Monday, February 8, 2021

Policing Racial Boundaries in 1920s: Herman Hayes, D. H. Brown, and Charlie Maxwell

Tonight Council will make a proclamation about Black History Month. There is positive history to retrieve and celebrate, of course, but a lot of the history here is downright ugly and often just wicked. The proclamation recognizes in general terms the legacy of "white supremacy."

A century ago we see some of it. In February of 1921 two highly racialized cases made front page news. Police here arrested Herman Hayes and D. H. Brown on flimsy charges, more about policing social boundaries and social status than about any actual crimes. The cases were about power.

February 4th, 1921

The first case of Herman Hayes trades on very deliberate slippage between "annoy" and "assault" as well as an implied white audience:

Warm remonstrances of Herman Hayes, a negro bootblack employed at the Salem shoe shining parlors, 315 State street, were hastily concluded yesterday when Constable Walter DeLong jerked the colored man into the street and took him before Judge G. E. Unruh on an assault and battery charge, preferred by Arthur Myers, 13, a Capital Journal newsboy. After a some what drawn out session in which Hayes repeatedly declared he was innocent and "knew his rights and privileges," he entered a plea of not guilty.

His trial by jury will be held Monday morning at 10:30 o'clock. He was released on $25 bond.

The alleged assault was precipitated by countless annoyances which, he claims, the local newsboys have undergone at the hands of certain colored men.

February 7th, 1921

The second case of D. H. Brown is more volatile and harder to parse. Could be an affair, could be prostitution, might not even be sex and just a pretext for "sending a message" to the "uppity." That they were employed at the same shoe shine business might be significant. Whatever is going on here, it can't be read in a straightforward way from the description in the paper; something else is going on.

A negro bootblack employed at the Salem shoe shining parlors, 315 Slate street, who gave his name as D. H. Brown, and a white woman about 26 years of age who says [her] name is Irene Bradley, of 245½ First street, Portland, were arrested yesterday by Chief of Police Moffitt in Brown's room at 185 South Commercial street.

Both are held in the city jail on statutory charges...

D. H. Brown might have been prosperous or had access to a network of emergency funds. He paid a substantial fine very quickly.

Lynching in Salem newspapers
January 4th, 1921
January 19th, 1921

In a national environment where lynching was very much a possibility, it seems likely he wanted to conclude the matter as quickly as possible. That may have seemed far more prudent than trying to establish any innocence by contesting the case.

February 8th, 1921

February 9th, 1921

Bradley was not able to come up with the money for her fine, and she was also sentenced to jail time. She asked for, or demanded, help, and was rebuffed also. "A request for assistance which she made of the negro was refused by the colored man the police said today." It is not possible to say what that might signify about the nature of their relationship.

A few days later, Herman Hayes secured his jury verdict of "not guilty," and the jury may have agreed that whatever the newsboy meant by "countless annoyances," it did not rise to the level of assault, maybe even was nothing, and was a fabricated charge.

February 12th, 1921

A year and a half later, the nascent KKK harassed Charlie Maxwell. Maxwell had been a porter for the Oregon Electric, and in 1918 purchased a shoe shine business. It could be the same one that employed Hayes and Brown, but I am not sure. Maxwell's wife sang in the Leslie Methodist Episcopal Church. They were a musical family. In 1922 he was targeted and harassed.

October 25th, 1922

The rise of the second KKK will be a theme we follow here in 1921. They were definitely active here in 1922 and 1923, so we want to be alert to signs in 1921. 

Even more than Governor Pierce, House Speaker Kaspar K. Kubli was closely aligned with the Klan. Here he is in 1921 before being elected Speaker.

Kaspar K. Kubli (left), February 8th, 1921

And a headline from a year later in 1922 during election season, followed in 1923 with a great parade from downtown to the Fair Grounds right here in Salem. (This parade has not got the attention it deserves and there may be more to say later on it.)

Politics (l) on September 25th, 1922
Big Parade (r) on November 11th, 1923

The harassment Maxwell faced was aligned with power at the highest level of Oregon state government and with popular and commercial culture here in Salem. It was not just some fringey thing by racist cranks. As with Hayes and Brown, the police could be mobilized for it also.

Maxwell's story has some better turns, maybe not happy, but better.

March 24th, 1928

A few years later in 1928, just after Salem adopted its first zoning ordinance, Maxwell was trying "to establish a chicken dinner and lunch counter establishment." He'd arranged for a lot in the new Hollywood district, but the land wasn't zoned quite right for the business and building he wanted. 58 neighbors signed a petition in support of him and his business project. The piece is interesting. It makes clear problems with zoning we still have today, and there is also a mix of esteem and racist condescension for Maxwell.

One great difficulty in applying the zoning ordinance and avoiding all its technical complications grows out of the fact that Salem has no building code and inspection ordinance and has been trying for two years to enact one in the city council. Charlie Maxwell has more friends than almost any colored man in Oregon and at sessions of the legislature holds the highly honorable position of chief high muckimuck of the state house shoe shining parlor, for lawmakers, state officials and lady stenogs. One day at the command of Senator George Joseph he occupied a seat in the state senate that had been assigned to Senator Joe Dunne, and the Senate nearly elected him one of its members as the biggest man in Oregon. Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell, the latter a vocalist and music teacher, have a family of nine children. The oldest daughter, aged 25, has been a missionary of the African M. E. church for two years. Two of the children are at work away from home. A younger daughter is a violinist in Los Angeles. The children have all attended the Salem public schools and one of the girls is in Willamette university. The rest are In the grade and high schools. The entire family is industrious and all are highly esteemed by Salem people.

A year later he catered a big annual luncheon for the Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs in Hagers Grove. (There must have been more than just chicken and watermelon, and even here the culinary stereotype infects the narrative. He should be a member of the clubs, of course, but he appears to be regarded as only hired help. Hagers Grove today is sadly disrupted by I-5 and Mission Street, the venerable and inaccessible Pear tree its main legacy.)

July 13th, 1929

Still, it appears Charlie Maxwell felt he needed to leave town after a couple of years. Maybe it was just the Depression and its effects on business, but there were other currents also. In 2016 the University of Oregon published a note on daughter Maxine Maxwell, "Maxine Maxwell and the First Protest Against UO Discriminatory Housing Regulations." In passing they mentioned that Charlie moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s or later. Here's a note from 1931 that suggests he moved that year.

July 23rd, 1931

Over at Shine on Salem, Virginia Green also discusses Maxwell in her piece from the Spring 2002 Historic Marion, "Hidden Citizens: Blacks in Salem through the Years."

Here you will recall "Ten Days in Jail for Tearing Down a Whites Only Sign in 1920" and notes on the exclusionary impulse behind the first zoning scheme, "Salem's First Zoning in 1926 Grapples with Laundries, Junk Yards, and Signs."

1 comment:

Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for linking to Virginia Green's terrific article! Everyone needs to read this for Black History Month. Her research is very impressive. She is still going strong at age 93.