The Moorish Science Temple in the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area
David Levinson, PhD
“The terms ‘Negro’ and ‘colored people’ are ‘slave names’ acquired by members of their nationality when they were first brought to this country; members of the movement are trying to revive the national spirit and religion” (Berkshire Evening Eagle, February 10, 1944).
With these words, Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El marked the arrival of the Moorish Science Temple in the Upper Housatonic Valley, where it would maintain its National Home for the next twenty years. The Grand Sheik was addressing an audience of about one hundred men and women gathered together at the just-purchased Berkshire Homestead Farm in Becket, Massachusetts, to dedicate the National Home of the Moorish Science Temple, The Divine and National Movement of North America Inc. (MSTD).
Turner-El had founded the MSTD in the mid-1930s as one of several branches of the Moorish Science Temple, an African American racial-religious movement dating back to 1913. For twenty years, from 1944 to 1963, the Upper Housatonic Valley region—first Becket, then Great Barrington and Sheffield, and lastly Norfolk—would be home to the MSTD’s National Home (also called its Homestead or Shrine). The Home’s presence in the Berkshires and the Litchfield Hills, its efforts to combat racism and promote equality, its often adversarial relations with government officials, and its well-attended conferences and conventions are mostly forgotten and ignored (other than by Berkshire historian Bernard Drew) parts of the region’s African American and religious histories. Although the MSTD’s activities were frequent fodder for the press during those years, they were forgotten as soon as they left. Also quickly forgotten was the Moorish Science Temple of America #62, a different branch of the movement, which was located in Pittsfield in the 1950s and 1960s. This article is meant to fill in this gap by providing an account of their activities and their place in and beyond the region.
The Moorish Science Temple
The Moorish Science Temple, the predecessor of and a strong influence on Turner-El’s branch, was one of a number of self-identified Islamic movements that emerged in African American communities in the northern United States in the first four decades of the twentieth century. It was what anthropologists call a revitalization movement: an intentional attempt by members of a society or social group experiencing stress to build a better life for themselves through transformation of their beliefs, creation of a new community, expectation of divine intervention, and changes in their personal behavior and appearance. Other examples of revitalization movements in American history include the Christian Shaker movement and the American Indian Ghost Dance in the Great Plains. Throughout history, these movements have usually been initiated by a charismatic leader. For the Moorish Science Temple, the founder was a man who called himself Noble Drew Ali (c. 1886–1929). His given name and early life remain unclear and a continuing subject of historical research.
The Temple emerged during several decades of rapid growth and change in African American communities in the North, motivated by a desire to end persecution and oppression and to create equality and opportunity. The human energy fueling this push for change came from the millions of African Americans who moved from the rural South to northern cities during the Great Migration in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as from the hundred thousand Caribbean immigrants who also moved north, to New York and other cities. The Moorish Science Temple was not alone; it was but one of more than twenty self-identified Islamic movements that emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century, and they as a group were part of the emergence of a wide range of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations seeking equality for African Americans through different strategies. These included the NAACP (founded in 1909), the Urban League (1910), Universal Negro Improvement Association (1914), the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (1925), the Peace Mission movement (1920s), various Black Pentecostal and mainline Protestant churches, Ethiopian Hebrew synagogues, and, in a broader sense, the Harlem and Chicago renaissances.
While aligning itself with Islam, the Moorish Science Temple was actually an amalgam of beliefs and practices drawn from Islam, Christianity, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Garveyism woven together into a unified belief and action system by Noble Drew Ali. Because of its syncretic nature and founding in America, the Moorish Science Temple was not accepted as a true form of Islam in Islamic societies. The movement rested on the Five Divine Holy Principles of Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice. Drew Ali’s teachings were set forth in the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America (also referred to as the Circle Seven Koran), the basic text of the movement. Drew Ali’s core and innovative teaching was a new origin story for African Americans. He rejected the use of the labels “Colored,” “Negro,” and “Black,” which were linked to slavery. Instead, he argued that African Americans were Moors, descended from Muslim Moors in North Africa and northern West Africa (especially Morocco and neighboring lands) who immigrated to America during the time that it was part of the Islamic World. Furthermore, Moors in America were descendants of the Moabites, an ancient African people and kingdom.
Finally, in the more general sense, Moors were “Asiatics,” a category of human beings that encompassed all dark-pigmented peoples and that indicated a desired solidarity between Africans and Asians in response to European dominance. Drew Ali’s goal in offering this new origin story and ethnic identity was twofold: first, to enhance self-respect and encourage self-reliance among African Americans by giving them a positive ancestry and identity, and second, to enhance the reputation of African Americans among whites, who viewed Moorish culture (such as its architecture and clothing) and “Asiatics” more favorably than they did sub-Saharan African cultures. The identification with Islam was a purposeful rejection of Christianity, which was associated with slavery. In accord with these beliefs, members of the movement, then and now, refer to themselves as Moors, Asiatics, or Asiatic Americans. The Moorish Science Temple and its members identify themselves with visible symbols, including the five-pointed star and crescent, the Moorish flag, fezzes (worn by men) and turbans (worn by women and men). Members use the suffixes El or Bey appended to their surname. Men and women refer to one another as Brother and Sister.
Noble Drew Ali’s invented version of African American origins was, of course, like most origin stories, not based on the findings of archaeology, history, or anthropology. These disciplines provide a different perspective, as follows. Moab was a real kingdom from about the thirteenth century BCE to 400 BCE, located not in North or West Africa, but in West Asia, on the east bank of the Dead Sea, where the modern nation of Jordan is located today. The ethnic label “Moor” is a generic label used in various ways to refer to Muslim Arab and Berber peoples of western North Africa and Northwest Africa; its most common application is to Muslims from North Africa who ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 CE until 1492.
North America was never part of the Islamic World. Although some Africans enslaved in the Americas were Berbers from North Africa, the majority came from farther south, from Central West Africa, taken from a number of different ethnic groups in the modern nations of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Nigeria. It is true, however, that some were Muslims, perhaps as many as 30 percent, including some of the first brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonists. Islam was firmly entrenched in West Africa during the slave period, having arrived there in the eighth century CE and over the next five centuries spreading widely across the region. In the Americas the Islam brought by Africans was quickly repressed, although some continued to practice it in secret and their shared belief system was a source of unity among some enslaved Muslims. Some elements of Islam did survive and can be seen today in African American names and forms of musical and dance expression and religious worship. Yet these Islamic elements present in African American culture were not part of Noble Drew Ali’s teachings.
A movement based on social science research was not what Drew Ali was after. He wanted a new origin story for the people he now called Moors that displaced the centrality of slavery and persecution, replacing them with a new identity and history that would promote self-respect, self-reliance, and a proud, shared history and that would lead to equality in America.
Noble Drew Ali founded what he would later name the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey, in 1913. From there it spread to several other northern cities, with Drew Ali incorporating it as the Moorish Science Temple of America in Chicago in 1926. Already beset by internal rivalries when Drew Ali died in 1929, the movement further subdivided with several branches and subbranches emerging, each with its own leader known as the Grand Sheik. While it received considerable national attention, the entire Moorish Science Temple enterprise never drew many adherents. In the 1930s it had about thirty thousand members across its several branches. Eventually the most prominent and largest was the Nation of Islam, although it did not become prominent until the mid-1950s and until 1994 denied any ties to Drew Ali. In the 1950s most branches declined as members left for the Nation of Islam, mainstream civil rights organizations, or Black churches.
Establishing itself in African American communities was difficult for Drew Ali’s movement because of competition from other movements and organizations such as those mentioned above and also because of the reality that many African Americans were Christians and regarded Islam as a foreign religion. The government was an impediment as well. Efforts by the African American community to organize to seek equality were viewed with suspicion at all levels of government—local, state, and national. These movements were seen as potential threats to the domestic order and national security, and the Moorish Science Temple, because of its embrace of Islam, drew much attention. Local officials interfered with and police kept a close watch on the movements’ activities, while nationally the FBI surveilled, investigated, and infiltrated them, cultivating informants and at times spreading racist rumors to damage them. The FBI was very active and had a number of “official” reasons for investigating the Temple, including its call for equality, its alleged allegiance to Japan during World War II, its support for Moroccan independence from France, and allegations that its members were avoiding the draft.
But the real driving force behind the investigations and harassment was the racism of the federal government’s chief law enforcement investigator, J. Edgar Hoover. FBI director from 1935 to 1972, Hoover had been the Justice Department’s investigation director from 1924 to 1935. Hoover viewed any sign of African Americans pursuing civil rights for themselves as a threat to national security, and he was especially devoted to preventing the rise of Black charismatic leaders. Despite yielding bulging files of thousands of pages, mostly of field reports, the endless investigations produced little evidence to support the allegations.
The Moorish Science Temple movement continues to exist today, with more than a dozen temples in the United States, including in Troy, New York, and Springfield, Massachusetts. The national headquarters for the branch founded by Frederick Turner-El is Temple #13, located in Baltimore. In the twenty-first century, the Moorish Science Temple movement’s reputation and name have been damaged by its alleged (by law enforcement and in the media) association with the Moorish sovereign citizen movement. The Moorish Science Temple of America disavowed the Moorish sovereign citizen movement in 2011. This derivative of the broader sovereigns movement, composed of several thousand individuals and a few organizations, claims Moorish identity and uses repurposed Moorish beliefs and symbols and new ones to claim that members are Moorish or Moroccan citizens and exempt from U.S. laws and regulations, thereby allowing them to engage in otherwise illegal real estate, insurance, and other activities; pay no taxes; and sometimes violently confront government officials who argue otherwise.
Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El and His Movement
The Moorish Science Temple, The Divine and National Movement of North America Inc. (MSTD), the branch of the Moorish Science Temple that located its National Home in the Upper Housatonic Valley, was founded by Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El (c. 1910–?) in the mid-1930s. Little is known with certainty about Turner-El’s formative years. He was likely born in Cincinnati, and the family later moved to Brooklyn, New York. He may have traveled in the Middle East as a young man and probably did not speak the ten languages he claimed but possibly did speak some Arabic. He became involved with Moorish Science Temple through his father, Grand Sheik Edward Turner-El, who was in charge of New York State for one of the successor branches following Noble Drew Ali’s death. In the early 1930s, the junior Turner-El began moving off on his own, opening a temple in Brooklyn and then in Boston and Hartford. In 1938 he incorporated his new organization in New York and Connecticut.
Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El, as he was appropriately known (later, International Grand Sheik) was a visionary and an innovator: ambitious, concerned about young people, committed to the fight for equality and social justice, energetic, and prone to hyperbole and outright fabrication. He was also what today we would call a networker. He organized conferences and conventions; looked to cooperate with other organizations and with other religions; cultivated relationships with local, state, and national political figures; and sought to create an international pan-Islamic movement. Turner-El also believed in working within the legal and political systems to combat racism and inequality, and he devoted much time to defending MSTD members and fighting what he perceived as racially motivated injustices in court and through administrative hearings.
As with African American churches, women played a significant role in Moorish Science Temple movements, and Turner-El’s was no different. Women at times filled the positions of director of the National Home and the movement’s secretary and treasurer. Women spoke at conferences, and the popular New York singer Princess Heshla Amanda Tamanya of Ethiopia provided religious songs at MSTD events from 1936 to 1945. The “Princess” was one of Turner-El’s public relations initiatives. She was neither royalty nor Ethiopian. Her given name was Iselyn Smith Harvey, and she was a West Indian immigrant in New York.
Although her true identity had been known publicly since being exposed in a miniscandal in 1933, she was always billed as the “Princess” at MSTD events. Her performances were popular and added a female, North African, and musical component to the events, likely attracting a large audience. Turner-El’s assignment of Ethiopian identity and African royal status to the “Princess” was not unusual at the time in the African American community, as some intellectuals and activists were drawn to Ethiopia because of its standing as one of only two African nations (the other being Liberia) to have remained independent of European colonization. This view was not shared by all, the dissidents including W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) and Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), who were troubled by Ethiopia’s imperialism under its longtime ruler Haile Selassie.
Turner-El also valued newspaper coverage and was adept at grabbing attention and stirring up the public disputes that reporters and editors prized. Of course, in small, rural, mostly white towns like Becket and Great Barrington, where the MSTD was a curiosity and fairly often involved in controversies, he found press attention easy to draw. During his six years in Becket and Great Barrington, more than eighty articles and announcements concerning the MSTD appeared in the Berkshire Eagle’s editions, with coverage also in the Berkshire Courier and the North Adams Transcript. During the MSTD’s sojourn in Norfolk, coverage was provided by the Hartford Courant and the Lakeville Journal.
But coverage was more than just local, with articles published in various newspapers, including the Albany Evening Journal, Rome (New York) Daily Sentinel, Springfield Republican, New York Times, New York Age, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, Poughkeepsie Evening Star and Enterprise, Chicago Daily News, Bridgeport Post, and Baltimore Afro-American. Turner-El’s ability to attract and impress journalists came early, as indicated by the impression he made on interviewers from the prestigious New Yorker magazine (September 21, 1940): “Probably the greatest man to turn up in colored religious circles since Father Divine is Grand Sheik F. (for Fred) Turner-El, head man of the Eastern Division of the Moorish Science Temple, the Divine and National Movement of North America.”
The Grand Sheik’s agenda meshed his own priorities and approaches with the teachings of Noble Drew Ali and some initiatives of other branch leaders. He was a strong advocate of Noble Drew Ali’s message that African Americans needed to shift their identity from “Negro” or “colored” to “Moor” and learn the “true” history of African Americans. He also regularly stressed that his followers were patriotic Americans, with their dual but shared identities shown by the display of American and Moorish flags at their events.
One of his dreams, never realized, was to create a Moorish university in the Berkshires, modeled on Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious university in the Muslim world. His dream of the university reflected his interest in young people and his concern about juvenile delinquency in cities. He planned education programs to instill self-respect and self-reliance among his members, which, again, he believed would come from knowing their “true” history as Moors, a point he made very clear at a press conference during a conference in Great Barrington in June 1947:
The colored man must do three things to achieve victory in his fight for a place in the world. They are: Forget forever the use of the derogatory term of “Negro”; learn the true historical background of a great people and their contributions; and make themselves strong individually and in the nation that we may be heard when we speak.
(Baltimore Afro-American, June 27, 1947)
As we have said, Turner-El was a networker and sought to create interorganizational ties among African American and other organizations as well as international ties between the MSTD and governments and organizations in North African and Middle Eastern nations. In the late 1940s, his agenda broadened to support Moroccan independence from France, the American civil rights movement, pan-Islam, and anticolonialism.
The MSTD was a midsized group with ten temples at times, mainly in New England. Temples were located in Brooklyn, Boston, New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Philadelphia, Woodstock, Springfield, Norfolk, Becket, and Great Barrington. Turner-El lived in Brooklyn and then Hartford. He never lived at the Housatonic Valley Homes but visited often. The rural National Homes were meant to serve as sites for several functions—training for sheiks, farming to raise money and train young people, education for youths, venues for conferences and conventions, rural retreats for members, and old-age residences. The total membership of the MSTD never exceeded about twelve hundred. A fairly typical member (Payne and Payne, 2020) was Mrs. Rosalie Glover of Hartford:
For Mrs. [Rosalie] Glover, the 1941 Klan “message” killing in her hometown of Quincy [Florida] was a threat to be heeded. She immediately loaded her two young sons and three daughters aboard a train and headed north to Connecticut. Four of her older children had already migrated to Hartford or other Northern cities.
Despairing of the Holiness Church that had been her “rock of ages” in Florida, Mrs. Glover joined the Hartford branch of the Moorish Science Temple, which promoted a “return to Islam as the only means of redemption.” Emphasizing African heritage, moral uplift, and economic self-help, the local temple was headed by a man named Sheik F. Turner El, who conducted meetings in a small hall over a shop on Albany Avenue. Glover and her husband also took their children to the group’s 275-acre spread in Massachusetts.
Turner-El’s first attempt to establish a rural National Home was in 1938 in Woodstock, Connecticut, in the northeastern part of the state, on a 167-acre property paid for by a Federal Housing Administration grant. The facility was used only as a residence for the elderly and for farming. At the same time, Turner-El sought to establish a permanent MSTD community in the hamlet of Yaphank on Long Island, New York, again using an FHA grant. He succeeded in building some homes, but the community never grew to anything near the twenty thousand residents he envisioned. Why the MSTD left Woodstock is not known, although perhaps it was because Turner-El was looking for a facility in a locale that could accommodate his broader range of programs.
The MSTD began its twenty-year presence in the Upper Housatonic Valley on January 17, 1944, when it purchased the Berkshire Homestead Farm Inc. for $48,000, with a $2,000 down payment. The sellers were Samuel and Ida Pill, who held the mortgage with Ida’s brother, Arthur Luchter of Boston. Unlike for the Yaphank and Woodstock properties, FHA funds were not available for the Becket purchase, and the down payment was made with contributions from members and donations.
David Pill, Samuel and Ida’s grandson, recalled that his grandfather sold the farm to the MSTD to spite the town of Becket. Samuel Pill was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and in Becket he faced considerable anti-Semitism, including what he experienced as harassment of his son by school officials. The town had only a dozen Black residents among a population of about seven hundred, but Pill knew there was strong anti-Black sentiment, and selling to the MSTD was his revenge for the anti-Semitism he experienced. Samuel Pill was not imagining the anti-Semitism, nor the racism.
The Ku Klux Klan drew substantial interest and was active in the Berkshires in the 1920s, with rallies and cross burnings on farms drawing hundreds (Durwin, 2021). Its public displays waned in the 1930s, but the underlying anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and racism remained among some in the Berkshires.While it is troubling that the MSTD needed a white property owner to sell to them out of spite for his neighbors, the reality is that this was not unusual, and we will witness it again later in the year, when the MSTD moved south to Great Barrington.
As it is today, the United States was then a residentially segregated society. In the North Blacks lived mainly in segregated neighborhoods in cities while whites lived in segregated neighborhoods in cities and in all or mostly white suburbs and rural towns. Institutional racism in the forms of laws, real estate and bank policies, and social norms made it almost impossible for Black individuals or organizations to buy property in white neighborhoods and communities. Sometimes one individual or a group supported desegregation and purposefully sold to a Black family, who typically suffered considerable abuse after moving in.
