Young Edwin Bush Jourdain Jr. arrived in Chicago from New Bedford, Mass., in 1925.
He brought a dream: to become a reporter for the Chicago Defender and join the fight for Black equality led by its crusading founder and editor, Robert Sengstacke Abbott.
It was not a surprising goal. In 1905, Jourdain’s father, attorney Edwin Bush Jourdain Sr., had been invited to Niagara Falls by the rising hero of Black America, W.E.B. Du Bois, to join him and 26 other prominent Blacks opposing racial segregation and create a new civil rights movement based on continual protest for equality.
The resulting Niagara Movement swept the nation and gave birth to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Three decades after Du Bois attended Harvard University, Edwin Jourdain Jr. studied at Harvard, where his knowledge of history and talent for inspirational writing won admiration from his fellow students. The Harvard student newspaper, the Crimson, published several of Edwin’s fierce and impressively knowledgeable editorials decrying growing racism in riot-torn post-World War I America.
Jordain graduated in 1921, and while commencing graduate studies at Harvard Business School, in a courageous meeting with Harvard’s illustrious President A. Lawrence Lowell challenged the president’s new policy to bar arriving undergraduate Black freshmen from residing in the elaborate freshmen dormitories.
Jourdain’s gentlemanly but granite courage sparked a two-year universitywide protest that ultimately attracted national news coverage and convinced the university’s most powerful governance body to revoke the disgraceful racial policy in 1923, setting Harvard on a new trajectory towards leadership in university racial equality.
Elected by his Black Harvard schoolmates as the president of a new chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Jourdain decided to trade his Massachusetts home to follow his dream to be a reporter for the courageous Abbott’s Chicago Defender newspaper, which was addressing the serious issues of Black inequality in the South as well as in Chicago and other Northern cities.
Entering into Evanston’s community
Jourdain soon rose to become managing editor. When Abbott was absent due to a long illness, Edwin became an independent editorialist for Chicago’s Black Bee and the militant Whip newspapers
Jourdain also found another inspiration: the small town of Evanston, home to an energetic, diversely talented and improvement-focused Black community.
Jourdain quickly launched into west side community life. He accepted the invitation of his neighbors Joe and Rosa Hardwick, Georgia-rooted veterans of the Great Black Migration, to join and serve as usher in Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church.
He soon also served as a co-managing assistant to several west side youth sports teams. He would initiate popular Black history seminars at the Emerson Street YMCA where he would eventually serve as a director.
Most importantly, he would marry Joe and Rosa’s daughter, Emmaline, herself a young veteran of the historic Black migration, and a student at Fisk University.
The Black community’s growing churches, small businesses and health and social institutions augured a bright future for Evanston’s Fifth Ward citizens. Growth prospects were aided by fast-increasing numbers of hope-fueled Black residents arriving in the historic Great Black Migration hegira from poverty and freedom-stifling neo-slavery in the South.
In Evanston they had been directed to find housing in the Fifth Ward, frequently in deteriorating dwellings (sometimes former farmhouses), and often on brick or still unpaved streets. However, in 1930, a single news article announced that the seemingly undeterrable dreams of all Black West Side citizens suddenly faced decimation.
Fifth Ward political power
On Dec. 12, 1930, now-independent editorialist Jourdain wrote a crucial lucid analysis in the Evanston News-Index warning of the impending political devastation of Evanston’s Black community. This was to be accomplished through a planned division (“gerrymandering”) of the city’s largest ward – the Fifth Ward that encompassed the sprawling and still sparsely populated West Side.
Jourdain immediately realized that the division of Evanston’s only possible Black-majority ward would politically separate the majority of Black citizens from their most powerful institutions – their earliest and largest churches, and their vital recreation and youth development center, the Emerson Street YMCA.
The proposed division of the Fifth Ward would also split off a segment of the Black community’s voters, and almost certainly eliminate the chance of achieving a Black voting majority in any Evanston ward.
Alarmed and aroused by his warning, the Fifth Ward’s Black citizens immediately nominated – and in a yearlong battle, elected – Jourdain as the Fifth Ward’s first elected Black representative on Evanston’s City Council.
During his stormy election campaign, Jourdain would use new Harvard Business School market assessment techniques to propel an unexpected new mission: social justice. A new and deeper responsibility had emerged for him from his deepest roots: the achievement of civil equality for Black Americans.
Through his leadership in courageously defying the political gerrymandering plan to break up the now almost half-Black Fifth Ward, Jourdain had assured the continued existence of a Fifth Ward, with a politically powerful Black community and its first representation on the City Council. The City of Evanston also gained a fearless voice for forging proud progressive leadership in American equality.
(This series concludes with part two, which looks at Jourdain’s accomplishments as an alderman.)
For further reading on the extensive impact that Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. has contributed to the strength of the Fifth Ward, I would suggest the following publications. (The first two are available at Shorefront Legacy Center or at www.lulu.com):
Spencer Jourdain, Dream Dancers Vol 3, E Pluribus Unum – The Battle for American Equality 1924-1947, published 2019.
Sherman Beverly Jr., PhD., Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. The Rise of Black Political Power in Evanston, Illinois 1931-1947, published 2017.
Shorefront Journal, 2017, “The Nile Club – The Social Evolution of a Black Veritas,” by Spencer Jourdain. http://shorefrontjournal.org/2017/06/13/the-nile-club-the-social-evolution-of-a-black-veritas/