JFS and W. E. B. Du Bois connection found

“An incredible discovery”

The 75th anniversary of Hamilton County Job and Family Services intersected with Black History Month this week. A letter from Frederick A. Breyer, the first JFS director, to Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was found and illustrates how the Hamilton County social work administrator’s commitment to economic justice was shaped by Dr. Du Bois. Dr. Du Bois is a legendary figure in American history, race relations, intellectualism and activism. He was the first Black graduate of Harvard University, a prolific lecturer, founding member of the NAACP and author of the influential book “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903).

Breyer’s June 1, 1940 letter was written eight years before he would become director of JFS (initially called the Hamilton County Welfare Department, then Human Services before being renamed JFS). Breyer invited Dr. Du Bois to speak to the Du Bois Society of Cincinnati. Dr. Du Bois was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Wilberforce College on June 13; Breyer hoped Dr. Du Bois would be able to join the club for dinner and dialogue the following night.

This letter was not the first correspondence between the two men. Breyer had written Dr. Du Bois in 1938 asking what can a “White man do to lessen the injustices” that handicap Blacks. Du Bois replied that improving Black economic status was most important act and that “other factors hinged upon improvement in economic status.”

Breyer took this to heart and helped form an interracial Du Bois Society in February 1939. Breyer assembled a bank executive, newspaper reporter, lawyer, teachers and employees from the employment office. Breyer told Dr. Bois about accomplishments of the group, but added that “the one that gives me the greatest satisfaction is the development of friendship and comradeship across the color line by the various members.”

Finding the unknown letter and seeing evidence of Breyer’s commitment to equality impressed the fourth, current JFS director.

“This is an incredible discovery and it also strikes me that in all that time I have been blessed enough to be in a position to become the first [Black director],” said Michael Patton, JFS Director.  “All of that initial good will and understanding and purpose to do the right thing is helpful to see, even 75 years later.” 

Source: W. E. B. Du Bois Archives at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

by Jim Tinker

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