Dargan Burns talks about coming to Cleveland to find work in the emerging field of Public Relations. He discusses his educational background and the desegregation of Boston University. Other topics include segregation, World War II and Civil Rights. He talks about Carl and Louis Stokes and meeting a young Martin Luther King, Jr. Other topics of interest include confronting segregation at Cleveland YMCA and “targeting” institutions in need of civil rights reform such as the Cleveland Clinic, Union Club, Church of the Covenant and Cleveland Museum of Art.
Dargan Burns [00:00:05] Right.
Valerie Weaver [00:00:07] And we were given your name and the list of people who would like to share the information that they know about Cleveland during the '60s, during the time that Carl Stokes was mayor. What the city was like, what Lou was like, what Carl was like. And this would be an exhibit that would be available to you in November. And we're just so happy that you're going to be a part of it. And I just want to start off by thanking you...
Dargan Burns [00:00:35] It's my pleasure.
Valerie Weaver [00:00:37] For doing this. Well, let's began. Let's talk a little bit about you. Are you a Clevelander. Are you from Cleveland?
Dargan Burns [00:00:44] No, I've been in Cleveland since 1952 when I finished Boston University and got my master's in public relations. And since that time, I've been very active in community affairs, in particular, politics as it involved Carl and Lou Stokes.
Valerie Weaver [00:01:05] So you went to Boston University? You got your masters from there?
Dargan Burns [00:01:09] Yes, I was the first black to finish a master's degree from that department.
Valerie Weaver [00:01:16] That was the next question I was leading to. That is wonderful.
Dargan Burns [00:01:19] In 1952.
Valerie Weaver [00:01:19] In 1952.
Dargan Burns [00:01:21] Right.
Valerie Weaver [00:01:23] Did you stay off-campus or on campus?
Dargan Burns [00:01:27] I stayed off-campus, as a matter of fact, I was lucky to get in an apartment building. This was thrust upon me by a friend that I met at Hampton during my doing that. The last few weeks on campus, Robin Copeland, who was, fortunately, my seatmate, he asked me about what my plan to do. I said I'm going to Boston University. He said, How do you know? Because they admitted me to come to Boston University in 1952. But it's 1949 now. I'm leaving as soon as I get my degree to Hampton and going to Boston because I can't wait that long to go to graduate school. So I work out. I really get into school. You said you mean you're going to go on your own? I said yes. I transfer my credentials already from the GI Bill and they know where I am going because I got the letter saying I'm admitted. So it was one of those situations where they were saying that I know this young man is not going to wait that long so he will probably forget about us but they were wrong.
Valerie Weaver [00:02:41] So Boston University and you're the first African American to receive a master's degree?
Dargan Burns [00:02:46] I wouldn't say that. There may have been other African Americans, but I was the only one that identified myself as a Negro. That's what we were at that time or Black. So they knew who I was. And but no, I was not the first because there are others who got their masters that did not identify themselves as who they were. It was called passing back in those days. But I was the first black.
Valerie Weaver [00:03:17] Well, that's something to be commended on. Where did you go to undergrad at?
Dargan Burns [00:03:21] Hampton University, I was part of the class of 1949 and it was the largest class that ever graduated from Hampton because that was the time when the veterans were returning to the country. And they were going to colleges. And Hampton was a clear choice or quite a few of them. And that was the time that most of the ladies entered Hampton because they knew that there would be an onslaught of veterans. And that's how we got to be the largest class ever.
Valerie Weaver [00:03:58] I didn't know that little bit of history, very good.
Dargan Burns [00:04:00] Yes, and it so happens that we had so much fun. The class of 1949 until elected by choice to maintain our stability as a class and, had cruises every year, retreat every other year, or some kind of reason to get back or agree to reassemble on campus. It just so happens that 19.... 2006 is when they are coming to Cleveland and they'll be here as our guests. You and your dad and your mother as September 15th, 16th, and 17th. And we have Congressman Louis Stokes, who is Hampton alumnus because he received his honorary degree in 1999. And he's going to be our guest of honor at the Cleveland Public Library on Friday evening. And you're invited. You and your family to be a part of that because we have an exhibit of him in the library.
Valerie Weaver [00:05:16] Of Louis Stokes?
Dargan Burns [00:05:20] Louis Stokes, So he's excited about that and ready to go. So I'll tell you more about it.
Valerie Weaver [00:05:27] Did you fight in the war?
Dargan Burns [00:05:30] Beg your pardon.
Valerie Weaver [00:05:30] Were you in the war?
Dargan Burns [00:05:31] Yeah. I was in the war.
Valerie Weaver [00:05:32] World War II?
Dargan Burns [00:05:33] World War II. Yes. I was one of those very active soldiers in the war. I have pictures of being in combat.
Dargan Burns [00:05:42] And my travels at that time, I was fortunate because I had gone to Morris College and had at least one year of college and looking for someone to serve in their offices. As it as a chop, as a platoon secretary, I guess you call it they chose me because I could type and could read and write reasonably well. So I had about privilege. So I was able to be with the company commander and he gave me a lot of liberties because he was very busy and I took a lot of his responsibilities.
