Remembering Baltimore’s treasured social organizations

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— Many organizations in Baltimore formed forty, fifty and even sixty years ago. These organizations were established to provide social, cultural, civic and service networks at a time when black Americans had limited access to many public venues due to Jim Crow laws. Some organizations became national because black Americans in other large cities were facing the same issues of segregation. This month a few of these organizations will be highlighted. These organizations have continued their legacy of supporting and uplifting our community.

The Pierians, Inc. – 1958

It all began in Baltimore, when Annette Colbert Johnson conceived the idea of forming a cultural group. She shared this idea with a group of nine friends, being very clear that she was interested in organizing a cultural club, not one that focused on the social or service. There would be no card playing and no ticket selling. The members would go to the theater, the opera, the symphony and the museums.

In December, 1958, the group was formed. Annette Colbert Johnson referred to this first group as charter members, and herself as the founder. The charter members were Lydia Mussenden; Gwendolyn Tartar; Mamie Todd; Jewel Mosely; Hazel Fleming; Mercedes Douglas; Kathleen Carter; Charlotte Mebane; and Olivia Dixon.

The Pierians are devoted to the purpose of promoting and encouraging the study and enjoyment of the fine arts. George Moore, a linguist and a Baltimore City School Language Arts Department chairman, is credited with suggesting the name Pierians to the group. Pieria was a region of ancient Macedonia, one of the earliest seats of the Muses.

In the fifty-seven years since beginning, the Pierians have grown from the original Baltimore group of ten, to 12 Pierian chapters across eight states. Baltimore’s group first expanded to establish a second chapter in Washington, DC in 1979 beginning the fulfillment Pierian Annette Colbert Johnson’s dream–to see Pierian chapters across the United States.

Washington chapter member, Dr. Jesse Colson, convened the first National Assembly of the Pierians in 1982 and served as the first national president. This assembly took place in the Eisenhower Library at Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. In 1983, the Pierians became incorporated. The Pierians, Inc. in 1993, presented the official documents of the organization to the Maryland Historical Society of Baltimore, Maryland to ensure a place in the chronology of organizations in Maryland.

In 2008, the National Executive body and all chapters celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Pierians, Inc. in Baltimore. Original charter members, Dr. Jewel Mosely Gray, Lydia Mussenden, Gwendolyn Tartar, and Mamie Todd were honored on that occasion, having been Pierians for fifty years. Pierians Mussenden and Gray continue to be active and influential members of the Baltimore Chapter.

The Baltimore Chapter has maintained a long-standing relationship with Morgan State University with the support and guidance of James E. Lewis, a former art professor and director of the Morgan Art Gallery. Lewis designed the Pierians insignia which was adapted from an African gold weight of the Ashanti tribe. It was designed for the Pierians to wear as a pin. Art shows and presentations of aspiring artists have been hosted at the James E. Lewis Museum and Art Gallery for over fifty years. Jacqueline Lewis, the wife of James Lewis, was an active Pierian until her recent retirement.

Pierians are committed to bringing together people interested in artistic endeavors; enhancing the enjoyment of the arts through the pursuit of study and other activities; and recognizing individuals in the community for artistic contributions and achievements. To that end, the Baltimore chapter provides a bi-annual award in the name of its founder, Annette C. Johnson, to a young and aspiring artist committed to pursuing a musical, dance, visual arts or theatrical career. The chapter has contributed to the underwriting of student performances and a ballet at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and the art of quilt making as a result of hosting the Women of Gee’s Bend when the Gee’s Bend quilts were the featured exhibition at the Walters Art Museum.

In recent years, the chapter featured authors with “Conversation with the Artist” events featuring Larry Gibson and his book “Young Thurgood” and Artero Pietila with “Not in My Neighborhood.” In collaboration with the Baltimore County Chapter, they hosted Ann Todd Jealous (daughter of Charter Member Mamie Todd) and Caroline T. Haskele who shared their book, “Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism.”

As the chapter enters its fifty-seventh year, it remains committed to the vision of its founder. The current officers of the Pierians, Inc. are: Janet Waters, president; Patricia Whitmore-Kendall, Ph.D., vice president; Linda Folson Jackson, secretary; Nikita Haysbert, corresponding secretary; Wanda Ramsey, M.D., financial secretary; Lisa Shipley, treasurer.

Members are: Carole Ball; Carol Spencer Carter; Vanessa Coles Lynn Jackson Dorman; Jewel Mosely Gray, Ed.D.; Comalita Haysbert; Robin Howard; Ellen Howard; Verna M. Jackson; Camay C. Murphy; Darlene Moss; Elizabeth Ramsey; Lydia Mussenden; Hon. C. Yvonne Holt-Stone,Esq.; Patricia Roulhac; Mary Sue Welcome, Esq.; LaVerne Nicholson-Sykes; Roni Young, Esq.; Lois Wysinger . Alumni include Jacqueline Lewis and Olivia C. Stewart.

The Carats, Inc. – 1959

The Carats, Inc., is a national organization whose purpose is to promote social, educational and civic involvement among members. In the late 1950’s, a group of New York women founded an organization to combat the indignities they were experiencing due to the Jim Crow laws in the United States. The women were denied access to public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants. Their purpose was to establish a social network whereby they would meet women of similar ethnic origin, experience, and circumstances, thus avoiding the indignities they would otherwise be subjected to as they traveled from city to city. These connections laid the groundwork for organized activities which subsequently became a formal organization, known as the Pivots.

In May, 1959, the New York chapter officially installed a chapter in Pittsburgh into the Pivots. As the women in both groups relocated and developed other associations, new chapters evolved in various cities. By 1975, Pivots chapters had been installed in nine cities: Baltimore; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Macon, Ga. and Washington, DC.

Also in 1975, the board of directors, recommended that the organization’s name be officially, changed to CARATS, Inc.

The Baltimore Charter members were Helen Birth, Gordine Blount, Vera Carrington, Jeanne Davis, Geraldine Desbordes, Helen Gattis, Lillian Jones, Frances Murphy, Frances Pennington, Joan Phillips, Minnie Smoot, Helen Whitaker, Ada Woodland and Janet Woolridge.

There are currently eighteen members in the Baltimore chapter. The members are Merlene Adair, Jean Adams, Sylvia Brown, vice- president; Paula Byrd; Evelyn Chatmon, recording secretary, Carolyn Cole, president; Marlene Downs; Carol Ford, corresponding secretary, Laverne Gaither; C. Yvonne Holy-Stone; Anita Jackson; Jean Lewis, technology; Alma Macer; Charlene McCargo, financial secretary, Frances Pennington; Delores Sykes; Patricia Tunstall, treasurer; Cynthia Webb; and Minnie Smoot, emeritus.