“There Remains One More Victory:” Mabel Hillman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“There are times when patriotic Americans feel that they are losing confidence in their country’s future . . . There remains one more victory, as important and far-reaching as any – the conquering of racial prejudice.” Mabel Hillman, May 22, 1900

NHS Class of 1900

Flipping through photos of early Newton High Senior classes, I became curious when I came across the Class of 1900 photo that included one Black woman.

Newton High School Class of 1900.

The studio photo did not come with identification other than the class of 1900.  Luckily, the 1904 Mirror, perhaps the first annual for Newton High School, listed all of the graduates from 1893 to 1904.

 

The Mirror, 1904

List of names for NHS Class of 1900

 

The class included some well known Newton family names – Axtell, Bretch, Caveny, Plumb and Reese.  Research narrowed the identity of the Black woman to Mabel or Mable Hillman.

Who was she? Could she be the first Black woman graduate of Newton High School?

Senior Class Day

The Evening Kansan Republican, 22 May 1900 reported on “Senior Class Day,”  which included  “lectures instead of the usual program of orations and declamations, the graduates ‘spoke their pieces.”  The room at the high school was deemed “too small” and the opera house management “donated the use of the house.”

The editor of the paper proudly proclaimed;

There is one institution in Newton of which the citizens are proud -the high school – and as a consequence, the house was well filled at 2:15 when the curtain rose.”

The program opened with a chorus “Joy, Joy, Freedom Today,” and A. Mabel Devlin, salutatorian, extended the  welcome.  She then “launched into the discussion of the question, ‘Why are there so few boys in the high school?’ ” Other students followed, some with serious subjects, entertainment and music.

“One More Victory”

One of the last speakers was senior, Mabel Hillman who “spoke for her race in ‘The Future of the Negro’ treating the subject in a rational manner” according to the reporter.

Miss Hillman began:

“There are times when patriotic Americans feel that they are losing confidence in their country’s future . . . There remains one more victory, as important and far-reaching as any – the conquering of racial prejudice.”

Following the opening, she recounted the ways in which,

 “the negro has played an important part in the crises of the nation. In the great wars he has been found trustworthy, brave and patriotic. . . He no longer considers himself the bone while the north and south are dogs fighting over him. But he needs the help, encouragement and guidance of the good people, and then with his own industry and skill, will he carve out his own future.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 18 May 1900.

She pointed out the many accomplishments already achieved from educational institutions, building projects and “one of the largest and finest farms in Kansas is owned by a negro.”

She closed with a story from the battle at San Juan Hill, “when the boy whose father fell at Gettysburg was by the side of the boy whose father wore the gray, and as they made that terrible charge a colored trooper crawled between them and they sacrificed in common for Liberty’s flag.”

She concluded, “in these shall he conquer. His future depends on himself, if he develop skill, intelligence and character.”

Of the speeches reported on for the article, the one given by Mabel Hillman received the most attention from the editor of the Evening Kansan Republican.

So, who was Mabel  (Mable) Hillman?

There are a few clues about her life in Newton as a student and activities following graduation.

School, Church & Clubs: Mabel’s Activities

In 1896, Mabel  attended Newton High school and during a Kansas Day Celebration she gave a presentation on “John Brown.”

Newton Kansan, 30 January 1896.

After graduation it did not take long for Mabel to find ways to be involved in her community. By the summer of 1900, Mabel, with her friend, Mrs. J. M. Gross, were “managers of the Busy Bee club.” The purpose of the club was to provide “excellent programs,”  a way for Black women to gather together and a benefit for the church. The gatherings were held in homes.

Evening Kansan Republican, 10 July 1900

During her time in Newton, Mabel was active in the C.M.E (Holsey Chapel) Church. In 1899, she with Lizzie Roland and Addie Webb gave “recitations” for the Christmas Program at the C.M.E. Church  in Newton.

A benefit concert was held at the opera house for the C.M.E. Church with “an abundance of vocal and instrumental museum, interspersed with recitations and other exercises”  in May 1902. Among the musical selections was a song “Every Race Has a Flag But the Coon” performed by Miss Hillman and chorus.***

Evening Kansan Republican, 16 May 1902.

A short time later the new C.M.E. Church on West 5th held a service of dedication. Miss Hillman gave the “Welcome to Our House of Worship” for the service.

N.U.G. Club

The N.U.G. Club was  formed in Newton in January 1901 “as an organization among the colored people for the study of current events and the literature of the day.”  In format, the club functioned much like the Ladies Reading Circle and other women’s groups popular in the early 1900s.  There were 12 members the first year including Miss Mabel Hillman and Mrs. J. M. Gross.

Weekly meetings were held in the homes of members. Opening consisted of a scripture reading followed by a program.  At a December 30, 1902 meeting, Mabel read one of Booker T. Washington’s addresses. There was then a general discussion on two topics: “Has the Negro as Many Friends in the North as in the South” and “Do you Think that Booker T. Washington Should Lead Us?”

February 1903, Mabel was elected president of the N.U.G. Club. During a farewell reception for Mrs. H. A. Abernathy, Miss Hillman is described as “the very worthy president.” 