Taking advantage of a white individual’s spitefulness was one way to get around this discrimination. It is one example of the prescription of longtime Housatonic resident and Lenox home-economics teacher Mae Brown (1914–2016) for overcoming racism: “If they close the door on you, go in the window” (Drew, 2004). Perhaps the best known purchase enabled by spite in African American history is Father Divine’s purchase of a large home in then–all-white Sayville, Long Island, in 1917. Two white neighbors were feuding, and one of them, to spite his neighbor, purposefully marketed his house to African Americans. Father Divine (c. 1876–1965), through his Peace Mission movement, had the funds, and the property became a gathering place for his white and Black followers, infuriating his white neighbors and drawing the regular attention of law enforcement, culminating in Divine’s arrest and brief imprisonment in 1931.
Why the MSTD choose the Berkshires and Becket is not known, but Turner-El had had an interest in the Berkshires as far back as 1941. One likely attraction of Becket and the region in general was its reputation as a summer resort, and it offered several summer youth camps. Central to Turner-El’s vision was a facility that could serve as a venue for summer vacations for members and also for summer education/recreation/farm work programs for youths. The Pill property was ideal for these programs and the other goals in the Grand Sheik’s ambitious agenda—five hundred acres, a working farm with a fourteen-room main house (hotel) and an eleven-room farm house that together could accommodate twenty guests, garages, two barns, two henhouses, one duck house, one icehouse, and one brood house, plus modern water and heating systems.
The private mortgage given by the Pills made the sale possible. Because of its lack of assets and discriminatory loan policies, the MSTD would have been unable to secure a commercial mortgage. The MSTD marked its presence and dual identities with American and Moorish flags flanking the entranceway to the main house. Both flags were always displayed at all events. (The Moorish flag is a red flag with a green five-point star in the center.) How many members lived there is not known, but the property was directed by Mrs. Sarah Turner-El of Hartford, with James Nelson-Bey as the onsite manager. Frederick Turner-El did not live there but visited regularly.
At the February dedication, the Grand Sheik outlined his plan for the National Home. The Home would be a:
year-round retreat for persons of Moorish descent and others. A health resort, rest home, home for the aged, and summer camp for boys and girls. . . . Only when youngsters acquire the self respect which they can when they know and have pride in their national ancestry can delinquency among them be cut down.
(Berkshire Evening Eagle, February 10, 1944)
He also told the crowd that he would be hiring experienced people to work the farm and hoped in the future to open a Moorish university modeled on Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which would “serve as the center of learning for the Moors of America.” To ready the property for these programs, renovations to the main house at a cost of $3,000 were already under way and the facility would then open on April 1. The plan for a Moorish university caught someone’s attention; ten years later, despite it never having come to fruition and the departure of the MSTD from the Berkshires, it was noted in the Eagle’s regular “Looking Back” column (February 10, 1954):
10 Years Ago
A Moslem university that will be a center of Islamic culture in America will be established on the 500 acre tract in Becket purchased by the Moorish Science Temple of the Divine and National Movement of North America, Inc. Grand Sheik, executive director, F. Turner-El announced.
The Becket operation got off to a rough start when, in May, the icehouse and root cellar burned down. The MSTD blamed the loss on racist arson, but the charge was evidently never investigated. Despite the setback, services were held in the renovated house, and during the summer it was filled with MSTD member-guests seeking a respite in the Berkshires from city life.
But Turner-El’s other goals were not yet realized when, in July, the Pills and Luchter gave up on their efforts to collect the mortgage payments and foreclosed, the MSTD having failed to service their mortgage. The MSTD appealed, and Turner-El sought relief by making the moral case for the MSTD:
The Moorish Science Temple the Divine and National Movement of North America, Inc., is a religious, educational, humanitarian, philanthropic organization founded for the purpose of uplifting fallen humanity and to expand the five grand principles of love, truth, peace, freedom and justice and it does not advocate hatred of any race, creed, or religion. Through such teaching we hope to reform people of Moorish or African descent, to promote the general welfare and make better American citizens.
(Berkshire Eagle, September 7, 1944)
The court was not persuaded and also rejected Turner-El’s argument that the MSTD had been misled during the sale negotiations, but in September it did grant the MSTD a two-month stay on executing the foreclosure. The quick foreclosure on the Becket National Home tells of the reality that impeded Turner-El’s achieving his ambitious national home program. The MSTD simply could not generate enough income to cover the hefty mortgage and maintenance costs, let alone the costs of its programs. Financial support for the national homes came mainly from contributions from MSTD members of one dollar a week in 1944, up from fifty cents in 1940. When the National Home relocated to Great Barrington, these contributions were considered a “mortgage fund,” although the money was not always used for that purpose. But with never more than twelve hundred members, the pool of contributors was too small, and most of the members were too poor to give beyond the basic contribution. These contributions were supplemented with donations from “friends” and some earned income, although farming never produced the anticipated income.
The two-month delay in foreclosure allowed the Grand Sheik to proceed with a convention scheduled for September 15–20, which he had optimistically announced back in August, with three hundred guests expected. “Kingsley Ozumba Imeadue, Prince of Nigeria” was billed as the guest speaker. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915–1990), to use the correct spelling, was a student at Columbia University. He was not a Nigerian prince but did go on to become a prominent Nigerian politician. It was what would become a typical MSTD gathering in the region: well-attended, with the three hundred expected guests, among them Joseph Mitchell of the governor’s staff, representing Governor Leverett Saltonstall; the “governors” of the MSTD territories of New York (Edward Turner-El), Connecticut (James Wheeler-Bey), Massachusetts (Charles Haddon-Bey), and Pennsylvania (William Lucas-Bey); the sheiks of several temples; guests from six East Coast states; and various speakers. The “Prince” was unable to attend due to illness.
Highlighting the gathering were a parade of delegates wearing traditional Moroccan dress and the religious songs provided by “Princess Tamanya.” As with the dozen conferences that would follow over the years, this one was organized and managed with the help of officials and members from various MSTD temples, with the MSTD’s security force (called its “national guard”) in its distinctive military-style uniforms, present to maintain order and enforce MSTD rules.
The dispute was stressful for them, but the Pills proceeded with the foreclosure, scheduling an auction of the property for November 9, with an opening bid of $10,000 cash. On October 30, a foreclosure notice was published in the Berkshire Eagle. By then the MSTD had left. On December 13, the property was conveyed back to the Pills, and three generations of the family lived there, until the late 1960s. The main house burned down under new ownership in 1970s. The smaller house remains.
With foreclosure looming, Turner-El had been busy looking for a new locale for the National Home. By September he was either considering or had already settled on Great Barrington when, during the convention in Becket, he, the “Princess,” and several MSTD officials drove over on Sunday afternoon to Great Barrington to have tea with Dr. Isaac Altaraz at his Brookside estate. Altaraz was a prominent psychologist who, with his wife, Frieda Garden Altaraz, operated a treatment facility and school for emotionally and developmentally challenged children at Brookside (now Camp Eisner). What connected Turner-El and Altaraz is not known; perhaps it was their shared interest in young people.
On the following Sunday, Turner-El and “Princess Tamanya” returned to Great Barrington and attended an afternoon service at Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church, their presence recorded in the church attendance book: “There was a service at 3 o’clock. The Rev. Turnel spoke to us. He gave a very good lecture. The Princess was unable to sing as she had a very bad throat and cold.” Reaching out to the local Black community was part of Turner-El’s interorganizational approach. Earlier, in August 1940, he had spoken to the Goodwill A. M. E. Zion Church in Riverhead, Long Island, as part of his effort to establish a Moorish community there.
By the end of October, the MSTD operation had left Becket and moved into the former Hallock School property on south Main Street in Great Barrington, owned by Frank and Lucille Stanton. By the end of November, newspapers were reporting on the MSTD’s plan to purchase the Hallock property and the Stantons’ three-hundred-acre farm in Sheffield—$50,000 for Hallock, $15,000 for the farm.
The nine-month stay in Becket was brief, but long enough for us to already see what would remain the major features of the MSTD’s experience in the region: an ambitious but only partly actualized vision, involvement in various national and international movements, well-attended conferences, charges of racism ignored or denied by government officials, use of the property for summer vacations for members, plenty of press coverage, and financial difficulties.
Great Barrington and Sheffield
The MSTD’s new Home was the former Hallock School/Lord Barrington Hotel property on south Main Street, which it either rented or occupied for free for a few months and then purchased on December 17, 1944, from Frank and Lucille Stanton. As part of the deal, they also acquired the Stantons’ three-hundred-acre farm in Sheffield. The total cost of the two properties came to $65,000, with $15,000 of it for the farm. The Stantons held the mortgage.
As mentioned above, like Samuel Pill in Becket, the Stantons sold to the MSTD to spite the town, or, more specifically, Great Barrington’s officials. Berkshire historian Bernard Drew (2017, 112–113) provides the details:
Lucille opened Lord Barrington Hotel, with capacity for 90 guests, she said when seeking an innkeeper’s license in 1941. The same year she sought an amusement permit for music and dancing.
Stanton in 1945 sold the school property to the Moorish Science Temple Divine and National Movement of North America. Irked by her dealings with town officials over taxes, permits and other matters, according to her great-nephew Bob Jones, this was her idea of retribution: Bring hordes of black folk to town.
As with the Becket property, the two properties in South County provided all the space and facilities needed for the National Home’s planned programs, services, and events. The Hallock School property (located where Guido’s and the Big Y Plaza are today) covered 16.5 acres, with the large Hallock mansion and a dormitory providing 125 furnished rooms, an amusement hall, a schoolhouse, a lodge, a roller-skating rink, and a swimming pool.
