This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The A.&M. College Band from Greensboro

01 May 2015




When you receive a postcard in the mail, which side do you look at first? The picture on the front? Or the message on the back? Though the real story of this postcard starts on the back, we begin with the photo on the front.  

There was never a question about the name of the band. It was clearly written on the bass drum – the A&M College Band of Greensboro, N.C.  Seated and standing around it were 25 young African-American bandsmen dressed in simple military style uniforms.






The musicians were students of the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Color Race, established in 1891 and now known as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University or NC A&T.  It is one of the 106 historical black colleges founded in the days of racial segregation to provide institutions of higher education for America's black community. 






Minus the border margins the actual postcard image is quite small at only 4½ x 2 inches. The band stands on the steps of a brick building holding just brass instruments – 10 cornets, 4 trombones, 7 baritones and tubas, along with a snare, a bass drum, and cymbals, .  







There was never a question about the date either, as the postmark is very sharp
Dec. 4, 1914 Greensboro, N.C

On the other hand, reading the message was a bit tricky.






Margarets Father
buried yesterday.
Charles

Mrs. M. Stewart
421 Arnett St.
Jacksonville
Illinois



This was not a typical note for a postcard. Such a simple but terse sentence might need no other words, but why would Charles write it on a postcard of a college band? The only reason that made sense was that someone might do that if they were pictured in the group photo. 

So I followed the address to Jacksonville, IL, a small town just east of Peoria on the way to Bloomington. The name in the city directory for that address was Stewart, which led me to the 1900 census where I found Jacob Stewart, age 44, a barber who lived on 421 Arnett Street with his wife, Martha, and three children. The youngest was a daughter, Marietta, age 11, then two sons, Mahatha S., age 12, and Charles E., age 18, born in March 1882.




So if this postcard was a note sent to his home, who was Magaret? Presumably it was Charles's wife. But it could just as easily be his girl friend. Or a cousin. Or his landlady. The name combinations still offered too many other possibilities to learn anything more. So I put this detective case into a virtual back folder and moved on to other stories. That was several years ago.

Last week I took another look at the postcard of the A&M College Band 
and was surprised and excited at how much more could be discovered.

* * *

1915 NC General Assembly Journal


One of the curious habits of people in earlier times was their use of initials in names. Perhaps it came from signature styles and the way that a middle initial was the distinguishing letter for keeping track of men named after their fathers and grandfathers. For this new search I used "C. E. Stewart" and it brought up a matching Greensboro reference in Google's book archive.

On page 341 of the NC General Assembly Journal of 1915 was a list of the monthly salary roll for the Academic Department of the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race at Greensboro. The fifth highest paid was:

C.E.Stewart, Music, History .. $66.66

Now the postcard message made sense. Charles E. Stewart taught music at the A&M college! Of course he would want want his mother to see his school band along with the sad news.

Charles's annual salary was $800 (Which when divided by 12 months makes for the odd $66.66.) In the context of the salaries for everyone from the college president to the assistant cook it seems quite generous, but it was only half of what a teacher at one of North  Carolina's white colleges was paid.  


* * *



Next to Wikipedia, the website Archive.org has become one of my favorite places for locating unusual historical documents. This week I found new material on the A&M College which included several of the early school bulletins. In the 1910-11 school annual was this photo of the college faculty.

In the band's photo the man with shoulder epaulets on his coat and standing at the very back
is the same man standing here at the front row right.
Charles E. Stewart.

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Faculty 1910-11
Source: Archive.org



Both photos were taken on front entrance steps of the main building on the A&M Greensboro campus. It was completed in 1893 and the first classes opened that fall. In 1904 the college added a 100 acre farm equipped with the latest agricultural machinery. 


Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Main Building 1910-11
Source: Archive.org



The college offered four-year Bachelor of Science degrees in Agriculture or Mechanics. Courses included horticulture, animal husbandry, steam engines, and brick laying, as well as the usual academics of English, math, and history. Tuition was $1 per month. Lodging also was only $1 and board $5 per month. Miscellaneous annual fees amounted to $11.50. Textbooks were estimated to cost $12.50 per year. All payable in advance.

The college accepted only men and did not admit women until 1928. All students were required to purchase school uniforms, prices as follows: cap, $1.50; coats, $7.00; pants, $3.00. More expensive uniforms may be had if desired. The regular uniform is made of very good material and should last the average student at least two or three years.

The college had 217 regular students in the 1910-11 school year, almost all from the state of North Carolina. 

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
View of Campus 1914-15
Source: Archive.org



Greensboro NC Daily News
September 29, 1910

Prof. Charles E. Stewart joined the college faculty in 1909. Though he also taught general world history, his specialty was music. Considering that his salary was higher than the instructors for bookkeeping, English, and math, it is a mark of the high value accorded to musicians in this era. Previously he had been a music teacher at Wilberforce College in Ohio, where he had also taken a degree. He received his musical training at the Chicago Music School where he played piano, took voice lessons, and must have acquired the basics of instrumental music education.

