Return to search page.
Birch, Ernest O. and Edward E. [Birch Bros.]
The Birch brothers, Ernest (1884-1951) and Edward (1887-1974), were born in Winchester, KY. They were the youngest two sons of Jane and Samuel Birch, who was a barber. Their oldest brother was Arthur Birch, he was a hotel porter, according to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. The family of five lived at 125 E. Third Street in Winchester. Ernest and Edward Birch would go on to create a partnership in 1908 known as Birch Brothers, an architecture business in Cincinnati, OH. They were not licensed in Ohio, but are recognized as two of the earliest African American architects in the city. Ernest Birch was a graduate of Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons [now Kentucky State University], where he first studied to become a teacher, and later switched to carpentry. Edward Birch studied architecture engineering at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute [now Hampton University]. According to the 1910 census, the two brothers were managing their business and were lodgers at the home of William and Eliza Ford on West Canal Street [Eliza Ford was b.1867 in KY]. By 1920, Ernest was the husband of Corenna Birch, b.1891 in KY, and she is also listed as Ernest's wife on his WWII Draft Registration Card in 1942, a period when Ernest was employed by the Rubel Baking Company. He is listed as an architect at 3146 Gaff Avenue in the 1946 William's Cincinnati (Ohio) City Directory. Also in 1920, Edward Birch was the husband of Susie B. Whittaker, b.1890 in KY, and Edward was employed as a Pullman Porter. The couple and Susie's sister lived on Mountfort Street in Cincinnati. Edward Birch was previously married to Eva Downey, b.1890 in KY, and they had a son named Augustine E. Birch, b.1908 in KY. The couple divorced in 1916, and Eva and her son Augustine are listed as living in Winchester, KY in the 1910 census and 1930 census. Edward Birch is listed as a draftsman at 1123 Yale Avenue in the 1936-1937 William's Cincinnati Directory. He is credited for designing the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. For more see the Ernest Octavius Birch entry and the Edward Eginton Birch entry, both in African American Architects, 1865-1945 edited by D. S. Wilson.
Subjects: Architects, Barbers, Businesses, Migration North, Pullman Porters
Geographic Region: Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio
Fowler, Robert A. [Colored Railway Employees' Beneficial Association of America}
Birth Year : 1875
Death Year : 1930
Robert A. Fowler, a Pullman Porter, was employed by the Pullman Car Company in Cincinnati, OH, according to his World War I registration card. He and his family lived at 3015 Kerper Avenue. Fowler was the founder and organizer of the Colored Railway Employees' Beneficial Association of America around 1909. The organization was incorporated in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fowler was born in Georgetown, KY, the son of William and Luella Burden Fowler. He was the husband of Laura Bell Watson Fowler, who may have been his first wife. In 1920, Robert Fowler was the husband of Ella D. Fowler (b.1877 in LA) and the father of Watson Fowler (b.1904 in KY), all according to the U.S. Federal Census. Robert Fowler died January 16, 1930, and was buried in Georgetown, KY on January 30, 1930, according to the Ohio Death Index. In the 1930 Census, Ella D. Fowler is listed as a widow with two children and still living at 3015 Kerper Avenue. For more see Cincinnati's Colored Citizens, by W. P. Dabney.
Subjects: Migration North, Pullman Porters, Fraternal Organizations
Geographic Region: Georgetown, Scott County, Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio
Lewis, Meade Lux
Birth Year : 1905
Death Year : 1964
Lewis was a pianist and composer. He was born in Louisville, KY, and raised in Chicago. Meade was the son of Hattie and George Lewis. George was employed as a postal clerk and was also a Pullman Porter. Hattie and George were Kentucky natives, and according to the U.S. Federal Census, in 1920 the family was living in apartment 29, a rear unit on LaSalle Street in Chicago. Meade Lewis's first instrument was the violin, which he learned to play when he was 16 years old. He taught himself to play the piano and developed a boogie-woogie style. His best known work is Honky Tonk Train Blues, recorded in 1927. Boogie-woogie was still a new sound. To supplement his income, Lewis worked washing cars and driving a taxi. He played the piano at house parties, clubs, and after-hours joints. His fame is said to have begun in 1938 when Lewis performed in John Hammond's concert at Carnegie Hall. He is regarded as one of the three noted musicians of boogie-woogie. For more see the Meade Lux Lewis entry in the Afro-American Encyclopedia; and "Meade Lux Lewis pianist, is killed," New York Times, 06/08/1964, p. 18. A picture of Lewis and additional information are available in Men of Popular Music, by D. Ewen. View film with Meade Lux Lewis playing boogie woogie on YouTube.
Subjects: Fathers, Migration North, Mothers, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Postal Service, Pullman Porters, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois
McKay, Barney M. [McDougal]
Birth Year : 1859
Death Year : 1925
Barney McKay was born in Nelson County, KY, and according to F. N. Schubert, he was the son of Barney McKay and Mary McDougal. He was a journalist, civil rights activist, veteran, author, and supporter of African American migration. Barney McKay left Kentucky and became a Pullman Porter. He lived in Jeffersonville, IN, where he was employed at the car works of Shickle and Harrison as a iron puddler. In 1881, he joined the U.S. Army in Indianapolis, IN, under the name of Barney McDougal, and served with the 24th Infantry, Company C. He was honorably discharged in 1892. He re-enlisted as Barney McKay and served with the 9th Cavalry, Company C and Company G. In 1893, Sergeant Barney McKay was charged with distributing an incendiary circular among the troops at Fort Robinson, NE. The circular, published by the Progress Publishing Company of Omaha, promised retaliation against the civilians of Crawford, NE, should there continue to be racial violence toward Negro soldiers. There was no proof that Sergeant McKay had distributed the circular, yet Lieutenant Colonel Reuben F. Barnard was convinced of his guilt; Sergeant McKay had received a package of newspapers from the Progress Publishing Company of Omaha, and he had a copy of the circular in his possession. Also, Sergeant McKay and four other soldiers had prevented a Crawford mob from lynching Charles Diggs, a veteran, who had served with the 9th Cavalry. Sergeant McKay's actions and the circular were enough for the Army to charge him with violating Article of War 62 for attempting to cause the Negro soldiers to riot against the citizens of Crawford. Sergeant McKay was confined, subjected to court-martial and found guilty, and on June 21, 1893, he was reduced to the rank of private, given a dishonorable discharge, and was sentenced to two years in prison. When released from prison, Barney McKay was not allowed to re-enlist in the U.S. Army. He settled in Washington, D.C., where he met and married Julia Moore in 1900. The couple lived on 17th Street [source: 1910 U.S. Federal Census]. Barney McKay was working as an assistant for the law firm Lambert and Baker. The following year, he was employed by John W. Patterson, Attorney and Counselor at Law [source: ad in Washington Bee, 04/06/1901, p. 8]. He had also been a newspaper man and wrote newspaper articles. He was editor of the Washington Bureau of the Jersey Tribune, 80 Barnes Street, Trenton, NJ. He was also editor of the New England Torch-Light, located in Providence, RI. In 1901, Barney McKay was with the Afro-American Literary Bureau when he pledged that 5,000 of the most industrious Negroes from the South would be willing to leave the prejudice of the United States for freedom in Canada. The pledge was made during the continued migration of southern Negroes to Canada. Author Sara-Jane Mathieu contributes two things to the story of the exodus: One, in 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, and two, Canada's homesteading campaign of 1896 provided free farmland in Western Canada. Barney McKay promoted the migration in the newspapers. In July of 1901, Barney McKay was Sergeant-at-Arms of the newly formed Northern, Eastern, and Western Association, also known as the N. E. & W. Club [source: "N. E. and W. Club," The Colored American, 07/13/1901, p. 4]. The organization was established to coordinate the Negro vote for the 1902 Congressional elections. Barney McKay published The Republican Party and the Negro in 1904 and in 1900 he co-authored, with T. H. R. Clarke, Republican Text-Book for Colored Voters. In 1916 he co-authored Hughes' Attitude Towards the Negro, a 7 page book containing the civil rights views of Charles Evans Hughes', taken from his judicial decisions while a member of the U.S. Supreme Court [alternate title: Henry Lincoln Johnson, editor. B. M. McKay, associate editor]. Barney McKay also wrote letters advocating the safety and well being of Negroes in the South and the education of future soldiers. He called for the best representation of the people in government and fought for the welfare of Negro war veterans. He wrote a letter protesting the commander of the Spanish American War