americans in a system of segregation and subordination. White southerners reversed nearly all gains that blacks had made during Reconstruction. African Americans were free, but since they were deprived of...

  7. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 Growth and Centralization under African-American Leadership, 1891-1898
    (pp. 39-52)

    DURING the last decade of the nineteenth century, race relations in the United States deteriorated until they reached a nadir. African Americans in the South were deprived of the ballot, jim crow laws established legal segregation in nearly all aspects of life, and lynchings “attained the most staggering proportions ever reached in the history of that crime.”¹ Many African Americans did not openly challenge jim crowism but instead began to advocate racial solidarity and self-help. They hoped that through intraracial cooperation and self-improvement African Americans “would gain the respect of white men and thus be accorded their rights as citizens.”²...

  9. 4 Recruitment and Training of African-American YMCA Secretaries, 1898-1943
    (pp. 53-66)

    THE steady growth of African-American associations, which had begun in the 1890s, continued throughout the early twentieth century under the leadership of William A. Hunton and Jesse E. Moorland. Between 1900 and 1920 the number of African-American YMCAs in cities grew from 21 to 44 and those in colleges and universities, from 53 to 113.¹ As the number of African-American associations increased, Hunton and Moorland faced a new problem: the dearth of professional black YMCA secretaries. During the 1890s students, teachers, businessmen, physicians, and ministers had established and managed local associations. By the turn of the century, however, black YMCA...

  10. 5 Philanthropists and the Construction of YMCA Buildings, 1901-1933
    (pp. 67-85)

    BY the early twentieth century William A. Hunton and Jesse E. Moorland had established a network of associations funded and controlled by African Americans, they had launched annual conferences of black YMCA delegates, and they had institutionalized the training of professional association secretaries. What African-American YMCAs still lacked were adequate buildings for their activities. In 1900 African-American communities in twenty-one cities boasted YMCAs, but only the associations in Norfolk, Richmond, Baltimore, New Haven, and Springfield, Ohio, owned buildings. As Moorland observed, “There is barely room in any of them now for our group work.”¹ Lacking the financial resources to the...

  11. 6 Serving African-American Soldiers in World War I
    (pp. 86-100)

    AFRICAN-AMERICAN YMCA work further expanded when the United States entered World War I. During the war black secretaries accompanied the nearly four hundred thousand African-American troops to military camps in the United States and France.¹ The secretaries organized social gatherings, athletic and entertainment activities, and a variety of educational classes in so-called Y-huts. Moreover, the secretaries operated two holiday resorts for black troops serving in France. Nearly twenty thousand African-American soldiers spent their seven-day military leaves at government expense in Chambery and Challes-les-Eaux.² For the first time in its history the YMCA also recruited black women as secretaries to serve...

  12. 7 Interracial Dialogue and Cooperation in the 1920s
    (pp. 101-114)

    ASSOCIATION work for African Americans remained segregated throughout World War I, but the YMCA’s national leadership began to encourage interracial dialogue and cooperation immediately following the Armistice. In the postwar decade the YMCA’s interest in interracial work led to the creation of numerous interracial committees in the South and the appointment of several African Americans to previously all-white local and state committees in the North.

    Although white YMCA officials increasingly sought dialogue with their black colleagues, they rarely challenged the association’s jim crow policy. Similar to the abolitionists of the early nineteenth century who tried to reform slavery out of...

  13. 8 From Depression to Desegregation, 1929-1946
    (pp. 115-127)

    THE 1930s were years of extreme hardship for African-American YMCAs. After the stock market crash, the country plunged into the longest and most severe depression in its history. African Americans, already at the bottom of the economic ladder, were particularly hard hit, since they were usually “the last hired and the first fired.”¹ By 1933 most African Americans “could neither find jobs of any kind nor contracts for their crop at any price.”²

    As unemployment skyrocketed, fewer African Americans were capable of paying their YMCA membership fees, and even fewer could afford to contribute to association fund-raisers. Donations from white...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 128-132)

    IN 1944 Eugene E. Barnett, general secretary of the YMCA, reminded an audience of association leaders that future historians examining their racial practices would ask “Did they keep faith?” African Americans, looking back at the first century of the YMCA’s work in the United States, already knew the answer. The YMCA’s racial policy was one of neglect, discrimination, and segregation, and as an African-American association leader observed, it reflected “poor Americanism and worse Christianity.”¹ The Christian brotherhood did not lead the way in challenging discrimination or segregation but followed public sentiment in its treatment of African Americans. It moved from...

  15. Appendixes
    (pp. 133-139)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 140-178)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 179-189)
  18. Index
    (pp. 190-200)