After World War I, many of the black soldiers who returned to Baltimore after fighting bravely in Europe were not satisfied with the discriminatory conditions that continued to exist in American society. The segregation that was prevalent before the “War for Democracy” remained in place, and therefore, black war veterans could not join the newly formed white American Legion posts. As a result, they formed their own American Legion posts, and by the late 1920’s, only one had survived—Walter Green Post #14.
In November 1930, several members of Post #14, war veterans who were also federal employees, decided to form another post and petitioned the American Legion District of Baltimore, the Department of Maryland, and the National Headquarters for a charter. After several months, the National Headquarters granted the members a temporary charter with the designation of Federal Post #19 Department of Maryland of the American Legion. The charter became permanent in 1937.
Comrades of Federal Post #19 met in several places in those early years. The initial meeting was held in the Belvue-Manchester Apartments on Bloom and Madison in the home of Bernard Hiner, who became the first commander. Among the other places they met were the YMCA on Druid Hill, the 2nd floor of the Ubangi Club on Pennsylvania Avenue (nicknamed the “The Loft”), the Elks Pride of Baltimore, the meeting room of the New York Hotel on Madison Avenue, and a rented storefront on Preston Street. After meetings at “The Loft,” the comrades often entertained their guests with pots and pans of food from home and pitchers and buckets of beer from downstairs.
Later in the 1930's, comrades moved Post #19 to the 700 block of Preston Street and helped to form and charter the Ladies' Auxiliary Unit #19 in 1935 and the Sons of the Legion Squadron #19 in January 1937. When urban renewal razed much of the area to build the McCullough Homes, the comrades of Post #19 met at several other places including Metropolitan Church on Carrolton and Lanvale, Macedonia Baptist Church on Lafayette and Fremont, and eventually at Elks Monumental Lodge #3 on Madison Avenue. While comrades lived throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area, their goal was to stay in west Baltimore.
Throughout their history, the men and women of the Post #19 family have always emphasized community and youth, and during the 1930’s, they also organized the Blue Helmet Drum and Bugle Corps, the first black American Legion drum and bugle corps in the state. Founder William Brady served as drum major and led the Blue Helmet Corps to numerous awards at various parades, conventions, competitions, and concerts, gaining state and national recognition. In the late 1930's, the Corps won the national marching championship at the American Legion National Convention in California, where they proudly represented the state and citizens of Maryland.
Members of the Blue Helmet Corps served as a source of pride for the neighborhood and reached out to involve the youth of the community. They performed at various community functions, parades, carnivals, conventions, and civic events and represented the state at various regional and national events. Several members adopted neighborhood youths and trained them to be members of the Corp. Brady, described as a stern disciplinarian, believed that discipline was the key to getting ahead.
In the early 1940’s, comrades rented the 1st and 2nd floors of the present building with the option to buy when the remaining tenants on the 3rd floor moved out. Then in 1945, the comrades of Federal Post #19 acquired a mortgage and moved completely into the current location at 1502 Madison Avenue. That and the following year, they opened their doors to a large contingent of World War II veterans, and membership rose to more than three hundred members. The comrades held numerous successful social events including cabarets, suppers, and programs that attracted veterans from across Baltimore and Posts from out of town.
During the 40's and 50's, past Post #19 commanders, such as Alfred Jones and H.H. Matthews, continued to stress community involvement and youth. In addition to forming the Sons of the Legion Squadron #19, in the mid-40’s, comrades at Post #19 organized the first black Sea Scout, an organization similar to the Boys' Scouts, in the state. They also sponsored young men to summer camps in Virginia. In the mid-50's, comrades participated in community projects such as the Afro-American newspaper’s Clean Block Program and helped to form the Thompson-Miller V.F.W. Post #9527s, which was chartered at Federal Post #19.
The 50's and early 60's were the heydays for the Blue Helmet Corps, and bolstered by veterans of the Korean War, Post #19 continued to thrive. On any given weekend during the summers, bus loads of people from out of town and across town descended upon Madison Avenue to participate in various parades and events. The neighborhood children followed their favorite groups along the parade route, and parents observed the goings on perched in their windows. Post #19 provided a patriotic environment where the spirit of community and pride in being American and black could nurture and grow.
During the early 1960's, the Blue Helmet Corps became the first black drum and bugle corps to perform at the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia, breaking years of segregation and discrimination at the Festival. While several observers maintained that they were the best group in the parade, nevertheless, the members of the Corps were extremely proud of the second place trophy they had won. For a part of its history, the Blue Helmet Corps served as the only senior American Legion drum and bugle corps in the state of Maryland. The Department of Maryland sent the Blue Helmet Corps to various conventions to represent the state. South of Maryland and in many places in Maryland, they often faced discrimination and the forces of Jim Crow segregation. Yet, they continued to proudly carry the banner of the American Legion for their state and country.
In 1974, after four decades of community, state, and national service, the Blue Helmet Corps disbanded, crippled by a fire that destroyed much of Post #19's records, as well as other information. Although the post was rebuilt and remodeled, the Corps never rebounded. Still, the legacy of the Blue Helmet Corps lives on in the tradition of the present Color Guard, which has an equally impressive record of service, and in the hearts and souls of all the comrades.
The 1974 fire blazed through the building and destroyed floors, ceilings, and walls. Unfortunately, many valuable, irreplaceable records, pictures, awards, and memorabilia to the past were also lost. The damage totaled more than $20,000 and required complete renovation of most of the building. Comrades had to replace the staircases, remodel and drop the ceiling, install new paneling and flooring, and repair all the plumbing and electrical wiring. Through it all, the Post #19 family pulled together to overcome the crisis.
During the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the comrades of Federal Post #19 were joined by veterans of the Vietnam War, who contributed to the success and mission to serve veterans and their families and the community. In the mid-1990’s, the comrades faced a series of crises that included the wind and rain ripping parts of the roof from the building and the floor collapsing in the back, which called for new rounds of fundraising and renovations. Again, the Post #19 family overcame adversity.
Today, veterans from the 1st and 2nd Iraq Wars And the Afghan War are joining and contributing to the effort, and the comrades of Post #19 continue to stress community and youth. Each year, the Post #19 family sponsors a Back-to-School Block Party for children in the neighborhood. Supported through a joint effort with the Auxiliary and Sons, the children receive book bags and supplies for school. Several community and health services organizations also set up booths for the event. The comrades also give toys for the neighborhood at an annual Christmas Party and Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens and veterans and their families. The comrades also support the students of the Freestate Challenge Academy and Jr. ROTC, who lend a hand at several of our events, along with community groups like the James Mosher Baseball League.
Of course, throughout our 80 year history, the comrades of Post #19 have been supported by families and friends. In many ways beyond the comrades, the strength of Post #19 has been in its partnership with Auxiliary Unit #19 and SAL Squadron #19, and no history of Post #19 can exist without acknowledging and thanking their efforts throughout the years. Working together, the Post #19 family is poised for the future and is “Striving for a Greater Purpose.”Respectfully submitted,
Post #19 Historians, Past and Present