Black History Month: The Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A letter published in a national newspaper in the late 1800's painted black women in a negative light. Written by the president of the Missouri Press Association, James Jacks dismissed the credibility of black women, saying in part "The Negroes in this country are wholly devoid of morality. The women are prostitutes and all are natural liars and thieves." The article was written in response to a letter by Florence Balgarnie, a journalist and activist who solicited other American journalists to join her in condemning the lynching's of black people.

Jacks response to the letter triggered a movement that would unite black women across the country. Jacks did not know, his letter would catapult black women into action.

Before the organization of the National Association of Colored Women, there were other groups that supported the empowerment of black women. Those groups were led by women like Ida B Wells, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, the founder of the Boston New Era Club, read the letter written by Jacks, and called for these groups to organize in a show of solidarity.

The women would convene in 1896 in Washington, DC. The organization would become an umbrella group, naming itself The National Association of Colored Women's Clubs.

In 1904, Mrs. Mary Fletcher Ross, the wife of Bishop Isaac Nelson Ross of the A.M.E. Church, called together women's clubs throughout Cincinnati. As a result of that initial meeting, eight women's clubs would fall under what would come to be known as the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. Mrs. Arizona Mille would be their first president.

In 1925, the club would purchase a beautiful Hanaford home in Walnut Hills, built by Cincinnati architect Samuel Hanaford whose claims to fame are the Cincinnati Music Hall and City Hall buildings. The home, once the residence of Cincinnati's first mayor John Mosby, was paid off in 1946, an incredible feat for black women during the 40's.

The Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women's Clubs now had a headquarters, the true work began.

"We had the first kindergarten in the clubhouse and based on the way the ladies conducted kindergarten back then--the Cincinnati Public Schools adopted that same format," said JoAnn Orr, current president of The Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

The club followed the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs motto "Deeds, not words. Lifting as we climb."

"It was so powerful, they were all over the city doing all kinds of outreach. Especially for the seniors and children," said Tabra Goodrum, a member of CFCWC. "We have a responsibility to turn around and help someone. Find your niche but be willing to turn around and help someone."

Today, women like Tabra Goodrum, JoAnn Orr, Joyce Cottrell and Johnnie Huston carry the torch, maintaining the home that has educated and protected Black Cincinnatians for more than a century. Most of the women, members for several decades, witnessed the influence and power the black women of CFCWC held in a community marginalized by racism.

"Back when we joined, you couldn't just come in and join," said Johnnie Huston. "Someone had to write a letter introducing you to the organization and they had to vote whether you were the type of person to contribute to the organization. You just couldn't join, it was something like a sorority except we were before the sororities (existed)."

Living their message of outreach, the women worked closely in the juvenile justice system and accommodated black women who migrated to Cincinnati from the segregated south.

Today, the Hanaford home still stands with the help of 'A Few Good Men,' a sort of social club for black professionals in Cincinnati.

"They were very prideful women and had a lot of belief in themselves. When they started with this man saying black women were only good for sex and maid service they showed them," said Samuel AbuBakr, a member of 'A Few Good Men.' "That was the shock that went around the world that got them started"

Inside of the historic home on 1010 Chapel Street, the women of Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women's Clubs continue to empower the black community of Walnut Hills with hopes the knowledge gained will put an end to the losses.

Getting into formation long before the phrase was coined by Beyonce', serving their community through deeds-not words.

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