Draft:Julian D Steele (Social Worker, Public Citizen)

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Julian Denegal Steele (October 20, 1906, Savannah, Georgia - January 17, 1970, West Newbury, Massachusetts) was a social worker, activist, and federal, state, and local office holder--often the first African-American to hold such a post--in New England.

Early Life and Education[edit]

Julian Steele was born on October 20, 1906, in Savannah, Georgia,[1][2] home to his father's family for several generations. His father, Alexander McPherson Steele, was a postal worker.[3][4] Around age seven, Steele moved with his family to Boston, Massachusetts[5] his mother's hometown. Steele’s mother, Minnie Sarah Ellis Steele, was the daughter of a Jamaican minister, Rev. Alexander Ellis, who served as a pastor in Boston.[6][7] Steele’s brother, Joseph Alexander Ellis Steele, was a noted jazz musician. Steele attended Boston Latin School, graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1929,[8] and pursued graduate studies in social work in New York.[9]

Social Work Career and Mixed Marriage[edit]

By 1932 Steele was superintendent of Boston's Robert Gould Shaw Settlement in Roxbury, where he met his future wife, Mary Bradley Dawes, an expert in early childhood education.[10][11] Anticipating controversy associated with his impending mixed-race marriage, Steele offered to resign his position at the Shaw Settlement. A divided board accepted.[12] Students at Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee, where Mary Dawes was doing graduate work, hung two “Negroes” in effigy to protest the engagement.[13]

The quiet May, 1938 wedding in New York City between a "Negro social worker" and "Boston socialite" generated nationwide press.[14][15][16][17] In Congress, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo commented that Mary Dawes "appears to be sustained in her mad insane determination to mingle blood impregnated with the highest genetic values of the Caucasian and the blood of an African whose racial strains have dwelt for six thousand years or more in the jungles of a continent.”[18] Notwithstanding the controversy, in 1939 Julian Steele began work heading up Boston's new Armstrong Hemenway Foundation, focusing on affordable housing.[19]

Life in Small Town New England: Massachusetts' First African-American Town Moderator[edit]

In 1943, Julian and Mary Steele purchased a farm in West Newbury, Massachusetts,[20] a predominately rural North Shore town within commuting distance of Steele's work in Boston.[21] The Steeles' daughter was born the following year.[22] Steele, who established a dairy herd for his working farm, said that the friendly countryside held appeal as a good place to have a family.[23] He also stated,"In West Newbury a man can be an avid admirer of Senator Joe McCarthy and an equally avid advocate of racial and religious tolerance."[24]

Julian Steele (right) with Roland Hayes outside West Newbury Town Hall c. 1947; Courtesy of West Newbury Historical Society

In March 1952, Julian Steele, the only African-American voter among some 1,500 residents, was elected West Newbury's town meeting moderator. He was the first African-American town moderator in Massachusetts.[25] Townspeople credited him with "elevating the cultural life of the community."[26] Steele was a founder and the moderator of West Newbury's "wide-awake Town Hall Forum," a weekly lecture series[27] and he participated in the town's summer theater.[28] Steele was instrumental in the decision of renowned African-American tenor Roland Hayes to purchase a summer home in West Newbury[29] on Crane Neck Street, just up from the Steele farm.[30] Hayes, in turn, performed at local events including a charity concert in West Newbury town hall.[31]

For at least a decade, Steele was Massachusetts' only African-American town moderator.[32] In the direct democracy of New England town meeting, the moderator serves to supervise, guide, and referee townspeople's debate leading to votes determining the course of municipal budgets and agendas for the coming year.[33] At the time of Steele's election, local writer Margaret Coit described town meeting as West Newbury's "favorite indoor sport," where free speech was the rule and "controversy was cherished for its own sake."[34] Steele served as West Newbury's moderator until his death.[35]

Career as a State and Federal Official[edit]

Julian Steele held a number of state and federal posts, often as the first African-American in the position. He was appointed to the Massachusetts Parole Board in 1954.[36] During his tenure, Massachusetts conducted an in-depth evaluation of the death penalty. The state Attorney General supported repeal,[37] those opposing capital punishment asserted that it usually reflected race or class prejudice, while the minority who favored it cited deterrence.[38] The parole board was divided: Steele favored abolishment, saying "the state should not take a human life because the state cannot create it."[39] When Steele, the sole remaining Republican on the parole board, was passed over for reappointment in favor of a Democratic candidate, civic and religious groups protested the alleged politicization of the board.[40]

