Origins of Scouting in the African American Community – 1910-29

Integrated Boy Scout Troop circa 1915

When Scouting started, racial segregation had long been an accepted legal and social practice throughout the United States. Schools, churches, restaurants, movie theaters, public restrooms – even baseball teams – had separate facilities for blacks and whites. Separate but equal was a legal doctrine that justified separation by race and police enforced the law in most places.

The Boy Scouts of America, in its infancy during the early twentieth century, provided the program to all races but within boundaries that were well established. This meant separate troops, leadership, activities, and summer camps.

Young men, parents, churches, and civic groups in Black communities wanted to be associated with Scouting, as character development was a universal concern. As early as 1916, an all-Black Boy Scout troop existed in Louisville (Kentucky), and by 1918 included Toledo (Ohio), Rocky Mount (North Carolina), and Chicago (Illinois).

According to The Scout Executive magazine, in 1920 the Louisville Area Council in Kentucky became the first Boy Scout council in the country to organize a formal organizational structure for African American Scouts.The plan included an auxiliary council board that involved prominent Black community leaders as volunteers and, eventually, Black men as professional (salaried) Scout executives. The model was successful and soon adopted by other councils throughout the country.

All the while, the values of the Scout Oath and Law were sowing seeds that would quickly move them toward a more full brotherhood.

(Adapted from OA Bound in Brotherhood by Marty Tschetter – presented at 2012 NOAC by Dr. David Briscoe. Courtesy of Dr. David Briscoe)

(Cover image of integrated Boy Scout Troop – New Jersey, circa 1915 – Courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)