The Phyllis Wheatley and Hallie Q. Brown Community Centers

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Winning Nomination

The Phyllis Wheatley of Minneapolis and The Hallie Q. Brown of St. Paul were community centers opened back in the 1920s when blacks had already formed communities in the two cities. Negro populations were steadily growing and black people like any other class of migrants were clannish to find comfort with their own kind. The centers were the meeting places for people to congregate and socialize. They formed informal schools for children to learn skills that would benefit them in their lives. There were 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 and 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, but 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.
~James R. Brown, Minneapolis, MN



Runner-up Nominations

W. Gertrude Brown Ms. Brown founded the Phyllis Wheatley House, now Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, in North Minneapolis in 1924. Her vision and passion have impacted generations of African Americans. The Wheatley House, as it was affectionately called, was known as the greatest settlement house in the United States for Negroes.
~Steve Gustafson, Minneapolis, MN


Contents

History

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."

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