Sepia Saturday – They Called him Deacon

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Josephine Ball, Fred Webber, Harold Gilbert, S. E. Wallin

As I was researching material for last week’s post, I found too much to include. I intended today’s post to be about an event later in my great-uncle Fred M. Webber’s life, but this prompt also works for some of that high school material I found.

Last week I focussed on Fred’s participation in debate and winning the state championship during his senior year. (Fred Webber – Best Debater 1926) This week, we may get a more rounded look at Uncle Fred as a high school student. The Quill, yearbook of Fairfield High School, Fairfield, Iowa, had a few things to say about Fred Webber.

1926 was Fred’s senior year of high school and the yearbook is filled with little tidbits about the seniors. Each senior’s portrait is accompanied by a list of activities and organizations, a quote that the editors thought summed up the student, and a nickname.

Fred M. Webber


Debate: I wrote at length about Fred’s participation in debate last week, but there were more little details in the yearbook than those I included. One debate page was devoted to the Affirmative Big Nine team and had this to say about Fred, the “curly headed barbarian.” The Japanese question was: “Resolved, that the Japanese Exclusion Act should be repealed in favor of a gentleman’s agreement.”

On the page devoted to the Negative Big Nine team, Fred is even mentioned in the item written about his teammate Harold Gilbert.

The calendar pages in the yearbook are fun.

8 Jan 1926

16 Feb 1926

March was a busy month for debate. Students apparently wore headbands in support of the debate team. And I love the last entry about the debate coach.

March 1926

Extempore Speaking: Fred came in third place, speaking on the “World Court.”

The Muscatine Journal, 24 Apr 1926

Oratory: In addition to participating in Oratory during his senior year, here is Fred on the page titled “Noted and Notorious,” sandwiched between Class Bluffer, Class Clown, Class Poet, and Class Sleeper. The Quill staff designated Fred as Class Orator.

On the page devoted to “Declamatory,” Fred’s picture, along with two female students who did dramatic readings in other contests, is featured along with this description.

10 Nov 1925

26 Feb 1926

In March, Fred was one of the speakers at the Basketball Banquet. I thought that a little odd since Fred didn’t participate in sports, but on closer look, the “Basketball Banquet” was actually for the Basketball, Forensics and Judging Team. A little curious that they were lumped together. Maybe there was not usually a banquet for the debaters, but the State Champions deserved a banquet as much as the basketball team did. Fred spoke on the topic “Will Power.”

The Senior class chose Fred to be one of the speakers at graduation.

Glee Club is not listed among Fred’s school activities, yet here he is on the Glee Club page, back row, second from right.

I tried to find more about this Spanish operetta, but all I found were newspaper articles announcing various high schools around the country performing it. “El Bandido” must have been all the rage.

Uncle Fred isn’t mentioned in the local paper as part of the cast, so maybe he was in the chorus.

The calendar page of the yearbook:

Hi-Y: During his senior year, Fred was president of his high school Hi-Y, a Christian organization working to bring the school toward the goal of “Clean Living, Clean Speech, Clean Athletics, and Clean Scholarship.” He doesn’t seem to be in the photo below. The debate coach, S. E. Walllin was the faculty sponsor.

I found Fred Webber mentioned in this article from his Junior year about a Hi-Y conference. Fred was elected as one of the vice chairmen to lead conference groups during the conference.

The Courier (Waterloo, Ia), 29 Nov 1924

Deacon: There are several references to Fred Webber as “Deacon” scattered throughout the yearbook. One is on his senior photo page at the top of this post.

There are jokes and little stories among the advertisements at the back of the yearbook.

What would an old yearbook be without a class prophesy? Here is the part that pertains to great-uncle Fred:

What was it about Fred that earned him the nickname “Deacon?” Was it his participation in Hi-Y and all that “clean” living they were promoting? Did some of his speeches have a strong Christian bent? Was he a bit of a moralizer in his high school days? Was he always at church when he wasn’t debating or studying?

Fred grew up in a family of preachers. His father, M. D. Webber,  was a Baptist preacher. His maternal grandfather, John Sylvester Strange, was a preacher. His uncle Thomas Madison Strange and his wife, Sarah Bird Strange were both preachers. His uncle Francis Marion Strange was a preacher. Maybe there were more, but those are the ones who come to mind. I don’t know how much time he spent with these aunts and uncles – they lived in other states, but the influence of faith and affiliation and a call to ministry was surely a part of the family culture and story.

The nickname Deacon was more prophetic than the prophesy of Fred Webber running for a senatorship. Fred was ordained as a Baptist minister in April of 1932. He graduated with a degree of Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, a seminary with Baptist affiliation.