In September 1910, the Greensboro Daily News reported that Stewart was organizing the first band, orchestra, and chorus  programs for the college. All the brass instruments have the look of silver plate, and presumably were purchased together as a set from the same manufacturer.



* * *




The A&M bulletins for the following years are also available at Archive.org and the one for 1912-13 shows the college band in a very similar arrangement as seen in the postcard. Again Prof. Charles E. Stewart stands at the back center. The instruments are still brass but one clarinet has been added. 


Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Band 1912-13
Source: Archive.org


Prof. Stewart also had an athletic background and coached some of the first A&M college sports teams. In this photo he stands on the left with the baseball team. We can see that he is a good head taller than the players. 



Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Baseball Team 1910
Source: Archive.org


In 1912 he took on the football team, and stands left in his band director's uniform. There was a basketball team in 1915 but Stewart is not pictured in that photo.



Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Football Team 1912
Source: Archive.org


The college changed its name in 1915 to the Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina  in order to avoid confusion with the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Raleigh which was established in 1887 for white students. In 1918 it too changed its name to the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. or what is now North Carolina State University

By 1915 the NC A&T College Band numbered 39 musicians. Even so, with only three clarinetists, the ensemble was essentially still a brass band. The bandsmen now wore white trousers and Stewart, standing in the center, was dressed in a kind of white naval style uniform. 


Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina
Band 1915-16
Source: Archive.org



With nearly 40 members, the band accounted for almost 20% of the student body. And it was probably even higher when the students of the fledgling school orchestra and chorus were included. These ensembles played for various college events, notably the  graduate exercises at the end of the term. This photo shows a concert in the A&T college chapel with an audience of African-American parents and citizens of Greensboro. Stewart stands at center stage.

Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina
Music Recital, College Chapel 1914-15
Source: Archive.org

These annual bulletins of the A.&M. College of North Carolina convey the strong pride and aspirations that the African-American community of the time placed in higher education. Music was a very important element in preserving black culture and expanding opportunities for young black men in an American society that placed enormous restrictions for advancement,  particularly in the Jim Crow era of North Carolina. The years of segregation created two parallel worlds that rarely exposed the white society to the values and ideals fostered at schools like A&T college. Photos of a band of black musicians in the South were as uncommon then as they are rare now.

How many of these young musicians joined the black units sent overseas when the US entered the Great War in 1918? Did any of them play in James Reese Europe's legendary army band of the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed  the Harlem Hellfighters?  Did some go on to play in the first jazz bands of the 1920s and 30s?  Did any find careers as music teachers?


* * *


Prof. Stewart's full name was Charles Edwin Stewart. He was indeed married to Margaret Guy, born 1886, of Zanesville, Ohio, whose father, Charles Guy, a stationary fireman (stoker) and bridge tender, died in 1914. Their wedding was in March 1908 and as far as I know, they had no children. 

Music may have been his passion but it was not his calling, as in 1916 Charles E. Stewart left Greensboro and his teaching position at the Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina to take up his true lifework. His degree from Wilberforce College was a Bachelor of Divinity at the Payne Theological Seminary, and a life devoted to ministry would be his future. A short time after 1916 he became pastor to the Ebenezer African Methodist  Episcopal church in Baltimore, MD. 



Charles E. Stewart, B.D.
Pastor Ebenezer A.M.E. Church
Baltimore, MD


In 1920, Stewart applied for a passport in order to attend the World Sunday School Convention held in of all places, Tokyo, Japan. He would be traveling to "visit missions and study religious history" in Japan, China, France, and the British Isles. His application offers extra personal details like his height: 6 foot 4 inches; eyes: dark brown; and his signature which matches the distinctive handwriting on the postcard.

His mother provided a notarized letter attesting to his birth in Michigan on March 6, 1884 which is curiously at odds with the 1900 Census record of 1882. However his draft cards for 1918 and 1942 show 1884.







This trip around the world would not have been possible before 1920 when so much of the world was engaged in war. It would have been a grand journey for anyone, but for an African-American pastor with a background in music and world history it must have been extraordinary adventure. According to a later newspaper article on Rev. Stewart, his itinerary was expanded with visits added to Hawaii, Korea, Java, Italy, and Germany. Whether he traveled with his wife Margaret or anyone else is not stated.


Charlotte, NC Observer
November 20, 1932
Throughout his life, Stewart maintained a connection to Wilberforce College in Ohio which was established by the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. He earned a Doctor of Divinity degree there and later studied law at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He also kept close ties to A&T College and returned several times to Greensboro as a guest speaker, usually for graduations. His name, now with the title of Dr., regularly appeared in newspapers marking him as a respected church leader and reputable spokesperson for black issues of the day.   


