learn-about-richard-day,-madam-taylor,-and-william-twiggs-–-evanston-roundtable

Learn About Richard Day, Madam Taylor, And William Twiggs – Evanston RoundTable

From its earliest decades, Evanston was home to a significant Black business community. While the story of those who worked as household staff has often dominated the narrative, there were also many entrepreneurs who started their own businesses and worked independently to help build the community. 

Detailed information can be found in a variety of sources, including city directories, census records and newspapers. Shorefront Legacy Center has a notable and growing archive of the Black community in Evanston and the North Shore. Dino Robinson’s books, In the Eyes of Us and A Place We Can Call Our Home are two comprehensive sources of Black history. The recent addition of Evanston’s historic newspapers to the Evanston Public Library’s online resources is a welcome new opportunity to discover under-recognized histories. The collection of the Evanston History Center also provides a variety of resources, including building permit files, city directories, oral histories and more.

The story of Black-owned business is the story of Evanston, from its beginnings as a small, semi-rural town throughout its many stages of growth and expansion, until it became the city it is today. Initially, individuals offered their services and opened small storefronts that provided goods in downtown Evanston. Gradually, these businesses grew, added employees or changed their focuses as the needs of the community changed over time.

Evanston Index, April 29, 1876, page 1.

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Evanston Index, April 29, 1876, page 1.

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Evanston Index, April 29, 1876, page 1. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

Richard Day, entrepreneur

One of the earliest entrepreneurs was Richard Day (1850-1891). He and his wife Adaline (Ada) owned a house on Judson Avenue at the northeast corner of Dempster Street.

Richard Day, according to census records, was born in Kentucky. His obituary stated he had been an enslaved person and changed his last name from Musselman to Day when he became free.

He arrived in Evanston in the early 1870s. By 1876, he was running advertisements in Evanston newspapers and directories for a variety of services. Day would clean, renovate, refurbish or lay carpeting, do calcimining and whitewashing, clean and black stoves, and mow lawns.

Evanston Index, Sept. 28, 1878, page 3.

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Evanston Index, Sept. 28, 1878, page 3.

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Evanston Index, Sept. 28, 1878, page 3. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

Later, he owned an express wagon and offered to move stoves and other household goods. His ads stated that orders for work could be sent to a post office box, left at his home or at several businesses in downtown Evanston. Some added the notation, “Please give a few days notice as he [Day] is always busy.”1

By 1881, he was also offering his services as a healer, having success with healing massages. By 1884, he announced in a newspaper notice that he would “thenceforth exclusively devote his time to the sick.”2 His untimely death from consumption in 1891 was noted by the entire community.

Evanston Index, April 1882.

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Evanston Index, April 1882.

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Evanston Index, April 1882. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

His obituary stated, “For the past 20 years, his name has been known to every Evanstonian and he acquired a wide reputation for his industry.”3 An article in the Evanston Index observed that his widow, Ada, had sold the property on Judson and the house was moved to “Florence just off Greenwood boulevard.”4

Richard Day, an Evanston pioneer, built his business based on his experience, knowledge and skills. He was one of many early Black Evanston residents who founded their own businesses.

Madam H.M. Taylor, hair care and catering

Another notable businesswoman was Madam H.M. (Josephine) Taylor.

Taylor first established a popular hairdressing business, but later diversified into catering. She, too, understood the value of advertising. As early as 1879, she advertised her hairdressing business, which was located in a building on the south side of Davis Street, across from the fountain, upstairs. She resided there with her husband, Henry, an upholsterer and carpet layer.

Ad for Madame H.H. Taylor, City Directory, 1880-1881.

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City Directory, 1880-1881.

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City Directory, 1880-1881. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

Taylor’s advertisements noted that she was also a manufacturer and dealer of hair care products. Her services included “wigs, waves, switches, curls, coquettes, frizzettes, etc.” and she would also “attend ladies at their residence.”5

By 1890, she also had opened a catering business on Sherman and Davis. She ran separate paid advertisements for both businesses in the directory. For a time in the 1890s, she worked for Garwood’s confectionary, a “palace of sweets” in Evanston, but later resumed her independent business.

