Chicago’s Early African-American History
Chicago’s earliest black settlers, composed of mostly mixed race blacks and fugitive slaves numbered in the hundreds and rose to about 1,000 by 1860. In 1870, post-slavery southern migrants drove the population up to 4,000 and by 1890 there were 15,000 blacks living in Chicago, IL. Most worked menial jobs, but some of the old settlers were business people operating small dry good shops and service undertakings including barbers, beauticians and tailors. Others operated huckster wagons, saloons, restaurants and entertainment venues. The educated professionals were church pastors, architects, lawyers, pharmacists, physicians, funeral directors, newspaper publishers and others.
“Chicago’s black population developed a class structure composed of a large number of domestic workers and other manual laborers, along with a small but growing contingent of middle-and upper-class business and professional elites. Formal segregation in Chicago slowly began to break down in the 1870’s. The state extended the franchise to African Americans in 1870 and ended legally sanctioned school segregation in 1874. A state law against discrimination in public places followed in 1885, but it was rarely enforced and did nothing to address widespread employment discrimination. While not yet confined to the city’s nascent ghettos, blacks generally found housing available only within emerging enclaves.” (Manning, 2005)
Chicago became a major destination for migrating blacks, as it was widely known for being a progressive and innovative metropolis. Chicago was a place where blacks lived within relative safety from lynch mobs and could obtain gainful employment. Black men could vote and possibly hold political office in Chicago. African-Americans could safely conduct business without overt racial harassment or the threat of deadly violence. Seemingly an open and inviting refuge, Chicago’s African-American population increased at an incredible rate, between 1890 and 1910.
“The 1910 United States census placed our population (black people) in Chicago at 44, 103 persons an increase of 14, 103 people in ten years.” (The Chicago Defender Newspaper, 1930)
The Chicago Defender newspaper offered consistent motivation for would be migrators in the form of ads and articles touting the advantages of modern urban living in Chicago, imploring blacks to join the northern movement toward race uplift and social respectability.
“When the Defender began its rapid entrance into southern homes Editor Abbott launched his appeal to his readers residing in that section of the United States to come north, where they could enjoy all their rights as Native American citizens. This appeal is credited with aiding greatly in the rapid increase of our population in Chicago.” (The Chicago Defender Newspaper, 1930)
As well, mainstream industries and corporations sought out black laborers to fill menial positions in stock yards, slaughter houses and other large operations necessitating cheap labor. Some corporations went to the expense of providing train passage or private charters and pre-rented dwellings for southern black men, in hopes of attracting laborers. Coxed by free travel enticements, tales of the great northern urban oasis and coupled with a deep-seated need for safe and decent living conditions; a deluge of single black men and families crowded into South-side Chicago during the early 20th Century.
“The colored portion of Chicago’s population is growing more rapidly in proportion to its numbers than any other…the colored population is pushing out farther every day. It has broken out of the city blocks which a few years ago where called its own, until to-day it covers hundreds of blocks of residence and business territory…Colored men and women are represented in almost every line of activity in Chicago. In no other city of the country do they fill such responsible positions in political, industrial and professional fields. That is why the leaders of the race declare that Chicago is the city which holds out the most promising future for their people.” (Wood, 1916)
South Side Chicago Business and the NNBL
The National Negro Business League (NNBL) was founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington and supported by Andrew Carnegie steel industrialist and notable philanthropist. It was created to foster the business and economic development of early 20th Century blacks. After incorporation in 1901, over 300 chapters of the NNBL were established across the nation. The chapters include men and women operating diverse business enterprises ranging from professional practices and small proprietorships to large corporations. The 1912 Chicago Negro Business Directory includes an introduction titled, “The Negro Business and What it Means to the Negro Race” explaining the importance and value of the NNBL.
