League Marks Half-Century

By Foley, Bill | The Florida Times Union, October 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

League Marks Half-Century


Foley, Bill, The Florida Times Union


Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain and Lt. Phillip

Mountbatten rehearsed their wedding.

The Boston Red Sox got Vern Stephens from the St. Louis

Browns. Jacksonville officials christened the "Miracle Mile" on

Philips Highway.

They all got more publicity Nov. 17, 1947, than the

Jacksonville Urban League, which was created that day in a swirl

of obscurity.

The years have been kindest to the Urban League.

The royalty is a little dowdy. The Red Sox are still the Red

Sox. The Miracle Mile went down the tube years ago.

The Urban League marked its 50th year last night with an

upscale affair at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

At middle age, the league is celebrating on its feet.

The mission is the same. The to-do list is longer.

Fifty years ago, the convention center was the Jacksonville

train station, in which African-Americans were not allowed free

run.

A half-century has made a big difference. But difference is

perspective. Feet that dance the night away have miles to go.

Singer Lou Rawls headlined last night's anniversary gala,

which in itself marked it as a swell affair.

Uptown is increasingly a matter of course to the black

community. African-Americans no longer are restricted to what is

now the Philip Randolph Room of the erstwhile train station. It

is hard to imagine any way other than onward and upward for

theJacksonville Urban League and its constituency at its 50th

year.

But in 1947, it appeared every other way. There was much

"onward," but precious little "upward."

Black aspirations and white apprehenison neared a post-war

nexus. A handful of blacks and whites put a lot on the line to

forge a local chapter of the National Urban League.

The mission was to meet a need. It was a means to an end. No

one was sure of either the means or the end. It was an adventure

in character and mettle in a time of uncertainty.

The National Urban League had been around since 1910,

headquartered in New York City and distant to the Jacksonville

community. Its purpose was, and is, to end racial discrimination

and to increase the economic and political power of

African-Americans and other minority groups.

The closest thing to a Jacksonville counterpart was the

Jacksonville Negro Welfare League, a uni-racial organization of

limited resource and outreach rooted in endeavors such as

Brewster Hospital, the Christmas Charity Club, the Old Folks

Home and the Sunshine Day Nursery.

In the mid-1920s, the Negro Welfare League became eligible

for help from the Community Chest, a forerunner of the United

Way. Jesse O. Thomas, National Urban League field secretary,

helped with fund-raising. The black community responded beyond

its goal. But the need for services outgrew the league.

Migration of blacks to Jacksonville during the war years and

subtly changing attitudes among leadership in the white

community jelled into a pattern for change.

A prosaic survey of conditions in the black community was

undertaken in May 1946 by a local council of social agencies,

led by a steering committee of Richard P. …

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