JASPER,  AUSTIN LEONARD "JACK" (15 March 1906 – 6 July 1996) was a schoolteacher and one of the first African American volunteers for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in Anniston, Alabama, and later a BSA professional serving Black scouts in Cleveland, Ohio. Born in Woodlawn, Virginia, to Daniel W. and Martha E. (Thomas) Jasper, Jasper had eight siblings and attended high school in Washington, DC. He received his bachelor’s degree from Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University, transferring after one year at Howard University. Jasper later moved to Anniston, Alabama, where he taught skilled trades at Margaret Barber Seminary. Jasper was the first trades teacher at the school, eventually becoming head of the department and coaching several sports.

In the 1930s, the Boy Scouts of America movement was growing, but often “separate but equal”, especially in the American South. Jasper became interested in scouting during this period when a group of AFRICAN AMERICAN boys approached him about becoming scouts. He contacted the local scout headquarters, Choccolocco Council, and was told that black boys were not permitted to become scouts. Jasper persevered in the face of this discrimination, and was eventually allowed to form Troop 306, chartered to Margaret Barber Seminary, in 1936.

As Scoutmaster, Jasper led one five troops serving black youth in Anniston; he would later describe that he enjoyed teaching scouts how to build model airplanes, because the activity fostered creativity and sportsmanship.  In 1937, Jasper and his scouts worked alongside white scouts and leaders to put out a forest fire threatening Camp Zinn, the area’s primary scout camp from 1931 to 1965, which was open to both black and white troops. After his service as a Scoutmaster, Jasper worked as a scouting professional in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1942, Jasper moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work professionally for the GREATER CLEVELAND COUNCIL, BSA, which served scouts throughout Cuyahoga County. At this point, Cleveland was the sixth largest U.S. city. Jasper was initially put in charge of all units serving Black scouts in Cuyahoga County, but later became the District Executive of an area covering the CENTRAL, FAIRFAX, and KINSMAN neighborhoods of Cleveland, called Center City District.

As a scouting professional, Jasper not only blazed trails for African American boys in Cleveland; he also served as the first Program Director of Beaumont Scout Reservation in Ashtabula County. Beaumont was founded in 1946 and named after LOUIS D. BEAUMONT, a founder of the May Company and a prolific philanthropist. In 1945, the LOUIS D. BEAUMONT FOUNDATION contributed $50,000 towards the creation of the camp, which was to be “the model Boy Scout camp in America”, and began as 500 acres of undeveloped farmland along the Grand River in Rock Creek, Ohio. Jasper also served as the twelve-year Camp Director of Camp Clendening, which was located in Harrison County.

From 1942 to 1971, Jasper helped to recruit and serve thousands of boys through scouting. When Jasper arrived in Cleveland, there were only 319 black scouts in 18 scouting units across all of Cuyahoga County. At the time of his retirement in 1971, his district, which covered the area bounded by E. 22nd St. to the West, E. 105th St. to the East, Carnegie Ave. to the North and Kinsman Rd. to the South,, had grown to serve 1600 black scouts in 109 units. A 1970’s survey by the BSA national office described this district as one of top ten most difficult areas to recruit from nation-wide. Despite this, Jasper helped to recruit one in four Center City boys to scouting, establishing and growing many local units. He chartered multiple units to public housing communities such as the OUTHWAITE HOMES, where he worked with local volunteers such as Angus Arrington, who was CARL B. STOKES’ Scoutmaster. 

When Jasper retired in 1971, a crowd of over 450 friends and colleagues filled a hotel ballroom to celebrate his achievement. Cleveland City Council issued a resolution of appreciation, and Mayor Stokes issued a mayoral proclamation marking February 28th as Leonard Jasper Day. 

During his scouting career, Jasper served on the faculty of National Camping School, and received numerous honors and awards for distinguished service, including the Order of the Arrow Vigil Honor in 1964 and the Silver Beaver Award in 1979. He was also engaged with multiple organizations, including Cleveland Community Chest (now UNITED WAY) and St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church. 

Jasper married Eleanor Reid in 1932; the two met while attending college and were later schoolteachers together. Eleanor died in 1985. He married Georgia C. Lucas, another former college classmate, in 1985. Jasper had no children. He lived in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood of Cleveland, and enjoyed woodworking, photography, gardening, and volunteering for scouting in his retirement. He died in 1996 and is buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY in Cleveland .

Noah Boksansky


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