Thompson Jackson and Mansfield’s first African-American Boy Scout Troop

On July 31, 1911, America’s first “Negro Boy Scout” troop was founded.  “Initially started in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, opposition was encountered immediately, but troops continued to meet in increasing numbers.  In 1916, the first official Boy Scout Council-promoted Negro Troop 75 began in Louisville, KY.  By the next year, there were four official black troops in the area. By 1926, there were 248 all-black troops, with 4,923 black scouts and within ten years, there was only one Council in the entire South that refused to accept any Black troops.”[1]  Included in those 248 all-black troops was Troop No. 7 from Mansfield, Ohio founded in 1925.

In April of 1925, while Thompson Jackson was teaching Sunday school to 14 boys between the ages of 12-15, he had the idea to form a Boy Scout troop for the African-American boys in the community. He went into the office of Floyd Dent and laid out plans for the creation of a troop.[2] On June 19, 1925, 20 boys were awarded their Tenderfoot badges at the Friendly House.[3] According to Jackson in a letter in the Mansfield News on September 30, 1930, “the entire official staff of the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ area [had] been four-square behind the advancement of Troop No. 7” ever since its induction.

The Mansfield News, 14 June 1925, p. 3.

In the early 20th century, the Boy Scouts of America let local councils set their policies when it came to segregation. “Unsurprisingly, many chapters — especially in the segregated South — opted not to admit black Scouts. Some troops imposed long waiting periods before letting blacks join, while others allowed black boys to join but prohibited them from wearing uniforms.” It wasn’t until decades after that first troop formed in 1911 “that many troops eased their rules on segregation, and not until 1974 when the Old Hickory council [in North Carolina] — one of the last segregated Boy Scout councils — finally integrated.”[4] Mansfield Troop No. 7 was noted in the News-Journal as being the only “colored” troop in the area up through the 1940s. Years after Troop 7 folded “committee chairman George Hayes helped organize Troop 137 and asked [Joe] Holmes to assist.”[5] Holmes would serve as scoutmaster of Troop 137 for over 30 years. His son Joe Holmes III would take over the all African-American troop in 1993, when his father retired.[6]

Obituary Picture, The Mansfield News-Journal 04 December 1965, p. 13.

Thompson Jackson was born in Henderson, Kentucky on April 1, 1882,[7] and had arrived in Mansfield around 1920. Jackson took an immediate interest in civic matters and, in addition to the Boy Scouts, headed the Mansfield Republican Club for Colored Voters; was elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1924; organized the Good Citizen League, and wrote often in the newspaper on matters concerning the African-American community. During his time in Mansfield, he was a city employee, a state liquor inspector, and worked at Westinghouse. Jackson retired in 1948 and continued civic and political activities. On May 30, 1953, he celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, Mildred.[8] The couple would stay in Mansfield until 1960 or 1961 before moving to Los Angeles, California. Thompson Jackson died on December 3, 1965.[9]

The Mansfield News-Journal, 31 May 1953, p. 27.

Eighteen of the twenty original members of Troop No. 7 were listed in the Mansfield News and included: Gallie Mattison, Roger William, Edgar Smith, James Jackson, Clarence Brandon, William Jones, Richard Jones, Joe Williams, Charles McKinley, Hilton Davis, Eugene Reynolds, Clayton Tucky, Joseph Brooker, Leonard Hayes, Amos Collins, Troy Jester, Eugene Brandon, and future civil rights leader J. D. Middlebrook.


Sources:

  1. https://aaregistry.org/story/the-african-american-boy-scout-movement-a-story/
  2. The Mansfield News, 30 September 1930, p. 4.
  3. The Mansfield News, 20 June 1925, p. 8.
  4. https://www.npr.org/2013/01/30/170585132/boy-scouts-repeal-of-gay-ban-mirrors-its-approach-to-racial-integration
  5. The Mansfield News Journal, 17 JAN 1988, p. 3H.
  6. The Mansfield News Journal, 20 FEB 1995, p. 7A.
  7. Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.
  8. The Mansfield News-Journal, 31 May 1953, p. 27.
  9. The Mansfield News-Journal, 04 December 1965, p. 13.

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