By Dino Robinson —
I have learned to be careful with the use of “firsts”. In early historical research, I naively and often used the term “first” in local history. What I know now is that continued research often uncovers contradictions. While I would like to mention a first here, I hesitate, but must share.
There are several communities throughout the United States that claim themselves as having the first “Colored” Boy Scout troop. They include Chicago, Illinois and Elizabeth City, North Carolina both in 1911. In 1916, the first official Boy Scout Council-promoted Negro Troop 75 began in Louisville, KY.1
However, in Evanston, Illinois, the first suburban community north of Chicago, an early troop was taking root. The early Evanston Black community in 1910 numbered 1,110 and it was at the beginning of a rapid population growth.
“The Boy Cadets are the talk of Evanston. Commandant Edmonds
[sic.] 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, John McAllister, Swan Cailer, Joshua Blair, Ceasar Gayles and Herbert Lee.”2
According to the Defender articles, Edmonds 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, Edmonds offered exhibitions and competitions to drum up support of 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:
“Evanston, Ill., May 3. — Word received this morning by A.H. Edmonds from the executive council of the Boy Scouts of America, stated that the application for membership made by the troop of local colored boys had been accepted.”
Designated first as troop three, it was later changed to troop seven 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. A.H. Edmonds was appointed as the troops Scoutmaster.3
Despite constant demonstrations and acts of community engagement, one article criticized the local population in it apparent lack of continued support and interest of the Boy Scouts.
“We are endowed with the honor of having the only troop of colored boy scouts in America, yet we do not appreciate the fact to any great extent.”4
After 1913, the activities of the Boy Scouts where not mentioned, at least in the Defender. However, in an unidentified article, from the Graves family archives, headlined “Plan Farewell Address for Colored Troops”. The article was posted recognizing Horace S. Graves, Jr. Graves enlistment to serve in WWI. His accomplishments in Evanston were enumerated with mention of his involvement in the Boy Scout Troop seven.
“Six Evanston boys, former members of Troop No. 7, Boy Scouts of America, under Scoutmaster Major A. H. Edmonds, are on the firing line in France as officers in the ninety-second division. Horace Graves is a former member of this organization.”
The War may have put an end to Troop number seven. 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 troops formed during the 1920s.
Circling back to “firsts”, a September 27, 1913 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.”
Speaking with a Boy Scouts of America representatives several years ago, there were no records relating to the Evanston Boy Scout troop of 1912.
Note: Most of the information on the Evanston Boy Scout troop originates from news clippings in the Chicago Defender between May 1911- September 1913. Photo image from the Souvenir Program and Directory of the 31st Annual Session of the Chicago Conference, Ebenexer A.M.E. Church, Evanston. Page 18
- Chicago Defender, October 7, 1911, page 8
- Chicago Defender, June 1, 1912, page 8
- Chicago Defender, June 29, 1912, page 9
Updated 10/24/12 to reflect new photo, spelling of “Edmonds” and a link to the finding aids of Horace Graves, Jr.