By 1896, she announced in a large ad in the directory that “Madam Taylor was again to be found in her old stand on Sherman Avenue and is prepared to give best of service in any line of catering. Old and new patrons are cordially invited to inspect our place of business at 1370 (sic) Sherman.”6 Since her office and residence are separately listed at her longtime address of 1570 Sherman, it is likely that 1370 was a misprint. In the same edition of the directory, she is listed as a baker at 1570 Maple, which could have been another unfortunate misprint. As late as 1902, she was still running her catering business, then located at 604 Dempster.  

Taylor was a savvy businesswoman. She went by the honorific “Madam,” a term often used by early women entrepreneurs in the beauty industry, to instill respect and as a reference to their knowledge of French fashion. She also appreciated the power of advertising as a tool to grow her business, as well as locale, with her strategic location in the heart of Evanston’s business district.

City Directory, 1897. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

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Ad for Mrs. H. M. Taylor, City Directory, 1897.

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City Directory, 1897.

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City Directory, 1897. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

William H. Twiggs, barber and printer

William H. Twiggs (1865-1960) arrived in Evanston in 1884 from Davenport, Iowa, with his friend, the Rev. Jesse H. Woods.

Woods assumed the pastorate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (later Ebenezer AME) and was also a student at the Methodist Theological Seminary at Northwestern University (Garrett).

Twiggs’ first occupation was as a barber. He may have learned the trade from a relative in Iowa, as a barber named Alonzo Twiggs had been working in Davenport throughout the 1870s. In 1886, William Twiggs began advertising his barbershop on Fountain Square. The building was located across the street from Madam Taylor, on the east side of the street where Orrington Avenue meets Sherman Avenue, just south of Davis. 

By 1888, W.H. Twiggs, is listed in the directory as a student at NWU, living at 418 University Place, in addition to William Twiggs, barber. 

Woods and Twiggs began to publish a periodical in 1889 for the broader Black community. The Afro-American Budget was a 32-page “monthly magazine devoted to the practical problems of the colored race.”7 The Evanston Press noted: “This publication is to be of a literary-religious character, and will have for its object the upbuilding and enlightenment of the colored people of America. Mr. Woods is upheld in this enterprise by the most enlightened and influential of his race in America.”8

William Twiggs Print Shop, 1621 Maple Ave.

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William Twiggs Print Shop, 1621 Maple Ave.

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William Twiggs Print Shop, 1621 Maple Ave. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

It was a collaborative project. The cover noted two names on the front: Woods as the editor and Twiggs as the corresponding editor. It was at this time that Twiggs became interested in the printing trade. He purchased his first printing press, a second-hand Gordon Jobber, in 1890. Initially operated by a foot pedal, Twiggs later updated it with a gas engine, and then electrically.9

The Budget was initially published by the University Press. But Dino Robinson noted in his article “William H. Twiggs: Early Pioneer” in the Shorefront Journal, that Twiggs “supported himself as a barber while learning the printing trade from Edward L. Kappelman and Robert Milne.”10 At the time, Kappelman worked for the University Press and Milne was a pressman for the Evanston Index, but they would later each run their own printing businesses on Davis, around the corner from Twiggs. 

William Twiggs soon took over the printing of the Afro-American Budget. He first appears as a professional printer in the 1895 directory, under the listing Twiggs and Wilhite, located in the same building as Twiggs’ barber shop. Two years later, Twiggs was sole proprietor of the printing business, which he relocated to a two-story brick building at 1619 Sherman. He operated the printing business at that location for 11 years, until 1908 when he moved it next door to a 1½-story frame building at 1621 Sherman, where he remained for nearly 10 years. The sign over the front door at 1621 read: “Job Printing,” which is defined as any sort of commercial printing or engraving.

Twiggs ads list items such as invitations, tickets, business cards, posters, circulars and rubber stamp manufacturing. In addition to the countless printing jobs Twiggs produced for the broader Evanston market, he also printed other newspapers for the Black community, such as the Reporter and Directory, “published especially in the interest of the colored citizens of Evanston,”11 and the North Shore Colored American.