Dargan Burns [00:06:25] He never got in trouble. I made him look very good. You got a lot of promotions and he did. He was very good by me.
Dargan Burns [00:06:34] That was my experience.
Valerie Weaver [00:06:35] When you were in the army.
Dargan Burns [00:06:38] In the Army, Army Combat Engineers, 1889.
Valerie Weaver [00:06:45] Was that an all-Negro group or was it Integrated?
Dargan Burns [00:06:48] It was an all-Negro group except for the officers they were all white.
Dargan Burns [00:06:54] And that was the standard operating procedure except, as the war grew on, there were several promotions of African... I mean Negroes... at that time. And we managed to do our jobs, it was difficult to work with the Japanese, fighting the Japanese and having to go out on patrols. And they were sometime antagonist some time they were friendly, that's if they didn't shoot us as they could have very easily. But we were able to survive. But I tell you, I learned my... One of my greatest educations that I received in my life was received from the Japanese. Tokyo Rose was a commentator who had a message to tell about, to talk to all of the black soldiers. And she would ask us, why would be? Why are you fighting when you treat us so badly in America, in United States? And she related to us. It so happened I had my radio because I did not take all of my supplies in my duffel bag. I left some in state size. And decided to put my radio portable radio work and electricity out of battery. And that's how I happened to have a radio to listen to Tokyo Rose. But she would give us the history of Negroes in America. She would tell us which cities were destroyed by the majority because we were successful as entrepreneurs in various cities. Three cities, she called, now we didn't believe her because we were never allowed to go to the library in America. Although I lived about three blocks from the library. I never could go. But when I was eventually shipped out from Guam because of some situations I got out earlier and I was shipped to Hawaii. I was able to give my stripes. I was able to go to the library by a person at the CEO, I mean at the campaign... What do you call that thing, YMCA, where we sort of gathered. And I met a young lady who happened to be a librarian. I asked her if she would take me to the library so I could do some research. She said I'll be glad to and I went to the library. And that's the first official library I ever was able to go in and do the research. That was back in nineteen forty-nine. Yeah. Not I'm not, I don't mean that. 1946. I was discharged in 1946. This was just before I came home. But that was a revelation to go in the library and do research, and I've been going to the library ever since. That is why our first affair in Cleveland for the [00:10:24]49ers will [0.0s] be at the public library. We have, in essence, turn on at all ties and to in very interesting revelation. But ever since that time, I've been going to the library all the time.
Valerie Weaver [00:10:37] During that time, the Army was segregated.
Dargan Burns [00:10:40] Yes.
Valerie Weaver [00:10:41] Just the way it was.
Dargan Burns [00:10:43] Yes. Yes, that's the way it was. And of course, it was operated that way. And we operated on the basis of our color. We had whites on this side of the street and blacks on that side of the street and one night. One of the white infantrymen decided he would come and borrow my radio without my permission. So that was a no-no. That's all we had to listen to. So the company decided we're going to get my radio. I said, no, don't do that, because you start, you make problems for ourselves. But they went anyway. Well, I couldn't sit back and see them go and not take some leadership role. So I went over and the fellows--the soldiers--said, This is the sergeant that owns that radio. We came to get it. He said, well, over my dead body, and they said as you want it. [Laughs], and that's how we left him.
Valerie Weaver [00:12:09] Wow.
Dargan Burns [00:12:11] He resisted. Well, what he did. He took his knife out and stabbed at me. And that was not the right thing to do as far as they were concerned. So they took care of it. So I took the blame for it because it happened on my watch and they were very adamant about it. So my company commander, who was a very good friend of mine, got me out of there that night and sent me to Hawaii, and put me in school and that's when I got a lot of information about not only America but about how Hawaii had suffered. That was a very interesting experience that I had but that's what the army was at that time, it was education.
Valerie Weaver [00:12:59] Where were you born?
Dargan Burns [00:13:02] When and where?
Valerie Weaver [00:13:03] Where were you born?
Dargan Burns [00:13:04] In Sumter, South Carolina. A very, very southern city. It was very, very segregated and very racist and very hostile. And that's where I got my beginning of what life is all about. My father was an entrepreneur, an independent one. And he was also the vise president of the NAACP locally in that city. And he was an outstanding person. He had 16 brothers and sisters that were a very close-knit family. And he was very influential in the city. So I worked with him all the time. He taught me a trade of furniture repair. And because he was aggressive and back in 1937, he hitchhiked from Sumter, South Carolina, to Tuskegee because he heard that there was a trade school at Tuskegee that you want to get some information about trades. So he decided that he's going to Tuskegee, you know, how he made it down. Back in those days in the horse and one of them picking up rise here. And he was that...
Valerie Weaver [00:14:30] Did he finish?