Fred later changed denominations, leaving the Baptists for the Presbyterians. After serving a number of churches, The Rev. Fred M. Webber was installed as General Presbyter of Baltimore on September 28, 1960.

I can’t help but wonder about the influence of S. E. Wallin, Fred’s debate coach on Fred. S. E. Wallin was a Presbyterian minister and missionary before becoming a teacher at Fairfield High School. Fred spent many hours under the tutelage of Rev. Wallin, both in debate and in Hi-Y. It makes me wonder if their relationship influenced not only his choice of career, but his later change of church affiliation. He certainly prepared “Deacon” Webber to think on his feet, to be well-prepared, and to seek understanding of both sides of the question at hand.

If you are interested in reading more about Fred M. Webber, he has his own landing page of posts I have written about him here.

Please take a moment to visit other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Sepia Saturday: Fred Webber – Best Debater 1926

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

At The Cross, Hunstanton, Norfolk 1949 (Third Party Album)

This week’s prompt photo prompted me to return to my great uncle Fred M. Webber. He has his own landing page here because I keep adding to his story.  As I have researched Uncle Fred, I have found a few surprises along the way. Today, though, a look back at his high school days. I’m guessing that the photo I chose in response to the prompt image may have been from his college days based on his cool demeanor and nice hat.

Fred M. Webber attended Fairfield High School in Fairfield, IA, where he was a member of the debate team.

As the fifth of nine children in the family, I wonder if Fred’s debating skills developed at an early age and how those debating skills worked out at home once he really mastered debate in high school.

The first documentation I located of Fred’s participation on the debate team was during his Junior year of high school. The article notes that Fred was chosen for the Big Nine League team from Fairfield High, arguing the negative on the question: “Resolved, that the United States should join the other nations in a world court.”

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 10 N0v 1924

In March, the team met their rival team from Davenport, with the Fairfield team of three arguing the affirmative on the same question. A newspaper clipping announcing the upcoming debate noted that Fairfield had won 14 of 15 debates during the previous two years. Unfortunately, Fairfield lost this one, bringing their score to 14 of 16. Newspapers and available yearbooks on let me down and I don’t know how the year ended for the debate team, but Fred M. Webber came in second place in the Big Nine League state extemporaneous speaking contest that year.

The Daily Times (Davenport, IA), 25 Apr 1925

Fred’s Senior year of high school was a big one for the debate team. March 3rd found the Fairfield team winning a debate against the Montezuma team on the topic of government vs. local control of mines. They now had eight victories under their belts, having argued both sides of that question. On March 23rd, the Fairfield team beat the Davenport team in what the Davenport newspaper deemed a repeat “victory of decade,” this time arguing the affirmative side of the question: “Resolved, that the Japanese Exclusion Act should be repealed in favor of a gentleman’s agreement.”

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 24 Mar 1926

An article from March 26th is amusingly descriptive of the anticipated debate against Iowa City.

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 26 Mar 1926

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 26 Mar 1926

This looks like a photo related to the match with the Iowa City team.

And since these undated photos were in my grandmother’s scrapbook on the same page as the photo above, I’ll assume this is the team with the trophy they won that day. Everyone got the chance for a photo holding the trophy on the steps of Fairfield High School.

Josephine Ball, Fred Webber, Harold Gilbert, S. E. Wallin


The 1926 edition of The Quill, Fairfield High School’s yearbook, offered this take on the debate team in the Broughgam mentioned in the article above about their win over Des Moines. The team of boys and girls pulling the carriage replaced by mules in the collage. The photo collage is printed sideways, but I’ll rotate it so you don’t have to rotate your head. Fred’s head is in the back seat with their coach. (Click to enlarge.)

The Quill, 1926

On March 30, the Fairfield team won the Iowa Eastern Title, again on the topic of mines. On Friday, April 30th, the Fairfield debate team met the Rock Valley team in Iowa City for the state championship. A radio was set up in the Fairfield High School auditorium so that everyone could hear the live broadcast of the debate. They were not disappointed.

Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 4 May 1926

Monday found the championship debate team – Fred Webber, Josephine Ball, and Harold Gilbert, celebrated by the residents of Fairfield. The band led the student body and faculty in a march from the school to Central Park.

There, the band escorted the debate team up to the bandstand where they were met by a committee of citizens representing the school board, city government, merchants and ministers.


Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), 4 May 1926

One of Fred’s grandchildren is in possession of a trophy presented by the debate coach to Fred.

S. E. Wallin

Fred Webber

The yearbook offered this tribute to their state champion debate team. Fred and his teammates were offered scholarships to the University of Iowa.

And the following page includes a letter from from the Debate Coach at the University of Iowa.

