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Hunton, Addie D. Waites (1875–1943)

Hunton, Addie D. Waites (1875–1943)

African-American activist and Young Women's Christian Association official . Born Addie Waites in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 11, 1875; died in Brooklyn, New York, on June 21, 1943; eldest of two daughters and a son of Jesse Waites (a businessman) and Adelina (Lawton) Waites; graduated from Girls' Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts; graduated from Spencerian College of Commerce, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1889; married William Alphaeus Hunton (official of the Young Men's Christian Association for Negroes, 1893), on July 19, 1893 (died 1916); children: four; only the two younger, Eunice and William Alphaeus, Jr., lived beyond infancy.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1875, Addie Hunton was the daughter of a successful businessman who owned a wholesale oyster and shipping company and was also the co-owner of an amusement park for blacks. Her mother died when she was just a child, and she was reared by a maternal aunt in Boston, where she received most of her education, Upon graduating from Girls' Latin School in Boston and Spencerian College of Commerce in Philadelphia, Hunton went to Normal, Alabama, to teach at State Normal and Agricultural College (later Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University).

In July 1893, she married William A. Hunton, who had come to Norfolk in 1888 to establish and become secretary of a Young Men's Christian Association for Negro youth. (In 1891, he was selected by the International Committee of the YMCA to direct its work among Southern blacks, and he later became administrative secretary of the Colored Men's Department of the International Committee.) During the early years of her marriage, Hunton worked full time and also served as her husband's secretary, assisting him in many aspects of his YMCA work. After living in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, the couple moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1899. There, Hunton gave birth to four children, although only the two younger survived infancy. After the Atlanta riot of 1906, fearing for their safety, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York.

Hunton's behind-the-scenes work with the YMCA did not go unnoticed, and in 1907 the National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) appointed her secretary for projects among black students. During the winter of 1907–08, she toured the South and Midwest, conducting a survey for the YWCA. Her pioneering work also included recruiting a number of other black women to work for the YWCA, among them Eva del Vakia Bowles and Elizabeth Ross Haynes .

From 1909 to 1910, Hunton took her children to Europe, while her husband, who was now plagued by health problems, continued his work at home. Hunton spent a few months in Switzerland and then traveled to Strassburg, where she took classes at Kaiser Wilhelm University. Upon her return home, she continued her work with the YWCA and enrolled in courses at the College of the City of New York. By 1914, William had grown seriously ill with tuberculosis, and the family moved to Saranac Lake, New York, where they remained until his death in 1916.

When America entered World War I, Hunton, whose children were now grown, volunteered for overseas service with the YMCA and, in 1918, became one of three black women (Helen Curtis and Kathryn Johnson were the other two) assigned to work with the 200,000 segregated black troops stationed in France. (Later, 16 additional women were included in a group of 100 African-Americans who were sent to France as YMCA workers.) Hunton was first assigned to the Services of Supplies sector at Saint Nazaire. Along with the usual canteen services and movies offered at the YMCA facility, she introduced a literacy course and a Sunday evening discussion program on art, music, and religion, among other subjects. In January 1919, after a bout of influenza and exhaustion, she was transferred to a leave area in southern France, near Aix-les-Bains. There, she helped organize a program of educational, cultural, religious, and athletic activities for the 1,000 African-American troops who arrived weekly for a brief respite from the fighting. In May 1919, she received her most difficult assignment: the military cemetery at Romagne. There, the black soldiers were assigned to find the dead from the battlefield of the Meuse-Argonne and rebury them in the military cemetery. In a book she later co-authored with Kathryn Johnson, Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces (1920), Hunton described the work of the soldiers as "a gruesome, repulsive and unhealthful task, requiring weeks of incessant toil during the long heavy days of summer." She also recounted how the undercurrent of resentment among the soldiers created a constant sense of danger. "Always in those days there was fear of mutiny," she wrote. "We felt most of the time that we were living close to the edge of a smoldering crater."

Returning to the United States in the autumn of 1919, Hunton harbored some bitterness over the racial prejudice she had witnessed during the war, but she soon channeled her anger into positive efforts toward the advancement of her race. She served on the Council on Colored Work of the National Board of the YWCA and was president of the International Council of the Women of Darker Races and of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs. Also concerned with women's issues, she became an ardent suffragist and joined the Brooklyn Equal Suffrage League. She was a vice-president and field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and also remained active in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).

As a member of the executive board of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, she was part of a six-woman committee that visited Haiti in 1926 to view the United States occupation. She later wrote a section on race relations for the committee's report, Occupied Haiti (1927), which condemned the intervention and advocated restoration of Haiti's independence.

Addie Hunton's last public appearance was at a ceremony honoring outstanding black women at the New York World's Fair in 1939. She died on June 21, 1943, of diabetes, and was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

sources:

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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