A Credit to Any Community: Mabel Banks Fletcher

by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist

This post concludes our three part blog series on the women of the Banks family.  thanks to guest blogger, Jane Jones, for sharing her research into this family. The Archives at HCHM are a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told!

Mabel Banks Fletcher

We are able to follow the life of Mabel Banks in Kansas and Iowa through newspapers from Kingman to Pretty Prairie to Hutchinson to Wichita and to Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was an educated and successful Black woman.  And just like Joan, she had a mother guiding her, Adella Scott Banks.

Mabel Banks was born in August 1896/97. Mystery surrounds her age. Did she lose or gain 3 years somewhere or was she actually born in 1900? All of her graduations would indicate a 1900 birth date, but censuses record her as 3 years older.  

Education & Accomplishments

Mabel attended elementary school in Kingman and a rural school near Pretty Prairie, Kansas (Dist. No. 75). Graduating from Common School (8th grade) in 1913 she headed for high school in Kingman which was about 15 miles from Pretty Prairie. The Hutchinson & Southern Railway moved between Hutchinson and Kingman through Pretty Prairie making commuting easy.  Kingman was the hub to Wichita and was Mabel’s territory as she was growing to adulthood.

Music & Oratorical Contests

Music lessons and solo performances were encouraged.  Her music teacher in Kingman and Pretty Prairie was Kitty Rayls.  Mabel, also a talented writer, and took to journalism. She wrote for  the Route 3 column for the Pretty Prairie Times beginning in 1913.  She also tried her hand at poetry and in 1920 was labelled the “Poetic Queen.” At Kingman High School Mabel belonged to a Literary Society, as well as, participating in Oratorical Contests with the speech, “The Need of the Negro.”  In 1914, she placed second using that speech in the Cragun Oratorical Contest in Kingman. From Kingman High School, she went to Winfield High School where she graduated in 1917 from the Commercial Course of Study.

Mabel L. Banks Diploma, Winfield High School.

By 1921, she had graduated from the Business College in Winfield.  Mabel then moved to Hutchinson (217 East F St.) and became very active in the Bethel A.M.E. Church.  She worked at a newspaper as a stenographer, taught Commercial classes to students and did sewing to augment her income.  

Professional Life

Mabel was no “shrinking violet.” She wrote a play, “A Corner of the Campus,” a sketch of college life featuring Black actors.  She gave an oration to the Charity Board of Colored Women and was head of the A.C. E. L. (Allen Christian Endeavor League of the African Methodist Episcopal Church)in Hutchinson.  In June of 1921, Mabel was a representative for The Ideal Sales Company in Wichita.

Miss Banks is a real live wire and a credit to any firm or community.”

Mabel married Russell Fletcher in Kingman March 4, 1924.  There was one reference to a two-week trip she took to Iowa and Nebraska in the summer of 1923. Is that when she met Russell or had she met him before? Family acquaintance?  After the marriage they lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Their daughter Joan was born in 1925. While in Council Bluffs, Mabel was very active in the Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Colored Republican Party of the 1930s.  But the marriage was falling apart and she took Russell to task in 1935 divorcing and accusing him of cruelty to herself and Joan.

She requested custody of their daughter, Joan, 9, title to the home at 1128 Eighteenth Avenue and $35 a month alimony.”  

This is recorded in the newspaper.

The Return to Kansas

Not as much is known about her time in Harvey County.  She guided Joan (see previous blog on Joan B. Fletcher) and they lived with her siblings, Fred and Nellie.  Mabel died in 1961 at a hospital in Kansas City. She was living with her daughter in Junction City who was working there as a Supervisor of a VA Blood Bank.

Family Research

The Banks/Fletcher families were respected African Americans.  The women – Adella, Mary (Lewis’s wife),  Mabel and Joan – were especially strong and active in their communities.  

Family and family stories were important to them, which probably encouraged Joan to join MAGIC (Midwest Afro-American Genealogical Interest Coalition) in Kansas City.  She even was President of the group in the late 90s.

Joan found out through researching her family history that a great-grandfather, Thomas Scott, was a member of the U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops) from Illinois, killed at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864 and was eligible to be part of a monument to those Colored Troops in Washington, D.C. The Colored Troops were led by white officers.  Remember the movie “Glory” with Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington? That followed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry lead by Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick).

“Despite his Handicap of Race and Color”

Did Banks and Fletchers experience racism?  Most likely they did. There is a quote from the Kingman newspaper that speaks to this issue at the death of Lewis Banks in 1912.  