Fred accepted that scholarship. It was his ticket to the University, something neither he nor his family could have afforded. Fred, his parents, and siblings who were still in the home moved to Iowa City so that Fred could attend the University. The scholarship must not have included room and board. I wonder what kind of debate went on within the family about moving?

I think it is safe to say that Fred’s participation in high school debate played a significant role in the trajectory of his life.

When I started this post, I thought I’d get to include more of the fun things I found in his high school yearbook and his college days, but those will have to wait for another day.

Take the stairs, if you are able, and visit the other participants in Sepia Saturday.

Sepia Saturday – Protest at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. 

I started working on this post a couple of years ago. It wasn’t a Sepia Saturday submission at that time, but a continuation of my research into the life and times of my great uncle Fred M. Webber. The prompt image reminded me of this unfinished story. I’m afraid it will still be incomplete, but I’m going with it.

Reverend Fred M. Webber moved to the Baltimore, MD area in the spring of 1960 and was installed as General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore in September. He quickly became an active participant in an ecumenical group of clergy who were committed to advancing civil rights, fair housing, and other justice issues. In February of 1962, Fred and his clergy peers participated in a lunch counter demonstration at two segregated restaurants in Baltimore.

In a 1963 Christmas letter, Fred’s wife, Carol, reported that great uncle Fred had back surgery in June of that year, having two injured discs removed. Even so, Fred participated in the March on Washington in August. That’s a pretty fast turn around, in my opinion, since recuperating from back surgery can take some time and participating in such a large demonstration seems daunting. On the other hand, it was an opportunity to take part in an historic moment. Something not to be missed.


How did Fred M. Webber occupy himself during the time between his back surgery in June and the March on Washington in August? Carol says that Fred organized a committee during his recuperation that resulted in The Maryland Clergy Convocation on Religion and Race, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the keynote speaker. I’m sure that was a highlight of the year!

Following the tradition of using the celebration of freedom and national pride to put a spotlight on injustice, civil rights activists in Baltimore, MD staged a demonstration at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park on July 4, 1963. I think we can safely assume that Fred was recuperating over the 4th of July holiday and missed out on the action. Fred’s daughter, who was a senior in high school at the time and didn’t always pay attention to the details of her parents’ lives and conversations, does remember overhearing the park being a topic of conversation and that discrimination was at issue.

Gwynn Oak Park opened in 1894 as a Trolley Park, a picnic and recreation area built by a trolley company whose streetcar line ran past the park. Trolley parks were precursors to amusement parks and the companies who built them hoped to encourage ridership, especially on weekends. In the photo below, you can see a streetcar on the far right.

And a later photo of a street car with a Gwynn Oak roller coaster in the background.

Most trolley parks did not charge admission, but did charge for rides. Gwynn Oak had a Ferris Wheel, two wooden roller coasters, bumper cars, The Whip, and a merry-go-round.

The Whip, By ConneeConehead101, Wikimedia Commons


Gwynn Oak Park was whites-only from the beginning. Segregation by rules and laws was the norm across the South.

“By the end of 1955, Baltimore’s Jim Crow system had a few dents in it. The city had survived its first year with desegregated schools. College students had managed to end discrimination at all of the city’s Read’s drug stores. Lunch counters at many low-cost variety stores had also been integrated. However, big, expensive, downtown department stores still had Jim Crow rules. So did most of the city’s restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels.” (Nathan, 2011, p. 62.)

By 1954, local civil rights activists turned their attention to Gwynn Oak Park. They first tried persuasion, picketing, and handing out fliers. Small groups of blacks and whites entered the park and attempted to buy tickets, only to be turned away. The activists decided to target the park’s annual All Nations Day Festival, the park’s biggest money-maker. The festival was also chosen because it was not “all nations” as promoted. Embassies of African countries were not invited – and local citizens of African ancestry were not admitted. On Labor Day 1962, the Baltimore chapter of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) picketed All Nations Day for the ninth year in a row. By this time, the group had become more media-savvy and also decided to approach the invited embassies and discuss the discriminatory practice. The Indian Embassy said they would not participate if there was discrimination; it made the news; and all of the other invited embassies followed suit.

Even with the bad publicity, Gwynn Oak remained a whites-only park. More bad press followed when the superintendent of Baltimore’s Catholic schools announced that parochial schools would no longer hold picnics at Gwynn Oak.

The events that finally resulted in the park being desegregated occurred on July 4 and July 7 of 1963. The July 4th demonstration included protesters from out of state as well as prominent religious leaders. The press knew what was about to happen. The police were made aware of the size of the planned protest and worked with the organizers. The organizing groups involved wanted great impact, but no violence.

Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, a white Presbyterian minister spoke at the pre-demonstration rally on Thursday morning, July 4th. Dr. Blake came from New York to attend the demonstration and, as the national head of the United Presbyterian Church, he was the most famous of the out-of-town participants and was responsible for many of the clergy being there.

When the protestors arrived at the park in the early afternoon, about 1500 white customers were inside, enjoying the park on a hot summer day. Some of the protestors formed a picket line in front of the park entrance while others formed groups and prepared to enter. The first group to walk up to the ticket booth included the most newsworthy demonstrators: Dr. Blake (Presbyterian), Bishop Daniel Corrigan (Episcopal), Rev. Bascom (local activist and minister), Ed Chance (CORE), Furman Templeton (Urban League), Father Joseph Connolly (Catholic). The photo below includes Dr. William Sloan Coffin (Methodist) in front.

Joseph Connolly, Eugene Carson Blake, William Sloan Coffin, Marion Bascom

For three hours, group after group approached the ticket booth and then walked out under arrest, accompanied by police officers, to board police vans and busses. Some protestors sat and refused to move and had to be carried out by police.

You can watch the arrest of Dr. Blake (in the white hat) and listen to his words in the video below.

Although the ministers, priests, and rabbis got the bulk of media attention, most of the demonstrators were young people. By the end of the day, 283 protestors had been arrested, including more than twenty religious leaders. These numbers overwhelmed the Baltimore police and judicial systems.

Protestors sitting and waiting to be loaded into police vans

… When a reporter asked Rabbi Lieberman why he had joined other clergy to be arrested, he smiled and said, ‘I think every American should celebrate the Fourth of July.'” (Nathan, 2011, p.160.)

As big and impressive as the July 4th protest was, it did not end the whites-only policy. The leaders organized a committee while they were in jail to plan more demonstrations and immediately went into action. Another protest followed just three days later, on July 7th. This protest did not have the numbers of prominent and out-of-town participants, but several of the local clergy encouraged members of their congregations to join them. This time the 300 civil rights protestors were outnumbered by more than 1500 segregationists – a group more hostile and willing to throw rocks than the crowd on July 4th.

Ninety-five civil rights protestors were arrested that Sunday, including thirteen local clergymen, one of whom dressed up in a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam costume to show that he felt protesting was patriotic. (Nathan, 2011, p.179.)

Rev. David Andrews, assistant chaplain Morgan State College. Dressed as Uncle Sam

There is so much more to the story than I have included here and I need to wrap things up!  I didn’t even mention the owners of the park … If you have an interest, most of my information came from the book  Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement, by Amy Nathan. And there is quite a bit of information online.

Threats of further protests, talks, and negotiations finally resulted in Gwynn Oak Park opening its doors to the black community on August 28, 1963 – the same day as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And we know where Fred M. Webber was on that day!

Sharon Langley became the first black child to go on a ride in Gwynn Oak – the merry-go-round.

“Two white youngsters about age six – a boy and a girl – climbed onto horses on either side of Sharon. They were big enough to ride by themselves, but the girl’s mother asked Mr. Langley to keep an eye on her daughter to make sure the little girl would be safe during the ride. He was glad to help. This perfectly normal parent-to-parent request – so typical of the way parents help each other at playgrounds and parks – took on special meaning this day. ‘These are the kinds of things that make me feel we’ll be accepted,’ he told a reporter later.'” (Nathan, 2011, p. 204.)

Some of the names in this story (some included in this post, some not) have direct links to Fred M. Webber, including Father Joseph Connolly and Furman Templeton. And, I’m guessing that Dr. Eugene Carson Blake was in some sense Fred’s boss. It makes sense to me that Uncle Fred was involved in some way with activities and/or planning that happened before and during the protests at Gwynn Oak Park since he met frequently and served in various roles with those who were there that day. I would also venture a guess that he was disappointed that he could not be there.

John Waters, who wrote the movie Hairspray is from Baltimore. He made up most of the events in the movie, but Tilted Acres, the amusement park in the movie, is based on Gwynn Oak Park and there really was a dance show similar to the one in the movie. The real Buddy Deane Show was whites-only, except one day a month when it was blacks-only. In 1962, there was a protest against the segregated show, and an integrated “dance-in” took place August 12, 1963 – just days before the integration of Gwynn Oak. The show was cancelled in 1964.

Well, that’s my take on the theme image today. Hop on a trolley or a roller coaster if you prefer, and see how others have interpreted the theme image at Sepia Saturday.

Nathan, A. (2011). Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.

P.S. If you are interested in reading more about my great-uncle Fred, take a look at the Fred Myron Webber page.