Veterans' support of the dismissal of the 25th Infantry in response to the Brownsville Affair [source: p. 191, Barney McKay in On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II by I.Schubert and F. N. Schubert]. In 1917, McKay wrote New Mexico Senator A. B. Fall (born in Frankfort, KY), asking that Negroes from the South be allowed to migrate to New Mexico [source: Promised Lands by D. M. Wrobel]. New Mexico had become a state in 1912 and Albert B. Fall [info] was one of the state's first two senators. In 1918, McKay wrote a letter to fellow Kentuckian, Charles Young, asking his support in establishing a military training program for Negro men at Wilberforce College [letter available online at The African-American Experience in Ohio website]. Barney M. McKay died April 30, 1925 and was buried in Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D. C. The cemetery was moved to Landover, Maryland in 1959 and renamed the National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery [info]. McKay's birth date and birth location information were taken from the U.S. Army Register of Enlistments. For more see the Barney McKay entry in On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II, by I. Schubert and F. N. Schubert; Sergeant Barney McDougal within the article "Chaplain Henry V Plummer, His Ministry and His Court-Martial," by E. F. Stover in Nebraska History, vol. 56 (1975), pp. 20-50 [article available online .pdf]; Voices of the Buffalo Soldier, by F. N. Schubert; North of the Color Line, by Sarah-Jane Mathieu; and Barney McKay in Henry Ossian Flipper, by J. Eppinga.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Authors, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Migration North, Military & Veterans, Politicians, Politics, Appointments & Elections, Pullman Porters, Fraternal Organizations, Riots and Protests Outside Kentucky
Geographic Region: Nelson County, Kentucky / Indianapolis, Indiana / Crawford, Nebraska /Trenton, New Jersey / Washington, D. C.
O'Rourke, James Ralph , Sr.
Birth Year : 1913
Death Year : 1999
In 2008, it was discovered that James R. O'Rourke, Sr. was the first African American graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science. He graduated in 1957. Prior to his enrollment, O'Rourke had been named head librarian at Kentucky State University (KSU), a position he held from 1949-1970. Before coming to Kentucky, O'Rourke was a history instructor and served as head librarian of Stillman Junior College [now Stillman College]. O'Rourke was a 1935 graduate of Stillman Junior College, a 1947 sociology and economics graduate of Talladega College, and a 1947 graduate of Atlanta University [now Clark Atlanta University], where he earned a B.S. in Library Science. He had owned a drug store and a shoe repair shop. He had been a singer, an actor, a barber, a Pullman Porter, and shoe shiner. In Kentucky, he was a library leader. O'Rourke was the author of several articles and co-authored the Student Library Assistants of Kentucky (SLAK) Handbook, which was distributed throughout the United States and to some foreign countries. O'Rourke and C. Elizabeth Johnson, Central High School Librarian, had co-organized SLAK in 1952; it was the only state-wide organization of its kind in the United States. The organization was created to spark students' interest in library science and provided scholarship opportunities to seniors who planned to go to college. O'Rourke also led an annual workshop to assist public library employees in getting certification, and he provided library training. He was one of the first African American members of the Kentucky Library Association (KLA). He also held several positions in community organizations. He was a civil rights advocate and served as presiding chairman of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Lexington, KY, 1966-67. He was a member of the Governor's Planning Committee on Libraries, 1967-68, and co-chairman of the Lexington (KY) Librarians Association. O'Rourke was the last chairman of the Librarian's Conference of the Kentucky Negro Educational Association, 1952-1956. He was a member of the American Library Association, the Southeastern Library Association, and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He was a member of the Kentucky Black History Committee of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, and was a co-contributor to the Commission's