William Twiggs was actively involved in numerous local organizations, including the Mt. Moriah Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias. He was on the board of trustees of the Ebenezer AME Church for more than 50 years and was one of the founders of the Emerson Street YMCA. He published the newsletters and communications of many of the groups with whom he was involved. Twiggs was appointed for several consecutive terms to the position of Evanston city sealer by Mayor William Dyche beginning in 1899. As sealer, he was responsible for certifying the accuracy of the scales used by local businessmen, keeping them honest and accurate in their weights and measures for groceries and other bulk sales. 

The last listing for the Twiggs Print Shop at 1621 Sherman was in the 1917-18 city directory. William Twiggs moved the business to his home at 1315 Emerson. He would operate the business from this location for the next 40 years. A devastating Christmas Day fire in 1955 destroyed the building, his home and the historic documents and artifacts he had collected for more than half a century. 

Martha E. Jones Twiggs, hair care

William Twiggs married Martha E. Jones (1872-1942) in 1893. Together, they went on to have four daughters and a son. As William managed his barber and printing business, Martha managed not only their growing family and changing household, but she also established a business.

In 1909, Martha had a business listed under Mrs. W.H. Twiggs at their home address of 1726 Oak Avenue. She developed her own line of hair-care products under the brand name “Twigoline.”

An advertisement said: “Mrs. W.H. Twiggs, hairdress. Hair goods, toilet articles, ‘Twigoline,’ Pomade fine for the hair, try it.”12 Perhaps like Madam C.J. Walker, who became the first Black woman millionaire with her hair-care products, and who had learned about hair care from her barber brothers, Martha may have learned from William’s barber business. 

Martha Twiggs was deeply involved in community and church. Among her many successes and accomplishments was a day nursery for working mothers. An article noted that it had opened “under the management of the Evanston Community Union, Mrs. W.H. Twiggs, president.”13 The day care opened in 1926 located at 1917 Jackson, the home of Mrs. Martha Carter, the matron. The article states that on opening day, the staff cared for 65 children. Martha Twiggs was also on the board of directors of the Community Hospital and many other community organizations.

In the years that the printing business was located at 1621 Sherman, a vacant lot next door was informally known Twiggs Park. Decades later, in 1982, a city park was formally named for William H. Twiggs, a legacy park located at 1901 Simpson. It was rededicated in 1998 after a revitalization and has recently been updated again with a new skate park. In a 2004 article in the Evanston RoundTable, granddaughter Katy Walker noted that four generations of Twiggs were all entrepreneurs themselves and the descendants enjoy holding family picnics at the park named for their patriarch.

Henry Butler’s livery and boarding stable, 1719 Maple Ave.

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Henry Butler’s livery and boarding stable, 1719 Maple Ave.

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Henry Butler’s livery and boarding stable, 1719 Maple Ave. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

Henry Butler, livery and cab

Another successful and high-profile business was established by Henry Butler (1860-1956) about 1891.

Butler came to Evanston from Wisconsin as a young man, with his parents and siblings. His father, Cornelius Butler (1821-1892), was born in Virginia and came to Wisconsin in the late 1840s. There, he married Barbara Blankenheim, a German immigrant. Together, they raised 11 children near Kenosha. It is said that Cornelius Butler had passed through Evanston on his way to Chicago shortly after the Chicago Fire of 1871 and became determined to move his family here. They arrived in Evanston about 1878. They purchased some property in what was then the separate town of South Evanston, at 1031 Sherman, and soon became an integral part of the community.

Butler and his children worked in a variety of vocations, from roofing to owning a grocery store to the delivery and express business. Cornelius Butler’s obituary stated, “He was a good businessman and had acquired quite a property … He was a man much respected by all who knew him.”14 Many of the family had businesses throughout the city, but it was Henry Butler who built the largest and most well-known enterprise. 

Henry Butler began as a coachman, working for H.C. Wicker and W.H. Hubbard. In 1882, he married Mary Hager, whose mother, Laura Owen, was a dressmaker in Evanston. The Butlers lived on Dempster, east of Judson, next to Richard Day’s home. In 1888, he took a job with soap magnate James S. Kirk, whose house on the northwest corner of Lake and Ridge still stands. It was in Kirk’s employ that he met his future business partner, a Scottish nurse named Margaret Fisher.

