Thursday, September 15, 2011

Arthur H. Murray: Boston First Black Fireman

Dear Boston Society of Vulcans, It was an honor to compile historical research regarding the commissioning of the first African American City of Boston Fireman. However, it is my hope that your organization will follow up on the new information I am going to provide. My research reveals that on May 21, 1897, the first commissioned African American Boston fireman was commissioned. He is several times referred to as A. H. Murray, Augustus H. Murray and Arthur. H. Murray. Interestingly it appears that his commission may have been the direct result of three important facts. (1) The appointment of fireman Murray was due to Col. Henry Sturgis Russell, the City of Boston fire commissioner at the time. Nineteen years earlier, as Boston police commissioner, he appointed the first African American Boston policeman, Horatio J. Homer. (2) Col. Henry Sturgis Russell was a first cousin of Col. Robert Gould Shaw. (3) Several days after Murray’s commission, the Col. Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial on Boston Common was dedicated and unveiled on Memorial Day, May 31, 1897. The event began with a large parade including 1000 veterans of the Seventh New York Regiment, marching some thirty years after they had fought together. Gun salutes were fired from ships in the Boston Harbor and from Battery A on the Common. Speeches were held in the Music Hall. In attendance were Massachusetts Governor Roger Wolcott, Harvard College's President Charles W. Eliot, Booker T. Washington as well as surviving members of the 54th Regiment. I hope this information is a catalyst to continue to document African American public service in the city of Boston.

Clement G. Morgan: The message I bring to you is a very short one. The watchword of the hour is unity.

Throughout history there have been countless calls for "Unity!" Even today, throughout the scores of nations and communities of the modern world there are calls for "unity" of thought and action. Occasionally when researching history, much like mining for precious ore, a diamond of unknown information is discovered. On 9 July 1890, Clement Garnet Morgan, then a 21 year old African American graduate of Harvard College, delivered an address upon “Race Unity” before a large gathering of the colored National League. The words he spoke that night in the Charles Street A. M. E. Church in Boston were said thirty-nine years before the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King. What I find remarkable today is that the call for unity then among his fellow black brothers and sisters, in many respects rings true for the call for unity today as Americans regardless of cultural heritage, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Therefore, I post Mr. Morgan’s words as recorded by the Boston Globe 121 years ago for your edification and thought.

“The message I bring to you is a very short one. The watchword of the hour is unity. Unity of feeling, thought and action”.

"The duty of the hour is work; work with a will and purpose.”

“I am glad to be a Negro, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart.” (Applause).

“I mean to be a Negro.” (Applause.)

“On the bottom of my heart is written Negro.” (Applause.)

“Let me say to you this fight means business. You and I can not escape it. It is business all the way.”

“We should be given every chance of cultivating heart and head. Where will you find greater persecution than among the colored people of this country.” (Applause.)

“We are loyal and never had an anarchist. For loyalty look at Bunker Hill, the Boston massacre and Fort Sumter.” (Cries of hear! Hear!)

“Be true to yourselves. Be true to each other. Believe me, I am not speaking idle words to you. There have been cases where we have not been true to each other.” (Cries of True! True!)

“We cannot advance a single inch without this. Take those things home and think of them in your rooms tonight and tomorrow, and all through this fight. It is going to be a moral fight. You and I, so sure as we have justice and fair play on our side, will win.” (Applause.)

“But we must be sincere. You and I are not unselfish in any cause unless we are willing to sacrifice all. We must be thoroughly educated. Everyone makes some sacrifices for the good of race or country. Go into the schools of Boston and how many colored children do you find there? You can count them in a few times around your fingers.”

“Save something, send your boys through college. Don't think that there is no opening after they go through. There is an opening and there is one for your boy.”

“I wonder what became of the movement of your young women to secure places in Boston stores. I am almost sure that movement hangs in the balance; you were not in earnest. Get in earnest and be about our business. We should feel these things from the bottom of our hearts. Men are forcing these things. Pick up the gauntlet and send it back. Face them and don't be ashamed.”

“I want to hit again that question of the Negro. I love the race and am not ashamed of Negro blood. If any of you are ashamed of your blood it is cowardice! (Cries of Good! Good!) and someday it might face you.” (Applause)

“We want to educate thoroughly. We must accumulate and we must demand an open field and fair play, and if we are right we will get that.”

“Men are thinking of you and your backwardness every day. Get out of this. We want every one of you to feel as an American and man, and act as such. Be united and true to each other, be proud of your blood, and condemn every one who speaks spitefully against it.” (Applause)

“Do what you can. Get into what avenues you can, be patient and complain not.”

“Take your medicine like men. One thing is certain, it will kill or cure, and I think it will cure before it kills.” (Laughter)

“In conclusion, let us have united feeling, work, accumulation and demand.”

Clement Garnet Morgan

Clement Garnett Morgan was born in Stafford County, Virginia, on 9 January 1859. His slave parents, on being emancipated, moved to Washington, where he attended high school. Morgan then worked as a barber and went to St. Louis to teach school for four years. Moving to Boston, he spent two years at Boston Latin School as preparation for entering Harvard College at the age of 27. Barbering and substantial scholarships covered most of his expenses. As a junior he won first prize in the annual oratory contest (the second prize going his black classmate W.E.B. Du Bois). He received his bachelor’s degree in1890, proceeding directly to Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1893 – the school’s third black graduate and the first of his race to hold degrees from both the College and Law School.
For the rest of his life he resided in Cambridge and maintained a law practice in the same Boston office at 39 Court Street. 

He was active in Republican politics and, elected from an almost all-white ward, served on the Cambridge Common Council in 1895 and 1896 and on the Board of Aldermen in 1898 and 1899, but thrice was an unsuccessful aspirant to the state legislature. Ever the agitator, he was in 1903 largely successful responsible for the closing of a segregated school for 33 black children in the western Massachusetts town of Sheffield. 

In 1905, Morgan became a founding member of the Niagara Movement (1905-1910), and headed its Massachusetts branch. In 1909, he followed W. E.B. Du Bois into the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). For the remainder of his life, he continued to fight for African American rights through his profession and through protest activities. Clement Garnett Morgan died at Massachusetts Homeopathic Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 1 June 1929.