The Phyllis Wheatley and Hallie Q. Brown Community Centers
Home away from home
In the early years of the twentieth century, community centers known as settlement houses were founded in many U.S. cities. These houses were primarily intended to help recent immigrants find their way in their new country; citizenship classes, language classes, and a host of other programs were offered.
The Phyllis Wheatley settlement house opened in Minneapolis in 1924. Serving the needs of the city's African American community, the Phyllis Wheatley performed a wider range of functions than other settlement houses. Under the direction of the powerful and visionary W. Gertrude Brown, the house offered classes not only in citizenship and English, but in recreation, music, drama, and black history. It also was a hotel for out-of-town visitors in a time when hotels did not accommodate black guests. Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, and other visiting artists all stayed at the Wheatley.
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, the Hallie Q. Brown Center had been serving the needs of that city's African American community since 1908 (it is currently located on Kent Street, where it is also home to Penumbra Theatre). Together, the two organizations were places where the Twin Cities' black residents could "find comfort with their own kind," as nominator James Brown puts it. Brown, who grew up in St. Paul, remembers that they offered "sewing classes, dance classes, music classes, etc. Some of the music classes turned out musicians of renown, like Percy Hughes, the Pettifords, Charles Beasley, and many more who just took an interest in learning. They had acting classes and put on their own plays in summer camps for families to take time out from the trials of daily survival.
"The joy of these centers was that they were not only for black people. They were open to all nationalities who cared to participate. The officers and board members who ran these facilities were dedicated people who overcame unbelievable problems that challenged their sincerity daily. They were and are unsung heroes whose devotion can never be praised enough."
Share your memories on this topic