In 1891, Butler opened his hansom cab and livery stable business, with Fisher handling the bookkeeping. By 1895, he owned the house on Dempster (now 327) and operated the livery business from there. By 1897, the business had grown too big for the premises and he moved to a large frame building at 1719 Maple. Within five years he had purchased another building, a large two-story brick former livery stable, located between Davis and Grove on West Railroad, directly across from the train depot at 914 Davis.

A 1905 biographical sketch in Hurd and Sheppard’s History of Evanston said he had 70 teams of horses and 40 drivers. In addition to his two livery stables, the biography stated he owned large blacksmith and repair shops. Butler continued to expand so much that in 1909, he bought a huge lot on the 1000 block of Emerson from the Pearson Lumber company and built a one-story brick livery stable. He later added a second story, and another blacksmith shop in 1912. This was the last of Butler’s commercial buildings to be demolished. Even though it was an Evanston Landmark, in 1989 the city council approved its demolition to make room for the failed Research Park.

Henry Butler’s livery stable, 1614 Maple Ave.

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Henry Butler’s livery stable, 1614 Maple Ave.

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Henry Butler’s livery stable, 1614 Maple Ave. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

By 1912, automobiles began to replace horse carriages, and Henry Butler adapted to the change. He began by purchasing 15 Fords and later added Dodge and Overland autos. In 1914, he bought a building at 1614 Maple, also across from the Davis Street train depot and managed a tire distributorship. In a 1919 article about the possible entry of a Chicago cab franchise into Evanston, it was noted, “Henry Butler, who has carried Evanstonians from their homes to the depot almost since the days of ‘the one horse shay’ … has developed a taxi business after having had a monopoly on the horse cab trade here for many years.”15

When Henry Butler retired in September 1922, the headline of an article on the front page of the Evanston News-Index said in bold type: “HENRY BUTLER RETIRES: GIVES CABS TO DRIVERS. Pioneer Livery Man Turns Over Business to Men Who Helped Develop It. CATERS 30 YEARS TO THE EVANSTON TRADE. Came to Evanston Penniless; Now One of Best Known Business Men.”16 He had supported his employees in many ways over the years and leaving the company to them was consistent with his business philosophy. He had long provided housing for many of his drivers in dormitories on the second floor of the livery buildings. The scope of his business was extraordinary. Various accounts state he eventually had 200 rigs, hacks, surreys and runabouts, 50 drivers, and 160 horses. 

Henry and Mary had built a house in 1912 at 2305 Brown Avenue. It is now an Evanston Landmark. For a while, they raised chickens in coops in the back yard. Mary was living there at the time of her passing in 1932. Henry died in December 1956 at the age of 94. Margaret Fisher, who had lived at 327 Dempster for many years, was still living in a small house at 1311 Judson when she died a few months after Henry. She was 83 years old and had worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for Butler Livery since helping start the company in 1891. 

Henry Butler worked hard. He often said, “The day has always been too short for me.”17 It is difficult to appreciate how much Henry Butler and his drivers and conveyances were woven into the fabric of life in Evanston, how much trust was placed in him, and how many people fondly recalled his part in their lives. Young women remembered their mother’s only trusting Henry Butler to drive them to social events. Realtors recalled counting on his liverymen to drive prospective homebuyers from the depot to the homes they wanted to see, commuters depended on him to get to the train on time, businesses counted on his deliveries and his long-time employees appreciated his concern for them.

In the days before private ownership of automobiles was almost commonplace, Henry Butler’s livery meant mobility and intra-city transportation. He was proud to note that no one was ever injured in one of his vehicles.

Smith Employment Agency

Another notable Black woman business owner was Carrie Crawford Smith (1877-1954). Smith was born in Nashville, Tenn., and attended Fisk University there from 1891-1895. She graduated with a liberal arts degree and taught school for several years. She married Edward Smith in 1907 and eventually had six children. The family arrived in Evanston from Lake Forest in 1917 and first lived at 1944 Ridge Avenue. 

