Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 13, 2005, pg. 19
As the former Albion Malleable Iron Company complex (Harvard Industries) is currently in the process of being demolished, we are reminded of the significant influence this major employer once had upon area history. When the company began producing automotive parts in 1902, they were in need of large numbers of workers to accomplish that task. Hundreds of workers were recruited to work at the Malleable from eastern and southern Europe up until World War I, and a so-called “foreign settlement” sprung up in the vicinity of the plant along Austin Avenue and N. Albion Sts. These workers and their families eventually assimilated into the American way of life, and there are hundreds of their descendants who still live in the Albion area today. Many persons in our area can trace their ancestry back to Europe via employment at the Albion Malleable Iron Company.
During World War I however, the source of the labor force dried up, as there was virtually no immigration from Europe due to the men there serving in warring armies. America, too, was preparing itself for war, and the automotive industry was in full swing. The Malleable had to seek a new labor market in order to fulfill its government contract orders.
Montford Balcom Murray (1862-1941), or “M.B.” as he was known, played the pivotal role in changing Albion history. He came here from Hillsdale County in 1888 as a railroad agent. Soon afterwards he was hired as the secretary-treasurer of the young Albion Malleable Iron Company, which had been founded in December, 1888. He served in that position until his retirement in the 1920s.
It was M.B. Murray who was given the task of recruiting new workers for the growing plant production. In order to accomplish that task, he headed south to the Florida panhandle, and to southern Georgia and Alabama. There he recruited numerous African-American men, and signed them up for a stint to work at the Malleable. Workers signed up for an original six-month commitment, and were paid 20˘ an hour.
A few days before Thanksgiving, 1916, a train carrying 64 black men from the vicinity of Pensacola, Florida arrived in Albion. On their first night, twelve of them slept in the same single room in a boarding house on Culver St. Workers were then placed in company housing in the vicinity of Gale, Culver, Mallory, and W. Cass Sts. In the following weeks and months to come, the families of the workers were “sent for,” and within a short period of time Albion had a black population of close to 500 persons.
Thus, it was M.B. Murray who changed history and contributed to making Albion the diverse community it is today. As is with the case of the European immigrants who came to live in Albion to work at the Malleable, there are still numerous persons who live in Albion today that are descended from that original group of 64 black men who came here in 1916. There are also descendants of M.B. Murray living in the greater Albion area, too. Upon his death in 1941, M.B. was interred in Section 84 of Riverside Cemetery next to his first wife Frances who passed away in 1915.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Montford B. Murray.
Montford B. Murray
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic