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Black Women History In Humboldt County: The Amity Birthday Club

Robert Neloms, far left, with (front row) Zelma Gilmore, Margaret Neloms, Lollie Sanders, (back) Myrtle O’ Neil, Ruby Desmond, Edith Howard and Otella Johnson in the early 1960’s.

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Eureka, CA–On Sunday, February 10, 1952 eight Black women met at the home of Mrs. Margret Neloms with Mrs. Mary E. Watkins as the organizer. The purpose was organizing a social club that upheld christian values and celebrated members birthdays.

The name Amity was selected because it means friendship, friendly relations, friendliness and good understanding. The women were devoted christians and vowed to show love to one another.

The Amity Club met once a month where they discussed art, Black history and current events. Charter members were: Madame Gertrude Woods, Beulah Hughes, Mamie Turk, Lillie Collins, Edith Howard, Zelma Gilmore, Mary E. Watkins and Margaret Neloms. Mrs. Gertrude Woods thought of the idea to celebrate each members birthday with a monthly dinner party.

From the onset the club raised money for a scholarship fund. The first scholarship went to the Piney Wood College in Mississippi. They raised money by donations from people to get their name in quilt blocks. They were embroiled by the members and when the quilt was finished it was raffled off and the proceeds went into a scholarship fund.

In February 1953, the Amity Birthday club celebrated its first anniversary at a dance held in Runeberg Hall. Mayor Robert Madsen spoke briefly commending the “negro club for its fine ideals.”

For a period of ten years the club contributed a one hundred-dollar scholarship to Humboldt State University (back then it was Humboldt State College). There was even a period when deserving individual scholarships went to local and out-of-town young people.

For over 24-years the club continued their philosophy of cultural pursuits and providing scholarships to students struggling to gain an education.

In January 1968, Mrs. Neloms initiated the idea of integrating the membership and invited Mrs. Ina Harris. Mrs. Ruth Beck and Mrs. Bernice Stegman to join the club.

Bernice Stegeman, Myrtle Oneal, Marjorie Robinson Stockman, Clara Nichols, Dorothy Taylor, Mabel Ayers, Ruth Beck, Margaret Neloms, Edith Howard and Ina Harris

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The Eureka Historical Society has an Amity Club file where past members have donated old photos, letters to the club, notebooks of meeting minutes, newspaper articles and clippings. Looking through them, shows that these women had an impact on various people due to their generosity and thoughtfulness beyond race.

The Amity Club and these group of Black women in particular, were very active in the local community. They were life members of the NAACP and had strong ties to the local Eureka chapter. Ina Harris and her husband Noel (who has now passed) are credited with starting the local NAACP. Ina is in her 90’s and still lives in Eureka.

As a Black woman who came to Humboldt County for college, I do not see myself represented in anywhere in these small towns in Humboldt County. I wondered where the stories were of Black people and Black families in Humboldt County throughout the years.

I was amazed to learn there was a time when Black women and families were making a way out of no way in Humboldt County. Some thrived and some survived by creating social groups and organizations in the local community.

Black people who live in Humboldt County, I think it is imperative to take notes from stories like these. Do not feel like you have to live within the confines and shadows of Humboldt because you do not represent the dominate group. Be proud of those who came before you, the Black pioneers of Humboldt County.

Create groups and organizations that show that you are apart of this community. And always remember to look out for and show love to your fellow brother in a community where you are the minority.

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If you saw my video Photos in the Attic, you are aware that I covered a story about a man who went to the Humboldt County Historical Society to get help figuring out who were these photos of  Black people that he found in his family attic. They were the Watkins, who were early Black settlers of Humboldt County in the 1800’s. Mary E. Watkins who married Mary “Molly” Watkins son, helped form the Amity Club.

Now isn’t that something! I love when history is connected, as everything usually is.

Photos: Humboldt County Historical Society

About slausongirl

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism.

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One comment

  1. I too love connecting the “dots” of history, especially when rhe reporter uses older, primary sources. Thanks Slauson Girl!

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