The first advertisement for the Smith Employment Agency appeared in the Evanston News Index on Nov. 27, 1918. It stated, “A few good cooks, gen. work and second maids now on hand; day workers (men and women). Smith Employment Agency, Phone 6464, 1944 Ridge Ave.”18 The ads generally ran under “situations wanted,” indicating that there were plenty of candidates with specific skills seeking  relevant work opportunities. In addition to men and women, often there were couples looking to find jobs working together. 

Smith had definitive policies regarding what duties could be appropriately required of those who found employment through her agency. Terms of employment varied, from hourly and short-term jobs to those by the day or week. The agency operated out of Smith’s home, and while the address might change, the phone number stayed the same. 

A 1927 article in the Evanston Review stated, “Mrs. Carrie C. Smith, who conducts the Smith employment agency at 1516 Simpson Street, reports an active season. Mrs. Smith places high-class maids, couples, chauffeurs and day workers. She has been in business nine years.”19

The Smith Employment Agency was indeed very active throughout the boom years of the 1920s. Carrie Smith placed regular classified advertisements in the Evanston papers, and, by 1925, she was able to purchase her own home. Edward had left the family, and she was the sole supporter. 

During the Depression years of the 1930s, business declined as clients cut back on hiring. Smith offered her own services as a babysitter and, sadly, had to give up her house. But beginning in 1940, she was able to reactivate the agency and once again began regular advertising. She then lived at 1003 Emerson (demolished) with her youngest son, Melvin. He began publishing a local paper, the Evanston Newsette, and she advertised in his paper.

It is interesting to note that the nature of the advertisements changed at this time. Smith expanded from primarily domestic help to hotel, restaurant, porter and factory job openings. Rather than placing ads under “situations wanted,” the ads are under the banner “help wanted,” suggesting that, while during the 1920s there were more people looking for work than available positions, during and after World War II, employment levels were high. One advertisement in 1946 stated, “these jobs are going begging for good help.”20

Carrie Crawford Smith was active in many organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where she served as a delegate to the national convention; The Evanston Interracial Council; and as historian and a member of the Mathilda Dunbar Club, a Black women’s club associated with the AME Church, where she was also a member. She took continuing education classes at Northwestern University and attended sessions of the Evanston School of Foreign Affairs.

She was a successful Black businesswoman and a long-time single mother and a widely respected member of the community. After she passed away in 1954, her son Melvin took over the business and published an honorarium in The Evanston Review: “In fond memory of our beloved founder and mother, Mrs. Carrie C. Smith, who died Nov. 19, 1954, and whose enriched life of loving service still shines. Smith Employment Agency, Melvin S. Smith, owner.”21

Melvin S. Smith. Evanston Review, March 13, 1971.

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Melvin S. Smith. Evanston Review, March 13, 1971.

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Melvin S. Smith. Evanston Review, March 13, 1971. Credit: Evanston History Center collection

Evanston Newsette

Melvin Scribner Smith (1917-2000) was born in Evanston, the youngest of Carrie Smith’s children. He recalled growing up in Evanston and being a student at Noyes, Larrimer, Dewey and Foster schools. At ETHS, he led a protest against a teacher who led a segregated music class.

Like his mother, he attended Fisk University. Returning to Evanston, he began publishing a local newspaper in his early 20s. The inaugural issue stated its aims: “NEWSETTE is a news sheet with GOOD news, and that’ s our motto. It proposes to publish the news of all groups that wish to have their news published on its pages. We choose no sides, politically, be we reserve the right to comment on all acts of our civic-minded citizenry. Our chief interest is to promote greater interest in our community welfare. ‘Unity’ and ‘Better Relations,’ the aims of Interracial Council and Youth Alliance are the aims we shall work for.”22 

He left to serve three years in World War II as a staff sergeant, but after the war he resumed publication of The Newsette, and a church and business directory, from 1946 to 1950. He worked in the finance and accounting office at Fort Sheridan.23 After his mother’s death, he left this job and reopened the Smith Employment Agency.

