Contributors to the Georgetown Community
James: 1882–1949 ·•••· Mary: 1882–1957
James Franklin Stewart was born on February 16th, 1882, in Quantico, Wicomico County, Maryland to his parents James and Harriett Jackson Stewart.1 Both his parents were natives to the county. Mary E. Augusta was born in the year 1882 in Quantico, Wicomico County, Maryland as well and died in the year 1957.2 They were married on August 16, 1906.3
At the age of sixteen, James Stewart worked as a steward of the Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic Railway and as a boat operator between Claiborne and Baltimore.4 After his time as a steward and boat operator, Stewart graduated from the Eckels school of Embalming in Philadelphia and then returned to Salisbury in Wicomico County as a political leader, business leader, and churchman.
Mary was a former school teacher in the county of Wicomico.5
In 1918 Stewart was registered for WWI, but it is believed he did not serve in battle.
In 1909 James Stewart established7 and owned the funeral parlor he named James F. Stewart & Co., Funeral Directors.8 Mary would soon help him out in the business. The business grew in proportions having facilities in Berlin, Easton, and Pocomoke City all in Maryland. Both of his home and his funeral parlor were located on 402 E. Church St. in Salisbury.9 The property value of the Stewart’s home in the 1930 census was valued at $4,000 (which would be $63,964 in 2022)10. While working at his parlor, James Stewart was considered reliable and conscientious to the people he served in the community. Both James and Mary Stewart attended John Wesley Methodist Church which was right across the street to their home and business.11 Mary was the organist there.12 The Stewarts religious affiliation was therefore with the Methodist Episcopal church.
Fraternally James Stewart was a member of the Knights of Pythias, the I.O.O.F., the Independent Order of St. Luke, and the Masonic Fraternity of the city of Salisbury.15 He was also past President of the Tri-State Organization of the Order of Elks and would eventually become the Chairman of the Executive Committee for the same organization. Stewart was the District Deputy, Worthy Superior of the District Grand Tabernacle No. 2 of the Love and Charity Organization, and Chairman of the Executive Committee.16 Because Stewart was the Executive for the ladder committee, he was instrumental in diverting several thousands of dollars to the banks in Salisbury. By doing that Stewart led a campaign to help rebuild his church, John Wesley Methodist.17 He would later be appointed by then-Governor Albert Richie to the Inter-Racial Committee.18 Also Stewart was the President of the State Teachers Association and was a delegate to the Republican State Convention in 1930.19
In a March 18, 1933 article titled “J.F. Stewart and Principal T.H. Kiah Say People on Shore Resent J.C. Law,” Stewart — along with the Principal of Princess Anne Academy Thomas H. Kiah — refuted Senator David J. Ward’s statement that he was satisfied by the current Jim Crow Law in Maryland and did not seek a change. Stewart sent out a statement on how the Senator’s assertion was not true. In it he was quoted as saying:
“To say that we (Black residents) are satisfied with a law that has for its one and only purpose to segregate members of my group and subject them to conditions that would make us feel less than citizens of this commonwealth is unfounded and also an insult to the intelligence of our racial group.”20
Both James and Mary were prominent figures in the community and in all civic activities throughout the city. James led a movement that later contributed to the purchase for the site of the local-colored high school and the farm where students can use to have classes in agriculture.21 Mr. Stewart was a member of the Maryland Colored Funeral Directors and the Frontiers Chapter in Baltimore. He was also the President of the Eastern Shore District Voters League for Negros.22 He was also a member of the board for the Barrett School for Girls in Glen Burnie, Maryland.23 Stewart helped the youth in his community as well by organizing a nursery school for negro children, the first negro Boy Scout troop in the area, and an annual fair for negros in Salisbury.24
Mary contributed to the Salisbury community by being the chairman for the Georgetown section of the Colored Red Cross Campaign.25
Shortly right after Matthew Williams was lynched by a Salisbury mob in December 1931, his body was taken to Stewart’s funeral home to be hidden and examined. Matthew Williams’ funeral was also held there. Mr. Stewart was also summoned to a Grand Jury hearing on the lynching of Matthew Williams along with Dr. Author D. Brown and thirteen other “colored witnesses” in 1932.26
Stewart’s prominent role in local political duties gave him unusual connections with political leaders at the time. Mr. Stewart’s own funeral would later be attended by Circuit Court Judge Levin Claude Bailey, state senator Wallace H. White, and U.S. Congressman Edward T. Miller of Easton, one of whom (Bailey) had a significant role in the cover-up of the lynching of Matthew Williams.27 The connections with these political leaders complicates the statement Stewart made along with the Reverend J.N. Dickerson and James L. Johnson in 1933 in which they held Bernard Ades “fully responsible” for the lynchings of not only Matthew Williams, but of Euel Lee (1931) and George Armwood (1933).28 Ades, a Baltimore native, was an American Communist lawyer who gained national notoriety representing Lee, an African American accused of murdering a white family in Maryland following a dispute about his pay. Although losing the case, Ades was able to expose the injustice in Salisbury's judicial system and throughout the South towards African Americans. Ades was made a marked man in the Salisbury region, receiving death threats — and in one instance was beaten.
Stewart, Dickerson, and Johnson’s statement about the anti-communist “outside agitator” trope was used not only in around the Salisbury region but in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s. The statements by the “Three Jameses” was echoed throughout the white community in Salisbury, but was also pushed back. In a December 16, 1933, article titled “SALISBURY, MD., CITIZENS HIT THE THREE JAMESES” in The Baltimore Afro-American, nineteen Salisbury residents denounced the statement by the “Three Jameses” who attributed the mob outbreaks on the Eastern Shore to the activities of Bernard Ades. A twentieth resident —who happened to be Charles H. Chipman — told The Afro-American that he did not authorize the use of his name.29
In the same December 16, 1933, issue of The Baltimore Afro-American an article titled “Rev. Ridout Says 3 Jameses Do Not Speak For Him” was published, denouncing the same statements made by the “Three Jameses” from Rev. Daniel Ridout. Rev. Ridout was a close friend to James Stewart as they were colleagues in the Christian Ministry. In the article, Rev. Ridout termed their statement “Uncle Tomism”.30 The statements that Stewart made along with the other two “Jameses” sparked debate as to who was representing the Black community in Salisbury. The debate was evident by the competition between the ILD and the NAACP as they both spoke against Jim Crow and racial violence.
Although the Communist agitator theory was later debunked, Stewart continued to use Ades as the scapegoat giving cover to the real white racist establishment who lynched Williams.31 The white press had no issue with Stewart speaking for the Black community. Stewart maintained his prominent status as a leader for the Black community in Salisbury while garnering support from white political and community leaders there.32
The Stewarts were beacons to the Salisbury community. James and Mary would continue to work at their funeral parlor together until his death at the age of 65 in 1949.34 James was survived by his wife Mary, his nephew Clinton Stewart, and his two nieces Eva Onley and Eunice Crawford.35 At his funeral were plenty of prominent local politicians, businessmen and leaders as mentioned before. Among those who attended were Dr. John T. Williams, President of Maryland State College, Judge Levin C. Bailey, Mayor E.R. White of Salisbury, Fred Webb, a Salisbury attorney, W.S. Gordy, President Salisbury National Bank, and James N. Bennett, Superintendent of Salisbury schools.36
Chicago Style citation will appear here