The Sheffield farm comprised two houses, a barn, and the Three Mile Pond. As part of the deal, Lucille Stanton’s brothers Morrison and Earl Jones were allowed to continue using as much of the farm as needed to continue raising chickens. In return they were to make contributions to a fund up to $1,000. Into 1948 they had contributed $378. Earl Jones also continued to either raise or process chickens in one of the buildings on the Hallock School property into 1948.
In several public statements, Turner-El made clear why Great Barrington was a uniquely desirable location for the MSTD Home. The town was celebrated in the African American community as the locale for a significant event in African Americans’ quest for freedom, a significance he explained in remarks at the Home on February 4, 1946:
“He maintains that it is fitting to open their national shrine here as Great Barrington is actually the birthplace of the Moors emancipation. He said Numbates, the first Moorish American [slave] was legally set free here by Judge Sedgwick”
(Berkshire Eagle, February 4, 1946).
The statement requires a bit of clarification. “Numbates” was a misspelling of “Mumbet,” a woman named Elizabeth Freeman (?–1829), who had been enslaved by Col. John Ashley in Ashley Falls. She and coplaintiff Brom gained their freedom in August 1781 through a lawsuit for freedom she brought that was adjudicated in the Great Barrington court. Turner-El also didn’t have his history quite right. Freeman was not the first slave freed in America, but her suit mattered because it was the first lawsuit in Massachusetts based on the state constitution’s “All men are created equal” clause, and it played a role in ending slavery in the state later that year. The “Judge Sedgwick” he mentioned was Theodore Sedgwick (1746–1813), Freeman’s attorney in the case, who later did become a Superior Court judge.
Despite Great Barrington’s association with freedom, Turner-El did not find the town, or at least some of those in the town, to be hospitable. Rather, they seemed unaccepting of the MSTD, opposed to its presence, and eager to see it depart. Turner-El was consistent in refusing to accept discrimination, and, as was his custom, he went public. On August 23, 1945, the Berkshire Eagle ran a sensational front-page story: “Moorish Sheik Charges Race Prejudice in Gt. Barrington.” Following a meeting in Boston with Massachusetts governor Maurice Tobin, Turner-El alleged that “taxes were increased, that the chief of police was told to find Moorish people undesirable, town officials trying to oust the organization, that certain persons offered to pay for the cancellation of the sales agreement” after the MSTD arrived in town and moved to purchase the property.
Turner-El was correct: taxes had been raised, the assessment from $16,000 in 1944 to $27,750 in 1945, and the taxes from $400 to nearly $1,000, which the town attributed to the Stantons having recently adding the swimming pool. Turner-El’s taking the tax increase as racist is hardly surprising, because raising property taxes was a common ploy used by cities and towns to drive out African American property owners, and especially owners of property, like the MSTD, that might attract additional African American visitors or residents. For example, when Father Divine’s Peace Mission movement bought and integrated the Brigantine Hotel in Atlantic City in 1941, the city raised the taxes on the property to ten times what it had been under the previous white ownership.
Turner-El made additional charges: The building inspector identified repairs that would cost $5,000 to make (Governor Tobin extended the deadline to pay for the repairs); the selectmen planned to call for a town meeting to expel the MSTD; the police chief was told to investigate the MSTD; and the town might use its right of eminent domain to take the property.
In short Turner-El’s long list added up to a systematic attempt first to prevent the MSTD from settling in Great Barrington and then to make life difficult for them so they would leave. Turner-El’s response was clear and firm: “We are against race prejudice and we do not propose to take it.” He went on to rebuke the state and issue a prophetic warning:
It is absolute race prejudice. I was astounded knowing the history of this commonwealth—Massachusetts during the Civil War campaigned for freedom and fought to free the slaves. . . . Race prejudice holds a real danger to the future of America.
First Selectman Cecil E. Brooks initially labeled the charges a “cheap publicity stunt” but offered to form a committee to look into the matter. Police chief William Oschman denied police involvement. A day later Selectman Brooks expanded his response to blame any problems on the Grand Sheik: “Mr. Brooks said, however, if there is any racial discrimination in Great Barrington it must be on the part of Sheik Turner El only,” and he called the charge about a town meeting “most ridiculous.”
The Berkshire Eagle described the town’s reaction as “agog,” and some in town cited the selectmen’s previous consideration of the town’s African American community as evidence that Great Barrington was not racist. The incident they cited took place in 1943, when the Clinton Church’s pastor, Rev. Henry Morrison, raised with the selectmen the issue of the substandard housing for Black people in town. The majority of the town’s ninety or so Black residents lived in the downtown Rosseter Street neighborhood. In addition to the housing issue, they were besieged by toxic chemical-solvent fumes spewed into the air over the neighborhood by a nearby dry cleaner’s. The selectmen offered to look into it. What came of their interest is not known, and nothing in the Clinton Church records suggests that it resulted in any action. The same was true for Turner-El’s allegations. There evidently never was an investigation.
In February 1946 Turner-El was back in Boston meeting with the staffs of the state governor, senate, and attorney general. This time the topic was the MSTD’s application in Great Barrington for tax-exempt status based on the MSTD being a religious and educational organization. The application had been filed just a few weeks earlier and had not yet been ruled on. Taxes for 1946 were $945 plus $80 for water. The exemption mattered because it saved the MSTD money, but, more importantly, it granted it official recognition as a religious organization.
Seeking support for the exemption, Turner-El explained that the Home was to be used for underprivileged youth and the aged, and he described the meetings in Boston as positive. He now seemed comfortable with life in Great Barrington, telling the Eagle that he was “pleased with the circumstances locally, and he had praise for the Great Barrington Selectmen, also Governor Maurice J. Tobin” (February 5, 1946). The MSTD’s tax status would remain a focus of dispute for the next eighteen months.
The town Board of Assessors ruled against the MSTD and denied it exempt status. Turner-El appealed to the State Tax Appellate Board, leading to a hearing in Great Barrington on February 4, 1947. Turner-El brought along Anna Eubanks-Bey, Secretary of the MSTD, and twelve members. His argument remained the same—that the MSTD was an educational and religious organization and that the withholding of the tax exemption was motivated by racism. The town argued that the property in Great Barrington was used for purposes other than educational and religious: the property included rooms, such as a billiards room, that had no such purpose, and during the Barrington Fair held at the fairground across South Main Street from the Home the previous September, the Home had collected $1,500 in parking fees from fairgoers’ vehicles, charging fifty cents per day. (The Home provided the same service the following year and apparently also rented out rooms.)
In July the Tax Appellate Board upheld the town’s position but lowered its assessment of the Home property from $30,000 to $25,000, reducing the tax owed for 1946 by $157.50. The MSTD was also taxed on the Sheffield property: $78.50 in 1946, for three hundred acres, two houses, and one barn; $97.50 in 1947, for three hundred acres, two houses, and one barn; and $70.50 in 1948, for three hundred acres, one house, and one barn. (The second house had burned down in May 1947.) It seems that the MSTD paid these taxes, indicating that the property was not being used for educational or religious purposes. In fact it produced some income from the “contributions” by the Jones brothers, who raised chickens there, and possibly others who raised pigs there.
The tax dispute continued before the Appellate Board into 1948. In February the board upheld the July decision but also elicited some surprising information from Turner-El when he was questioned by the board chairman, as recorded by the Berkshire Eagle (February 17):
The chairman questioned him [Turner-EL]: “Do any of these people—Mrs. Stanton, the Jones brothers, Mr. Brinton—occupying apartments on the premises, make payment?”
“No, sir,” was the reply.
“Why are they allowed to occupy these apartments?”
“They have no home or any place to live,” said the Grand Sheik. “We allow them to subscribe to the religious organization and make contributions to it and in return we allow them to live there until they find a home.”
The surprising information was that Lucille Stanton, Earl and Morrison Jones, and a Mr. Brinton were living in the Hallock building in 1948. And it seems the Jones brothers with their wives and children continued to live there in apartments into 1949. Lucille Stanton was living in a part of the building called the chapel. Also surprising and unusual was that they were all made honorary members of the MSTD. The MSTD on rare occasion did admit white individuals who had been especially helpful to the movement. It seems likely that the Great Barrington tenants were there to produce income for the MSTD. But to avoid payments being considered “rent” and thereby weakening the case for tax-exempt status, they were now “members” making contributions.
In May 1948 the matter was finally resolved when the State Appellate Tax Board upheld the earlier decision to reduce the assessment by $5,000, to $25,000, but deny exempt status.
Throughout the appeals Turner-El tried to balance his goals of establishing amicable relations with town officials with defending the rights of the MSTD and its members. On September 9, 1947, he had sent a letter to the selectmen making his position clear:
Grand Sheik Turner El, by letter, invited the Selectmen to attend the annual convention of the Moorish Science Temple, Sept. 15 to 20. The letter stated that the Moors were interested in human equality and that they felt the Selectmen would attend because the first slave legally set free was in Great Barrington. Even though we encountered prejudice from a few Berkshire County residents, we are going to strive to continue as on in this vicinity rather than a menace. He advised his Berkshire County neighbors to keep their hands off his people.
(Berkshire Eagle, September 9, 1947)
When Turner-El repeated his advice a year later, the Berkshire Eagle labeled it his Monroe Doctrine.