In 1932, Dr. Stewart changed direction to return to education by accepting an offer to become head of Kittrell College in Vance County, NC. Today the little town of Kittrell  has a population of 467, but in 1930 it was even smaller with only 220 residents. This private school was actually older than A&T College having been founded in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. More of a trade school than a full college, in 1916 it reported 284 students but two thirds were younger elementary school children. Despite dreams of becoming a larger institution, this community college struggled along until closing in 1976.

Dr. Stewart stayed there only for a few years before taking a ministry position at an A.M.E. church in Portsmouth, VA. In the 1950s, he became pastor of a church in Albany, NY. His last pastorate was the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Philadelphia, where the A.M.E. church was founded as the first independent black denomination in the U.S. by Richard Allen in 1794. Stewart was there from 1960 to 1965.










The Mother Bethel church keeps an online archive of its funeral records, and there I found
Charles, E. Stewart's name one last time, listing the date of his death
as September 10, 1976 at the grand age of 92.


* * *





It's not often that I discover the full arc of life of someone in an old postcard photo. It was a special honor to meet someone with such a remarkable career who spanned the turbulent decades of America's struggle  for civil rights. Doubtless the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Stewart measured his greatest accomplishments by his many parishioners from his years in a church pulpit. But I think he was also proud that his musical life had a legacy too. Today the students of North Carolina's A.&T. University still sing the school's alma mater, Dear A. & M., to a melody he composed during his years there. 


Source: Wikipedia



Source: Wikipedia



It seems fitting to have the NC A&T Blue and Gold Marching Band of today play that song for us.
(There is singing but the brass pretty much overwhelm  hearing any of the words!)


* * *


* * *



I also wanted to include a video of the A&T band performing their football halftime show and there were dozens and dozens on YouTube. But this next video seemed more appropriate to honor Dr. Stewart. It is from the mass band opening ceremonies of the 2015 Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta. This competition on the gridiron of the Georgia Dome featured 8 marching bands from historically black colleges. They are:  
  • Alabama State University, "Mighty Marching Hornets"
  • Bethune-Cookman University, "Marching Wildcats"
  • Howard University, "Showtime Marching Band"
  • Jackson State University, "Sonic Boom of the South"
  • North Carolina A&T University, "Blue and Gold Marching Machine"
  • Southern University, "Human Jukebox"
  • Talladega College, "Marching Tornado Band"
  • Tennessee State University, "Aristocrat of Bands"  


They play two anthems that I'm certain Charles E. Stewart knew and loved. 

Extra points if you can count all the Sousaphones.


* * *


 * * *

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won. 

Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1899
words by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)
music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954)






This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one is on the sidelines this weekend.







11 comments:

La Nightingail said...

Oh my gosh - where to start?!! A wonderful post full of pictures and a lovely life story. And as always, tying music to the prompt theme one way & another. Liked both videos, but the massed bands was spectacular. The only thing I don't like these days is the way some singers feel they have to jazz up our National Anthem. It's a beautiful piece all on its own. I've sung it many times for football games & other large gatherings & the only extra thing I do is add a single high note at the end. Otherwise - just straight forward with feeling!

Wendy said...

Professor Stewart not only traveled the world, he traveled the US. He certainly shared his talents in many places, including the city where I grew up (not in the same years, thank-you very much).

Jo Featherston said...

Oh my goodness, Charles E Stewart could never in his wildest dreams have imagined that a meticulous investigator like yourself would have been inspired by his simple postcard to do such amazing research into his life and work!

Brett Payne said...

Nice to have a connection to Baltimore this week Mike. I always look at the photo side of the postcard first, but then I would, wouldn't I. Like you, however, it doesn't take me long to migrate to the back to see if there's a message there, and thus clues to who chose, msent and received it. Fascinating story this week - all good stories take time to come to fruition, we have just to have patience.

Alan Burnett said...

As usual, an excellent analysis of "just an old picture postcard" although in the hands of experts such as yourself there is no such thing as "just an old picture postcard". And to answer your opening question - I always turn to the message side first.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Another wonderful post - such amazing research. Thanks for introducing us to Charles. I'll be checking out archive.org now that you've had such good results on the site. If you're keeping track, I look at the picture first and then read the message side.

Barbara Rogers said...

Great research, and wonderful narrative of Dr. Stewart's life. I was looking forward to a marching band complete with choreography. Having worked a while at Florida A & M, I was thrilled to see how African Americans took marching up a notch, and often perform in holiday parades. I look at the signature first.

Joan said...

Nice piece of research. Interesting, and the analysis of the photos added greatly. I think you teased as much as possible out of the card and message. Very nice work.

boundforoz said...

I wonder how long it will be before there is no-one left who can interpret the cursive script. That's the weirdest "w" I've ever seen in Stewart.

Tattered and Lost said...

This is just amazing. You've given life to someone from so long ago. You've done an incredible service to this man.

Kristin said...

Bravo in bringing Charles Stewart to life in this post. It's such a pleasure to build a picture of someone when there are so many resources available, including multiple photographs!

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