“…We have not come to a full realization of its power for good (The National Negro Business League)…First, because it deals with the spirit of business co-operation a thing not to be despised among any race, a thing most needful among men. Second, we are living in a commercial age and have in the past planned but few things or institutions for the commercial and practical business training of our children which should be an imperative mandate to every negro family. Third, we should particularly remind ourselves of this fact that dependency has made the negro wards of charity, in a sense, instead of men and women of larger opportunities…Fourth, we have been sowing and building too much into the cosmos, and not enough into our respective communities. Fifth, we have been violating the economic law by our racial extravagance. We have wrongfully (because of religious training) permitted ours and the lot of our children…to fall into the hands of thoughtful others, while bending all of our energies to establish a home beyond the river…selfishly as well as ignorantly, ignoring the principles of Nature’s Laws-that “self-preservation is the first law of nature” or the Law of Progress; “to him that hath, to him more shall be given, and to him that hath not, that which he hath shall be taken away.” Negro business means negro employment. We take it that the Negro Business League is nothing more or less than a league to advance and enhance, to get and to give negro employment, in every legitimate way plausible. It means nothing more or less than deliverance from the social, political and economic slavery. If we do not become sincere as a race in developing the moral and industrial status of our children, we must expect race degeneration.” (Washington, 1912)
Early Bronzeville Business
Henry ‘Teenan’ Jones
Henry ‘Teenan’ Jones, an Alabama native is born January of 1861. As a youngster, his family migrates to Watseka, IL and in 1876 he settles in Chicago. Later, Jones establishes himself as co-owner of a saloon, located in downtown Chicago, primarily for whites interested in the sporting life.
“during the early 1890’s, Jones co-owned the Turf Exchange at 474 State Street in downtown Chicago, a saloon catering to white patrons from the horse racing crowd…Then in 1895 he established a saloon and gambling house in the affluent white Hyde Park neighborhood called the Lakeside Club, which also primarily catered to whites. Here Jones staged a complete floor show and operated successfully for fifteen years until a neighborhood reform group drove him out of their midst.” (Stewart, 2005)
In 1898, he marries Miss Nellie E. Johnson and they reside at 6454 Champlain Avenue, in Hyde Park. By 1910, Hyde Park becomes a restricted area and blacks are forced to relocate within South-side Chicago’s black community. Jones was in business a total of 16 years before closing his Hyde Park club and partnering with A. F. Codozoe, owner of the Elite Cafe. The partners update the establishment and later open a second location, managed by Jones. The Jones’ own a large duplex, in which they reside and Nellie owns and manages a lucrative residential rental property. Later, Jones becomes successor to South-side Chicago’s gambling king crown after the deaths of John ‘Mushmouth’ Johnson and Robert T. Motts, owner of Pekin Theater. Jones is president of the Robert T. Motts Memorial Association, president of the Colored Men’s Retail Liquor Dealers Protective Association and a member of the Elks.
Sandy W. Trice
Sandy W. Trice is born November of 1865 in New Providence, TN. In 1886, he migrates to Chicago working as a Pullman porter. Trice saves his railroad earnings over many years and later espouses the former Mrs. Helena Fisher, in March of 1894. He enrolls at Wilberforce University taking business and finance courses to become an entrepreneur.
In 1900, with a partner named Williams, he opens a small dry goods store at 2918 State Street. Capitalized with about $600 dollars, the shop carries men’s and women’s furnishings, dry goods and notions. Trice continues working as a Pullman porter, while his wife manages the store with Mr. Williams. During its first year the shop proves successful, prompting Trice to quit his job and purchase principle ownership of the business. In a Broad Ax newspaper profile, Trice credits much of his success to his wife.
“…[he freely admits that] he owes his success in business to the keen foresight of Mrs. Trice, who has proven herself the equal of the best businessmen and women in any section of the country.” (Broad Ax Newspaper, 1905)
By 1905, with a few other enterprising men, he incorporates the establishment creating the Sandy W. Trice and Company Department Store, Inc. He goes public, offering corporate shares at $10.00 dollars each. Below is a listing of Trice’s corporation in W.E.B. DuBois’ report Economic Co-operation among Negro Americans.
“Chicago, Ill. Sandy W. Trice & Co., 2918 State Street-Sandy W. Trice President; A. J. Carey, Vice President; W. M. Farmer, Secretary; Geo. W. Murry, Treasurer. A department store (that is) run on (a) cash basis. Business April 1906-7, $14, 400 capitalization…Opened up June 1900, firm named Trice & Williams. Corporated (incorporated) 1906 as Sandy W. Trice & Company.” (DuBois, 1907)
Sandy W. Trice is the first black person to create a department store in the United States. In 1907, his store is the largest African-American retail enterprise in the west. The elegantly appointed establishment is patronized by every class of blacks and whites; and Trice is also a longtime employer of young African-Americans. He becomes a prominent and well-known member of black Chicago’s social and religious circles. The Broad Ax newspaper touts him as, being “prominent in secret society circles and the most successful Afro-American merchant in the middle west.”