Dargan Burns [00:14:32] No, he didn't. He only went there for a year. And that's all he needed because in a year he picked up a painting and furniture repair and caning--it was a chair caning that's a rattan that he learned. And he taught me when you got back, not when he got back. But during the course of my growing up with and within the family, I learned that trade and everybody in the family learned to cane. We did a lot of caning and that's how we made our living because not many people could cane. And my daddy had a lot of work, or more [than] he could do, but he was able to make a living for us and provide employment for a lot of people. He made the best mattresses in town. He had to learn... Had a cotton gin he sort of created himself, but it was adequate to refine that cotton and got out. So he was an industrial person.
Valerie Weaver [00:15:35] You graduated from high school in Sumter?
Dargan Burns [00:15:39] Yes, in Sumter. Yeah.
Valerie Weaver [00:15:40] While you were in high school, you weren't allowed to go to the library there?
Dargan Burns [00:15:45] No, never. My dad did some work for the library. He just finished work for the chairs and furniture. And I would go to the library with him, but I wouldn't go inside. I went outside because he had a big pecan tree outside. So I would pick up pecans and they allowed me to do that. There was no one inside, but I told them I'll be in here someday. I was determined to do that. But that was just, that was the South and it was not changed until I guess before I left Sumter. So it was so segregated, I couldn't go to the library.
Valerie Weaver [00:16:27] Well, what brought you to Cleveland?
Dargan Burns [00:16:31] Well, I came to Cleveland at the request of Russell and Rowena Jelliffe to work at Karamu House. Now, once I got my master's degree in Boston, I wrote letters to a hundred and twenty-five corporations, major corporations.
Valerie Weaver [00:16:55] I don't want to interrupt you, but I am. Tell me again what you got your master's in?
Dargan Burns [00:16:59] Public relations. Public relations and communications. So that was a rare field. It was just not known what it was all about. It was brand new. It was the second school to offer a bachelor's degree in public relations. Syracuse was the first, but these were not as widespread and well-known as BU. And that's why I want to BU, because I had the convenience, and Rev. Copeland asked me to come stay with him if I wanted a place to live. And I said, yes, I do. And he was instrumental in providing me with a place that was the Mecca for many of the black students who were there attending all of the schools, BU, Boston College, Brandeis, all of them. It must have been 30 of them. But there was always one or two ladies particular at each of these colleges and men, too. But ladies outnumbered us about 4 to 1. And Rev. Copeland called me one day and said, Dargan, I think I have a situation that you should consider. I said, What's that? He said Anna Barbert Gardner is an art teacher. Yes, she has an art studio, and she is ill. And she will be leaving pretty soon, and she needs someone to take charge of her facilities while she's away. I said, Well, you think I can do it? I'll be glad to do it. It means I have a place to live. and she not going to charge me a thing for a beautiful studio dance studio downstairs. And she had four apartments and one building and four in another building. So I was in charge of two buildings, but the entire two floors were open for dancing and for dance instructions. And for us, we were just about to use what we wanted to use. And that is where most of the black kids came on weekends because the only place that the black students female could bring their black stoves and can do their hair they can not do it in the dining room and the dormitory rooms. So they were happy to have a place like that. They were cute, those little ones. They would come down there and bring their food and cook and eat. It was a mecca for black students, including Martin Luther King. I met him in my apartment back in 40...... 1950.
Valerie Weaver [00:20:13] No way! Is that right?
Dargan Burns [00:20:15] Yeah.
Valerie Weaver [00:20:16] What was he doing there? Was he in school?
Dargan Burns [00:20:18] He was in school. He was also at Boston University. He and I became very good friends. But the first time he walked into my place. He came in and look at tables all set with beautiful dishes, different colors, different sizes. He looked at the table and you sort of walk around in circles, said something not, please him. He said that you DJ, right? I said, Yes, I'm DJ. He said, DJ, that's fine. I'm glad to see you're doing such a wonderful job of proving these people to be a part of this, but I can't eat with you this time. I said, Why not? You're welcome. He said You got silver and pottery utensils from every college in this state. Now I don't know how you got it. It's not my business. But I will not eat out of all these things because it's just not my moral it. I said well you're welcome, I got some paper plates [inaudible]. He said, No, I'll pass on this one. He said I'm not insulting you, but I'm a minister and I can not do that. I said well I tell you what I will have some paper plates when you come next time. He said I'll be back. But I will eat the way you all eat. The ladies sort of took a little resentment toward that. So let's call him the job minister. We didn't know who he was. He's a job minister. So he called one day asking if I'll be home. Yes, I'll be here. He had a car one of a few students had a car.
Valerie Weaver [00:22:38] Was he married during this time?
