Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

CHARLES BOLDEN

Morning Star, May 14, 1995, pg. 10

When researching my book A History of the Albion Public Schools, I learned that Albionís athletic program dates back to the 1891-92 school year. The first competitive sport was football, organized in the fall of 1891. I was able to obtain an original photograph of this first team, and made an amazing discovery: One of the members of Albionís very first high school sports team was black. This was in the days when most young men discontinued (quit is too harsh a word) their educational experience and went into the work force. A high school diploma was only for those who were going into the professions or teaching.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this young man was also the first black male to graduate from Albion High School--a very commendable accomplishment, especially considering the times he lived in, and the obstacles he had to overcome (Note: I am still researching to document the first black female to graduate).

There were several black families which lived in Albion from the 1840s throughout the remainder of the 19th century, long before the Albion Malleable Iron Company brought a large group up from Florida in 1916-17. Most of these early blacks were either barbers or housekeepers. A few of them were wallpaper hangers, or washed walls in the days of dirty fuel sources for heating homes. These workers were called "Calciminers."

Charles Bolden grew up in Albion, with his mother Charlotte, and step-father, John Fields, a local paperhanger. His parents stressed education to young Charles as a means of improving his lot in life. The January 18, 1980 issue of the Journal of Albion states, "When he (Charles) had talked of dropping out of school, quite some pressure was put on him to complete his schooling that he might go further in life than his step-father.

No doubt it was athletics that also helped keep Charles Bolden in school. In those days, football was a new phenomenon, and Albionís team quickly learned to master the game, thus giving it an advantage over "green" opponents. The players had to supply their own uniforms and equipment, and were happy to find any team in existence which they could play.

Charles was a member of Albion High School Class of 1892--consisting of 20 persons. His accomplishment no doubt made his parents proud, in addition to making local history as the first black male to graduate from Albion High School, and as a member of the very first football team.

Despite his high school diploma, Charles apparently was unable to overcome the racial obstacles he faced. The article in the Journal states, "Some years later when he came back to Albion for a visit, he was asked what he was doing. ĎBarbering,í came the reply." Bolden had moved to Ann Arbor following graduation, where engaged in the barbering trade.

What happened to him, whether he stayed in Ann Arbor or moved somewhere else, where he died, etc., is not known. [NOTE: We have learned that Bolden was also a success in real estate and renting homes in Ann Arbor, including in Albion where he came back and visited numerous times]. But if ever there is a black hall of fame established in Albion (not a bad idea), certainly the name of Charles W. Bolden should be included. Imagine the odds this young man had to overcome.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present the photograph of the very first Albion High School football team of the fall of 1891, and a photograph of Charles Bolden. Front row, left to right: Unidentified (with black hat); Carlton Gardner, Frank Roudenbush. Center row: John Raftry (with leg out); George Hopper; Allen Oakes; Charles W. Bolden. Top row: Unidentified; C. Edward Bascom; Roy Peterson; Carl Jacobs; George Godding.


Charles Bolden and Football Team

Next: ALBION HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1895


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