FLEWELLEN, ICABOD (06 July 1916 - 20 July 2001), student, curator, activist, citizen, and community servant was a long-time resident of EAST CLEVELAND best known for his extensive collection of African-American historical artifacts and memorabilia. Flewellen's black history museum in Cleveland was one of the first of its kind in United States history.
Flewellen was born to John Henry (c.1890-1948) and Julia Mae Tapley Flewellen (1895-2000) in Williamson, West Virginia. By the age of 13, Flewellen began collecting historical newspaper clippings dedicated to the history of black Americans, a passion inspired by the writings of Jamaican-born author J. A. Rogers. Flewellen graduated high school in the mid-thirties and began working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program created in 1933 as a part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal initiative. At the age of 23, Flewellen went to West Virginia State University (WVSU) to enroll in the National Youth Administration (NYA) also a New Deal program, but ended up switching to the Civil Pilot Training Program. In 1942 Flewellen was drafted into the U. S. Army and served in North Africa in the quartermaster's service.
After an honorable discharge from the military, Flewellen returned to West Virginia only to have his home firebombed by white supremacists shortly thereafter. In the ashes lay Flewellen's first museum collection, something he noted had been exceedingly rich in historical material. Not long after the tragedy, Flewellen migrated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1949 where his mother had been living since the thirties. While living in Cleveland, Flewellen worked throughout the fifties and sixties as a messenger for the VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL CENTER of Cleveland. Later on Flewellen worked for both the maintenance department of CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY and the real estate firm, the John Bland Realty Company.
Flewellen's passion for collecting took-off in Cleveland, where he launched his second AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM originally known as the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Society (Harkness Avenue) in 1953. Flewellen collected much of his early material by going door to door, asking neighbors about their family histories. In 1964, Flewellen presented his collection at Cleveland's "Parade of Progress," at that time one of the largest exhibitions in the country. The collection that was at his museum is still there although the museum is closed. The portion of his collection that went to East Cleveland Library Debra Ann November Center came directly from his home on Harkness.
Flewellen's educational and community service career was also extensive. Spanning most of his life, Flewellen attended courses before and after his service in World War II. He eventually earned an Associates' degree from Cuyahoga Community College in 1976 and a Bachelor's degree in American history from Case Western Reserve in 1992. Among his most notable personal accomplishments, Flewellen was awarded an NEH grant in 1981 to travel to the USSR to study Alexander Pushkin. Flewellen died in 2001.
"Biographical Background, " The Icabod Flewellen Collection, East Cleveland Public Library, Series Box 1. According to the record, both I. Flewellen's parents were originally from Georgia.
Biography of Icabod Flewellen, East Cleveland Public Library (2005), 1.
Angela Ison, "Museum Founded by Flewellen Remains Closed and Ignored," The Cleveland Stater Vol. 12, Issue 9 (17 February 2011), 1.
"Biographical Background," The Icabod Flewellen Collection (ECPL) Series 1, Box 1. Also see Biography of Icabod Flewellen (ECPL), 1.