Looking Back at Black History in Everett Arthur E. Jordan: 1st African American City Councilor

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy black Americans in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many black residents of Everett might surprise readers, as many of their stories have never been fully told. There are judges, former slaves who become hotel operators, football players and a former ambassador. It is hoped our readers enjoy these pieces as much as we did. Matarazzo’s book is available at bookblues.com.

In 1901, the Everett Republican Committee nominated Arthur E. Jordan for one of the three seats on the Common Council in Ward Five. At the time, the GOP nomination ensured election and Mr. Jordan was indeed elected.

At its core, that doesn’t sound like much of a story, and judging from newspaper accounts, it wasn’t. Except for a brief mention in both The Boston Globe and The Boston Post, the story did not generate much interest. The lack of publicity that the story generated led to a decades-long inaccuracy in Everett History. For years, it was widely believed that Robert Smith of Woodville Street was the first African-American elected to the Everett City Council in 1929. It turns out that it was Arthur E. Jordan in 1901.

Arthur E. Jordan was born on June 7, 1877, to Alfred and Amanda (Stringer) Jordan. The Jordans were originally from Virginia and came north after the Civil War and settled on Charles Street in Charlestown.

On April 25, 1898 the United States declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. Arthur joined the 6th Massachusetts Infantry, Company L, the only African-American company assigned to an otherwise all-white regiment.

Four days before the Company was moved from Camp Dewey in South Framingham to Camp Russell A. Alger, near Falls Church, VA, Arthur married Mary Phillips, the daughter of Samuel and Harriet (Shephard) Phillips of Chelsea.

When Company L first met up with the rest of the 6th Massachusetts in Baltimore, the other companies were at first shocked to see an all “colored” company led by “colored” officers. After the initial shock, however, Company L was subject to thunderous and continuous applause.

The 6th Massachusetts arrived at Camp Alger on the 22nd of May and on the 28th it was reviewed in parade by President William McKinley who complimented the Company.

Not everyone was convinced, however, that Company L could perform under the stress of battle. Their biggest doubter was their commanding officer, Brigadier General George A. Garretson, who tried to have the Company transferred to an all African-American regiment.  When that failed, he extensively drilled the Company in blazing heat, and when they performed admirably in every test, Garretson withdrew his objection and complimented the Company through their commander Captain William J. Williams.

On July 8, Arthur and the 6th Massachusetts boarded the newly commissioned USS Yale and headed toward Cuba. Lt. William Jackson was appointed acting captain as Captain Williams was unable to accompany the men due to a serious case of typhoid fever. The Yale sat offshore as the island of Cuba was about to be surrendered to the U.S. Troops and the orders came after 17 days on board the Yale sending them to Puerto Rico. Soon after setting up camp at Guanica, Company L was one of two companies called to guard the perimeter from attack. They set up their position on a small hill that overlooked a coffee hacienda in Yauco. The attack, to become known as the Battle of Yauco, indeed came just before midnight and by daybreak a full firefight ensued. Despite being outnumbered, they forced an enemy retreat.

Brigadier General Garretson showed his faith in Company L by placing them in charge of the town of Ganco and then assigning them to protect the American and English Consulate at Arecibo. The Company displayed great courage and restraint as they protected the consulates from a riotous crowd of 500 machete-wielding locals in a town occupied by the Spanish Army. With bayonets fixed, Company L stared down the crowd threatening the consulate until reinforcements arrived.

With the signing of an armistice on August 12 and the Treaty of Paris on December 10, the war was over and Arthur and Company L returned to Boston and received a hero’s welcome.

While Arthur made it through the war unscathed, his marriage wasn’t so fortunate. The couple, who had settled with Arthur’s widowed mother on Davis Street, had welcomed a daughter to the family in 1899, but divorced in 1900.

Arthur went to work on High Street in Boston for the Pevear Leather Company as a leather sorter, inspecting and classifying according to the qualitative features such as quality, color, size, thickness, softness and natural defects. He moved out of his mother’s house to an apartment on Tileston Street. It was while living on Tileston Street that Arthur was elected as one of the three common councilors from what was then Ward Five. He lived for several years before moving to Alfred Street and eventually followed his employment to Lynn.

Arthur married again in 1913 to Minnie L. Bowden (Fisher); a widow originally from Nashville, Tennessee. That same year, he was elected as an officer in the 6th Massachusetts Veterans Association. He would remain in the leather industry in Boston and Lynn and would eventually land with Monarch Leather in Chicago, Illinois. While working in Chicago, Arthur fell ill and died just three days after his 41st birthday. More certainly needs to be learned about this Everett pioneer.

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