Trice becomes a real estate owner, a chief stockholder in the Chicago Conservator newspaper and a member of the National Negro Business League. He serves as Grand Director and Deputy Grand Master District 9 of the Odd Fellows, is a member of the Hannibal Lodge, Knights of Pythias and True Reformers fraternity and is a trustee of Bethel AME Church. Trice is also chief usher of the Illinois Central 12th Street Station and the founder and president of the Frank O. Lowden club. In 1938, he is active as chairman of the Illinois Central Colored Booster Club and instrumental in resuming monthly meetings among black railroad employees. In 1944, the Trice’s celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a widely attended party.
Mrs. Carrie Warner
Mrs. Carrie Warner is born July of 1871 in Troy, MO where she attends public school. Later, her mother moves the family to St. Louis where they operate a laundry business serving several wealthy families and others.
In 1887, she marries Louisiana railroad porter George Warner, at 16 years of age. Later that year, in Kansas City, she gives birth to their son George D. Warner Jr. Eleven years later, they move to Chicago where Carrie attends Moler College of Barbering, studying esthiology and chiropody (skin care and podiatry). In 1902, shortly after graduation, she opens two salons specializing in the care of the feet.
Mrs. Warner’s manicure and chiropody parlors become very popular among the wealthy white women of Chicago. Soon, she’s a master chiropodist and successful entrepreneur. The business flourishes over a 20 plus year period, making Mrs. Warner one of South-side Chicago’s prominent and well respected business women. Aside from home and business pursuits, Carrie Warner is a community activist, devout Catholic, president of the Gelena Club and vice-president of the Phyllis Wheatley Club. In her spare time, she studies piano, voice and the chauffeur trade.
John Gray Lucas
Attorney John Gray Lucas is born March of 1865 in Marshall, TX. Later, his family relocates to Pine Bluff, AK where he attends public school. Later, he earns a B.A. from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Although proficient in art, poetry and music, he decides to practice law. Later, he graduates with honors from Boston University Law School. In 1890, with a thriving criminal law practice, Lucas is appointed assistant prosecuting attorney for Pine Bluff. A year later, he’s elected to the Arkansas State Legislature, making an indelible mark as an intelligent, aggressive and influential leader of the Republican majority.
“As one historian noted, In terms of educational qualifications and forensic skills…Lucas…was the most impressive member of the black delegation in the Arkansas House of Representatives.” (Smith, 1999)
As a State Representative, Lucas is selected to make the primary speech against the segregationist “Separate Coach” bill, despite all efforts the bill passes. Later, he becomes the first Negro to serve as US Commissioner of the Eastern District of Arkansas (US Circuit Court).
Three years later, Lucas arrives in Chicago, IL setting up a law office at 160 Washington Street. Almost immediately, he weds Miss Olive Gulliver and later in 1917 their daughter Elaine is born. Continuing as a criminal lawyer, Lucas appears before the U.S. Supreme Court four times, as well, occasionally taking on civil matters. One of his largest civil cases involves a car wheel patent infringement, brought by Dr. E. R. Robinson against American Car & Foundry Company. The doctor exhausts his savings on 25 unsuccessful lawyers, later soliciting money from various church congregations to continue the case. In 1907, Lucas wins a 10 million dollar court judgement against the American Car & Foundry Company. He again proves his legal prowess in a segregation case brought by the Morgan Park Business Men’s Association and the Village of Morgan Park, against Negroes seeking residence in the area. With a temporary injunction, the plaintiffs block Negroes from occupying apartments in the Cormae Block, the largest apartment complex in Morgan Park. Based upon Lucas’ powerful arguments, opposing counsel is made to openly admit that there is no segregation law in the State of Illinois. The injunction is dismissed and the case dissolved by Judge Foell of the Cook County Superior Court. Throughout his lifetime, J. Gray Lucas is involved in many political, social and religious activities.
©2013, C. Rae White
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