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Colored Orphan Asylum (Oxford, N.C.)
Annual Report of the Colored Orphan Asylum Located at Oxford, North Carolina from December 1, 1908, to December 1, 1909
Oxford, N.C.: The Asylum, 1910.

Summary

Items summarized here:

The seven documents summarized here provide a historical view of efforts to care for African American orphans in North Carolina. Periodic reports, which comprise the middle 5 documents in the list above, provide updates describing the incremental growth of the Colored Orphan Asylum in Oxford, NC (now called the Central Children's Home of North Carolina) along with the persistent efforts to raise funds to support the orphanage's growing enrollment. The first and last documents shown above, authored almost 50 years apart, reveal the great progress made during this period toward the goal of "racial uplift," as well as a shift in the prevailing tone of African American leaders in North Carolina. However, the authors of all these documents seem to have written with a common purpose, a sense of collective responsibility and shared goals that seems to have inspired the founders and directors of the orphanage during its first half-century.

The first document, an 1890 pamphlet titled "An Appeal for Help",takes a meek tone in its address to readers. It is filled with Christian references and reveals both optimism and pressing need. "We . . . earnestly ask that every church, Sunday-school and individual will pray the blessings of God upon the work," the authors write, adding that orphans "are coming in as rapidly as we can provide for them" (p. 1). The precise authorship of the 1890 "Appeal" is unclear; the document lists "A. Shepard, President," and "M.C. Ramson, Secretary" as cosigners, but it also asks interested parties to direct queries to "Rev. Robert Shepard" and contributions to "Mr. Henry Hester"—all residents of Oxford, NC, a small town north of Raleigh. This collective quality of authorship demonstrates the shared purpose and united efforts of many African Americans during the period after Reconstruction, when "racial uplift" and the need to combat racial prejudice were common goals. To that end, the authors express their desire to "open an industrial department as soon as possible" (p. 1). These comments suggest that African Americans in North Carolina were experiencing similar challenges to those of black Southerners elsewhere: during this period, the "Great Migration" from South to North left many homeless, economically insecure, and detached from extended families who once acted as support networks.

The "Appeal" also suggests that the founders of the Colored Orphan Asylum acted in the spirit of Booker T. Washington, who led the drive to found Tuskegee University in 1881, seeking to promote industrial and vocational education for young black Southerners ("History of Tuskegee University"). In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Washington promoted practical skills over abstract knowledge: "[w]e wanted to teach them to study actual things instead of mere books alone" (p. 126). Students at Tuskegee (including Ralph Ellison, who later critiqued Washington's philosophy in Invisible Man) were expected to work for their education, demonstrating initiative and dedication to a hard day's work in addition to academic inspiration.

The next five documents are annual reports from the Oxford orphanage, each addressing the year previous to the publication date. These annual reports contain specific metrics that may be interesting to students of history, political science, and sociology. For example, enrollment grew at a steady clip from 1908-1911: there were 144 students in October 1908, 165 in December 1909, 201 in December 1910, and 231 in December 1911. It is also telling that the ratio of girls to boys remained relatively constant over this period (ranging from 3:2 to 6:5), which suggests that caretakers may have been slightly more inclined to place female children in the care of the orphanage than male children. These annual reports also list the Board of Directors, which remained relatively static over these years, as well as lists of "receipts" and "disbursements" and a "Report of Superintendent" outlining the challenges faced and the progress made each year. In the 1909 report, for example, Superintendent H. P. Cheatham notes that "Although the management of the orphanage changed hands on the first of this year and to us everything was new, and notwithstanding the severe and embarrassing panic and floods, which have caused unusual hard times among the people, subjecting us to hardships and responsibilities of almost two years in one . . . this has been to us a prosperous year": the orphanage had added a "blacksmith and wood-working shop," a "shoe and harness shop," and a "three story 40x40 granary" complete with "ventilators . . . and glass windows" in 1908 (pp. 3, 4). Cheatham also praised the "Father of the Fatherless" for the good health of the orphanage's residents, despite outbreaks of typhoid and scarlet fever that had plagued Oxford, including "our 'sister home,' the white orphanage here" (p. 6).

The most interesting of these five annual reports might be the first, published in 1900, which includes a concise history of the founding of the orphanage as well as the institution's constitution (adopted in 1891) and bylaws (added in 1899). The report notes that the orphanage was originally organized under the auspices of the Wake Baptist Association and the Shiloh Baptist Association, and had originally been designated "The Colored Baptist Orphan Association of North Carolina," but that the all-Baptist board had decided to strike the religious affiliation from the title "so that when the doors of the Asylum were first opened . . . the most needy colored orphan children were invited to come, regardless of denomination" (pp. 3-4). The author (or authors, who might include Shephard) emphasize the founding role of "Rev. A. Shephard," who "saw the pressing need" for the orphanage in order to redeem destitute children "from the gutters of vice and misery" in order that "instead of being a dark blot upon civilization and Christianity, they might become blessings in the communities in which they live" (p. 3). The report also acknowledges that "[m]any of the best white people encouraged the movement, and some of them tendered substantial aid in helping us commence the work by giving of their means" (p. 4).