Dargan Burns [00:22:39] No, I knew his wife before he did...Coretta
Dargan Burns [00:22:47] Before I move there, I used to have a friend that lived across the street from New England Conservatory of Music. He was a Seventh-Day Adventist. He would invite me over some time to have dinner and breakfast with him, and we would see this stately lady walk across the street and walk into the New England Conservatory of Music. A lot of students that did that because they're all because it was a crowded school. But this lady stood out. She was just stately. You knew she was such a model of importance. So when other students, we walked into a conservatory. They had to open a door and knock on the door to get in. But this lady, walked over the door opened automatically. So, McCain Revis was his name. He said, D.J., she must be a saint. And she was. So that's how I knew who she was before Martin Luther King met her. Martin met her I think about three months later at that time. However, she was. Miss Dignification at that time, and that's how we recognize her. And then I had a chance... yeah, and I had a chance to meet her. And we did a lot of fun things together. We worked at Wilberforce University. There are pieces of her and how it could be one of her. So you would keep one that you would not get anyplace else. Alright, that was it. I don't think I have... I don't think I brought any pictures of her or did I? No, I guess I didn't. But I see that you get one, these are some pictures I brought. Just for your edification. But I don't want to get off the subject.
Valerie Weaver [00:25:01] I want to get back to you coming to Cleveland.
Dargan Burns [00:25:05] Okay.
Valerie Weaver [00:25:05] And you said you worked for Karamu House?
Dargan Burns [00:25:09] Yeah, I came here at the behest of Russell Jelliffe... He was the founder, he and Rowena and they had asked Henry Moon of NAACP to try to find the PR person for Karamu. He knew Karamu, he is an Omega. Also outstanding, Omega. And he told Russell that a young man was in my office who did his master's thesis on the NAACP. His name is Dargan Burns and I think I can put my hands on him. If I can get my hands on him, he will be the right person for you. Well, he said Russell Jelliffe said please try to find him because I want to interview him because he comes highly recommended from you so that's alright by me. So, I used Henry Lee Moon's office to gather material for my thesis, and he said, Dargan, you want to call Russell Jelliffe first chance you get because he wants you to consider coming to Karamu House. I said, I'll be glad to do so. Well, at that moment, it's a Saturday morning, I had gone to New York from Boston with Martin Luther King. He was the only one to have a car. So I said, Martin, I know where you're going, but drop me off near the NAACP office and I'll catch up with you later on. Catch up with him. So when I got in his office, talked to him, Henry Lee Moon, the telephone rang, and it was Russell Jelliffe on the line. He asked if he had any more news about Dargan Burns. [inaudible] laughed. He said, yes Russell, as a matter of fact he's in my office now. You're kidding. He said, No, he's here. He said, Well may I speak to him? He said, no, let me tell him about you first so he'll know who you are and he told me, I said I'll be glad to speak to him. And he told me who he was and who he [was] looking for. And I said, That's fine, I said, but I have applications placed in about 20 major corporations, and I don't know what their response would be, but the people I've heard from were not too cordial [inaudible] background. I heard from Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. But Dearborn, Michigan is a place where it's 800 miles from Boston. There are no Negroes living in the city, no buses going out there. You couldn't rent an apartment or rent a room up because it was just so segregated. That did not work. But they offered me a job as assistant editor of the house organ. But I couldn't take it.
Valerie Weaver [00:28:38] In Dearborn, Michigan?
Dargan Burns [00:28:39] Dearborn, Michigan. They were more segregated than Cleveland at that time. I was also offered another job at a college in Connecticut. All White. My name confused them. When they asked me to come for an interview, I took the bus to the campus and never got off the bus. They asked, anybody else with you? I said no, I'm Dargan Burns. You are? I said, I know what was happening. I said, Well, Yes, I'm Dargan Burns. And I went to the campus and they said, well, they really did not know that I was a Negro. I said, Well does that matter to you. Evidently it does. He said, Well, not to me, but we really don't have any Negroes on our staff. It's about time you got some. You got the best there is. Yeah. So what's your problem? He said, Well, we can't go into that. Fine. What you to do is to get a check and pay for my expenses. You do that. Fine, how much will that be? I said, A hundred dollars plus my transportation, and the taxi is going to get me back to the bus. So, he said, Okay. Get rid of me. So there it was that next week I was going to New York. With Martin Luther King, so I was able to get this job. But Russell Jelliffe told me that, Dargan, I'm going to Chicago on Tuesday, so I will not be here except Monday of next week, so I need you to come to Cleveland today or tomorrow because I need to have a chance to talk with you before I go to Chicago. Going for some money. I said well fine I don't know how I'm going to get there but I find a way. He said there was a train that leaves out of Boston, at twelve o'clock midnight and gets in Cleveland at about 8 o'clock in the morning. Can you be on that train? I said I think so. So I really... The boss was, I called him and told him that I have a job offer at Karamu. He said, You didn't. I said, Yes, I do. He knew he had heard about Karamu. He said, What are you go to do? I said I have to get to Boston, get back home and find some money? He said, Well, you got to talk to John Bustamante. He's the only one that has any money. The banks are closed. I had my savings account in [inaudible] bank, but this was Saturday.
Dargan Burns [00:31:50] He said well John Bustamante with me and...
Valerie Weaver [00:31:55] In Boston, no New York.