A brief note in a September 26, 1903 report to the Evening Kansan Republican  described the most recent meeting of the N.U.G. Club with a discussion on “Home Culture”

. . . after which a dainty lunch was served, during which time, the president, Miss Mable Hillman, who will leave in a few days for California, was presented with a paper knife . . .as a token of their love and respect.”

Mabel Hillman had great concern for all aspects of the Black community in Newton. In addition to her work with women, she addressed a newly formed men’s group called the  “Newton Invincibles” before she left in 1903.  The purpose of the group was to work “for harmony and unity among the negroes of the city.”

In the fall of 1903, Mabel Hillman left for California.  She left behind a solid foundation for the N.U.G. organization within the Black community.  The N.U.G. Club continued into the 1920s as an organization.

Hillman Family

The Hillman family first appeared in the Kansas State Census for 1895 as living in Harvey County.

  • John Hillman, 49, born in Kentucky, a laborer
  • Cora Hillman, 47, born in Tennessee, a housekeeper
  • Lulu Hilman, 21, born in Kentucky
  • Mable Hillman, 17, born in Kentucky
  • Jessie Hillman, 5, born in Kansas

Only Mabel is identified has having attended school.

Voter Registration records indicate that  John Hillman, mid-40s to early 50s, lived at various residences, including 117 E 11th, in Newton 1888-1891. His occupation was listed as a laborer. After 1891, John Hillman does not appear in the local city directories, voter registration lists or newspapers.

In 1900, Mrs. Cora Hillman, housekeeper, age 50 is listed as living at 117 E 11th, Newton, Ks.

In 1922, a brief announcement appears in the Evening Newton Kansan announcing the death of Mrs. John Jackson’s stepfather, John Hillman. Mrs. Jackson’s given name was Lulu, likely Mabel’s older sister.   Two other daughters are listed; Mrs.  Spaulding living in Los Angeles and Mrs. Steele in Kentucky, possibly the younger two sisters, Mabel and Jesse.

Evening Kansan Republican, 14 January 1922

The short obituary for Mrs. Cora Ann Hillman in December 1933 notes that she was 84 years old and she passed away “at the home of her only child, a daughter, Mrs. J.J. Jackson of 119 East 12th.” No other relatives were mentioned in the notice.

Mrs. Lula (John J.) Jackson died in 1960 at the age of 87. At the time of this post, no further information on Mabel Hillman or Jesse Hillman could be found.

Notes:

**At this posting, what N.U.G. stood for has not been discovered. Contact HCHM if you know! Watch for future posts on this Harvey County organization.

***The song, “Every Race Has a Flag But the Coon” written by two white men, seems like a strange choice to perform. Even at the time it was written in 1902, it was considered offensive. Why it was sung at an African American church benefit concert is unclear.

****Was Mabel Hillman the first Black woman to graduate from Newton High School? The answer is a cautious – yes. There is always the chance that additional research will reveal an earlier graduate.

Sources

  • Newton City Directories: 1885, 1887, 1901-02, 1905, 1911, 1913, 1917, 1919, 1931, 1934, 1938, 1943, 1946
  • Kansas State Census, 1895
  • Mirror, 1904 NHS Annual, HCHM Archives
  • Voter Index Inventory, HCHM Archives
  • Newton Kansan: 30 Jan 1896,
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 22 December 1899, 25 December 1899, 18 May 1900, 22 May 1900, 24 May 1900, 10 July 1900, 11 August 1900, 13 September 1900, 24 December 1900, 27 February 1901,  27  March 1901, 22 April 1902, 7 May 1902, 16 May 1902, 7 June 1902, 30 August 1902, 30 December 1902, 18 February 1903, 21 March 1903, 25 March 1903, 30 March 1903, 2 September 1903, 5 December 1933, 6 December 1933.
  • The Topeka Plaindealer 6 April 1900, 14 September 1906.
  • “Cora Ann Hillman,” died 12/04/1933, Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.
  • “Lulu Jackson,” died 11/20/1960, Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks

Harvey County’s Oldest Resident: Katie Vance

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In 1922, Harvey County celebrated 50 years as a county. Efforts were made to recognize the “Old Settlers.” Lists with information on where the family  came from, the date they arrived in Harvey County, and what township they settled in. Local photographer, W.R. Murphy took studio photographs  of Old Settlers still alive which was included in the 1922 50th Anniversary Ed of the Newton Kansan. Descendants of deceased settlers could submit photos to be included in the issue.

One group of early settlers was not acknowledged included people of color.  Many Black families saw the opportunity to own their own land through the Homestead Act of 1862 and worked hard to achieve this dream in Harvey County.  Mary Rickman Anderson Grant with her husband and children were among Harvey County’s first Black residents, arriving in 1871. Others followed and made their lives in Harvey County, Kansas. The Vance/Brooks family also made Newton, Ks their home.

An “Aged Colored Woman”

In November 1902,   Katie Vance, an “aged colored woman,” died after living through one century and parts of two other. Her brief obituary reported that “she could recall incidents of the time of Washington and Jefferson.” Her age was estimated between 110 to 125 years old at the time of her death in 1902.