The last document, a 1939 pamphlet from the Oxford orphanage, echoes the collective, group-based tone of the original 1890 "Appeal" but sounds a new note of pride in the determined individuals who founded the orphanage against all odds. In a short preface, superintendent T. K. Borders expresses his desire that readers "see the Orphanage through the eyes of four members of the Board of Directors" (p. 2). This comment is followed by the transcripts of speeches by Dr. E. E. Toney, Mr. B. W. Parham, and Mr. J.W. Medford, all of Oxford, NC, as well as Dr. C. C. Spaulding, President of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham, NC. Each address had been previously broadcast over WPTF, a Raleigh, North Carolina, radio station.

Dr. Toney's address again recounts the history of the "Colored Orphanage," noting that "[i]n 1883 a group of Negroes became possessed with the idea that there should be some place in North Carolina where homeless Negro children who had lost their parents might be given the care and training of a home" (p. 3). Toney honors the contributions of two other men: "the late Hon. H. P. Cheatham . . . and the Rev. Augustus Shepard," both from Henderson, North Carolina, and goes on to list the entire Board of Directors by name (p. 3). He also notes with pride that "[t]he 16 acres of land in 1883 have become 450 acres in 1938," and the original three buildings have grown to "eleven brick modern structures" (p. 3). Finally, Toney thanks the "sympathetic individuals" who contributed to the orphanage's support during the "very trying" early years, as well as the state of North Carolina and the "Duke Endowment" (p. 3).

In his address, Mr. B. W. Parham points out that Oxford is actually home to two orphanages: "the Oxford Orphanage, a splendid institution owned by the Masonic Fraternity of North Carolina and well-known throughout the State; and the Colored Orphanage of North Carolina, not so well known" (p. 4). Describing the history of the Colored Orphanage, Parham states: "It just grew. I doubt if anybody can tell just how it grew" (p. 4). Parham argues that technical training is crucial to the mission of the orphanage: "[u]nless we can develop these boys and girls into good citizens, both willing and able to earn a living and to make their contribution to the welfare and progress of the State, we have done very little" (p. 4, p. 7). Parham concludes with the observation that "[w]e do not solve social problems by the court or the jail or the chain gang," and he urges North Carolinians to support the "great work" of the Colored Orphanage (p. 7).

J. W. Medford, the orphanage's treasurer, notes that "[t]he Duke family has for many years exhibited a great deal of interest in the Orphanage and their liberal contributions have provided a school building, a little boys dormitory and many other desirable additions to the plant" (p. 5). In addition to thanking these benefactors, he addresses the needs of the orphanage, urging "the colored people of North Carolina" to "[l]ook into the faces of these 150 children . . . who will soon be out of the Orphanage, and citizens of our State" and to contribute to the orphanage's funds (p. 8).

Dr. C.C. Spaulding, whom many credit for the black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company's early success, became general manager of the company in 1900 and succeeded Dr. Aaron Moore as president in 1923 ("Spaulding"). In the transcript of his radio address, Spaulding outlines the history of the orphanage and the directors' plans for its future. He concludes with an appeal for racial pride and cooperation, noting that "the moral and spiritual growth of a race is largely dependent upon the investment made in Youth" (p. 6).

The 1939 pamphlet concludes with a list of "Needs of the Colored Orphanage of North Carolina," which include the construction of a cow barn, repainting expenses, an increase in capacity, and "more adequate" clothing, food, and training for its wards. This second appeal, and others since then, raised at least enough funds to keep the home open and operating. The orphanage, which has since been renamed the Central Children's Home of North Carolina, now describes its mission as caring for individuals aged 9-21 who cannot remain with their parents because of "dependency, neglect or abuse" ("Central Children's Home").

Works Consulted: "Central Children's Home of North Carolina, Inc.: 'Pioneer Child Care Institution': About Us," referenced 20 Dec 2009; "History of Tuskegee University," Tuskegee University, referenced 20 Dec 2009>; "Spaulding, C. C. (Charles Clinton), 1874-1952," Civil Rights Digital Library, referenced 30 Dec 2009; Washington, Booker T., Up From Slavery, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995.

Patrick E. Horn

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