Being granted tax-exempt status on religious grounds was an important goal because it would give the MSTD legitimacy and equal status with other religions, at least as so far as the state government was concerned. But the Grand Sheik was anything but one-dimensional in his goals and methods, and by May 1946 he was actively pursuing his two major goals, promoting the MSTD and building relations with other organizations by convening well-attended conferences and conventions. On Memorial Day 1946, he hosted the dedication of the new National Home, with some five hundred attendees.
Then, during the week of July 30, the Home hosted the largest gathering in its history when more than a thousand people attended a conference. MSTD members and others came from all over the eastern United States, and every hotel, inn, and rooming house in Great Barrington and nearby towns was fully booked. The nearest empty bed was thirty miles south, in Lakeville, Connecticut. Great Barrington townsfolk took advantage of the opportunity; many rented out rooms for the first time, charging up to six dollars a night. The high points of the gathering were “Princess Tamanya’s” religious songs and Turner-El’s sermon on “Love All Your Brothers.” This was the first of four large gatherings at the Home over the next two years.
The next was the Inter-Organizational Conference of the Moorish Science Temple, a major event toward Turner-El’s goal of establishing cooperation across African American organizations and with other organizations, held over a weekend in June 1947. The event drew two hundred participants from fifteen states, representing various organizations and interests, and received coverage in the Baltimore Afro-American and the New York Age, an African American newspaper published in Brooklyn. Great Barrington’s selectmen were invited but did not attend, announcing at one of their regular meetings that the invitation had come too late—just days before the event. The Grand Sheik reiterated his formula for progress, which drew wider national attention with coverage in the Atlanta Daily World and the Pittsburgh Courier:
“The colored man must do three things to achieve victory in his fight for a place in the world,” Grand Sheik F. Turner-El of the Moorish Science Movement told a press conference here last week. They are: Forget forever the use of the derogatory term of “Negro”; learn the true historical background of a great people and their contributions, and make themselves strong individually and in the nation that we may be heard when we speak.
(Baltimore Afro-American, June 27, 1947)
Other participants had their say as well, suggesting a multi-dimensional approach to progress:
Present for the sessions were over 200 delegates representing thousands of people scattered over 15 states of the Union. F. A. Ajaye, African-American importer; Arthur Reed, head of the Harlem Labor Council; and Madame Margot-Bey were among those heard during the sessions. Ajaye called for the creation of a “Center of culture, enterprise and unity which will become to our people what the United Nations is to the World.” Mr. Reed pointed out that “Many of our troubles are not the fault of other people; they are our own. We can be respected when we are united.” Madame Margot-Bey called for the expansion of our producing facilities and advantages. Henry H. Ham-Bey gave an excellent financial report on the organization, and stated that it plans the immediate creation of a school for the dissemination of the true facts of history, and the increasing of the present holdings of the organization to where they will represent “A true investment in a kind of security that few people ever dreamed of.”
(New York Age, June 28, 1947)
The June convention, considered the most successful so far, was followed up with an MSTD conference from September 15–20, the week before the annual Barrington Fair. This conference had a narrower focus; Turner-El saw it as an opportunity to build ties to local and state politicians. Turner-El again invited the Great Barrington selectmen and traveled to Boston to personally invite Governor Robert F. Bradford and Lieutenant Governor Arthur Coolidge. He only got as far as their secretaries, but Bradford did send Wilfred Scott of Roxbury as his representative.
At the conference Turner-El let it be known that “Even though we encountered prejudice from a few Berkshire County residents, we are going to strive to continue as on in this vicinity rather than a menace.” And, responding to rumors in town, “He also said the Moorish Science Temple had no plans as rumored to move to the former Bunce Property on Alford Rd. although it had been recently purchased by two members from New York (Berkshire Eagle, September 9, 1947).
In September 1948 the MSTD hosted another conference along the same lines as the one the previous year, attended by some one thousand people from East Coast cities. For local people the major news was that the “Moorish Temple Grand Sheik Proclaims His Monroe Doctrine,” as mentioned above. Also given some press coverage was that Lucille Stanton was seen directing traffic into paid parking on the MSTD property at the Barrington Fair the following week. Her presence drew attention because she held the mortgage on the property, her brothers and their families lived there, and she had recently foreclosed, which we discuss below. Perhaps she was helping out to raise some funds to pay the mortgage.
The final Great Barrington conference was held May 14–16, 1949, with a small group of seventy-five attending. By then Turner-El had turned his attention to Morocco and its campaign for independence from France and to creating cooperation across Islamic communities around the world. (Morocco had become a French protectorate in 1912, while Spain controlled a coastal enclave and southern Morocco; following several years of sometimes violent protests, Morocco would gain independence from France and Spain in 1956, with Spain retaining just two small coastal enclaves.) Turner-El had founded a new organization, the Moroccan United Organization Federation (MUOF) to pursue these international goals, and the conference was billed as the third Annual Moroccan International and Inter-Organizational Conference.
He advertised as the purpose of the conference “to establish peace and understanding among all peoples of the world, regardless of race, color or creed.” Toward that end, guests were invited from Pakistan, India, Iraq, and Egypt, and there was a Moroccan bazaar at which goods from participating nations were sold. United Nations official Dr. Ralph Bunche was to be the guest speaker, but unfortunately he had to back out at the last moment due to pressing events at the United Nations. Still, there was a long and diverse list of speakers—Aftab Ahmad Khan, Vice-Counsel of Pakistan to the United States; William M. Maltbie, Chief Justice of the Connecticut Court of Errors and Appeals; Sister Julia Tyesi of the Triple P. Christian Movement in New Jersey; Rev. John Butler, pastor of a Baptist church in Baltimore; Great Barrington Selectman Frances J. Kelly; and Rabbi Jacob Axelrod of the Love of Peace Synagogue in Pittsfield.
As with the MSTD’s last event in Becket, this conference took place with a foreclosure action having already been brought by the mortgage holders. The Stantons had foreclosed in March 1948. The outstanding mortgage then was $57,000 on the Great Barrington property and $6,925 on the Sheffield farm. The MSTD appealed, leading to a series of six hearings that concluded in January 1949, with a decision finally announced that April. For the Stantons the issues were both failure to pay the mortgage in full and the MSTD’s failure to maintain the two properties. Although they had not paid in full, the MSTD claimed to have paid $16,000 from 1945 until September 1948, and Sister Mary Wyatt-Bey, the former national treasurer, testified that Mrs. Stanton had told her that “as long as we made an effort to pay she would never foreclose” (Berkshire Eagle, December 2, 1948). The MSTD’s financial problems were evidently known to members, whose weekly contributions paid the bills. Again the reaction of Mrs. Glover, the member from Hartford introduced above (Payne and Payne, 2020), was not atypical:
Upon discovering that funds raised to pay the mortgage on the Great Barrington retreat were being misdirected, Glover and other followers lost confidence in the leadership. It was then that Mrs. Glover began visiting the Islamic [Nation of Islam] temple, 25 miles away, in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The condition of the two properties was apparently a more serious matter for the Stantons, and the MSTD had little defense. The Stantons’ key witness was Earl Jones, who had eyewitness knowledge of both properties, having raised chickens at the Sheffield property and in Great Barrington and also having lived in the Hallock building since 1948. As for the Sheffield farm, Jones reported that the property was rundown: “most of the meadow and pasture is now filled with golden rod and tree stumps.” Floorboards had been removed from one of the houses and used to make railings for a pen for hogs, and the only bridge no longer had any planks (Berkshire Eagle, December 17, 1948).
At the final foreclosure hearing in January, the focus was the Great Barrington property. Conservation officer John H. Buckley testified that he had caught an MSTD member trapping without a license and confiscated the trap. Earl Jones followed up by identifying the wood used on the trap as having come from a leaf of the Hallock building’s dining room table. The hearing also made public the surprising news that not only were Lucille Stanton and her two brothers honorary members of the MSTD, but so, too, were her attorney, Frank H. Wright, and the MSTD’s attorney, Frances McMahon.
The Master’s decision and report was finally issued on April 7 (Berkshire Eagle, April 22, 1949): “Mrs. Lucille J. Stanton of Great Barrington ‘has a perfectly valid mortgage and with right, insofar as the mortgage is concerned, to foreclose same.’” In support of his decision, he found considerable evidence of the MSTD neglecting the Sheffield farm: of the combined sale price of $65,000 for the Great Barrington property and the Sheffield farm, only $15,000 had been paid so far; fire insurance was not renewed by the MSTD in 1948; an uninsured Sheffield house had burned down; another Sheffield dwelling had been torn down; pasture and meadows were neglected; fences were neglected; and roadways were cluttered.
The Master also noted that at “one time Mrs. Stanton occupied part of the [Hallock School] property, known as the chapel; and her brothers Earl and Morrison Jones, with their families, still live in another portion of the Great Barrington property.” In favor of the MSTD, he added that the Jones brothers had been raising chickens on the Great Barrington property, and the “continued occupancy by the Jones brothers . . . in no way enhanced the reputation of the premises in question nor the plaintiff.” But he added that it did not impede the plaintiff [MSTD] from carrying out its obligations.
On June 24 the properties were auctioned. Bidding opened at $5,000, with three bidders—the Stantons, an MSTD representative, and an unidentified third party represented by Edward Ashworth of Great Barrington. Ashworth dropped out at $18,000, and the Stantons reclaimed the property, outbidding the MSTD with their final bid of $25,000. The Stantons considered selling the Great Barrington property or resurrecting their hotel plan, but ultimately they converted it to low-rent apartments, with both Black and white tenants.
