Celebrations From the Past:
following article was made possible by the Friends
of Midland organization, which contributed
photographs, information and primary research
materials from their archives. Originally
formed to rescue and rehabilitate the historic
Midland Cemetery, the Friends of Midland also have
an interest in local African American history,
including the Hygienic School and Steelton's
African American churches, community groups, daily
life and organizations. They are very
interested in hearing from former students of the
Hygienic School, former residents, and anyone
interested in Steelton's African American history,
and can be contacted at the following address:
Memorial Days Past
The photograph above, depicting a gathering of local dignitaries on a Memorial Day past, was sent by Mr. Edwin Dornell of State College, who estimated that it was taken in the mid-1940's. 1 The African American community of Steelton has a long and vigorous history of honoring our nation's fallen heroes on Memorial Day, with traditions dating back to the nineteenth century. Parades and ceremonies were big events, and included participants from most of the local schools, churches and social organizations. A description of one such event that began on Adams Street and ended at Midland Cemetery was published in the local newspapers in 1900:
At 10:30 a procession of colored people was formed on Adams street, right resting on Second, and moved out, in the following order: Chief marshal, Henry Berkley, aids, George Moten, Frank Jefferson and Jacob Gibson; Steelton Cornet Band, Daniel Holmes, conductor; firing squad from Post 520, of Harrisburg, in command of James Auter; hearse containing flowers; four boys dressed in national colors, carrying open Bible; eight boys and eight girls, also dressed in the nation's colors, carrying a large flag; several hundred small school children in wagons; citizen on foot, carriages containing the ministers and speakers. The route was down Adams to Front, to Mohn, to Midland cemetery. The singing was done by the school children and they also placed the flowers on the graves. Addresses were made by W. Justin Carter, Esq., of Harrisburg, and James Howard. At one o'clock the parade returned and dismissed on Adams street.
Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson, Jr. pointed out "this description of the 1900 Memorial Day exercises tops them all. W. Justin Carter and James Howard spoke. [James] Auter was the son-in-law of Jane Chester. Other notables were there. The Steelton Cornet Band was in existence for many years." He related some of the practices to very early observances documented in Harrisburg: “The custom of dressing marching children in colors of the flag is mentioned as far back as the 1865 Harrisburg USCT parade." He added “Peter S. Blackwell and W. Justin Carter spoke in 1899, but a full description of the exercises was not reported by newspapers.” 2
Parades and speeches continued to be popular through the twentieth century. Edwin Dornell recalls his own participation, one Memorial Day, on which there were multiple parades:
If I remember correctly there were at one time three Memorial Day parades and ceremonies in Steelton. As a member of the Steelton High School band while still a student at Hygienic, I remember marching up Lincoln Street to the then white cemetery directly across the street from William Howard Day. Then later in the morning the Black Elks band accompanied a parade to the William Howard Day Cemetery. Still later, the same Elks Drum and Bugle Corps accompanied a parade to Midland Cemetery where another ceremony was held. 3
A Remarkable Gathering of Leaders
When Mr. Dornell submitted the photograph, he identified some of the persons posed for the group portrait, but could not identify all of them, noting "I am sure there are those involved with the Afrolumens Project who will be able to shed some light on the unidentified persons depicted in the photograph." True to this prediction, Calobe Jackson, Jr. saw the photograph used in the Midland Cemetery Memorial Day 2006 program and wrote to us with identities of all the leaders in the image:
"Front row: W. Justin Carter, Esq; Dr. Charles Hoyt
Crampton, MD; Mrs. Maude B. Coleman; Rev. Dr. Vernon
"The picture was probably taken in 1946. W Justin Carter died in March 1947. Maude Coleman died in 1953 and Dr. Crampton in 1955.
"Coleman and Collier seem to be wearing WW1 uniforms. Maude Coleman was commended by Gen. Cornelius Vanderbilt of Camp Lewis, Washington, for her services during WW1. Crampton and Coleman are graduates of the Harrisburg School District. Maude Coleman founded the Phyllis Wheatley Colored YWCA in 1920 at Harrisburg." 4
The significance of this photograph, then, goes beyond capturing a moment during a local Memorial Day observations. It shows a group portrait of the most important African American leaders in the Harrisburg area at the time. W. Justin Carter, at left, was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, aligning himself with W.E.B. DuBois to actively fight for African American rights. Under Pennsylvania Governor George Earle, Carter rewrote Pennsylvania's Workmen's Compensation Act to give better protection to the state's workforce. He also worked closely with Maude B. Coleman, third from left, in the 1920's to enact anti-lynch legislation in Pennsylvania, as part of a nationwide campaign by Mrs. Mosell Griffin. 5
Calobe Jackson pointed out Maude Coleman's World War I service, but he also provided a link to details about her work in Harrisburg as a lobbyist for the national campaign to pass the anti-lynch Dyer bill. Although the Dyer bill was never passed by Congress, Coleman's work in the state capital was successful, as Pennsylvania passed anti-lynch legislation in the early 1920's. W. Justin Carter was one of the attorneys who worked with her in the fight. The leader of the national campaign, Mrs. M. Mossell Griffin, called Maude Coleman a "live wire," noting she "was with me in the thickest of the fight at Harrisburg." 6
Doctor Charles Hoyt Crampton was raised and educated in the Harrisburg School system and Howard University. His influence in the Harrisburg area was huge, due to his large practice. A 1910 biography noted his "unlimited acquaintance throughout the city." Later he became athletic trainer at John Harris and William Penn high schools, extending his influence to generations of city youths. 7 Another famous educator, Doctor Vernon L. James, is shown on the extreme right of the front row. Dr. James was associated with the Hygienic School in Steelton for many years. Highly respected by the community and particularly by his students, James was one of the founders of the Douglass Association, an alumni association for Black Steelton High School graduates, who were barred by racism from joining the whites-only Steelton High Alumni Association. The Douglass Association was active in the community and vigorously supported education for African Americans. 8
Rounding out the photograph are two important community religious leaders, Rev. Brown of the Steelton Mt. Zion Church, and Rev. E. L. Green of the First Baptist Church in Steelton. A longtime leader, Rev. Green and his wife were honored at a special anniversary celebration at their church (see the photograph at right.
? Front, seated left to right: Rev. J. B. Williams, Second Baptist Church, Harrisburg, Mrs. E. L. Green, Rev. E. L. Green, Rev. Toland of St. Paul Baptist Church on 17th Street in Harrisburg.
In the rear, center, is Deacon Rowland, his daughter Ruth Reed. The other persons remained unidentified.
Finally, the respected physician, Doctor Collier, is at the left in the World War I uniform. Practicing in both Steelton and Harrisburg, Dr. Collier was another well-known and influential member of the community. Clayton Carelock, of the Friends of Midland, recalled that at one time, Dr. Collier maintained an office in the Carelock family home at 320 Ridge Street. He believes this was in the 1930's. 9
1. Correspondence, Ed Dornell to
Friends of Midland Cemetery, 10 March 2006.
Other Steelton Articles:
Original material on this page copyright 2006
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This page was updated March 27, 2023.