In 1960, Steele was appointed assistant administrator of the U.S. Housing and Home Financing Agency, with responsibility for New England and New York. Massachusetts Senator Leverett Saltonsall said at the time that Steele was the first African-American person appointed to such a high position in that agency.[41] Steele became the Deputy Commissioner of Urban Renewal in Massachusetts' Department of Commerce and Development in 1965.[42] When he was appointed commissioner of Massachusetts' new Department of Community Affairs in 1968, Steele became the first African American to head an agency in the state. At Steele's swearing in, Governor John Volpe called Steele the “ideal man to carry forth with the development, renewal and rehabilitation of the communities in the Commonwealth and the mobilization of state forces to fight poverty.”[43]

Civil Rights Advocacy and Church Leadership[edit]

Steele's assertion, "Human progress can be measured largely in terms of acceptance of difference as interesting and our common humanity as profoundly important"[44][45] informed his activism in civic and religious fields. Throughout his life, he advocated for a number of causes, among them civil rights[46][47] and affordable housing.[48][49]

A 1937 profile in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, cataloged Julian Steele's activities as a young professional ranging from organizing aid to Ethiopia to working with Boston planners on housing--all in furtherance of his "cardinal principle . . . that Negroes must cooperate with whites."[50] Steele held several leadership posts with the NAACP beginning in the 1940s,[51] including president of the Boston Branch.[52][53] In 1958 he was elected president of Boston's Urban League.[54]

Julian Steele also assumed leadership positions in church groups. Active in his church in West Newbury, he became moderator for the Congregationalists of Essex County and then vice-moderator for the state.[55] In 1954 Steele was named the first African-American moderator (principal layman) of the Massachusetts Congregational Christian Conference,[56] a denomination descending directly from the Puritans.[57]

Death and Legacy[edit]

On January 17, 1970, Julian Steele died of a heart attack in his sleep at home in West Newbury.[58] After services in Roxbury attended by some 800 mourners, Steele was buried in West Newbury.[59] Steele was the subject of an appreciation in the Congressional Record,[60] and at its 1971 annual town meeting, the Town of West Newbury read a proclamation stating in part that "in the passing of Julian Steele who served the Town as Moderator, the Town has lost a valuable and faithful public servant who has left an example of a life worthy of the emulation of all."[61]

