AFRICAN AMERICANS IN HAWAI`I
by Kathryn Waddell Takara, Ph.D.
The earliest settlers of African ancestry arrived in Hawaii well before the missionaries' 1821 arrival. Until Hawai'i became a territory in 1898, many of these black immigrants were active in the community as advisors, entrepreneurs and musicians. One man, called Black Jack or Mr. Keaka'ele'ele was already living on O'ahu when Kamehameha conquered the island in 1796. It is said he helped to build a store house for Queen Ka'ahumanu in Lahaina, and probably made his living in the maritime industry ("Early Black Businessmen in Hawai'i."; Afro Hawaii News. Marc Scruggs).
Another individual, known as Black Jo was a long time resident, trader, and the Sail Master for King Kamehameha II, working with his trading vessels and acting as an advisor and interpreter for the King. He died in 1828 (ibid. Marc Scruggs).
In 1811, there came to the island of O'ahu an ex-slave, Anthony D. Allen, from New York. In 1813, he took a Hawaiian wife, had three children and was granted six acres of land in Waikiki by a high priest (Honolulu Advertiser. July. 1991. B 1.), where he prospered and was much respected in the community and was known as "an entrepreneur extraordinaire." He established a boarding house, a bowling alley, a "dram shop" (saloon), and the first hospital for American seamen in Pawa'a. He was also a dairyman, farmer and blacksmith, supplying vegetables, livestock and service to residents and ship captains. His popular boarding house was widely known for its excellent cuisine and entertainment. Allen is given credit for building one of the first schools in the islands and the first carriage road to Manoa Valley. He was so highly respected by the Hawaiian royalty that they gave him land to hold and pass on to his descendants. That land is the present site of the Washington Intermediate school near King and Kalakaua. Allen's son was a paniolo (cowboy). Allen died in 1835. ("A Black Friend of Hawaii Missionaries." Marc Scruggs. Honolulu Star Bulletin. Jan. 12, 1987, p. A-10.)
Between 1820-1880, there arrived on whaling ships descendants of Black Portuguese men from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa. Some stayed married and became residents and worked as musicians, tailors, cooks, barbers and sailors. ("Census Notes of the Negroes in Hawaii Prior To The War (1945)" by Romanzo Adams. Social Process. p. 214.)
It must be remembered that a number of African American men were entrepreneurs and active in early Hawaii business matters. A paradox of opportunities given the extreme racial climates of oppression and slavery in the states. "William the Baker" was the king's cook and sold his place in 1833. Joseph Bedford, known as Joe Dollar had a boarding house from 1826 for almost twenty years. Spencer Rhodes operated a barber shop in 1838, Frederick E. Binns had his barber shop by 1845 and Charles Nicholson, an African American tailor, was designing and sewing in the 1840's until 1861. William Johnson also had a barber shop in 1863 ("Blacks in Old Hawaii" by R. A. Greer. Honolulu. November. 1966.)
African Americans starred in the musical world of early Honolulu. Four African Americans formed a royal brass band for Kamehameha III in 1834, and he hired America Shattuck as first master and David Curtis as second master. Another African American, George W. Hyatt, organized a larger band in 1845 with Charles Johnson as band leader. Nine other men participated. ("Blacks in Old Hawaii" by R. A. Greer. Honolulu Magazine. November 1966.)
Also noteworthy was Betsy Stockton, an intelligent and dignified ex-slave of the President of Princeton University, who had studied extensively using the comprehensive library of her ex- master and attending evening classes at Princeton Theological Seminary. She accompanied the Charles Stuart family with the second group of missionaries to arrive in Hawaii aboard the ship Thames in 1823 from New Haven, Connecticut. She learned the Hawaiian language and was one of the founders of Lahainaluna School on Maui, probably the first school for commoners or maka'ainana, where she spent two years as a teacher of English, Latin, History and Algebra (1823-25), before her untimely return to the East Coast due to the illness of Mrs. Stuart. She is also remembered for her high moral and religious character and for helping to heal the sick while on Maui. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser. May 12, 1906. and Historical Missionary Album. 1863. p. 922.)
Because of the great slavery debate in the United States and the many of plantations owners were from or familiar with the slave system in the south, Blacks were intentionally excluded from the proposed lists of immigrant groups sought in the 1850s to provide contract labor by the Kingdom of Hawaii by local missionaries and abolitionists opposed to contract labor. (Nordyke. p. 244.) At one point, U.S. Secretary of State Blaine urged the importation of Blacks and not Asians to help replenish the dwindling Hawaiian population, only to meet resistance and aversion to Negro immigrants. Hence there were no significant numbers of Black immigrants until after Hawai'i became a Territory in 1900.
Although individual African Americans were accepted into the community, mass immigration of African Americans was discouraged by legal restraint as early as 1882 when sugar planters wanted to import large numbers of Blacks to relieve their labor shortage. Moreover, again in 1913, there were strenuous efforts to keep the 25th Negro Infantry Regiment from being stationed here; yet they came and remained for several years without creating friction and made quite a favorable impression. Unfortunately, there were some prominent African American immigrants who never wanted to be affiliated with the darker races and silently blended into the local community denying their African American heritage.
In the late nineteenth century, Booker T. Washington, the famous educator from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, came to Hawai'i to investigate the possibilities of African American plantation workers being used here to supplement the growing Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos and Portuguese workers. To his surprise and discovery, he found the working conditions here in many ways worse than in the South at that time.