From his obituary:

Lewis Edward Banks, one of the oldest and best known colored men of this county died at his home in Kingman Kansas on Friday, March 8, 1912..commendation as to his character as an upright citizen, despite his handicap of race and color…”

SOURCES:

  1. Council Bluffs, Iowa City Directories.  Ancestry.com. City Directory Collection
  2. Newspapers consulted through subscriptions to newspapers.com and GenealogyBank
    1. Council Bluffs Nonpareil Feb 14,1945 p. 5
    2. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. Aug 15, 1935 p 7
    3. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil Mar 21, 1935 p 3      
    4. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS July 26,1918 p 1
    5. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 16, 1905 p 3
    6. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 12, 1914 p 4
    7. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18,1921 p 1
    8. The Hutchinson Blade Oct 23, 1920 p 4
    9. The Hutchinson Blade Jan 22, 1921 p 1
    10. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18 1921 p 1
    11. Hutchinson News Apr 21, 1921 p 6
    12. Pretty Prairie Record Feb 23, 1906 p 8
    13. The Kingman Journal Apr 28, 1899 p 4
    14. Pretty Prairie Times Feb 20, 1913 p 8
  3. Harvey County Register of Deeds. Margaret Hermstein.
    1. General Warranty Deed Record No. 68. Mary K. Babb et al to Joseph C.    Banks.
  4. Special thanks to David W. Jackson, a family historian and Archives Consultant who researched Joan’s African/American family and sought a “home” for her materials.  We received the Joan B. Fletcher Collection at HCHM in Dec, 2018 along with Joan’s Scrapbook, some family pictures and the following:
  5.    Register of Colored Persons of Roanoke County, State of Virginia Cohabiting Together As Husband And Wife on February 27, 1866. Library of Virginia.
  6.    Death Certificates for Joseph, Adella, Lewis and Mary Banks
  7.    Census Research for Joseph and Lewis Banks families.
  8.    Charcoal drawings of Nellie, Florence and Fred
  9.    Kansas City Star. February 22, 1998
  10.    Delayed Birth Certificate for Joan Fletcher
  11.    Letter from African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation
  12. May 30, 1996
  13.    Civil War Pension Record for Thomas Scott (National Archives)
  14.  Federal Censuses (Ancestry.com): 1870, 1880, 1900, 1940

 

From Slavery to Harvey County: Banks Family, Part 2

by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist

While researching Joan B. Fletcher, Jane Jones discovered a fascinating story about a family of strong women.

Joan B. Fletcher’s Family Story

Joan Fletcher, a Black woman, was born 28 June 1925 in Council Bluffs, Iowa to Russell and Mabel Banks Fletcher.  Joan was baptized at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Council Bluffs. Her father, Russell, worked in the Roundhouse for the Chicago, Great Western Railroad later becoming a carman.  Russell was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma and according to the 1940 Census he had a 3rd grade education. Russell and Mabel were married in Kingman, Kansas, March 4, 1924. According to Council Bluffs City Directories Russell and Mabel were together from 1925 to 1935.   

Mabel and her daughter, Joan,  left Iowa in 1935 and came to Newton, Ks. Mabel sought a divorce from Russell on a charge of cruelty. It was granted Aug 15, 1935. She never remarried.

The Banks Family

Mabel’s family was already established in Newton. On arriving in Newton, Mabel and Joan lived with Mabel’s brother and sister, Fred and Nellie Banks, on the family farm in Sec 33 of Newton Township.  Mabel’s father, Joseph Banks, had bought that farm (80 acres in the NE ½ NE ¼ Sec 33) for $8,000 on Oct 22, 1925. Joe was able to pay the full amount.  

Plat Map, 1931 showing the Joe Bank Farm — Section 33 N 1/2 of N 1/4

Before arriving in Harvey County, Ks, the Banks family traveled across the country to find their home.

From Slavery to Kansas

Ferdinand Banks and Sylvie Walton (Miner)

The story begins in Virginia with freed slaves, Ferdinand Banks and Sylvie Walton (Miner). 

The “Cohabitation Act of 1866 passed by the Virginia Assembly of   Feb 27, 1866, legalized the marriages of formerly enslaved people  in Virginia and declared their children to be legitimate.”

According to the 1866 Act, Ferdinand and Sylvie were “married” in 1842 and had nine living children in 1866–Maria 5; John 14; Emma 15; Martha 16; JOSEPHUS 17; Ellen 18; Cynthia 19; and LEWIS 22. After receiving their freedom,  Ferdinand and Sylvie remained in Roanoke County,Virginia. The 1870 and 1880 Federal censuses found them farming in Roanoke County. Sylvie is on the 1900 census as head of household with a daughter and two grandchildren. One would assume Ferdinand died sometime between 1880 and 1900. 

While Ferdinand and Sylvie stayed in Virginia, several  Banks children family  traveled from Virginia after the Civil War to Illinois and then to Kansas.