Dargan Burns [00:31:56] In New York, Boston, John used to go back with Martin, because they traveled together. They were very, very good friends. That's how I met Martin Luther King through John. So John said, Well, I'm here, but I'll call my brother George. And he will let you have some money. So he called George and George met me at the train station and put me on that train that night. So I got here. I got to Cleveland by the scheduled time about 8 o'clock. Russell Jelliffe told me that he'd made the reservation for me at the YMCA. I said, It's fine. He said, I'm not sure that's fine because you will be the first Negro to stay at the YMCA. I said so. He said but I want to go to Chicago. I don't want to leave you, in a trick bag. I said not a trick bag. We stopped at the YMCA on 22nd and Prospect. And Russell walked in and said I am Russell Jelliffe, I had made a reservation for Dargan Burns. He said, Yes, you did. You're looking forward to accommodating him. Where is he? This is he. Oh. We didn't know you had a Negro. I didn't see. I had a Negro. He said, well, we can't accommodate him. I said, why not? This person is one of the outstanding citizens in this country. Now, why can't you accept his reservation for me?
Dargan Burns [00:34:00] Russell said. Well, Dargan, that's a long story. I said, no, let's make a shot right here. You have a reservation for Dargan Burns. That's me. I'm here. I'm going to stay here tonight. The counter clerk turned all red and asked where you're going to stay, I said, in the corner there. There's a settee right in the corner. There is a lamp there, too and I will stay there if I have to. Unless you can get me a room. Now it's your choice? Russell Jelliffe told the man well, you might get him in a room he just integrated Boston University. I know he can make minced meat out of you here. So they gave me a room and I was able to stay in that room, but I put my dresser in front of the door. And that night, the door was attempted to be open at least three times. But that's what happened at Prospect and twenty-second street. Yes. And then Russell called Rowena and told her that Dargan is in the YWCA YMCA. So I'm going to Chicago Daragan can take care of himself. So that's what happened that's how the YMCA got integrated from that day on it was integrated.
Valerie Weaver [00:35:35] You really were a mover and shaker.
Dargan Burns [00:35:37] It had to be someone had to do it and Rowena heard about that. She talked about it at Karamu and I'm at the YMCA. And the next morning. Kelvin Thomason, one of my Omega brothers and two Omegas came down to get me. And they walked in the class and said we came for our frat brother Dargan Burns where is he in room 310 and, she said you can't go up there because of we... I will call him and tell him that he has guests. OK, fine. Tell him we down here you need anything. Let us know. So they were there, took me out. We had a wonderful time. But there was YMCA was integrated.
Valerie Weaver [00:36:34] As a result...were other Blacks allowed to stay there as a result of you staying there first?
Dargan Burns [00:36:45] Dribbles will come in, but they were not made to feel at home. Then the Y, the Cedar Y, opened up with an outstanding director, I forgot his name. He was Calvin, an outstanding athlete. And they had a very good clientele, African-Americans and Blacks living there.
Valerie Weaver [00:37:25] This is what brought you to Cleveland working for the Karamu house.
Dargan Burns [00:37:27] Karamu house.
Valerie Weaver [00:37:28] How did you meet Carl and Louis Stokes?
Dargan Burns [00:37:35] Once I became acclimated to the city, I met Carl and Lou[Louis] and their campaigns. Except that Lou Stokes engaged me to help at his first fundraiser, which was Nancy Wilson. This is Nancy, back in those days[shows photo].
Valerie Weaver [00:38:13] She was in Cleveland doing a fundraiser?
Dargan Burns [00:38:14] No, she came to Cleveland but he asked me to go to Chicago and talk to her and invite her to come to do the fundraiser.
Dargan Burns [00:38:26] That was Lou at that time[shows a photo of Louis Stokes].
Dargan Burns [00:38:32] And they buried her last week
Dargan Burns [00:38:41] Louis...
Valerie Weaver [00:38:49] This Fannie Lewis?
Dargan Burns [00:38:56] Hmm.
Valerie Weaver [00:38:56] This Fannie Lewis.
Dargan Burns [00:38:58] That's councilwoman Fannie Lewis. Right. And as a result of that... that's 1974. That's a letter that Lou wrote me. Nancy was fantastic.
Valerie Weaver [00:39:17] So this is a letter. Why don't you tell us about this letter from Lou Stokes?
Dargan Burns [00:39:21] Well, that we work hard to get people willing to come out and support Lou Stokes because he had not run because his first public money raiser. But we were able to get people aroused. And that night they came out because we got, Nancy, a picture all over the place and she got her recordings and they were printed on radio and television. So it was an overwhelming success but it snowed that night.
Dargan Burns [00:39:59] So, Lou didn't think we, I guess you have to eat this one. I said well not yet, you can always eat snow as ice cream. So we more money than he ever expected.
Valerie Weaver [00:40:12] How did you meet him? How did I meet Lou Stokes? Did you know him prior to coming to Cleveland?
Dargan Burns [00:40:21] No. I met him in Cleveland. He is an attorney at that time. And he and I were working on various things together. I have a couple of things that's just that's a long, long story. I have gobs of stuff on him and we worked on various campaigns together. And he and I became good friends and he was helping at Karamu in terms of fundraising before he became a congressman. And he knew we were doing that because of Rowena, Russell and I was able to integrate Cleveland Clinic, Zelma George was one of the very active in the community. And she knew Lou and they worked very well together. And they had certain targets they wanted to work on. The Cleveland Clinic was one, Union club was another. So Zelma George and our Congressman Bolton, Frances Bolton worked together on getting the click theUnion club with the Miss. Cyrus. What was her name?
