African Americans and the YMCA (Archives and Special Collections)

Archival resources and background information on service by and to African Americans in the YMCA movement in the United States


A brief chronology of important dates in the history of African Americans and the YMCA

1853 Anthony Bowen organizes the first YMCA for African Americans in Washington D.C.
1866 The second Black YMCA is organized in Charleston, South Carolina
1867 E.V.C. Eato is the first African American delegate to the International YMCA Convention in Montreal.
  A third Black YMCA is organized in New York City.
1869 First Black student YMCA is organized at Howard University in Washington D.C.
1875 The Norfolk, Va. YMCA is founded.
1876 Joseph Hardie, a white southerner, urges delegates at the YMCA convention in Toronto to raise $500 to support the hiring of a "suitable man" to organize African American YMCAs in the South. Within minutes, $700 is pledged by delegates, including $100 from George Williams, founder of the YMCA movement in London, England in 1844.
  With money raised at the Toronto convention, George D. Johnston, a former Confederate general, is hired as traveling secretary for African American association work in the South
1879 Henry Edwards Brown, a white northerner and an abolitionist, succeeds Johnston as traveling secretary for African American Association work, focusing particularly on work in African American colleges.
1888 William Hunton is hired by the Norfolk, Va. YMCA as the first full-time paid director of a Black YMCA.
1890 William Hunton is appointed by the national office to head the newly formed "Colored Men's Department,” becoming the first African American secretary employed by the International Committee of the YMCA.
1894 Butler Street YMCA formed in Atlanta, Georgia.
1898 Jesse E. Moorland is hired by the International Committee to assist Hunton in his work.
1900 The first “Conference on Colored Work” is held July 25-27 in Hampton, Va.
1905 George Edmund Haynes is hired as the third Black international secretary. J.B. Watson is hired as secretary for student work.
1906 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. pledges $25,000 in matching funds towards the construction of Twelfth Street YMCA building for African Americans in Washington D.C.
1907 Hunton, Moorland, and Haynes launch the organization of a YMCA training school for African American secretaries. Originally called The Summer Secretarial Institute, the program is later renamed the Chesapeake Summer School.
  The first modern YMCA building for African Americans is erected in Columbus, Georgia, a gift of George Foster Peabody.
1911 Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears and Roebuck Co. of Chicago, offers a $25,000 contribution to any city willing to raise $75,000 to build a Black YMCA. With Rosenwald's support, twenty-four facilities are constructed between 1911 and 1933.
  Entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist Madam C.J. Walker, pledges $1000 to the building fund for the Black YMCA in Indianapolis.
1913 Channing Tobias joins the national staff.
1915 Carter Woodson organizes the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago. This led to his starting Negro History Week, the forerunner of today's Black History Month.
  The Chesapeake Summer School moves to Harper's Ferry, West Va.
1916 William Hunton dies. Jesse Moorland takes over as senior secretary of the Colored Work Department.
1917 The United States enters World War I and the Colored Work Department is assigned the responsibility for African American troops under the War Work Council. Two-hundred sixty-eight African American secretaries serve in the home service and 49 in foreign service.
1921 Max Yergan is appointed senior secretary of the International Committee and appointed to serve in South Africa, where he pioneers work among Black South Africans.
1924 Channing Tobias succeeds Jesse Moorland as senior secretary of the Colored Work Department.
1931 The World's Conference of YMCAs meets for the first time in the United States. Delegates pass resolutions condemning racial discrimination and calling for an end to segregation in the YMCA.
1938 A conference of Black directors is held at Howard University to observe the 50th anniversary of the hiring of William Hunton as the first full time Black director.
1942 Black Directors' Conference calls for the National Board to appoint a commission to study discrimination throughout the movement.
1944 The National Board study concludes that "the services available to Negroes were typically casual, fragmentary, rather marginal, often hesitant, and largely lacking that wholeheartedness of approach that would seem characteristic of a century-old movement still eager to win the youth of the world to the Christian ideal."
1946 The National Council as well as the YMCA representatives to the national convention pass a resolution urging local associations to "work steadfastly toward the goal of eliminating all racial discriminations." The National Council abolishes racial designations in all its publications and dissolves the Colored Work Department. Channing Tobias retires.
1947 Jackie Robinson becomes the first Black major league baseball player. This same year he also becomes a boys coach at the Harlem YMCA with fellow coach and teammate Roy Campanella.
1953 Wilt Chamberlain, then 16, is the star player who led Philadelphia's Christian Street YMCA to win the National YMCA Basketball Championship.
  Russell N. Service, Executive Director of the Bedford Branch YMCA in Brooklyn leads a brief walk-out from a national meeting of the Association of Secretaries to protest the organization's prejudice and the lack of involvement of African American professional staff.
1954 Leo B. Marsh becomes the first African American to be elected president of the Association of YMCA Secretaries (AOS), later called the Association of Professional YMCA Directors (APD).
