National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America. Colored Work Department

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YMCA work with and by blacks began in 1853 when Anthony Bowen established the first "colored" association in Washington D.C. As Anthony Bowen's work in the 1850s indicates, African Americans embraced the YMCA early on. In the YMCA, black leaders saw not only a means of providing a wholesome, Christian, environment for young men, but through educational and leadership opportunities, a means for racial advancement.

Social and financial conditions for black people made it difficult for the movement to grow very quickly. Nevertheless, by the late 1860s, the YMCA found a firm foothold in the community with associations established in New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston, S.C., and Harrisburg, Pa. In 1867, E. V. C. Eato of New York City became the first black delegate to attend the YMCA's annual convention. There were 36 black associations (two-thirds of which were in black academic institutions) in 1890 when a national Colored Work Department was created under the leadership of William Hunton. Jesse Moorland and Channing Tobias later succeeded him as senior secretaries of the department.

In 1910, the black YMCA movement was given a boost when philanthropist Julius Rosenwald offered financial help to black communities wanting to build YMCAs. Black leaders in 24 cities took advantage of the offer and constructed buildings in the 1910s and 1920s. The black work program suffered some financial difficulties during the depression, but the number of local associations decreased only slightly, and by 1945, the last year that African American associations were reported as a separate category, the YMCA listed a total of 84.

Although there were calls for an end to discrimination against blacks in the American YMCA movement almost from its beginnings, it was not until the 1920s that the effort really gained momentum. During World War I, the YMCA sent workers to France to provide relief to soldiers. This work was carried out on a segregated basis, with both black men and women serving black army units both in the U.S. and in France. Postwar concerns in the United States that returning black soldiers would rebel against the Jim Crow system led to the YMCAs participating in a Commission on Interracial Cooperation which operated throughout the 1920s in an attempt to ease racial tensions, but despite a growing recognition that change was inevitable, real progress was slow to come. With the rise of Hitler during the 1930s and 1940s came embarrassing comparisons between segregation in the United States and anti-Semitism in Germany. There were increasingly vocal protests from African American World War I and II veterans no longer willing to fight the Nazi regime and its theory of a superior race in Europe and remain content to live with policies supporting the same theory in their own land. The growing realization that racial discrimination was incompatible with the YMCA's Christian ideals forced a reexamination of the YMCA's Jim Crow policies despite fears that desegregation would split the organization.

Segregation of YMCAs as a national policy ended in 1946 when the National Council passed a resolution calling for local associations to "work steadfastly toward the goal of eliminating all racial discriminations," dissolved the Colored Work Department and the abolished racial designations in all its publications. Thereafter, the YMCA continued to work towards the promotion of interracial policies within the YMCA and to provide support and services to the African American community under the auspices of various commissions and committees.

From the guide to the Colored Work Department records., 1871-1946., (University of Minnesota Libraries. Kautz Family YMCA Archives. [ymca])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Colored Work Department records., 1871-1946. University of Minnesota Libraries. Kautz Family YMCA Archives. [ymca]
referencedIn Moton Family Papers, 1850-1991, (bulk 1930-1940) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Commission on Interracial Cooperation. corporateBody
associatedWith Hunton, William Alphaeus, 1863-1916 person
associatedWith Julius Rosenwald Fund. corporateBody
associatedWith Moorland, Jesse Edward, 1863-1940 person
associatedWith Moton family family
associatedWith National Conference on the Christian Way of Life (U.S.). Interracial Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932 person
associatedWith Tobias, Channing H., 1882-1961 person
associatedWith United Service Organizations (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915 person
associatedWith Young Men's Christian Association (Lynchburg, Va.). corporateBody
associatedWith Youthbuilders, Inc. (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
African American soldiers

Corporate Body



Ark ID: w65r702h

SNAC ID: 55212848