Saturday, January 19, 2013

Joey of The Washington Secretaries History Project Sings at The Kennedy Center Tonight

Joey Pearson
Joey Pearson began working as a mentee on The Washington Secretaries History Project nine years ago when he was in middle school in Encinitas, Calif. Among his contributions is his collaboration on this History of Washington Secretaries on YouTube.

Four years ago this weekend, he was a junior in high school when he traveled to Washington with me for the first time to attend President Obama's first inauguration. The next day he stepped foot on the campus of Georgetown University -- the rest is history.

Today, Joey is a junior, and Latin American specialist, in the Foreign Service School at Georgetown on a full scholarship.

What's more, he is honored today to be performing at the “Let Freedom Ring” concert celebrating Dr. King’s birthday at The Kennedy Center. The concert will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. ET at this link (click). 
Some people watching might recognize Joey. In 2002, he was a semi-finalist on the television show, "Star Search."

After graduation next year, Joey looks forward to teaching students in an urban environment or on the U.S.-Mexican border. 

Congratulations, Joey!

World Typing Champion Cortez W. Peters Opens First African-American Business College in Washington

Founder, Cortez W. Peters Business School
Part 5 in a series commemorating the birth of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama on January 21. 

The 1934 debut of the Cortez W. Peters Business School at 1308 U St., N.W. in Washington, D.C. was a pivotal moment in history. Not only was it the first Black-owned business school of its kind, it was the first vocational school in the nation’s capital to prepare African-Americans for business and civil service. Editor's Note: Subsequently I have learned about the existence of the Jennifer Business College, operated from 1920-1960 by W. Emile Jennifer at New Jersey Ave. and N St., N.W. No other data is available. If a follower of this blog can add more information, please post a comment.

A Baltimore branch of the Cortez W. Peters Business School opened in 1935, and a Chicago school in 1941. Together, the three schools trained an estimated 100,000 students over a period of 40 years. 

Founder Cortez W. Peters was a native of Baltimore who, at the age of 11, taught himself to type when his dad, a watchmaker, received a used typewriter in trade. Peters began using the “hunt and peck” system, then developed his own method for typing fast and accurately. He began entering local typing competitions and went on to become a world champion typist.

Cortez gives typing demonstration to high school students.
It was techniques he honed that became the heart of the curriculum at the Cortez W. Peters Business Schools. 

A 1940 newspaper ad for the school trumpeted the slogan, “Speed’s the Thing,” adding “the school will prepare and train students in commercial subjects including type- writing, shorthand, filing and all related subjects as well as preparation for Government Civil Service Examinations. . .Tuition reasonable and payable weekly. . .If you plan to purchase a typewriter, do not fail to see those on display at the Cortez W. Peters School. . .When you purchase a machine from us, you are taught how to use it.” 

Eventually the curriculum expanded to 22 subjects including salesmanship, business law and IBM card punch. 

Cortez donates typewriters to the war effort.
After Cortez died of a heart attack in 1964, his son, Cortez W. Peters, Jr. became president of the school. Like his dad, Peters, Jr. was a champion typist reaching speeds up to 130-140 wpm. He even set a record for typing in excess of 99 wpm while wearing mittens!

When the schools closed in the 1970s, Peters, Jr. began writing textbooks, consulting for other business schools and holding typing seminars throughout the country. 
Phyllis Rundell is a retired typing teacher who looks back with fond memories on a workshop she took with Peters in Colorado Springs, Colo. in the late 1980s. 

“He was an amazing man, six-feet tall with hands so huge that it was even more surprising that his fingers could fly like that,” she recalled. “He explained that the key to typing fast was maintaining perfect rhythm, and typing letter-by-letter. He said, ‘Spell every letter to yourself, until you get into the habit.’ Concentration was something he harped on all the time."

Peters, Jr. died on June 24, 1993 from a heart attack in Columbia, Mo. where he had been conducting a seminar on typing, shorthand and other clerical skills. 

As she continued in her career, Mrs. Rundell made frequent references to what she had learned from Peters, Jr. in her typing classes, inspiring a new generation of students.

Among those is Sean Kelly who was so moved by what he learned about the Peters men that he honored them with tributes on Find A Click here for the links: Cortez W. Peters, Sr. and Cortez W. Peters, Jr.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Black Women Face Barriers to Clerical Training & Jobs in 20th Century Washington, D.C.

Barbershop near urban hub at 14th  & U Sts., N.W.
Part 4 in a series commemorating the birth of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama on January 21. 

Many African-Americans living in the District of Columbia today can trace their roots to the inception of the Nation’s Capital in 1791. By 1800, the majority were slaves until 1830 when most were freed. 

During the Civil War and Reconstruction (1865-1877), more than 25,000 African-Americans converged on the Nation’s Capital, many looking for federal jobs. Families gradually moved into the Caucasian neighborhood surrounding 14th & U Streets, N.W., and by the dawn of the 20th century the U Street corridor had become a vibrant urban hub for African-Americans with construction of a streetcar system making it convenient for government employees to travel to work. 

It was an exciting time in the nation's capital with completion of Union Station in 1907, presentation of a gift of cherry blossoms for the Tidal Basin by the people of Tokyo in 1912 and dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

Still, clerical jobs remained almost exclusively the domain of men, with African-Americans subject to segregationist policies. Although streetcars and public libraries were integrated, public schools, restaurants, movie theaters and other recreation facilities were not. When Woodrow Wilson became President in 1913, he implemented segregationist policies at the U.S. Post Office Department which resulted in the demotion, and even termination, of many African-American workers. Employees in the Post Office Department and the Department of Treasury were forced to do their duties in screened-off working spaces, and to use separate lunchrooms and toilets.