An elders' housing center in Melrose, Massachusetts, was named after Steele in the months following his death.[62] A 1950's-era housing project in Lowell, Massachusetts, since razed, was also named for him.[63] A collection of his papers is housed in the Archival Research Center at Boston University.[64]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Yesterday in Afro-American History". Jet. XXXIX (3): 10. October 22, 1970. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Julian Steele, State Agency Head, Dies". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. January 19, 1970. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Negro and White Secretly Marry in New York City". The Dunkirk Evening Observer. Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York. May 11, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  4. ^ Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census (1905). "Railway Mail Service". U.S., Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service, 1863-1959. 3: 1624/1636. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Julian Steele, State Agency Head, Dies". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. January 19, 1970. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  6. ^ "Joy Street Methodist Church: Charles Sumner the Champion of the Colored Race--The Reverend Alexander Ellis's Sermon". The Boston Globe. March 16, 1974. p. 2. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Notices: A complimentary testimonial dinner will be given Rev. Alexander Ellis on his retirement after fourteen years of service in Boston". The Boston Globe. January 20, 1882. p. 2. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  8. ^ Davis, William A. (January 18, 1970). "Massachusetts Community Affairs Commissioner Julian D. Steele, 63". The Boston Globe. p. 65. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Julian Steele, State Agency Head, Dies". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. January 19, 1970. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Says Negroes Lead in Several Ways: Dr. Cabot Sees Superiority in Song, Stories, and Nerve". The Boston Globe. February 17, 1932. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Mary B. Steele, 85; Specialist in Early Childhood Education". The Boston Globe. January 15, 1993. p. 75. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  12. ^ "Negro Social Worker and White Girl Wed: Mary B. Dawes, Former Schoolteacher, Bride of Steele at Quiet Ceremony in New York". The Boston Globe. May 11, 1938. p. 10. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  13. ^ Sarah Deutsch (2004). "The Politics of Sex and Race in Boston's NAACP, 1920-1940". In O'Toole, James M.; Quigley, David (eds.). Boston's Histories: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. O'Connor. Boston: Northeastern University Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-55553-582-7. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Boston Socialite Weds Negro Social Worker; Bride Related to General Dawes, Met in Settlement House, Engaged Long Time". The San Francisco Examiner. May 12, 1938. p. 8. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  15. ^ "Strange Romance". Stevens Point Journal. Wisconsin. May 14, 1938. p. 10. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Mixed Wedding Revealed: Social Worker, Colored Mate, on Honeymoon". Daily News. New York. May 12, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  17. ^ "Mary Dawes, Boston Society Girl, Is Married to Negro: Daughter of Old New England Family Is Secretly Wed to Julian Steele, Social Worker". The Record. Hackensack, New Jersey. May 11, 1938. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  18. ^ Rogers, J.A. (1944). Sex and Race, Volume 3: Negro-Caucasian Mixing in All Ages and All Lands -- Why White and Black Mix in Spite of Opposition (citing April 24, 1939 Congressional Record p. 4654) (5th ed.). Wesleyan University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-8195-7509-8. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  19. ^ "Julian Steele Head of New Foundation: Shaw House Ex-Director in Social Service Post". The Boston Globe. March 9, 1939. p. 13. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Deed". salemdeeds.com. Essex County, Massachusetts. May 26, 1943. pp. Book 3330 Page 395. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  21. ^ Coit, Margaret L. (August 17, 1969). "Looking Backward and Forward at 150". The New York Times. pp. 13/440. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Baby Born to Harvard Negro and White Wife". Daily News. New York. U.P. September 6, 1944. p. 4. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  23. ^ Marion, Frieda (March 2, 1950). "Julian D. Steele, Nationally Known Welfare Worker, Has Farm Estate in West Newbury". Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Herald. pp. A15/23. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  24. ^ "Georgia-Born Moderator Has Strong Yankee Background". Ebony. 8 (12): 58. October 1953. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  25. ^ "West Newbury: Julian D. Steele Is New Town Moderator". The Boston Globe. AP. March 4, 1952. p. 25. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  26. ^ "Bay State Negro Elected: Town Names Only Voter of His Race to Be Moderator". The New York Times. AP. March 5, 1952. p. 24. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  27. ^ Marion, Frieda (March 2, 1950). "Julian D. Steele, Nationally Known Welfare Worker, Has Farm Estate in West Newbury". Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Herald. pp. A15/23. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  28. ^ "New Summer Theatre". The Boston Globe. March 14, 1947. p. 27. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  29. ^ "Roland Hayes, Noted Singer To Be Eagerly Welcomed as Resident of West Newbury". Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Herald. November 11, 1946. p. 11. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  30. ^ de Lue, Willard (March 7, 1951). "Meet Mary Ellen Who's 'Going to Meet the Kids'". The Boston Globe. p. 20. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  31. ^ "Roland Hayes Enthralls West Newbury Hearers: World Famed Tenor Dedicates His Talent to Aid Civic Cause in His Adopted Home Town". Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Herald. March 5, 1949. p. 1. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  32. ^ Rollins, Bryant (February 28, 1962). "West Newbury Formula: 'A Touch of Humor Cools the Hotheads'". The Boston Globe. p. 25. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  33. ^ "A Citizen's Guide to Town Meetings" (PDF). Citizen's Guide to Town Meetings. William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Citizen Information Service. pp. 2/8, 6/12, 7/13. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  34. ^ Coit, Margaret L. (February 24, 1952). "The Small Town Under Big Pressures: Urgent new pressures threaten old frugality at a New England hamlet's annual meeting" (contains photos of town hall, Julian Steele and his predecessor moderator). The New York Times. pp. 20/196, 21/197, 23/199. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  35. ^ Davis, William A. (January 18, 1970). "Massachusetts Community Affairs Commissioner Julian D. Steele, 63". The Boston Globe. p. 65. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  36. ^ "Julian Steele Sworn as Parole Board Member". The Boston Globe. June 3, 1954. p. 3. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  37. ^ Lewis, William J. (March 19, 1959). "Repeal Urged By McCormack". The Boston Globe. p. 1. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  38. ^ Lewis, William J. (March 19, 1959). "Repeal Urged By McCormack". The Boston Globe. p. 4. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  39. ^ "Parole Board Splits on Abolishing of the Death Penalty". The North Adams Transcript. December 3, 1957. p. 7. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  40. ^ "Fercolo Change in Parole Board Strongly Protested". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. May 20, 1959. p. 16. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  41. ^ "Steele Installed as Top Aide in U.S. Agency". The Boston Globe. August 12, 1960. p. 3. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  42. ^ "3 New Commerce Deputies Named By Gov. Volpe". The North Adams Transcript. March 10, 1965. p. 3. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  43. ^ "Steele, First Negro to Head State Agency, Sworn in". The Boston Globe. November 7, 1968. p. 26. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  44. ^ "Julian Steele: Extended Remarks of Hon. Hastings Keith of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives" (PDF). U.S. Congressional Record. 116 (Part 8): 11139. April 8, 1970. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  45. ^ Davis, William A. (January 18, 1970). "Massachusetts Community Affairs Commissioner Julian D. Steele, 63". The Boston Globe. p. 65. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  46. ^ Dean, Amy (February 22, 2002). "Connections: How Special Collections, archival holdings tell the story of our time: Julian Steele's fight for Negro nurses and physicians". B.U. Bridge. V (25).
  47. ^ "Peace Problem Begins Here, Says Julian Steele". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. February 6, 1945. p. 9.
  48. ^ Lewis, William J. (December 15, 1969). "Cost of Housing 'Imperils Building Program'". The Boston Globe. p. 5. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  49. ^ Wilson, David B. (May 16, 1968). "Political Circuit: A House Free of Debt for All!". The Boston Globe. p. 27. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  50. ^ Harrison, W.E. (March 1937). Wilkins, Roy (ed.). "The Robert Shaw Gould House". The Crisis. 44 (3): 79–80. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  51. ^ "The Inventory of the Julian Steele Collection #727" (PDF). Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. Boston University. p. 30. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  52. ^ "Mass Meeting Will Hear Plan for Racial Peace". The Boston Globe. July 9, 1943. p. 13. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  53. ^ Moon, Henry Lee, ed. (March 1970). "In Memoriam: January 16, West Newbury, Mass. Julian D. Steele". The Crisis. 77 (3): 115. ISSN 0011-1422.
  54. ^ "Boston Urban League Elects Julian Steele". The Boston Globe. February 27, 1958. p. 29. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  55. ^ "Negro Named Vice-Moderator of Mass. Churches". Jet. IV (6): 36. June 18, 1953. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  56. ^ "West Newbury Negro Heads Church Alliance". The Boston Globe. May 18, 1954. p. 1. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  57. ^ "The Congregational Christian Tradition". Congregational Library and Archives History Matters. Congregational Library and Archives. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  58. ^ Davis, William A. (January 18, 1970). "Massachusetts Community Affairs Commissioner Julian D. Steele, 63". The Boston Globe. p. 65. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  59. ^ "800 Attend Services for Julian Steele, 63". The Boston Globe. January 21, 1970. p. 39. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  60. ^ "Julian Steele: Extended Remarks of Hon. Hastings Keith of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives" (PDF). U.S. Congressional Record. 116 (Part 8): 11139. April 8, 1970. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  61. ^ "Annual Statement of the Receipts and Expenditures of the Town of West Newbury for the Fiscal Year Ending December 31, 1971, Together with the Reports of the School Committee, Board of Engineers, Trustees of the Public Library, Assessors, Auditor, Treasurer and Collector and the Statistics of the Town Clerk" [Annual Town Meeting - 1971] (PDF). Annual Report of the Town of West Newbury. FY 1971: 11. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  62. ^ "Center Named After J. Steele". The Boston Globe. March 24, 1970. p. 3. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  63. ^ McConville, Christine (January 12, 2003). "City Seeks to Raze Site, Despite Appeal". The Boston Globe. pp. 1/199, 4/203. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  64. ^ "The Inventory of the Julian Steele Collection #727" (PDF). Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. Boston University. Retrieved 14 August 2019.