publication, Kentucky's Black Heritage. He left Kentucky a few years after his retirement from KSU in 1970 and settled in North Carolina. James R. O'Rourke, Sr. was born in Tuscaloosa, AL, the oldest child of Sally Reese and Timothy R. O'Rourke. He was the husband of George M. Wright O'Rourke [also a UK Library School graduate, 1966], and the great-grandson of Evalina Love and Shandy Wesley Jones. Shandy Jones was a slave who was freed in 1820 and later became an Alabama Legislator, 1868-1870 [see Descendants of Shandy Wesley Jones and Evalina Love Jones by Pinkard and Clark]. This information comes from the vita and the memorial tribute to James R. O'Rourke, Sr., provided by Dr. James R. O'Rourke, Jr. In 2009, the University of Kentucky Libraries and the School of Library and Information Science nominated James R. O'Rourke for the Lyman T. Johnson Torch Bearer Award (posthumously) for his work and dedication to librarianship in Kentucky. The award was received by his son, Dr. James R. O'Rourke, Jr.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Actors, Actresses, Authors, Barbers, Education and Educators, Librarians, Library Collections, Libraries, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Pullman Porters, Fraternal Organizations, Pharmacists, Pharmacies, Shoes: Finishers, Makers, Repairers, Shiners, Stores
Geographic Region: Tuscaloosa, Alabama / Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky / Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / North Carolina
Birth Year : 1869
Death Year : 1936
Born in Lexington, KY, Perry Parker was one of the founders and chairman of the Pullman Porter's Benefit Association of America, Inc. Parker started as a porter, advancing to a special investigator for the Pullman Company, where he was employed for 41 years. After his death, Perry Parker was honored during the annual memorial services held in New York for Pullman veterans and ex-veterans. For more see Who's Who in Colored America, 1933-37; J. H. Hogans, "Among railroad and Pullman workers," The Afro-American, 05/26/1942, p.8; and A. Philip Randolph: a biographical portrait, by J. Anderson.
Subjects: Pullman Porters
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky
Pruitt, Earle E.
Birth Year : 1902
Death Year : 1959
Earl E. Pruitt, born in Louisville, KY, was the son of Minnie Forrest Pruitt and Richard Pruitt. In 1910, the family of five lived on O'Hara Street with Minnie's mother, Maria Forrest. Earl Pruitt was a Pullman Porter with the L&N Railroad before he became manager of the College Court Apartments, U.S. Housing Authority, in Louisville from 1937-1940. From 1940-1944, he managed the Beecher Terrace Housing Projects, the largest housing projects complex in Kentucky at that time. Pruitt was also the public relations commissioner of the National Association of Housing Officials and public relations assistant in the Louisville Municipal Housing Commission. He went to London, England, to lecture on public housing and spoke on the subject on the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC). For more see Who's Who in Colored America, 1950. The finding aid to the Earle Pruitt Papers is available on the Kentucky Digital Library website. For more on the U.S. Housing Authority see To Create a U.S. Housing Authority, 75 H806-1, Aug. 3-6, 1937, pp. iii-316, U.S. G.P.O.
Subjects: Housing Authority, The Projects, Pullman Porters, Housing, Fair Housing, Open Housing, Housing Agencies
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky
Rice, Richard A.
Birth Year : 1887
Born in Russellville, KY, Richard A. Rice was a lawyer and pharmacist. He was the acting attorney for the Jersey Central Porters who were connected with the Jersey Central Railroad. His law office was located in Jersey City in 1920, and he was a boarder with the Dowers Family [source: U.S. Federal Census]. In 1942, Rice was living in Hackensack, NJ, and his law practice was operated from his home at 277 First Street [source: Rice's WWII Draft Registration Card]. Rice was the son of Calvin and Julia Bearing Rice. He was a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. For more see Who's Who in Colored America, 1933-37.
Subjects: Lawyers, Medical Field, Health Care, Migration North, Pullman Porters, Pharmacists, Pharmacies
Geographic Region: Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky / Jersey City and Hackensack, New Jersey
Riggs, Arthur J.
