Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Boy Scouts of America; the First Negro Troop in Evanston Recognized in 1912.

The Evanston, Illinois, Negro community in 1910 numbered 1,110 at the beginning of rapid population growth. The first Negro Boy Scout Troop in America was taking root.

“The Boy Cadets are the talk of Evanston. Commandant (Scoutmaster) Alfred H. Edmunds (Edmonds) is trying to organize these boys into boy scouts. These boys represent some of the best families of Evanston. The line up: Capt. Adam Perry, Jr.; First Lieutenant, Raymond Thomas; Sergeant, Joe Reed; Quartermaster, Sam White; Surgeon, Horace Graves, Jr.; Drummers, Lester Conners and Henry Saunders; Privates included John McAllister, Swan Cailer, Joshua Blair, Ceasar Gayles, and Herbert Lee.”

According to Chicago Defender Newspaper articles, Edmunds began the process as early as May 1911. He organized a group of local boys and drilled them similar to that of the Boy Scouts, including the use of uniforms. In addition, Edmunds offered exhibitions and competitions to drum up support for the effort.

Over the course of three years, the Chicago Defender reported on the activities of the Boy Cadets through its acceptance into the Boy Scouts. 

Reported in the May 4, 1912 issue:
Scoutmaster, Alfred H. Edmunds

“Evanston, Ill., May 3. — Word received this morning by Alfred H. Edmunds from the executive council of the Boy Scouts of America, stated that the application for membership made by the troop of local negro boys had been accepted.”

Designated first as troop three, it was later changed to Troop № 7 at the signing of the charter. The charter was signed on May 6, 1912. Signatures included President Taft, ex-President Roosevelt, Mr. E.T. Seton, and Mr. James E. West. Mr. Alfred H. Edmunds was appointed as the troop's Scoutmaster.

Despite constant demonstrations and acts of community engagement, one article criticized the local population in its apparent lack of continued support and interest of the Boy Scouts.

“We are endowed with the honor of having the only troop of negro boy scouts in America, yet we do not appreciate the fact to any great extent.”

After 1913, the activities of the Boy Scouts were not mentioned, at least in the Chicago Defender. However, in an unidentified article, from the Graves family archives, headlined “Plan Farewell Address for Negro Troops." The article was posted recognizing Graves who enlisted to serve in WWI. His accomplishments in Evanston were enumerated with mention of his involvement in the Negro Boy Scout Troop № 7.

“Six Evanston boys, former Boy Scouts of America members of Troop № 7, under Scoutmaster Major Alfred H. Edmunds, are on the firing line in France because Horace S. Graves, Jr. was a former member of France's ninety-second division."

The War may have put an end to Troop № 7. After the war, Graves returned to Evanston and became a charter member of the William F. Garnett Snell Post, American Legion. Later in Evanston, a new, segregated Boy Scout troop was formed during the 1920s as Troop  30.

Circling back to “firsts," September 27, 1913, the Chicago Defender article discounted Evanston’s claim as first:

“Boy Scout No. 1 of Chicago are the oldest and first organized, and not the Evanston Scouts, as was published some weeks ago. The Chicago Scouts were organized May 30, 1911 by Major Stephen J. Horde.”

The Boy Scouts of America claim there were no records relating to the Evanston Negro Boy Scout troop of 1912.

By Dino Robinson
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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