Turner-El was not eager to leave, as he had no new home for the National Home. He wanted to remain in the Berkshires:
“Moors want to stay in the Berkshires. The only thing definitely known is that the Moors want to revive their operations in the Berkshires, but where the sons of the desert are now remains a mystery” (North Adams Transcript, August 10, 1949).
His efforts to purchase estates in Becket, Lee, and Tyringham were unsuccessful due to lack of funds.
The following month the Stantons initiated eviction proceedings. The few MSTD members living at the Hallock property lingered for as long as they could before being given an “ultimatum,” described in detail by Berkshire historian Bernard Drew (2017, 113) based on interviews with Jones family members:
That ultimatum? The never-publicized part of the story is, the Joneses assembled a few friends and drove to the school grounds after dark. An electrician friend cut the power to the house. Turner-el came out on to the porch. Earl and the posse shone their headlights on the house and, brandishing shotguns, told the temple adherents to leave town.
Which they did, rather hastily, according to Bob Jones.
But, on the way, they stopped at the Brush Hill property [the farm in Sheffield] and burned the old Jones farmhouse and the camp dwelling.
That concluded the MSTD’s stay in Great Barrington.
The MSTD’s years in Great Barrington had been successful in producing four major conferences, initiating interorganizational cooperation among local and state political units and various organizations, allowing Turner-El to expand his agenda to anticolonialism and pan-Islam, and garnering considerable press attention within and beyond the region. Turner-El was also successful in continuing his policy of utilizing his right to the courts and governmental administrative bodies to seek equal treatment under the law, even though those efforts failed. But the plans to farm, create a home for aged, and provide education for young people never materialized. The lengthy disputes over charges of racism, the MSTD’s tax status, and the foreclosures and eviction made for contentious relations between the MSTD and town officials and those individuals involved with the MSTD, as well as consuming Turner-El’s time and money.
What the relationship was between the MSTD or any of its resident members and white residents of Great Barrington or Sheffield is not known. But we do know that in addition to the major disputes over tax status and foreclosures, there were several other minor disputes directly or indirectly involving the MSTD and local folk. Following is a quick summary, just to get them on the record:
- 1. November 1946. Allegations by the Jones brothers led to a Great Barrington District Court case against Mr. and Mrs. Leo Grady of Sheffield. Leo was accused of illegal muskrat trapping and larceny of power equipment from the Joneses’ sawmill. He and his wife were accused of assault with a deadly weapon, a shotgun and a knife. They took the stolen equipment to MSTD property, where they were working. The Joneses confronted them at their farm, where the brothers were threatened. The Gradys pled guilty and were given sentences of three months in the House of Detention for assault, suspended because they agreed to leave the area. Leo was also fined for illegal trapping. (Berkshire Eagle, November 2, 6, 1946)
- 2. May 1947. The former Jones farmhouse on Brush Hill, Sheffield, now the MSTD property, burned down. The property was uninsured, the MSTD having let the fire insurance lapse. (Berkshire Courier, May 22, 1947)
- 3. June 1947. A gang of teenagers on Main Street in Great Barrington harassed the visiting sheik from the Springfield temple. They were brought into court and admonished by a judge. (Bowen, 2013)
- 4. June 1948. Allegations regarding Lucille Stanton’s treatment of Herbert Weaver led to a Great Barrington District Court hearing. Herbert Weaver was an 84-year-old real estate broker who had suffered a stroke and was living with the Stantons in Great Barrington. His affairs were managed by his son. The charge against Lucille Stanton was serious:
Mrs. Stanton did without lawful authority forcibly or secretly seize and confine or inveigle or kidnap another person, to wit, Herbert W. Weaver, against his will and with the intent to cause him to be secretly confined or imprisoned in or out of the commonwealth against his will, or in any way held to serve against his will and with the intent to extort money therefrom. (Berkshire Eagle, June 16, 1948)
The case against Stanton was soon dismissed when the parties reached agreement on the issues involving the mortgage with the MSTD on the Hallock building and another property and also agreed that Weaver would remain in the Stanton home.
- 5. July 1948. James Nelson-Bey, the MSTD business manager, was fined ten dollars in Great Barrington District Court for not having the required auto insurance. The additional charge of not having his vehicle registered in Massachusetts was dropped after Turner-El testified that Nelson-Bey had never spent thirty consecutive days in the state. (Berkshire Eagle, July 21, 1948).
- 6. April 25, 1949; July 26, 1949. James Nelson-Bey was back in District Court, this time accused by Earl Jones of stealing mortgaged bed linens and towels from a locked closet in the Hallock building. Both Nelson-Bey and Jones and his brother and their families were living there at the time. The MSTD had been evicted. Nelson-Bey was fined twenty-five dollars. Nelson-Bey’s failed defense was that he took the linens to have them cleaned. (Berkshire Eagle, July 28, 1949)
- 7. October 30, 1950. Fred L. Wells and Frank Stanton entered a Neither-Party Agreement in the District Court, settling a suit filed by Wells against Stanton seeking a $3,250 commission for arranging the sale of Great Barrington property to the MSTD in 1944. (Berkshire Eagle, October 30, 1950)
These incidents and perhaps others not reported in the press would have only aggravated the tensions caused by the ongoing racism accusations and controversies and the adversarial adjudications of the tax and foreclosure matters.
One of the questions we are not able to answer is the extent and nature of the relationship between the MSTD and the town’s African American community. Great Barrington’s African American community dates to the 1700s but had never been very large, and in 1940 it was especially small, numbering only eighty-one individuals in twenty-four homes; just 1.4 percent of the town’s population. By 1945 it had grown to over ninety individuals, through recent arrivals from the South.
But size mattered less than Great Barrington’s importance as the market town for the southern Berkshires, and as such it also served as the center for the regional African American community through its Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church, founded in 1870, and the Macedonia Baptist Church, founded in 1944. The MSTD Home and the Black community seemed to have kept separate from one another.
The only formal contact we know of between the two was when Turner-El spoke at Clinton in September 1944, as noted above. The church’s records show no other official contact between the two organizations. Wray Gunn, who was a teenager at the time, recalled that the Great Barrington African American community had little interest in the MSTD. And Everett Brinson, a youngster in the late 1940s, recalled that he never heard his parents, owners of Brinson’s Cleaners on Main Street, talk about the racism controversy.
The town’s African American community’s focus was elsewhere in the last half of the 1940s, as the population grew and the civil rights movement accelerated. The Clinton Church launched several fundraising drives to retire its debt and fund the conversion of the basement into a meeting hall. It expanded its membership, sought members in Sheffield, and reconstituted its choir. The Macedonia church was founded in 1944 by former Clinton members and in 1947 hired its first pastor. In addition, in 1944 several town women were among the founding members of the Progressive Club in Stockbridge, and in 1947 town residents joined others in founding the Jolly Club #12 in town. The MSTD seems to have had no part in these activities.
From the viewpoint of local Blacks, as with local whites, the MSTD members, both the few residents and the many conference attendees, were outsiders, not an inconsequential status in a small town like Great Barrington. In addition, while the MSTD members and the town’s Black population shared a racial identity and history, that identity and history had been redefined and rewritten by the MSTD. And while they shared the goal of equality, they subscribed to far different strategies to achieve it. Whether or not local African Americans were involved in the MSTD’s conferences is also not known. From the published rosters of people invited to the conferences or who spoke at them, it seems that they were not, as none appear on any of the lists published in the newspapers. But we should not rule out the possibility, given Turner-El’s interest in interorganizational cooperation, that he reached out to Clinton and Macedonia but they were not interested.
Despite the charges of racism, the tax status problem, and the two foreclosures, Turner-El remained committed to the value of a rural National Home. Unable to afford another large property in the Berkshires, in 1950 he moved twenty miles south to Norfolk, Connecticut, with the purchase of the large house on the former Todd Estate on Litchfield Road. Norfolk was larger than Becket but smaller than Great Barrington, with a population of 1,572 in 1950, including about 40 Black residents. As with the previous two towns, we don’t know why Turner-El chose Norfolk, but a seller willing to sell to the MSTD and hold a mortgage surely was a major part of the decision. Perhaps it was also the proximity to Hartford—thirty-five miles and just over an hour drive—where Turner-El was active, as well as Norfolk’s reputation as an upscale summer resort.
The Todd property was smaller than the homes at Becket or Great Barrington/Sheffield, with no farm and fewer rooms for guests. But, so, too, was Turner-El’s agenda, summarized in an interview in August with the Chicago Daily News at the United Nations, where Turner-El spent much time working on independence for North African nations:
Our piece of property has been dedicated as a Moroccan National Shrine and meeting place for Moroccans, Tunisians and Algerians. Here we have a school of spiritual tranquility teaching the mystic science of the Middle East. Our purpose is to help liberate Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria from French rule. We want peace and freedom.
(Corpus Christi Times, August 11, 1952. [Reprinted from the Chicago Daily News.])
As this quote shows, Turner-El’s vision had expanded to support Moroccan independence, pan-Islam, and the civil rights movement, but he had dropped the programs that never came to fruition in Great Barrington. The Norfolk Home would be used mainly for conferences, as a retreat for members, and as an education center for sheiks, although it is not clear if it was ever used for that last purpose. In 1957 Turner-El outlined the education program:
The educational program will consist of the following: Education and indoctrination relative to the Islamic Religion dealing with Islamic Culture and Civilization in order to Prepare and indoctrinate Grand Sheiks, Imams, Grand Governors, Governor-Generals and President-Generals of the Moroccan United Organizations Federation. It will be imperative and necessary that all leaders and representatives who aspire to leadership under the charter and auspices of the Moroccan United Organizations Federation must be thoroughly prepared and indoctrinated for leadership in order to defend the principles and purposes of our organization at large.