The two sons, Josephus (Joe) Cephus Banks and brother Lewis Edward Banks,  were born slaves in Roanoke County, Virginia. After the Civil War, they began searching for a place to call home. Joe and Lewis set off undercover in a wagon from Roanoke County, Virginia to Bond County, Illinois. They followed their slave master’s daughter who married and relocated in Illinois after the Civil War.  Joe and  Lewis farmed.

Lewis and Mary Frances Day Banks

Lewis married Mary Frances Day in Virginia on December 4, 1858. The Illinois household in 1870 consisted of Lewis, Mary, and Joseph Banks. Charley Floyd also came with the group and lived with them until he married. The connection with Charley went back to their days as slaves.

Mrs. Banks and Charley Floyd were servants of the same master in slavery days.”

In her obituary Mary was described as:

“…especially..popular among the better class of residents of that section (Bond County, IL).  She was a splendid housekeeper and cook and her services were much sought after by persons who appreciated the best service, and she was above the average in refinement and good breeding.”  

Lewis and Mary had no children.

Joseph and Adella Scott Banks

Joseph married Adella Scott in Bond County on November 4, 1879.  There first child, Nellie, was born in 1883. The Banks and the Floyd families packed up and made a move to Kingman County, Kansas in about 1883. They were farm laborers. The rest of Joe and Adella’s children were born in Kingman—-Florence, Fred (Ferdinand), Pearl  Henry, and Mabel.  

Children of Joe & Adella Banks

Nellie Banks – the oldest never married.

Nellie Banks

Florence Banks Mays  –  married Will Mays in 1924 and lived in Newton on E. 8th..

Florence Banks Mays.

Thomas Ferdinand (Fred) Banks – never married. Like Nellie, he stayed with the family and helped farm.

Thomas Ferdinand (Fred) Banks

Pearl Henry Banks – Pearl eventually married and lived in Kingman, Ks.

Mabel Banks Fletcher – the youngest, Mabel, Joan’s mother.

Reno County Farm

In 1905 Joe saw an opportunity and moved to Roscoe Township, Reno Co, Kansas. An newspaper article noted:

“...they (the Banks) will reside on a farm and go into wheat and hog raising on an extensive scale.  There was never a better family of colored people resided in this county…”

Section 10, Roscoe Twp, Reno County.

Move to Harvey County

The Banks remained near Pretty Prairie in the heart of Roscoe Township, Reno County until 1925,  when they moved to Harvey County.

Mabel’s story continues in our next post :”From Slavery to Harvey County, Part 2.”

SOURCES:

  1. Council Bluffs, Iowa City Directories.  Ancestry.com. City Directory Collection
  2. Newspapers consulted through subscriptions to newspapers.com and GenealogyBank
    1. Council Bluffs Nonpareil Feb 14,1945 p. 5
    2. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. Aug 15, 1935 p 7
    3. Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil Mar 21, 1935 p 3
    4. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS July 26,1918 p 1
    5. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 16, 1905 p 3
    6. The Leader Courier. Kingman, KS Mar 12, 1914 p 4
    7. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18,1921 p 1
    8. The Hutchinson Blade Oct 23, 1920 p 4
    9. The Hutchinson Blade Jan 22, 1921 p 1
    10. The Hutchinson Blade Jun 18 1921 p 1
    11. Hutchinson News Apr 21, 1921 p 6
    12. Pretty Prairie Record Feb 23, 1906 p 8
    13. The Kingman Journal Apr 28, 1899 p 4
    14. Pretty Prairie Times Feb 20, 1913 p 8
  1. Harvey County Register of Deeds. Margaret Hermstein.
    1. General Warranty Deed Record No. 68. Mary K. Babb et al to Joseph C.    Banks.
  2. Special thanks to David W. Jackson, a family historian and Archives Consultant who researched Joan’s African/American family and sought a “home” for her materials.  We received the Joan B. Fletcher Collection at HCHM in Dec, 2018 along with Joan’s Scrapbook, some family pictures and the following:
    1.    Register of Colored Persons of Roanoke County, State of Virginia Cohabiting Together As Husband And Wife on February 27, 1866. Library of Virginia.
    2.    Death Certificates for Joseph, Adella, Lewis and Mary Banks
    3.    Census Research for Joseph and Lewis Banks families.
    4.    Charcoal drawings of Nellie, Florence and Fred
    5.    Kansas City Star. February 22, 1998
    6.    Delayed Birth Certificate for Joan Fletcher
    7.  Letter from African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation May 30, 1996
    8.    Civil War Pension Record for Thomas Scott (National Archives)
  1.  Federal Censuses (Ancestry.com): 1870, 1880, 1900, 1940

Happy Pi Day!

 

How else should we celebrate ” Pi Day” but with pie!

We found two recipes from The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining along the Santa Fe Railroad by George H. Foster and Peter C. Weiglin.

Compliments to the Chef!

Harvey House kitchen staff. Photo courtesy Santa Fe Collection, Kansas State Historical Society.