She was declared “the oldest person in the county . . . colored, who lives on West Fifth Street.” in 1899. At that time, the next oldest was 92 year old  Abraham Thiessen of Alta Township.

Newton Kansan, 23 June 1899

In 1901, the Evening Kansan Republican interviewed “the remarkable woman” and noted that “her faculties with the exception of that of sight, are but little impaired.” She was described as someone that  “has been known and respected by the colored people of the city and within the memory of nearly all of them she has been an old woman.”

“A Stately Mansion and Broad Fields”

She began life as a slave on a plantation in approximately 1779. Her earliest memories were of “a stately mansion and broad fields in Virginia.” She did not know her parents. For newspaper article she noted:

“Of her parents she knew nothing.  Her master and mistress, even if they knew, never deigned to enlighten her as to the whereabouts of her parents. . . she grew up. . . without a mother to love and watch over her.”

Throughout her growing up years, she “was employed in odd jobs about the house” along with a brother and sister.  She never knew what it was to not work. She recalled; “if caught with a book in her possession, she was soundly slapped and the book taken from her.”

“Toiled from Sunrise to Sunset”

Change came to Katie’s life when the daughter of the plantation owner married a man by the name of McQuery. Katie was given to the newlyweds and moved with the couple first to Charlottesville, N.C. and later Kentucky. At first her duties were as a nurse for the couple’s children. Once the children grew up, Katie went to work in the tobacco factory and corn fields “where she toiled from sunrise to sunset, day in and day out.”

After the “cruel separation in Virginia,” she never saw her brother or sister again.

At the end of the Civil War, Katie continued working hard. One possible glimpse into her life at this time comes from a complaint filed by Katie Vance on November 2, 1868 with the Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office records, 1865-1872 against Jesy Bransfield for cotton owed to her. The cotton was  “released and turned over to the plaintive.”

Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Report, 1865-1872.

Married twice, her second husband, Wilson Vance, was  also a slave on the McQuery plantation. She had four children that lived to adulthood, but by the time of the  1901 interview all had died. At that time, she knew of only one other living relative, a great grandson who was a railroad worker “out west.”

Several other “well known colored citizens of this city, were property of one Col. Elijah Sebree,” at a neighboring plantation, including  Abe Weston and Willis Brooks, future son-in-law, both of whom would make the trip to Kansas with the Vance family.

“Equal Opportunities”

In January 1880, Vance with 31 others, including Weston and Brooks, “emigrated to sunny Kansas, where the negro was given equal opportunities with the white man in the race of life.” Katie Vance was already an elderly woman “about ready to shuffle off this mortal coil”  at the time of the trip. When they arrived in Newton, the family consisted of Willis & Emily Brooks and a son, George Washington, and the elderly Wilson & Katie Vance. The Vance/Brooks family lived at 422 W 5th, Newton, Ks in a house described as a “shanty” for the next 20 years.

Wilson Vance died at the age of 105 in 1894. In 1897, the Vance’s remaining daughter, Emily, (Mrs.Willis Brooks) died. Willis Brooks remarried in 1898.   Following the death of her husband and daughter, Katie continued to live in the house with her 81 year old son-in-law, Willis Brooks and his second wife, Margaret Harding Brooks.

By the time of the Evening Kansan Republican interview in January 1901, Katie was completely blind “although her memory seems as active as ever.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 29 June 1901

Kate Vance died in November 1902. Her funeral was held at the 2nd Baptist Church, Newton, Ks where she was a member. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 November 1902.

The final clues to Katie Vance’s remaining family appear in the legal section of the Evening Kansan Republican 11 December 1903 announcing a Sheriff’s Sale of their property.  Willis Brooks died in July 1903. Although no obituary for Brooks was discovered, the Sheriff’s Sale lists George Washington and wife Clara Washington, possibly Katie Vance’s grandson, as well as Margaret Brooks, Willis’ second wife.

Evening Kansan Republican, 11 December 1903.

Sources

  • Katie Vance  complaint November 2, 1868 with the Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office records, 1865-1872.
  • Newton Kansan, 23 June 1899, 1 August 1902.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 29 January 1901, 28 November 1902,  11 December 1903.
  • Newton City Directories: 1885, 1887, 1902. Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, Newton, Ks
  • U.S. Census:
    • 1870: Trenton, Todd, Kentucky
    • 1880: Newton, Harvey County, Kansas
    • 1900: Newton, Ward 4, Harvey County, Ks
  • Marriage License Collection, Harvey Historical Museum & Archives, Newton, Ks, Groom Index.
    • Willis Brooks married Margaret Harding 3 November 1898

New & Cool at HCHM: Chisholm Jr. High

A program for an open house of Newton’s  new junior high school was recently donated to HCHM. Chisholm Jr. High was opened in 1959, a project which began with the passage of a bond election in October 1956.  The land was purchased on the east side of Newton between 1st and 4th Streets.

The campus consisted of five buildings and “was planned and equipped for maximum adaptability, each room having been designed for many varied activities.”

In 1959, there were 350 students and 22 teachers at Chisholm Junior High.

Who attended Chisholm  Jr High?