Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Trevorum

BSA racism?

Recommended Posts

A friend recently told me that in our council, until the 1960s, Black Scouts were in a separate district. This statement floored me. I had never thought about it but I suppose BSA must have mirrored the institutionalized racism of the country.

 

Even more startling, this fellow told me that until even more recently, Blacks could not serve as Patrol Leader or SPL of LDS sponsored units. I have more trouble fathoming this statement. Does anyone know anything about the truth of these issues? If true, this is an important aspect of BSA history that should be examined and understood, not swept under the rug.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Go for it...examine it...understand it...shine the light on it...then what?

 

There should be no surprises here. Scouting is just a small extension of society.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well I think you need to tell your friend that he does not know what he is talking about when it comes to LDS units. Just another rumor that is not worth discussing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the link to that thread. Interesting reading. As a newbie here, I'll have to learn to search for answers before I post a question that has already been addressed!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually, if you really want to get specific, the first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, was quite against racism against black scouts all the way back in the 1910's. He was the one who put forth the official BSA policy to include all black boys as needing scouting and should not be excluded.

 

The problem was that there was segregation of black scouts in the South put forth by the powerful KKK and West did not want to lose the entire region by ramming his policy down the th

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(Let's try this post again, it did not all get there the first time)

 

Actually, if you really want to get specific, the first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, was quite against racism against black scouts all the way back in the 1910's. He was the one who put forth the official BSA policy to include all black boys as needing scouting and should not be excluded.

 

The problem was that there was segregation of black scouts in the South put forth by the powerf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

miki - please try again - I'd like to hear what you have to say. I too have been sorely subject to the insidious TPS (truncated post syndrome). Try from a different computer, clean your cache and check your cookies. And save your post to another text file before posting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Trev...

 

As I was saying, James E. West was very much opposed to the exclusion of black boys in his vision of Scouting. Although he was a part of a segregated America in the 1910's, he was rather visionary about the whole thing. Of the big players (Seton, Beard, BP)West was the most progressive. With regard to Seton, he issued a diatribe to West in regard to his opposition to "gum chewing" and how it was a horrid habit among black Americans and his oppostion to "the gum trust" advertising in Boys' Life Magazine.

 

Beard, on the other hand, was brought up with a Progressive mind in the Midwest was known for his prayer as a youth in which (I paraphrase) "God save all of the black children."

 

B-P, unfortunately or not, had been accused by various historians of starving the African natives in Mafeking during the 1899 - 1900 siege and probably held colonial attitudes towards them, which was entirely in character for an English gentleman at the time.

 

Yet it was West who put into play the inclusionary national policy of the BSA towards boys of color in the 1910's, which took a great deal of guts because he almost lost the entire Southern region from Scouting due to the powerful KKK. Yet, his tact prevailed and black scouts were put into their own troops to thrive on their own...just like any other white unit.

 

Since your query dealt with troops in the 1960's, each unit makes their own rules and uses natioal as a general guideline, therefore, segregation was in NO WAY a national BSA policy.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Miki, thanks for the history. I'm glad we have a bona-fide BSA historian on this forum! And I look forward to your book - please keep us updated on it's publishing status.

 

During that time, what lattitude did individual councils have in crafting compromises between the BSA policy of inclusion and the prevalent social values of segregation? I have been told that in other parts of the country, "colored" units coexisted with "white" units while here in Texas, "colored" units were organized into separate districts. Was this the case?

 

Also, do you have any information on this subject with regards to inclusion of Asian-Americans?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the note Trev, I will keep you updated on the book. It looks like it will come out late next year.

 

In regards to your question, let me go into my files because there was one National Executive who really pushed the integration agenda, although integration meant having black troops involved in the program.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Trev, let me answer your question in a less than direct route, but I believe that it will prove fruitful.

 

In May of 1918, well after the US entrance into World War I, James West received a letter from the Executive Secretary of the National Committee of Patriotic Societies, W.M. Lewis, claiming that German spies in the US were spreading propaganda amidst the colored community stating that first, if they did not oppose the German Govt then after the war they would be given Ford automobiles when Germany was in control of North America. Second, the US War Dept has sent 10 negroes to one white man to fight in the war, and third, the Germans went into the Congo to punish the Belgiums for their treatment of the black man. Mr. Lewis wanted West to turn his attention to the black youths in order to stem the potential for belief in this subversive propaganda.

 

West circulated this letter to his inner circle and Beard replied that in order to start black troops, they would have to have the support of the Southern people with care being taken not to arouse their prejudice. He further called the black boy as an asset rather than a liability.

 

A second letter reached West written by Miss Rosa Lowe of the Atlanta Anti-Tuberculosis League who noted that tuberculosis ran rampant through the black community and asked West to consider starting troops in the black community to reinforce the virtues of healthful living. She spoke to an Atlanta Scoutmaster who assured her that the Negroes are very anxious to have this organization because they wish their boys to be trained in patriotism and loyalty to America and for the protection of the citizens here and if the Scout movement is good for the development of the white boys it will have the same effect on the colored. West sent a reply to Ms. Lowe stating the National Council [will] do everything in our power to help all boys.

 

Another National Executive Board member named Bolton Smith took charge of the inclusion of black boys but not without some reservations. Smith wrote, We need a national policy, with reference to this race one that shall be uttered by the head of the Nation and which all loyal people will attempt to apply. The beginning of such a policy should be a proclamation against [the] lynch law and especially against the lynching of Negroes by white men for that raises the race question in its most injurious aspects.

 

He agreed with Beard that, I feel that the induction of Negroes into the Scout movement would lose us many white scouts whose parents would resent such connection. So he suggested that the black youth join another organization called the Marine Scouts which drilled with guns.

 

A final player that sided with the inclusion of black boys was Edgar M. Robinson of the YMCA, the man that West took the place of in January 1911. Robinson wrote, I am sure the Negro boys would need the movement and to forget about the white boys that would be pulled from the program. He added that the man or boy who excludes the colored race needs the benefit of the Scout Movement and other movements from a spiritual standpoint more than the Negro does.

 

West made his decision after reviewing all the available information and set out his case before the Executive Board of the BSA, who voted to include black boys in the movement. By 1928, Bolton Smith and another executive, Stanley Harris, had started Negro troops in 63 communities in the South.

 

Clearly, councils had the latitude of not starting black troops but National took the fight to them and did it for the betterment of black boys, in spite of potential local non-support. Since many succeeded, one would have to assume that they did eventually receive the support of the council as well as the community, but that the single troop acted as they wanted, regardless of national policy.

 

With regard to whether other parts of the country supported the Negro troop, Yes, Region IV based in Cincinnati was the first one to organize Negro troops by themselves. This probably helped Smith and Harris organize in Memphis and the rest of the South.

 

Thats about all that I know on this one, since I have not taken the time to go into depth on this specific topic. It is interesting, though. Hope my diatribe cleared some things up.

 

Miki

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×