Dargan Burns [00:41:49] Anyway, I will get it in a minute. She was also... Cyrus Eden.
Valerie Weaver [00:41:53] Ok, Union Club or City Club?
Dargan Burns [00:41:57] Union Club, City Club was small potatoes. They would not allow women to go in the Union Club, to say nothing about Blacks, or Negroes at the time, and we were also instrumental in integrating the museum.
Dargan Burns [00:42:17] The art museum...Dr. Zelma George, Francis Bolton, Dargan Burns, and a few other people.
Valerie Weaver [00:42:32] What did you do to integrate the art museum?
Dargan Burns [00:42:34] Oh, we took our children over there and let them play outside at the church Church of the Covenant. Because they couldn't go inside. We made a public spectacle of it.
Valerie Weaver [00:42:49] See, I am a Clevelander and I never knew that Blacks could not go to the Cleveland art museum.
Dargan Burns [00:42:58] Sterling Hykes as the first black ever shown in art, in the art museum. Now, this is back before you were born, I guess, because this was... My child, my first child, this was Dargan, was only five years old. He's got a lot of age on him now, but that is what happened.
Valerie Weaver [00:43:30] So, you and the people you mentioned were the first people to integrate the Cleveland Museum of Art?
Dargan Burns [00:43:36] I have pictures of those. Sterling Hykes was the first one. We got him to present art from Karamu in the May Show. And that's how we got a Black exhibit in the May Show.
Valerie Weaver [00:43:53] I remember people talking about the May show.
Dargan Burns [00:43:55] Yeah, well and I'm going to help to sort of display these pictures. I have everything documented along those lines. How's our time, holding up?
Valerie Weaver [00:44:13] So you met.[got cut off]
Dargan Burns [00:44:15] The important thing is the integration of the Church of the Covenant. Mayor Ralph Locher was the mayor of Cleveland at that time, he was persona non grata, he was the worst mayor this city's ever seen. Racially, spiritually, otherwise and he was a member of the Church of the Covenant, as was the chairman of the board of Society for Saving, chairman of the board of Capital of the bank, and chairman of the board of Huntington Bank.
Dargan Burns [00:45:00] It was a place of power structure...it was as a powerful church. So the board of trustees at Karamu decided that to break this stranglehold over the city of Cleveland.
Dargan Burns [00:45:17] They need to break into the Church of the Covenant. Integrated it and they ask J. Harold Brown, who is the director of Music A Karamu House if he would be willing to join the Church of the Covenant. J. Harold Brown said why not?
Dargan Burns [00:45:41] And they asked me if I would be willing to join the Church of the Covenant I said, by all means, we wrote up a strategy. And we joined J. Harold Brown was the most accomplished organists in the state of Ohio. He's the director of music, at the Karamu house director of the quartet had a core group, can be called all over to the various corners for organ recitals he was just outstanding. He joined the Church of the Covenant, they would not allow him to touch an organ in that church for at least a year. Some say all this for a professional. J. Harold said Okay, let me see how a professional plays an organ of this quality and they would not allow J. Harold Brown to play the organ.
Valerie Weaver [00:46:45] Why did it come to be that you integrated the church? You just showed up and took a seat?
Dargan Burns [00:46:51] Hmm. What happened? My wife and I. Joyce. She is fearful of that opportunity. We went to church Sunday unexpectedly and we walk into the auditorium, but it was crowded. No place to seat us. We were on time. So we went upstairs to the balcony. I have been in the church one Sunday, I walked in just looking over, see how it was situated, and they thought I was a custodian. But I knew the layout. And when we went upstairs, the usher would not seat us. So, I took her hand walk over, found two seats from the third row, sat down and we sat down. There were three couples one with the little girl who was sitting in front of us at one sitting behind us. They got up and move someplace else. Okay. That's fine. But we staying. And then after the service. We came down and a couple of people came and said, Oh, hello.
Dargan Burns [00:48:21] How are you? You visit here. This is our first time here. Just checking out the church. See how it set-up of hospitality what have you. They say well what do you think? I said we've only been here once. They had a coffee service afterward. Glad a lot of people. So we went for coffee Joyce was very, very reluctant. She was not for this at all, she was afraid.
Valerie Weaver [00:48:54] About what year was this?
Dargan Burns [00:48:56] This was 1954. We were married in 54, 54 we met them.
Dargan Burns [00:49:04] So we went to coffee and a couple of people came up and talked to us.
Dargan Burns [00:49:11] Others just walked all around us, it was fine. So I met the minister, the pastor, which was Harry Taylor, an outstanding minister, outstanding preacher.