World War I opened the doors for women of all races when men were drafted and forced to leave their jobs. Responding to a national recruitment campaign, “For Girls Must Work That Men May Fight” women traveled from all corners of the country to assume Civil Service jobs previously held by men. 

Those gains were lost after the war when men returned to their Civil Service jobs, creating a glut of unemployed women who were released from federal service. 

“We are swamped with inquiries from these women in regard to new government opportunities and we cannot begin to place them all, very few in fact, it is still a great puzzle what to do with them,” said Mrs. Helen Gardner, who was appointed the first woman Civil Service commissioner. “The majority are from small towns and from families in moderate circumstances. Their only experience previous to government service was in helping with the family housework and the family sewing. Now, with the clerical market overcrowded, they have no other field to which they may turn.” 

On June 4, 1919 Congress passed the 19th amendment guaranteeing all American women the right to vote, and on August 18, 1920 it was ratified. 

Also in 1920, Dr. Richard T. Ely, a former economics professor of President Woodrow Wilson’s, opened the new Washington School for Secretaries to provide these women, and men, with business training to keep pace with the modern office. 

Washington’s segregationist policies left many African-American women out in the cold.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

African-Americans Enter Public Office

 Cong. Geo. Henry White, R-NC, 1897-1901
Part 3 in a series commemorating the birth of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama on January 21st. 

Today's Democratic Party boasts the election of the first African-American President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama II, who begins an historic second term in a few days. 

During Reconstruction (1865-1877), it was the GOP, "The Party of Lincoln," that worked with African-Americans to help them get elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Republican Party also advocated for African-Americans by appointing them to patronage jobs, particularly those as postmasters. 

Using voter intimidation and poll taxes, Southern Democrats, representing the former Confederacy, were unscrupulously able to grab and wield power again. 

In his book "The Negro and the Federal Government" (1967), Samuel Krislov discusses this era when African-Americans began losing gains previously made in elective offices in southern and border states. 

One of the most historic examples was North Carolina attorney George Henry White who ran as a Republican and defeated the white Democratic incumbent to be elected to the U.S. Congress in 1896, representing a predominantly African-American district. White confronted disfranchisement and mob violence head-on and, on January 20, 1900, introduced the first bill in Congress to make lynching a federal crime. It died in committee. 

Krislov wrote: "White used the power of his office to appoint several African-American postmasters across his district, with the assistance of the state's Republican senator, Jeter C. Pritchard. They were able to make patronage hires, as did other postmasters. Following the actions of North Carolina Democrats in 1899, who changed the state constitution to disfranchise blacks, White chose not to seek a third term. He told the Chicago Tribune, 'I cannot live in North Carolina and be a man and be treated as a man.' He announced plans to leave his home state and start a law practice in Washington, D.C. at the end of his term.” 

On January 29, 1901 White delivered his final, and what would be prophetic, speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives: "This is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people – full of potential force." 

"On the whole political patronage had proved an inadequate means to expand Negro opportunity," Krislov explained. "It was rather the civil service, with its merit system, that opened the way to Negro participation in public life.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Clara Barton: Advocate for Slaves and Freedmen

Part 2 in a series commemorating the birth of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama on January 21. 

Clara Barton is best remembered as the founder of the American Red Cross. Less is known about her role as the first woman to work for the federal government, and her advocacy for African-Americans before, during and after the Civil War.

In 1854 Barton had the distinction of becoming the first woman to work for the federal government when her congressman recommended her for a job with Commissioner Charles Mason in the U.S. Patent Office. 

Barton's trustworthiness and exquisite penmanship made her valuable as a recording clerk where she penned patent applications,  caveats and regulations. Barton thrived in her new job, writing a friend: “My situation is delightfully pleasant. There is nothing in the world connected with it to trouble me and not a single, disagreeable thing to do, and no one to complain of me.”
Barton’s glee was short-lived. After the all-male staff complained that a woman held such a coveted job, Secretary of Interior Robert McClelland arranged to have her demoted to copyist. She continued in that capacity until James Buchanan was elected president four years later and eliminated her job all together. 

Lincoln reinstated Barton when he was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1861. After assuming her new position, Barton was dismayed to learn that the department was controlled by two outspoken southern sympathizers. She reported this to senior management, offering to do the work of the men at no extra pay if they were removed from their jobs. The proposal backfired and only served to alienate her further from the staff.

As a result of Lincoln's election, southern states seceded from the union and on April 12, 1861 the Civil War broke out with the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Four days later the 6th Massachusetts Regiment traveled south to defend the nation's capital, but was attacked by southern sympathizers in Baltimore. They arrived in Washington badly beaten, with fatalities. Barton found the soldiers temporary quarters in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol. From there, she began traveling from battlefield-to-battlefield caring for Union soldiers, and earning the reputation as the "Angel of the Battlefield." 

While in South Carolina in April 1963, she met, and became passionately aware of the plight of freed slaves and black Union soldiers.

"When it came to providing care for black soldiers enlisted in the Union army, Barton stood forth as exceptional. To her they were heroes. 'Whiter blood than theirs has often failed to exhibit traits as high and noble,' as she was to write after witnessing how patiently the black soldier bore his wounds." (Source: "Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity" by David Henry Burton.) 

From 1866-68, Barton delivered more than 200 lectures about her Civil War experiences, sharing the stage with other abolitionists and independent thinkers including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Mark Twain.

Barton's efforts to organize relief programs for Union soldiers ultimately led to her founding the American Red Cross in 1881.