Smith returned to publishing in 1968 with the renamed Evanston Afro Newsette. Its banner read, “The Voice of the Black Community.”24 Reflecting the times in the nation and in Evanston, Smith spoke out strongly against racial discrimination and called for action in many local issues. This publication was revised in 1971, with the CCC News – Concerned – Citizens – Commitment. The banner motto was later changed slightly to read, “The POSITIVE Voice of the Communities.”25

Melvin Scribner Smith was an active participant in the Evanston community. In addition to his role as a newspaper editor, Smith ran for alderman in 1975.

As Dino Robinson wrote, “He was a man with a strong will and a man who was not afraid to speak his mind. He was a man who put his thoughts into action and into writing … [Melvin Smith] has been honored with at least 16 local awards and either founded, co-founded or was heavily involved in numerous community-based organizations, clubs and sports. Smith was well-respected, well-loved and will be missed.”26 He played an important role in bringing issues affecting the Black community to the forefront.

Conclusion

This article explores only a few of Evanston’s many historic Black businesses and the people who built them. Businesses such as the Evanston Home Investment Co.; Daniel Garnett, shoemaker; the Lee Fireproof Hotel; Bonus Thompson’s grocery store; the Mason Funeral Parlor; and William Gill’s “The Evanston Weekly” are just a few more of the many historic businesses who helped build a community.

There were also many professional health care providers, such as dentists Dr. William F. Garnett and Dr. Roy Young, physicians Dr. Isabella Maude Garnet, Dr. Arthur Butler, Dr. A. Rudolph Penn and others. A thriving professional network of businesses served Evanston as a whole, as well as the Black community specifically.

A recent initiative spearheaded by Shorefront Legacy Center, established the African American Heritage Sites Program. With the cooperation of the city, it recognizes the locations and stories of many of these businesses, including those whose buildings have been demolished, but whose legacies live on. Plaques have already been placed in front of the homes of the first African American alderman, Edwin Jourdain; the first African American mayor, Lorraine Morton; and other sites, with more planned. Much work is yet to be done to bring these stories to the greater community.

Sources for records and research can be found in the archives of Shorefront Legacy Center, the Evanston History Center, the Evanston Public Library, online newspapers and through the personal experiences and oral histories of the Black community.

  1. The Evanston Index, April 17, 1880, page 4
  2. The Evanston Index, April 17, 1880, page 4
  3. The Evanston Index, Sept. 5, 1891, page 4
  4. The Evanston Index, Jan. 9, 1892, page 2
  5. Advertisement, 1880-1881 Evanston City Directory, page 97
  6. Advertisement, Evanston City Directory, 1897, page 344
  7. “Afro-American League to Meet,” The Chicago Chronicle, Dec. 22, 1895, page 10
  8. The Evanston Index, April 17, 1880, page 4
  9. “Twiggs Press Given to Museum,” The Evanston Review, Feb. 9, 1956, page 19
  10. Dino Robinson, “William H. Twiggs: Early Pioneer,” Shorefront Journal, Vol. One, No. 3, Winter 2000
  11. Dino Robinson, In the Eyes of Us, Timeline illustration
  12. Dino Robinson, A Place We Can Call Our Home
  13. “Open Colored Nursery” The Evanston Review, Feb. 4, 1926, page 23
  14. The Evanston Press, Dec. 10, 1892, page 1
  15. The Evanston Index, Sept. 29, 1919, page 1
  16. The Evanston News-Index, Sept. 7, 1922, page 1
  17. Ibid
  18. The Evanston Index, Nov. 27, 1918, page 5
  19. The Evanston Review, Sept. 8, 1927, page 27
  20. Advertisement, Evanston Newsette, Aug. 29, 1946, page 1
  21. The Evanston Review, Aug. 29, 1946, page 1
  22. Evanston Newsette, Jan. 31, 1941, page 1
  23. “Agency Reopens,” The Evanston Review, Feb. 17, 1955, page 11
  24. The Evanston Afro Newsette, Dec. 14, 1968, Vol. 1, No. 4, page 1
  25. CCC News, Feb. 14, 1985, Vol. 15, No. 7, page 1
  26. Dino Robinson, “Melvin S. Smith: Vision to Action,” Shorefront Journal, Vol. 2 No. 1, Summer 2000, page 1

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