Birth Year : 1855
Death Year : 1936
Arthur J. Riggs was born in Shelbyville, KY, the son of Rachel and Lloyd Riggs. In 1860, the family was free and is listed in the U.S. Federal Census. Arthur Riggs is regarded as one of the founders of Elkdom among African Americans. He took the last name Riggs after being freed from slavery; his family had been owned by Reverend John Tevis, a Carmelite minister. Riggs worked a number of jobs, including a stint at the Galt House in Louisville, KY, and later left for Cincinnati, where he was employed as a waiter at the Grand Hotel. He helped organize the Knights of Pythias Lodge in 1896 and served as Grand Chancellor of the State. Riggs and B. F. [Benjamin Franklin] Howard of Covington, KY, established the Negro Elks Lodge in Cincinnati. Riggs's participation in the Elks cost him his job as a Pullman Porter; he had gained access to the white Elks Ritual, which was used in establishing the Negro Elks Lodge. Riggs was later run out of Cincinnati and settled in Springfield, OH, with his family. He lived under an assumed name. With assistance from lawyer William L. Anderson, Riggs had learned from the Register of Copyright of the Library of Congress that the Ritual had no copyright; therefore, it was redrafted and copyrighted to Riggs in 1898 for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World. As the organization continued to grow and add form, Riggs received more threats. He left the Elks then for two decades. B. F. Howard took over the management of the organization and moved it to Covington, KY. Riggs died prior to the 37th Grand Lodge meeting in August 1936; his death is mentioned in the April 15, 1936 issue of theSpringfield Daily News. For more see History of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, 1898-1954, by C. H. Wesley.
See photo image of Arthur J. Riggs at the Elks Photo Gallery website.
Subjects: Migration North, Pullman Porters, Fraternal Organizations, Benevolent Societies
Geographic Region: Shelbyville, Shelby County, Kentucky / Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky / Cincinnati and Springfield, Ohio
Ross, James A.
Birth Year : 1867
Death Year : 1949
Born in Columbus, KY, James A. Ross was a lawyer, politician, real estate broker, journalist, editor, and publisher. His family left Kentucky when Ross was a child; he was raised in Cairo, IL, and later moved farther north. Ross was editor and proprietor of The Reformer (Detroit) and publisher of the monthly magazine, Gazetteer and Guide (NY), written for African American Pullman Porters and railroad and hotel employees. He declined the U. S. Consul appointment to Cape Haitien in 1893. Ross was in charge of the Negro exhibit at the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition, held in Buffalo, and he was Vice-President of the National Colored Democratic League Bureau in Chicago in 1912. He served as Race Relations Executive for the Works Progress Administration in Albany, NY. In 1946, Ross was elected president of the New York State Colored Real Estate Brokers Exchange. He was the husband of Cora B. Hawkins Ross (b.1874 in Canada), and the family of six lived on Michigan Street in Buffalo, NY, in 1900, according to the U.S. Federal Census. For more see Who's Who of the Colored Race, 1915; and "James A. Ross," New York Times, 04/28/1949, p. 31.
See newspaper image of James A. Ross and additional information at the Uncrowned Community Builders website.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Businesses, Colored Fairs & Black Expos, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Lawyers, Migration North, Politicians, Politics, Appointments & Elections, Pullman Porters, Realtors, Real Estate Brokers, Real Estate Investments, Works Progress Administration (WPA)
Geographic Region: Columbus, Hickman County, Kentucky / Cairo, Illinois / Detroit, Michigan / Buffalo and Albany, New York / Chicago, Illinois
Sample, Prince A., Jr.
Birth Year : 1878
Born in Mt. Sterling, KY, Prince Albert Sample was one of the founders and organizers of the Pullman Porters Benefit Association of America, Inc. and served as its comptroller. He was an investigator and welfare worker for the Pullman Co. in New York City at the Penn Terminal. He had also been president of the Jersey City NAACP Branch and a member of the Odd Fellows. Sample was assistant editor of the Wisconsin Advocate and special correspondent for the Evening Wisconsin. He was business manager and city editor of the Wisconsin Weekly Advocate. He was also a candidate for the New Jersey Legislature, and was a WWI veteran. Prince and his wife Bertha, from North Carolina, lived at 101 Virginia Avenue in Jersey City in 1930, according to the U.S. Federal Census. He was the son of Rev. P. A. Sample, Sr., pastor of the C. M. E. Church in Allensville, KY. Prince Albert Sample, Jr. was a graduate of the University of Michigan. For more see Who's Who in Colored America, 1933-37; K. McCray, "Pullman Porters: the best job in the community, the worst job on the train" [pdf], a James Mason University website; "A Southern Trip," Wisconsin Weekly Advocate, 06/16/1904, p.4.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Politicians, Politics, Appointments & Elections, Pullman Porters, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Fraternal Organizations
Geographic Region: Mount Sterling, Montgomery County, Kentucky / New York City, New York / Jersey City, New Jersey / Wisconsin