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Left is Mrs. Minnie Portee in her restaurant/dining room, 514 1/2 6th street, west side of the square, Charleston, Illinois, c. 1924. The young boy front right is Kenneth H. Norton, Jr., grandson of Mrs. Minnie Portee and son of Ona and Kenneth "Crackers" H. Norton. Others are workers or patrons.

A worker and a customer in Mrs. Minnie Portee's restaurant/dining room, 1915.

Left is Mrs. Minnie Portee in her restaurant/dining room, 1924.

Left is Mrs. Minnie Portee in her restaurant/dining room, 1924.

Newspaper story on Ms. Bernice Gray, a Mattoon AME church member.

Bernice Gray and her Mattoon African Methodist Episcopal Church. Ms. Gray graduated from EIU in 1928.

In Charleston John Paxton was the first of many black barbers. He had his shop "next to Bryd Monroe's Store, built in the 1840's. Located next to the store were Clark House Tavern and Hotel, and county Courthouse and the barbershop was a central place to the community." (33) Writing on black barbering businesses in Charleston, Angela Whitmal reported that,

in the 1878-79 Mattoon and Charleston Directory, two barber shops were listed under the business directory. Both of these were owned by black men. Arena and Patterson Williams owned one shop and the other was owned by Ashley Phillips. There were seven black men listed in the directory who gave barbering as their occupation. In 1889 again there were two shops in the city and both were black owned. These men were Ernest Malone and Levi Hawkins. There were five black barbers in town that year. In 1902, a third black barber shop existed which was owned by Charles Wilson. These barbers appear to have experienced a period of prosperity as two of them were advertising. In 1902-1903 Charleston city directory, Charles Wilson took out a full-page advertisement for the Bright Light Tonsorial Parlors and Bath Rooms. (34)

These businesses were located in the Charleston Square district. In 1902-1903, while Charles Wilson's shop was situated in the basement of 514 E. Jackson, Levi Hawkins' shop operated from 606 Sixth Street and Ernest Malone's shop was located at 512 Monroe Avenue.

The situation in Mattoon was very similar to that in Charleston. Austin Perry, a black man is noted as the pioneer barber in Mattoon. He established the business in 1857 and enjoyed the distinction of having shaved President Lincoln. Another prominent Mattoon black barber was John Powell. By 1878, "Mattoon had three barber shops, all of which were black owned. The owners were Isaac Barr, Austin and Joseph Perry, and Alex Barr and Thomas. There were at least ten black barbers living in the city. By 1895 the trade had grown to house eleven barbershops, five of which were black owned." (36) Other black barbers were J.S. Anderson, Chas O'Brien, W.E. Alston, Riley Norton, and George Smith. Gradually, black barbers began to lose control of the business of barbering in the county. According to Whitmal, " whites began to enter the field black business slipped. As white barber shops opened, white patrons brought their business due possibly to racist feelings or a difference in the quality of service. Early in the twentieth century immigrant groups, Italians and Germans took over much of the business leaving only black business for black barbers." (37)

Blacks also played prominent roles in the food service and restaurant business. In 1878, Mary Farrell was listed as the owner of one of three restaurants in Mattoon. Also J.A. Anderson in 1904 was listed as the proprietor of a lunch stand in Mattoon. In Charleston in the early 1900's, the Portees, Arthur and Minnie Portee (husband and wife) opened and operated a restaurant/diner at 514 1/2 Sixth Street. This is the only black business whose photograph has survived to date. In addition to running the restaurant/diner, the Portees also worked as cooks in Pemberton Hall on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. When possible, local hotels also employed the services of African Americans. These include "the Mattoon House, later named the Dole house, built between 1868 and 1871, and the City Hotel and Everett House, both built in the 1860's and 1870's." (38) Other hotels were the Pennsylvania Hotel and the Union House which were built in 1855, and the Charleston Hotel which opened in 1867.

A few African Americans scored some surprising feats in Coles County in the nineteenth century. In April 1883, Austin Perry was elected an Alderman of the second ward in Mattoon. He was referred to as "the first colored man to hold the office of alderman." (39) Another first for the black community in Mattoon was Orange Huffman who was "licensed as a billposter on August 21, 1871." (40) In the same vein one George Miller "was the only African American Physician out of 14 listed in 1878 Mattoon Directory." (41) In all of these, women were not frequently listed as individuals with occupations. It is not clear why this was the case. However, among those listed, "one was a hairdresser and four were school teachers. Jessie Lee, Clara Perry, Bertha Perry, and Maud Perry were all school teachers. The 1910 census identified Jessie Lee as a thirty-three year old teacher at a public school. Clara, Bertha, and Maud Perry were aged forty-four, thirty-four, and twenty-nine respectively and were also identified as teachers for a public school. The name of the school was not given." (42)



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