Dargan Burns [00:49:27] Couldn't get to us because people were talking to him, but I wanted to see him before we left. So we were able to speak to him, outside on the steps as, where people overwhelmingly around him and he said, are so glad to see you. I would like to get your names and get to know you better. I hope you'll come again. I said, well, we are thinking about it. My wife said he's thinking about it. These people are not ready for us.
Dargan Burns [00:50:13] I said well Joyce. That's why you're here, to get them prepared. Some are going to be ready for us. This is the right church because they need us. Her just...[got cut off]
Valerie Weaver [00:50:28] This is so interesting to me.
Dargan Burns [00:50:28] And Harry Taylor said I look forward to seeing you again.
Valerie Weaver [00:50:32] And did you come back?
Dargan Burns [00:50:36] Comeback and been there ever since.55 years I've been on every bored and on every office in the Church...[got cut off]
Valerie Weaver [00:50:50] Did the people who asked you to come along and become a member. Did they join as well?
Dargan Burns [00:50:57] They sent a lot of people over, some join, as a matter of fact. Within three months, we had the cream of the crop of Negro Clevelanders attend the Church of the Covenant.
Dargan Burns [00:51:20] Doctors, lawyers, musicians, you name it. They came, but the atmosphere was not ready for us. You had to have the right determination to [00:51:38]rhythm, [0.0s] and that still holds true today. You know, I know the situation. One of my most difficult problem now is having a decent black history celebration because somebody administrators want to dilute black history.
Valerie Weaver [00:52:00] Do you mean in the schools or the community?
Dargan Burns [00:52:02] At the Church of the Covenant, we have every right. So rather than having an outstanding person who knows something about black history. They would get a person to do a book review and book she did not read herself. That type of thing and instead of having an outstanding choir or quartet to come in and show what black talent is. They allow one of those so-called Negroes to bring in a sanctified quartet, ridiculous. That's what they thought was good enough for us. You know what I mean.
Dargan Burns [00:52:54] So...
Valerie Weaver [00:52:56] [Burns coughs over the first part] For a minute, Martin Luther King pretty much very instrumental in the civil rights movement. But I would have to say you're very instrumental. Also, with you being the first to integrate so many places in the country as well as here in Cleveland.
Dargan Burns [00:53:18] Yeah. But then that's what the law said I should do. I had Spiritual guidance because you're looking at a person who outran a lynch mob when I was just 15 years old, you know. My daddy told me how to do it. He knew sooner or later, as aggressive as I was. I would probably be in a situation where I need to know how it's done. He taught me night after night, around the fireplace. He taught us, my brother and my two sisters. How things were in South Carolina, in Sumter, and especially his children, because he was a very independent person and he was outspoken. And he and my mother [00:54:22]were just start white people. [2.2s]
Valerie Weaver [00:54:26] Did you ever talk to Martin Luther King about any of your plans to integrate?
Dargan Burns [00:54:31] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dargan Burns [00:54:33] We talked about it. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther King was the one that told John Bustamante. That if we ever... Know, we're gonna start our first chapter SCLC in Cleveland because John your there and Dargan is there. We want to have a successful new beginning of this new campaign, but do not put Dargan on the picket line.
Dargan Burns [00:55:07] Make him...have him raise money for us causes he is a South Carolina Geechee. He's not going to take a lot of stuff, all people.
Dargan Burns [00:55:22] I can hold...I can control myself. He said I know you can but someone is going to make you mad. Someone going to get hurt. So you can raise money for us. Okay, fine. I did. So we raised more money for SCLC than the [unintelligble], like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Yeah.
Dargan Burns [00:55:43] And we were integrated... They were building the federal building and there were segregated workers and they began to picket that building and Martin Luther King came to Cleveland to see if I was one of the picketers. I said no, I was raising the money.
Valerie Weaver [00:56:14] So you just felt that it was time for change and you're willing to help make that change?
Dargan Burns [00:56:21] Absolutely.
Valerie Weaver [00:56:21] So when Carl Stokes ran and won for mayor, you felt it was time for the country the world was ready?
Dargan Burns [00:56:32] Well, that's a peculiar situation. You hope you understand what I'm saying. When Martin Luther King Jr...Carl Stokes decided to run for mayor of Cleveland. He was late getting in the race because the board of trustees, a Karamu house, had already decided it was time to run a person against Ralph Locher.
Dargan Burns [00:57:05] The person they selected. In my house, I show Bernie or was Seth Taft.
Dargan Burns [00:57:16] You know, Seth Taft?
Valerie Weaver [00:57:20] Oh, sure I don't know him personally but I know who he is.
Dargan Burns [00:57:20] Yeah. Outstanding politician.
Dargan Burns [00:57:27] Good big family well, known. We had no notion that Carl Stokes was gonna run. So we had our program all worked out, ready to go. So Seth Taft said yes I'll run and I'll win all of a sudden in within two weeks, Carl makes his big announcement that he's running. Also, now we got a dilemma. Here's what happened. I'm committed to Seth Taft because we had been very active together at Karamu house and various other parties in the city.
Dargan Burns [00:58:20] I said we can have a good campaign.
