The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Remembering Marjorie Patterson


Marjorie Patterson, 1963.
UPDATE Thursday, 9:30 AM: A brief obituary in the Courier is online here.
Plainfield has lost another thread to its heyday past with the passing of Marjorie Patterson this past Saturday.

I first met Marge in the lat 1980s, a few years after I had moved to Plainfield and she had retired from the YMCA. In 1991, a group of Plainfielders, led by the Rev. LaVerne Ball of Rose of Sharon Church and the Rev. Margot Campbell-Gross of the First Unitarian Society met to search for a response to the Rodney King incident that was appropriate for Plainfield.

I was part of the original group, as was Marge Patterson, among several others. Out of those discussions grew the founding of Faith Bricks & Mortar, which became chartered as Plainfield's first Community Housing Development Organization (CHODO), a designation that has since become known as Community Development Corporations (or CDCs), with the broadening of the purview to include all sorts of community development activities.

Marge was an authoritative figure in the community, deferred to by many, who had then recently retired from what I gathered was years of service with the YMCA. She belonged to the generation that came of age during the Great Depression and devoted her life exclusively to the YMCA, as did so many others of her era, foregoing marriage and family to advance the interests of young people in the community.

Marge was always vague about her age, so it was some surprise to me to learn that she was 93 at the time of her passing.

While I have not been able to find an obituary on either the Ledger or the Courier, there is a wonderful brief biography from the Plainfield Public Library's finding aid for her papers (see here), which were donated to the library in 2011.

Here is an excerpt from that biographical sketch, which includes not only her YMCA career but her civil rights activites right here in Plainfield --

Marjorie Patterson worked at the Plainfield Area YMCA from 1947 until her retirement in 1987. She dedicated her life to helping the youth and underprivileged community of Plainfield.  Her first years with the YMCA were spent as a program aide at the Moorland Branch - known as the “Black Y”.

She spent many lunch hours “sitting in” at restaurants where blacks were refused service. She often met the director of the local NAACP branch for lunch (or lack of it). Because the Moorland Y had to raise its own money, she became an extraordinary fundraiser. As quoted in a newspaper interview, Marjorie said. “we had two bowling alleys, and when money was needed, we’d organize a tournament. We had suppers and dinners…everybody helped out.” She was called the “Pied Piper of Teenagers” when she led forums and training for young people. The Royal Banquets of the Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Council for area youth that she helped to organize became an annual tradition in which teenagers from seven local communities were recognized for leadership.

Marjorie Patterson served the YMCA in leadership roles on numerous regional boards, the national council and several task forces.  She directed day camping for two years, worked with young adult, junior high school and grade school groups. She directed the teenage program for ten years.  In 1966, Marge was chosen as one of the 21 American leaders to give guidance to an international YMCA teenage conference in Norway.  In 1968, she was promoted to Youth Executive of the Association.  She was instrumental in forming the Women’s Auxiliary, Moorland Players, Youth and Youth Adult Clubs, Semper Fidelis, and Mixmasters.

On March 10, 1973, a surprise testimonial dinner was given in her honor to pay tribute for her years of outstanding community service.  An assembly of over 175 of her friends and colleagues attended the event.  Despite her significant contributions and service to the community, she was still paid less than what the City of Plainfield paid a starting policeman, and $2,500 to $3,500 less in salary than other Plainfield YMCA executives.  In February 1986, Marjorie was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Union County Association of Black Social Workers.

She served on Plainfield’s Human Relations Commission for 13 years, and was chairperson and president of the Tenants Organization of Plainfield, and an officer with the local NAACP chapter. She was a member of Camp Crusade, the Community Welfare Council, Union County Welfare Advisory Board, and United Community Services. Her dedication and willingness to aid Plainfield’s youth and community earned her the heart-felt nickname of “Plainfield’s Little Dynamo.”
In preparing this piece, I tried to gather some information on the Moorland Branch -- known as the "Black YMCA," on the site now occupied by Neighborhood House -- to no avail, which is both disappointing and startling, as the Moorland Branch was an integral part of the history of Plainfield's African American community for generations, but has disappeared without a trace.

There are no images in the Plainfield Public Library's extensive collection. Although there is a finding aid for a collection of YMCA papers (see here), there is no mention in the abstract of that collection of the Moorland Branch, which was an independent organization until absorbed into the main YMCA. This, as Marge would say, is a serious lack.

Moorland YMCAs are part of the racist heritage of both Plainfield and the YMCA organization. Jesse Moorland (see more here), was a Black Congregational minister and YMCA executive in the early 20th century. He was a prodigious fundraiser and helped fund "colored branches" throughout the United States. He joined with his friend Carter G. Woodson in starting what has since become Black History Month, observed nationwide in the month of February.

There will be a viewing at 5:00 PM, Friday, February 26, followed by the funeral at 6:00 PM at Rose of Sharon Community Church.

Rose of Sharon Church is at 825 West Seventh Street. Parking available in the church lot, on the street and at the adjacent Queen City Academy. The church building is handicap-accessible. Arrangements are by Judkins Colonial Home (see their website here).


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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