SEGREGATED SCOUTING

The Boy Scouts of America, like the rest of the United States, experienced segregation in many ways over its history.  The story of segregated Scouting in Chattanooga is complex.  On the one hand, Chattanooga was in many ways an early leader in admitting African-Americans to the organization compared to other cities where membership was forbidden.  However, Chattanooga was not immune to the plague of inequality African-Americans experienced nationwide, and the idea of "separate but equal" proved to be as ineffective in Scouting as it was elsewhere in society.

Chattanooga African-Americans were active in the program as early as 1918.  While segregated from white Scouts, the African-American Scouts had a fife and drum corps that participated in Chattanooga parades.  In 1919, the NAACP pressured Chief Scout Executive James E. West to allow African-Americans to join Scouting nationwide.  In so doing, the NAACP pointed to Chattanooga and Atlanta as two cities where African-American Scouting was a demonstrated success.  

 

Stanley Harris characterized the decision in Chattanooga to allow black troops to organize as "something like a Christmas present to the negroes at Christmas time."  One commentator explained, "The statement recalled white masters giving black slaves Christmas presents to stem their resentment and to encourage them to continue working faithfully without rebelling."

 

In 1931, Chattanooga operated its first African-American Scout camp: Camp Ramsey Norris.  In later years, the Council operated other camps for this purpose.  See the pages on Camp Ramsey NorrisCamp DavisCamp O'Neal, and Camp Howard Adair for more information.

In 1931, Chattanooga awarded the Eagle Scout award to Philip Thompson, who was reported to be the first African-American Eagle Scout in the state of Tennessee.

In 1932, Chattanooga had "four of the six Negro Eagle Scouts in the south and also has the only trained Negro scoutmaster in this region, who is expected to to be presented with the highest award of the scout organization for his work."

In June 1934, Confederate veterans attended the 1934 reunion in Chattanooga.  African-American Scouts played a prominent role alongside their white counterparts.  One newspaper reported, "The colored Boy Scouts, in the charge of James L. Jenkins (scout professional) are also are doing their part. They have headquarters at 314 East Ninth Street and are assisting the old colored visitors to the reunion."

In 1936, Chattanooga chartered the first "Negro" Cub Scout pack in the South.

Chattanooga offered African-American contingents to the 1935 and 1937 National Scout Jamborees.

Chattanooga continued operating segregated weeks of summer camp through at least 1957.

Sources

June 20, 1918 - Great Ovation for Selectmen

September 2, 2018 - Parade Most Spectacular Labor Celebration Ever Held in City

September 27, 1918 - Negro Selectmen Off for Camp Sherman

August 16, 1919 Letter

Citation:  Memorandum from Mary White Ovington, Chairman and Cofounder, NAACP, to John Shillady, Executive Secretary, NAACP, Interview with Mr. James E. West, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America, Tuesday Afternoon, August 12, 1919 (Aug. 16, 1919), microformed on Papers of NAACP, Part II: Special Projects 1912–39, Series A, Reel 23 of 25 (Library of Congress) ("Mr. West . . . said they had organized colored units in Atlanta and Chattanooga . . . . [H]owever, in some southern cities the whites were unalterably opposed to having colored boys organize as scouts wearing the same uniform as the white Boy Scouts.")

1927 National Annual Report

1928 BSA Annual Report 78–79

Benjamin René Jordan, "A Modest Manliness": The Boy Scouts of America and the Making of Modern Masculinity, 1910-1930 (2009), available at https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6s56c7cg

1931 National Annual Report

1932-08-30 - Scouts Ask Chest to Pay Insurance

1937-01-11 - Review of 1936

1937-08-01 - Cub Camp at Camp Davis

1945 Final Report by Charles Peacock

1947-08-01 - Boy Scouts Movement Shows Growth in Area - Camp Howard Adair

1957-04-12 - Camp Cherokee to Open June 23