Courses and education will be disseminated relative and relevant to history and civilizations of Morocco in order to cope with the present Moroccan situation in the world coherent with the independence and sovereignty of Morocco to enable Moorish-Americans and Moroccan Americans to participate and share in the blessings of Moroccan culture and civilization.
(Baltimore Afro-American, April 27, 1957)
On May 14, 1950, the new Home was dedicated. Reflecting Turner-El’s support for Moroccan independence, the Home was now called the Moroccan National Home, “Moors” were now known as Moroccans, and the event was sponsored by Turner-El’s new United Moroccan Organization Federation. About a hundred people attended, with the broad representation Turner-El always sought: Major Edward T. Dixon, representing Connecticut’s Governor Chester Bowles; Brooklyn official J. Daniel Diggs; Bertram L. Baker, of New York City; Frank Simpson, of the Connecticut State Interracial Commission; Aaron Cohen, of West Hartford; Professor W. Burton Beatty, director of public relations at Hampton Institute in Virginia; Mrs. Mary Johnston, of Torrington; and Naomi Wooten Morris, a Philadelphia social worker and painter. The entrance to the new Home was marked by a woodcarving of the star and crescent symbol, carved by MSTD secretary Dorothy Plourde. The Grand Sheik said he hoped it would be known as the “Mountain of Peace.” (The house was on a rise overlooking Litchfield Road.)
In Norfolk the MSTD faced the same problem as it had in Great Barrington: a dispute with the tax authorities over its application for tax-exempt status soon began. Each year the assessor would grant the MSTD’s request and then the Tax Review Board would reverse the decision and deny it. Turner-El continued to view the reversal as motivated by racism, an argument rejected by the Tax Review Board. The board’s position was that the property’s primary use was neither educational nor religious, because it was used mainly as a summer vacation retreat and to hold conferences of a political nature, concerning anticolonialism and civil rights.
It is understandable that the tax board would view using the property as a vacation retreat as unrelated to its religious and educational mission. But it is likely that the MSTD saw it very differently. African American religious organizations routinely provided vacation opportunities for their members because racism severely limited vacation and recreational opportunities for African Americans. Many Black travelers needed to keep the Green Book at their side to find motels, hotels, and restaurants that would accommodate them. And African American–owned integrated establishments, such as Father Divine’s hotels in Philadelphia and New Jersey and Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates’s Country Club resort in the Catskills, were established to provide African Americans with vacation options.
In Great Barrington the Sunset Inn in the 1920s and Martha Crawford’s rooming house and tearoom accommodated African American travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, although other establishments did as well. Thus, from its perspective, the MSTD’s use of its National Home as a vacation venue was well within its mission of providing African Americans with religious, educational, social, political, and legal opportunities in a society in which those opportunities were denied or limited by discrimination and segregation.
In 1959 the MSTD did pay half the taxes owed for the past decade. Finally, in October 1963, the MSTD prevailed when Turner-El agreed to drop his racism accusation and the MSTD’s attorney instead emphasized its religious purpose. The MSTD was then afforded tax- exempt status as a religious and educational organization by a judge in Litchfield.
The Home’s two major activities were serving as retreat for members and visitors, with programs for children and hiking trails (the Home was advertised as a summer resort in the New York African American press), and hosting meetings and conferences. The meetings and conferences were held more frequently than in Great Barrington but were not as large. These conferences focused on what had become Turner-El’s three major priorities—anticolonialism, most immediately independence for Morocco; pan-Islamic cooperation; and civil rights.
The first two conferences, in May and September of 1952, focused on Moroccan independence, with the first called the Moroccan Inter-Religious and International Conference and the second the Moroccan National Conference. Turner-El’s effort to build pan-Islamic unity drew interest in the Islamic world, with delegates (mostly United Nations staff) from Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia attending, among others. In a sign of unity, the conference attendees tendered a petition to the United Nations calling for Moroccan independence. The following year conferences in May and September on the same themes brought delegates from Indonesia, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, Liberia, and Ethiopia, with most again being members of the United Nations staffs of these nations.
Four more conferences followed, in 1954, 1956, 1957, and 1959. The 1954 and 1957 conferences continued the focus on independence, with Algerian independence from France drawing special attention after Morocco achieved independence in 1956. The 1956 and 1959 conferences broadened the agenda to civil rights in the United States. The 1956 conference addressed the problems Black migrants from the South were struggling with in the North, while the 1959 conference resolved that: “White Citizens Councils of the South must be completely destroyed if the United States is to prevail as a legitimate nation”— drawing, of course, the attention of the FBI (Bowen, n.d.).
In perhaps his last public statement at the Norfolk Home, Turner-El set forth his views on the current civil rights situation in the United States in an interview with the Hartford Courant on November 10, 1963.
“The African-American is the only person in the United States without a name,” the Grand Sheikh said. “He is living behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ in the South and even in the North, right here in Connecticut; he is a man without a home. His pride has been taken away.” He sat erect in his chair and shot back an answer to a question: “Yes, soldiers should be sent to Birmingham. Why? Because the extremists have gone as far as forcing rattlesnakes down the mouths of some Negroes. This is an atrocious act and I have said it loud to the government.” The small room grew still as he continued uninterrupted.
“I am not a radical, but sometimes I think if this catastrophe continues I will propose the African Americans arm themselves with guns and ammunition and turn Birmingham into turmoil. The law of self preservation is the law of God.” They were harsh but not unfamiliar words, but they sounded out of place on a quiet autumn day in this rural New England town. The Grand Sheikh’s hope is that some day they will be heard and understood, not only in the South, where “the shadow of an ‘Iron Curtain’” hangs over the African-American, but also in the North, in other rural towns like Norfolk, where the full significance of social revolution often takes generations to penetrate.
Although the MSTD had just won its long battle for tax-exempt status, its twenty years in the Upper Housatonic Valley were nearly over. The membership had been declining and temples closing for several years, as members were drawn to the Nation of Islam and also to civil rights organizations. As members left, so too did income, and in October, the mortgage holders on the Norfolk Home foreclosed. By early 1964 the MSTD was gone, and in May 1964 the former Todd property was sold. What came of the MSTD after its Home closed is not at all clear. By 1965 Turner-El had disappeared from public view, and by the mid-1970s it seems all or nearly all temples had closed. Today the national headquarters is in Baltimore and there is a temple in Springfield, Massachusetts, both claiming MSTD affiliation.
As we have seen, the MSTD’s twenty years in the region were not always easy, neither for the MSTD nor for local officials and the mortgage holders, with the continuous disputes over tax- exempt status, charges of racism, and the foreclosures. No doubt these issues hampered the Homes’ activities and chilled its reception in the region. As detailed above, there is also much evidence that racism—beginning with the spite motivation for selling to them in Becket and Great Barrington—played a role in the MSTD’s difficulties. Nonetheless, the MSTD’s activities, and especially its focus on various issues affecting the African American community and Islamic nations, brought forth for public discussion at its dozen conferences and conventions, had an impact on the residents of the Upper Housatonic Valley, African American life in Northern cities, and internationally.
In considering the MSTD’s influence, we need to begin with International Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El himself. Although he is now a forgotten figure, his influence was considerable, especially through the initiatives he undertook at the National Homes. Turner-El’s biographer, the historian Patrick Bowen (2014, 1) summarized his accomplishments:
He was able to fight for Moors’ rights in courts, build a number of Moorish homes, develop ties with numerous politicians—both American and international ones from Muslim countries—spread and increase Moorish Science education and knowledge, and establish a number of interfaith organizations for African-American uplift. And, for most of these things, Turner-El was among the first African-American Muslims to do them, making Turner-El an important African-American Muslim trailblazer.
As Bowen’s evaluation suggests, Turner-El and the MSTD in general and through its National Home activities was firmly within the African American tradition of continually developing new leaders, organizations, strategies, and tactics to end slavery, racism, persecution, and discrimination and support freedom, equality, and opportunity. Over the centuries these have included slave revolts, retentions of African cultural elements, the Underground Railroad, abolitionism, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, racial-religious and self-help movements, the civil rights movement, labor organizing, Black nationalism, the reparations initiative, Critical Race Theory, and Black Lives Matter. The MSTD—like other racial-religious movements of the first half of the twentieth century, such as the Nation of Islam, Israelite synagogues, and the Peace Mission movement—followed their own beliefs and strategies but shared the same long-term goals as these other initiatives.
As regards Turner-El’s ambitious pan-Islamic and anticolonialism initiatives, he was on the same broad path as some other activists, although with very significant differences in approach. These other initiatives included W. E. B. Du Bois’s Pan-African movement, initiated in 1900, and Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa message of the 1920s. It should be noted that the three leaders did not cooperate in their efforts. Du Bois and Garvey were far better known and much more influential than Turner-El. But Du Bois and Garvey were fierce personal and philosophical opponents. Du Bois rejected Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish origin story and disapproved of the “Moor” identity and as a label in place of “Negro” or “Black.”
