In 1945 in Atlanta, Georgia…
Members of Omega Psi Phi Create the Hungry Club Forum of the Butler YMCA
The Butler Street YMCA, which opened its doors in 1894, was a pioneer in many respects to help close the racial divides that existed in the city which longtime Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield described as “too busy to hate,” however, it was not too busy to segregate.
Notwithstanding the youthful activities the Y organized and funded for Black youngsters from all over Atlanta like basketball, field trips, tournaments and summer camps intown and outside the city such as Camp J. K. Orr, the Y also served as the first Black precinct for Atlanta’s first Black police officers in 1948.
But three years before that, the Y was host to a gathering of men and women, whites and Blacks together, for lunch and political discussion called the Hungry Club Forum.
This idea was hatched and named by Dr. Ira D. Reid, a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and, at the time, chair of the Department of Sociology at Atlanta University [Clark Atlanta University]. Reid, a graduate of Morehouse College of Atlanta, had observed that there was no regular open forum in Atlanta where pertinent public issues could be discussed in a “desegregated” setting. Ira De Augustine Reid (July 2, 1901 – August 15, 1968) was a sociologist and author. He wrote about the lives of Black immigrants and communities in the country.
The idea for such a Forum in 1945 was as dangerous as novel. There was reportedly an ordinance which forbade Blacks and whites from sitting together under one roof socially or otherwise and, supposedly, could lead to arrests of participants. That may have accounted for the Hungry Club initially meeting in secret, at least up to 1950 when WERD, broadcasting’s first ever Black-owned and Black-run radio station in the United States, began airing the Wednesday programs from 12 noon to 1 pm. Morehouse President Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (also an Omega man) spoke at one of the gatherings on October 4, 1950 and talked about a federal suit filed by the parents of 200 Black students demanding equal treatment at all Atlanta Public schools. It was one of the precursors to the 1954 Supreme Court decision that smashed the doctrine of “Separate but Equal” and led to the desegregation of public schools in the USA.
The Forum that the “Ques” (name also known for members of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity) helped to found gained importance politically and otherwise as the years progressed. It also attracted a horde of distinguished speakers. From October to June, coinciding with the public school year, participants bought lunch, chatted with one another and then listened attentively to speakers from sports figures, to leading educator, Civil Rights and political leadership and everything else in between. The speech was then followed by a question-and-answer session. The Forum was moderated by newspaper Atlanta Daily World writer/editor William A. “Bill” Fowlkes and hosted by Ms. Lucille Scott, whose husband, William A. Scott II, founded the Atlanta Daily World in 1928, becoming Atlanta’s first Black-owned newspaper. The Atlanta Inquirer later was founded in 1960 becoming Atlanta second Black-owned newspaper.
Almost since inception, the speaker which opened the Hungry Club season each year was the sitting Mayor of Atlanta. One of those speeches in 1981 with Mayor Maynard Jackson occurred during a runoff for the mayoral seat between Civil Rights leader and one-time UN Ambassador Andrew Young and State legislator Sidney Marcus. In the racially charged address, which was broadcast then over WXAP Radio (WERD radio had been sold in 1970), Jackson blasted Black supporters of Marcus, who was white, calling them in effect “shuffling, grinning Negroes.” The speech was reported across the country. Young won the runoff and became the city’s second African-American Mayor.
In 2011, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reid became the last Mayor of Atlanta to speak at a Hungry Club Forum. He delivered a 40-minute address of his proposed city reforms at Dahlberg Hall on the campus of Georgia State University. It was not held at the Butler Street YMCA where the Forum had domiciled each week since 1945. The next year after Reid’s speech, the Butler Street YMCA shut its doors, ending the 118-year run that started in 1894. With it, the Hungry Club Forum also closed, ending its 67-year stretch. Though not in Atlanta, the idea started by the “Ques” continues in spirit through a Hungry Club forum established by political and social leadership in Savannah Georgia.
Mayor Reid didn’t realize it at the time, but he may have given Hungry Club its most fitting epitaph when he called it “the Touchstone of the Soul of the City”.
The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity celebrated its Founders Day on November 17. Founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., the fraternity will celebrate its 110th birthday in November 2021. Members of this beloved fraternity include The Atlanta Inquirer late publisher John B. Smith, Sr.; the late Dr. Clinton E. Warner, Jr. and father Clinton E. Warner, Sr.; the late Jesse Hill, Jr. [also known for his instrumental involvement with the Butler Street YMCA and the Hungry Club Forum]; the late editor Ernest Pharr; and current publisher / editor John B. Smith, Jr.
Last updated on November 24, 2020