However, by 1901, the first group of about two hundred African American laborers was brought here by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association from Louisiana and Alabama to join the other Oriental plantation workers on the islands of Maui and Hawaii. Many later returned South or were amalgamated into the local community (Hawaiian Annual. 1902 p. 164)
The Puerto Ricans who came to Hawai'i around 1901 were in the main also of Negro, Indian, and Spanish descent although in the census they were listed as Caucasian until 1940, probably due to the Spanish part of their heritage.
In 1907, another small group of twenty-five to thirty families came to Maui recruited from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, including the lawyer Crockett family and Mr. Maple, a chemist. The Maple School on Maui is named for the family.
Just before and after annexation in 1898, several African Americans from the United States participated in politics and government and made the islands their home. Among them was T. McCants Stewart, an attorney, who was in the cabinet of King Kalakaua and helped in drafting the Organic Act of the territory, and on several occasions aided Hawaiians in regaining their lost kuleanas. His daughter, Carlotta Stewart Lai, arrived in 1898 and graduated in 1902 from what is now the illustrious Punahou School, she later became a principal at Kauai's Hanamaulu School. William F. Crockett, another attorney, came to Hawai'i in 1901, and later to became district magistrate of Wailuku, Maui, judge, and territorial senator. His wife and mother were outstanding teachers and his son became deputy county attorney of Maui. James Oliver Mitchell, was born in Koloa, Kauai in 1893. He was a teacher for 46 years on O'ahu, and Maui, principal, coach and finally Athletic Director at Farrington H. S. in Kalihi on O'ahu; and Nolle R. Smith, another illustrious resident of Honolulu, in the early part of this century, was an engineer here, a fiscal expert in Haiti, Ecuador and Puerto Rico and a member of the territorial house of representatives. The family also acquired a considerable amount of land. Another early African American pioneer was Eva B. Jones Smith known as Eva Cunningham who was the first woman to have a radio show in Hawai'i and whose piano school was "the place to go" before 1920.
In 1915, Alice Ball, an African American chemist at the University of Hawaii did major research towards the cure of leprosy. (Damien, The Leper.)
Once more, in 1941, at the outbreak of World War II, there was another mass movement including the City and County government of Honolulu, the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, the central council of Hawaiian organizations, and several unions, to discourage the War Department from sending a labor battalion of 600 African Americans to unload ships. Yet, with the coming of World War II, several thousand African American men and some women came to help the war effort as soldiers and defense workers. During this period, there was much friction between Caucasian and African American soldiers manifesting in fights, racial slurs and near riots.
The army, navy, and marine corps generally maintained separate (segregated) living quarters. Only at Schofield Barracks could men live, work and play together without friction.
Unfortunately, as the military established itself in the 1940s and more tourists began to arrive, the local populace learned indirectly, often through rumor and hearsay, more about African Americans and their inferior status on the Mainland. The consequence was the subtle adaptation of attitudes and stereotypes from the dominant economic and socially acceptable Whites.
Moreover, the media perpetrated the latent anti-Black sentiment of the mainland press by reprinting stories which presented the African American in negative stereotypes identifying him/her by race whenever a crime was committed by pointed labeling. Likewise, news and reports from the Mainland of lynching and riots were sensational in contrast with the relative harmony here.
Fortunately, the result of these often latent anti-Black feelings brought by the multitude of Mainland Caucasians has not developed into the crystallized prejudice often found on the Mainland, but has nevertheless manifested with some local people in the form of aversion in varying degrees.
During the 1940s and 1950s for example, for some Japanese, "on the spot"; after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was deemed "indiscreet'' to be friendly with African Americans and it was known that the FBI opposed an affinity between them and the suspected recalcitrant Black group.
Other instances of this aversion were patterns of discrimination in hiring, refusal of service at some restaurants, barber shops and taverns to African Americans, reluctance to rent housing units, sell leasehold/fee property to them, and the denial of cordiality generally given by the average local person to a White person. There was also the ostracism of women who dared to date African American men.
After the war, conditions became less strained when most African Americans returned to the mainland. Those who remained and those who arrived subsequently most often blended into the local community since there is no defined black neighborhood or community. Many have become active business persons, government employees and a few have had successful careers in politics and education like Charles Campbell, the former representative from Kalihi, Helene Hale, former "mayor" of the big island of Hawai'i, and Donnis Thompson, educator and former head of the Department of Education. Others have been successful in the fields of entertainment (Trummy Young), the arts (Lilli James), education (Dr. Miles Jackson), and the sciences (Dr. Ernest Harris, Entomologist), to mention a few professions. Sadly, however, the obstacle of racism has not disappeared.
Today, the African American as a group has still not been fully accepted in Hawai'i, although there is much lip-service given to the practice of racial harmony.
For example, according to a 1982 statistic, there were 330 black businesses in Hawaii, but only 23 had paid employees, suggesting that the majority were sole proprietorships, and almost half had gross receipts of less than $5000.
According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the approximately 27,700 African Americans residing in Hawaii comprise 2.5% of the total population (Honolulu Advertiser 1991: A1), up from the 17,364 and 1.8% figure quoted in the 1980 census. Of the 27,700 total, there are more than one third in the armed forces and almost fifty percent listed as military dependents leaving about 4000 other civilians.