Finally, when evaluating the MSTD’s place in regional history, we can see that in carrying forth his innovative agenda and methods in Becket, Great Barrington, and Norfolk, Turner-El was another of the many regional white and Black pioneers whose innovations together have accorded the Upper Housatonic Valley its reputation as a place congenial to the “independent spirit.” That spirit dates back to the 1700s in the area and is a powerful thread woven through numerous individuals and organizations across the region’s cultural, religious, industrial, social, and political sectors.
Many of these “independent spirit” men and women were white, but a large number, despite their relatively small population, were African Americans, with their initiatives influencing life in the region and often well beyond. Among these Black “independent spirits” of the past were antislavery pioneer Elizabeth Freeman, Revolutionary War veteran Agrippa Hull, abolitionist James Mars, the more than one hundred men who fought in the Civil War, activist Rev. Samuel Harrison, intellectual and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, diplomat and essayist James Weldon Johnson, World War I veteran Charles Persip, photographer James VanDerZee, entrepreneur Warren Davis, activists David and Sinclara Gunn, activist Rev. Esther Dozier, and educator and activist Elaine Gunn.
Innovative organizations and initiatives that they and others have more recently established include Pittsfield’s Second Congregational Church, Great Barrington’s Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church and the Clinton Church Restoration, the Berkshire NAACP branch, the region’s African American Heritage Trail, Bridge Inc., Construct Inc., the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, the Women’s Giving Circle, and the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite. Thus, viewed in this context, despite the difficulties, Frederick Turner-El and the activities of his MSTD National Homes were right at home in the Upper Housatonic Valley. Perhaps he recognized this fit and it explains why he choose to establish the national homes in the valley and remain for twenty years.
I want to acknowledge and express my thanks to a number of individuals and organizations who helped with the research and preparation of this article. First, I want acknowledge Berkshire historian Bernard Drew for his keeping us aware of the presence of the Moorish Science Temple in the Berkshires through his several discussions of them over the last twenty or so years. It was from reading his entry on them in his 1999 Great Barrington town history that I first learned of their Berkshire presence. I also thank him for his generosity in sharing with me his materials on the MSTD from his personal research archive.
I also want to thank several other individuals who helped me locate and/or shared information and photographs in their collections with me: Barry Webber of the Norfolk Historical Society, James Miller of the Sheffield Historical Society, Gary Leveille of the Great Barrington Historical Society, Sandi Jarvis of the Becket Historical Commission, and the staff at the Local History Department of the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Because the MSTD left the region over fifty years ago, few people are still with us who remember them. But fortunately Wray Gunn and Everett Brinson generously shared with me memories of the MSTD’s time in Great Barrington, and Dave Pill shared family stories of its time in Becket. Gary Leveille also gave me permission to use his postcard photo of the Hallock School, and the Berkshire Eagle generously allowed me to use three of its photos. Also of much help was Eugenie Sills of the Clinton Church Restoration Inc., both for her initiative in directing or connecting me to information sources and her support for the project.
When it came to readying the manuscript for publication, Sandy Towers’s meticulous copyediting sorted out my various organizational, grammatical, and spelling issues, while Sharon Wirt employed her usual magic to make several of the rough photos clear and distinct. Finally, I thank Dan Bolognani of Housatonic Heritage for his enthusiasm for the project, his alerting me to the region’s reputation for the “independent spirit,” and for publishing the article.
Baltimore Afro-American. June 28, 1947; April 27, 1957.
Berkshire County Eagle/Evening Eagle.
Feb. 10, 12, 16; July 26, 30; Sept. 7, 16, 18, 24; Oct. 23, 30; Nov. 22; Dec. 13, 19, 20, 1944.
May 2; Aug. 23, 24, 1945.
Jan. 4; Feb. 5; June 1; July 30; Nov. 2, 6, 1946.
Feb. 4, 5; April 2; May 22; June 18; July 9; Sept. 9, 10, 17; Nov. 15, 1947.
Feb. 17; March 16; May 12, 13; June 16; July 21; Dec. 23. Sept. 8; Dec. 1, 2, 17, 2, 1948.
Jan. 8; April 22, 25; May 14, 16; June 9, 24; July 9, 21, 28; Sept. 24, 1949.
Oct. 30, 1950.
Feb. 10, 1954.
May 7, 1956.
May 7, 1957.
June 16, 1960.
Berkshire Courier. Nov. 22, Dec. 20, 1944; Aug. 23, 1945.
Bowen, Patrick D., compiler. (n.d.). “Grand Sheik Frederick Turner-El SCLC FBI File Records.” Academia, n.d. http://www.academia.edu/21596476/Grand_Sheik_Frederick_Turner_El_SCLC_FBI_file_records.
Bridgeport Post, Nov. 21, 1941.
Brinson, Everett. Personal communication with the author, 2021.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 16, 1938.
Corpus Christi Times, Aug. 11, 1952.
Drew, Bernard. Personal communication with the author, 2021.
Effendi, Sidi Saleem Azeem Bey. “Memorandum.” 2017. www.rvbeypublications.com.
Gunn, Wray. Personal communication with the author, 2006.
Hartford Courant. May 15, 1950; Nov. 10, 1963.
“International Grand Sheik F. Turner El.” Moorish Science Temple, The Divine and National Movement of North America, Inc. #13 The Moorish American National Republic, n.d. https://moorishamericannationalrepublic.com/about/international-grand-sheik-f-turner-el/.
Lakeville Journal. Dec. 5, 1963; May 4, 1964.
New York Age. June 28, 1947; April 23, 1949.
New York Times. “Isaac M. Altaraz, Psychologist, Dies at 87 in a Fire in His Home.” December 10, 1978.
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Springfield Republican. June 18, July 21, 1949.
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Appendix: The Moorish Science Temple of America in Pittsfield
The MSTD was not the only Moorish Science presence in the Berkshires. A Moorish Science Temple of America #62 met in Pittsfield in the 1950s and 1960s. It was affiliated with the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), a different branch of the movement than Turner-El’s MSTD. The MSTA, which traces its ancestry directly to Noble Drew Ali, was and remains the main MST branch today, with more than twelve temples. It is not clear if Temple #62’s tenure in Pittsfield overlapped with the MSTD’s in Becket or Great Barrington. But since it was established in about 1950, it probably did not.
The Pittsfield temple’s members were likely local, with its agenda and activities a mix of religious, social, and activist initiatives. The founders and leaders were Grand Sheik H. Hamdan Bey and his wife, Sister Anne Hamdan Bey of Alford. He worked as a kitchen aide in a restaurant and she for many years as a housekeeper for a white family in Alford. The temple was established in about 1950 and closed in early the early 1960s, probably around the time Mrs. Hamdan Bey moved in 1963 to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where her daughter and her family lived. We don’t know where it met in Pittsfield, nor how many members it had or who they were. Larger events open to the public that it sponsored were held in St. John’s Masonic Hall, the venue used by all local African American organizations for community events. The Grand Sheik and Sister were actively involved in the Moorish Science Temple of America. In 1951 and 1954, the couple attended the MSTA’s annual September convention in Chicago. The Grand Sheik went alone in 1952, and Mrs. Hamdan Bey went with two members from Hartford Temple #35 in 1953.
The Temple sponsored several public events, with the variety of the programs suggesting that like other racial-religious movements, in addition to religion, it also provided entertainment for the community and promoted civil rights, self-reliance, and interorganizational cooperation. In May 1956 the Sisters’ Auxiliary hosted a concert featuring the Moorish Science singer Florence Hunt-El and the Ambassadors Quartette of Brooklyn, followed by another concert the following May. In October 1958 the Temple hosted a “religious crusade” meeting of the United Religious Crusade for African Redemption, with Dr. J. H. Thomas, religious scientist and psychologist, as the main speaker and with music by the Ethiopian Hebrew singer “Princess” Shaynu Zeffu Tau. The United Religious Crusade promoted self-reliance in African American communities, while the presence of the “Princess” indicated solidarity with the Israelite variety of racial-religious movements.
In June 1960 the Temple showed solidarity with the broader Moorish Science Temple of America movement when it honored Mother Princess B. H. Bey. The Mother Princess was from Prince George, Virginia, a center of the MSTA’s activities. And in July 1962, likely shortly before it closed, the Temple marked its anniversary by hosting an event showing solidarity with the regional African American community and also a pan-African awareness, through its two main speakers, David Gunn Sr. (1899–1986), of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and M. J. Elelene, of Nigeria. David Gunn was a prominent member of the Berkshire community (Black and white). He was active in Stockbridge’s Congregational Church, was the first Black basketball coach in the county, and was head of the Berkshire branch of the NAACP. That seems to have been Temple #62’s last public event, and it presumably closed soon after.
Berkshire County Eagle/Evening Eagle. Sept. 27, 1950; Sept. 17, 1951; Sept. 24, 1952; May 17, 1956; May 7, 1957; Oct. 2, 19, 1958; June 16, 1960; July 13, 1962; Aug. 30, 1965.
About the Author
David Levinson, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist who for the last fifteen years has been involved in studying, writing, and developing programs about the African American experience in the Upper Housatonic Valley. Among his books are One Minute a Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom, co-authored with the late Emilie Piper, and African American Community in Rural New England: W. E. B. Du Bois and His Boyhood Church. He remains active in promoting the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail and serves on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Church Restoration, Inc.
©2021 David Levinson. All rights reserved.
Photo credits: Second Congregational: Michael Kirk; Ashley House: The Trustees of Reservations