Dargan Burns [00:58:24] We're the ones we are 100 percent better off than we were.
Dargan Burns [00:58:32] If Seth Taft wins fine, if Carl Stokes win fine, but we got to put it on a level of fair play and Dorsey, not just calorie. And that's what we agreed on. No. When they found out that I had already committed myself to Seth Taft, I want to Louis Stokes. I said, Lou, you know, my dilemma, he said yes I know your dilemma, Dargan. He said well Dorgan welcome to politics. OK.
Dargan Burns [00:59:12] So I went to Carl and Carl and I talked for a long time. He said D.J. I have one request, to make of you. You know, I trust you all the way just watch my back. That's the that's the commitment. What Martin Luther King...Martin Luther King told me, Dargan, I tell you this. You and I have a treed a lot of waters, you know, a lot of people. I know more than many more than you do. Of all the people that I know, I would never find a better person to be in that spot than you. We have a good campaign. So go to it. So, uh, we had a campaign.
Dargan Burns [01:00:18] No...Many things happen, in that campaign, a whole lot of stuff that I can not relate and talk about. But we got through it and Carl won but the night Carl was sworn in.
Dargan Burns [01:00:44] Martin could not be there because there was friction between some of the campaigners and the minsters, particularly who was supporting Carl. They did not think Martin was the right person to be shown and be demonstrated that he had that kind of influence to get Carl Stokes elected. Some ministers...So that and Carl said the important thing is get Carl elected. They will not see me. I knew where he was, but he did not show. But that sort of caused a lot of friction in the community and there was still a long before a long time afterward. And it wasn't till he became more internationally known that jealousy subsided. Since that time of rock.
Dargan Burns [01:01:58] Someday when you get your family together I will show, you some pictures, all of this.
Dargan Burns [01:02:05] Martin Luther King and a whole lot of the stuff that you would like to see, but worked very confidentially. I'm an undocumented, all of these. So we'll have a chance to share this with the world.
Valerie Weaver [01:02:25] Well, its on tape, now.
Valerie Weaver [01:02:25] I'm just I just want to sum this up.
Dargan Burns [01:02:29] She not going to print that part.
Dargan Burns [01:02:31] Only because I just don't want to announce that I'm writing a book. Can you do that for me?
Dargan Burns [01:02:47] Okay. Because...
Valerie Weaver [01:02:51] I just want to just want to sum this up real quick.
Dargan Burns [01:02:53] Yeah.
Valerie Weaver [01:02:55] So do you think Carl was the right man?
Dargan Burns [01:03:03] Yeah. If not for Carl the city would have went up in smoke.
Valerie Weaver [01:03:07] Could you repeat that? You said.
Dargan Burns [01:03:10] Had not been for Carl, this city would have gone up in smoke. He a strong, strong leader. I say this because. He's the right man at the right time and had it not been for him to follow at that time, it was time to show just... At that time it was Carl Stokes's time, whether Martin Luther King became famous, it was Martin Luther King's time. No. we need more leaders.
Valerie Weaver [01:04:02] If you can sum up by telling people the importance of the Western Reserve Historical Society for doing this project on the Stokes brothers. Do you think this is a good project?
Valerie Weaver [01:04:22] Do I think it's a good project?
Valerie Weaver [01:04:23] Yes.
Dargan Burns [01:04:24] It's gonna be an excellent project.
Valerie Weaver [01:04:26] And why do you think that?
Dargan Burns [01:04:29] Because they have... We have all the facts and the pictures and the history that you ever want to compile on two brothers, they're part of our community, and it's going to be just fantastic. They got all of my stuff.
Valerie Weaver [01:04:54] So you think that there are two very charismatic and outstanding men?
Dargan Burns [01:05:00] You will, too and the world will see that. You know?
Dargan Burns [01:05:07] Remember Celeste? I spent a lot of sleepless nights getting prepared for that, it's going to be that. It so happens that Hampton 49ners will be coming in here. With that in mind, this is going to be a great, great time. On Sunday, the seventh we are going to have a celebration at the Church of the Covenant when [first name] Jones is going to be the preacher. And I hope that you would bring your whole family to be a part of that.
Valerie Weaver [01:05:47] Oh, Dargan...DJ. It's been a pleasure.
Dargan Burns [01:05:57] Its been my privilege.
Valerie Weaver [01:05:58] I want to thank you for your time and for your comments and your exposure.
Dargan Burns [01:06:04] You'll see more of this. I hope because this town has to change it's...We're coming upon an election in this state.
Dargan Burns [01:06:17] Know...That's going to determine whether we can make progress up or down. Seriously, we're at a point now where we've got to really produce be strong or be obliterated that may sound a little harass.
These interviews were conducted between 2004 and 2006 by public school teachers in the Teaching American History (TAH) grant-funded Academy of American History summer institute at Cleveland State University, sponsored by the US Department of Education. The project was a collaboration between CSU, the City Club of Cleveland, Western Reserve Historical Society, and St. Clair-Superior Community Development Corporation. Interviews in this series focus on the Civil Rights movement in Cleveland, Carl…