1955 Charles D. Sherman is elected president of the World Alliance of YMCAs.
1967 Racial discrimination is officially banned in YMCAs when the National Council passes a resolution requiring that member associations "annually certify that their policies and practices provide that eligibility for membership or participation in program shall be without any discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin."
1968 A group of Black directors attending a national YMCA conference call an ad hoc meeting to respond to racial discrimination still rampant throughout the movement. The National Conference of Black and Non-White Staff and Volunteers (BAN-WYS) is formed.
  Quentin R. Mease, executive director of the South Central YMCA of Houston, Texas, starts the Black Achievers program to raise funds and provide role models for the youth in his community.
  Belford V. Lawson is elected president of the Washington D.C. YMCA, the first African American to head the board of a major urban YMCA.
1969 Dunbar Reed becomes the first Black executive director at a regional level.
  Jesse N. Alexander is appointed director of Black & Non-White Concerns.
  There are now 22 African Americans on the National Board of YMCAs professional staff.
1970 Robert Wilson, Jr. is appointed managing director of the YMWCA of Newark and Vicinity in Newark, N.J., the first Black chief executive of a major metropolitan YMCA.
  Jean Ann Durades is appointed regional associate of Region 1, the first Black woman to hold such a position on the National Council of the YMCA.
  Donald M. Payne of Newark, N.J. is elected as the first Black president of the National Council of YMCAs.
1971 Leo B. Marsh brings Mease's Black Achievers program to the Harlem Branch YMCA of New York.
1972 The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is among the first YMCAs in the nation to declare the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a holiday. The observance follows the adoption of a resolutions by both the National Conference of Black and Non-White YMCA Staff and Volunteers (BAN-WYS) and the Association of Secretaries (AOS) calling for the creation of a national holiday. These resolutions were on the leading edge of a nationwide effort to establish the holiday.
1973 Kampala, Uganda hosts the first World Alliance of YMCAs to be held in Black Africa. Eighteen African American delegates attend.
  Thomas B. Hargrave, Jr. becomes CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, the first African American to head an Urban Group YMCA.
  Sherman Harman is the first African American to be elected president of Y's Men International.
1976 Dunbar Reed is appointed duty executive director of the National Council of YMCAs.
  Violet P. Henry is appointed executive director of Organizational Development Group of the National Council of YMCAs, the first Black woman to hold a position at this level.
1977 The 10th annual BAN-WYS conference is held in Buffalo, New York.
1978 A year long international celebration of 125 years of continuous YMCA programs in African American communities is held, including a special national observance in Washington D.C.. Staff leadership is provided by Jesse N. Alexander, Jr. The book Selected Black Leaders of the YMCA is published.
1984 BAN-WYS is voted out of existence and replaced by National Consortium of Black YMCAs (COBY). 
1985 Evonne Raglin is appointed CEO of the Miami Metro YMCA -- the first woman to head a large urban association.
1986 National Executive Director Solon B. Cousins appoints a nationwide task force on strengthening the YMCA in Black communities.
1987 The National Black Achievers Network is organized to coordinate and promote programs at the local level. Jerome Parham, a volunteer from Louisville, Kentucky is named chairman, and Everett Christmas, a national consultant with East Field YMCAs is appointed Director. The first National Black Achievers Conference is held in October in Atlanta, Georgia.
1989 The YMCA records 300% growth in the Black Achievers programs in local YMCAs.
  Black Services Conferences are held in each Field (geographical area) of the country.
  The William A. Hunton Fellowship Fund is created to help African American staff complete the YMCA Career Development Program. Sixty-five staff are awarded fellowships.
1994 Everett Christmas creates the Youth Achievers Program, designed for youth in grades 1 to 6, as a precursor to the Black Achievers teen program.
1999 In June, the YMCA of the USA sponsors its first national Multi-Cultural Conference as a way for staff and volunteers to network, discuss concerns, and plan an approach to promote diversity in the YMCA.
2000 The African American Leadership Forum is created with leadership from Michael DeVaul of Charlotte, North Carolina, Jarrett (Dyer) Royster of Philadelphia, and Glenn Haley of the YMCA of the USA.
2003 David Epperson is elected chair of the National Board of the YMCA of the USA.
  Over 500 delegates attend a national conference in Washington D.C. to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the first YMCA for African Americans.
2006 Carolyn Creager, Y-USA's Director of Multicultural Leadership Development, creates the Multicultural Executive Development Institute (MEDI), the first national executive leader development program targeting staff of color offered by Y-USA.
2010 The first Emerging Multicultural Leadership Experience (EMLE), a professional development and networking program for multicultural YMCA staff of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, is developed and held by graduates of MEDI.
  The American YMCA movement approves a revision to the National Council Constitution to support a variety of antidiscrimination laws, update the list of protected classes, and affirm the Y's commitment to diversity and inclusion.
2015 Kevin Washington becomes the first African American  -- and the first person of color -- to serve as CEO of the YMCA of the USA.


Last Updated: Aug 2, 2023 2:30 PM