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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

LITERARY SOCIETIES (BLACK)

LITERARY SOCIETIES (BLACK)

LITERARY SOCIETIES (BLACK) were a much-favored form for social gatherings among the black middle class during the 19th century. Beginning with the Colored Young Men's Lyceum, organized ca. 1838 to discuss slavery and social justice, the city has hosted a large number of additional private and church-sponsored societies. Typical of the latter were the Cleveland Literary Society, organized at SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH in 1873; the Tawawa Literary Society, an affiliate of the National AME Church organized at ST. JOHN AME CHURCH in 1893; and the Mt. Zion Congregational Church Lyceum, formed in 1885. Private societies included the Ideal Literary Society, which began in 1886; the Phillis Wheatley Society, organized in 1892; and the Wide Awake and Coral Builders societies, which are known to have existed in 1894. The societies provided a forum for debate on topics of interest to black citizens, and also fostered the art of elocution, an important skill for those African Americans who would become politicians and interpreters of black aspirations. They remained popular in some churches until the mid-20th century.

Current active literary societies among AFRICAN AMERICANS include those of the Lyceum at KARAMU, the Cleveland African American Library Assn., and the CLEVELAND MEDICAL READING CLUB.