The Flewellen Collection
East Cleveland Public Library
Debra Ann November Learning Center
Icabod Flewellen was born July 6, 1916 in Williamson, West Virginia. He was given the title “Father of African American Museums” by many African American historians of the 1950s and 1960s because of his belief that African Americans needed their own museum. The collection of African American books, and Negro history memorabilia began in his Cleveland, Ohio home as the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society in 1953.
|Many buildings were acquired to house his growing collection but managerial and financial debacles forced Mr. Flewellen to move a major portion of his collection back to his home.|
Gregory L. Reese, Director of the East Cleveland Public Library and Mr. Flewellen became close friends and in 1999 an agreement was made to have the collection donated to the library. Mr. Reese organized a move of the 400 plus cubic feet of books, correspondence, photographs, audiovisual material, framed pictures and portraits from Mr. Flewellen’s home to a storage facility in 2001.
In 2005 funding from The Cleveland Foundation was awarded for the processing of the collection which is housed in the Debra Ann November Learning Center, the library’s new wing. Presently 90% of the collection (correspondence, awards and audiovisual material) has been cataloged and an online searchable finding aid is available
Guide to The Flewellen Collection
Search the collection's finding aid to locate information that Mr. Flewellen has collected.
Icabod Flewellen was born July 6, 1916, in Williamson, West Virginia. The Collection and research of material regarding Negro history became his passion when he first read articles in a Negro newspaper by J. A. Rogers, a known historian. Flewellen’s dream was to build an Afro-American museum so that everyone could see the accomplishments of Africans and those of African descent.
To increase his knowledge of Negro history Mr. Flewellen enrolled in West Virginia State College to obtain a degree in Negro Studies. When he found that the program did not provide what he wanted he entered the pilot training program that was somewhat similar to the Tuskegee program. His solo flight test did not occur and in 1942 he enlisted into the Army and served as a clerk in army offices in Africa and Europe until his discharge in 1945.
Mr. Flewellen moved to Cleveland with the belief that it would be the best place to build an Afro-American museum. He supported his dream while working as a messenger for 21 years (1949-1968) for the Veterans Administration in Cleveland. Mr. Flewellen also worked in the maintenance department of Case Western Reserve University and sold real estate at John Bland Realty Company while he researched and collected material for his Afro-American museum.
In 1953, Mr. Flewellen started the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society in his home on Harkness Avenue. In 1964, he had collected a great deal of Negro history material that was presented at the Cleveland “Parade of Progress” exhibition, that year it was considered one the largest exhibition of Negro History in the country. When Mr. Flewellen’s home became too small to house his collection he moved into a building on Petrarca Avenue through Project Bridge, a community program. When that program ended Mr. Flewellen bought the Bell Telephone building on 81st Street. This was not the final resting place for the collection because the building was in poor condition and funds were needed for necessary repairs. To eliminate the major repair cost another building was purchased, the Crawford Road "Treasure House" Hough Branch Library from the Cleveland Public Library system was made and it became the permanent home for the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society.
While establishing an Afro-American museum Mr. Flewellen has been able to obtain recognition from the city for the celebration of Black History and the accomplishments of unknown and known African Americans such as John Malvin and Colonel Charles Young. Mr. Flewellen helped to obtain recognition for John Malvin as well as obtain funds for the purchase of a head stone for Malvin’s unmarked grave in the Erie Street Cemetery. He also worked with others to obtain recognition and a landmark park on 46th street and Prospect for the accomplishments of Colonel Charles Young.
Icabod Flewellen was a man who believed that education was something we all needed and he strived to make it a part of his museum and his life. He attended Cleveland colleges and universities from 1953 until 1993 when he graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a history degree. Sometimes Mr. Flewellen would attend Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College and Case Western Reserve University, simultaneously during a school year. He was always looking to improve his career status or find a lucrative business like real estate that would allow him the freedom to achieve his goal of establishing a museum. Even after Mr. Flewellen had accomplished his educational goal, he continued to attend classes, lecture, gather and research anything and everything regarding African Americans until his death in 2001.
Crawford Road Museum The Treasure House Hough Branch of the Cleveland Public Library on Crawford Road became the permanent home of the Afro American Cultural and Historical Society in 1975 after being purchased from Cleveland Public Library in 1973.
John Malvin 1795-1880 was born in Dumfries, Prince-William County, Virginia of a slave father and free mother which made him a free man. John Malvin acquired the skill to read and write which he used to understand contracts and documents like his certificate of freedom which he recorded in county Clerk's Offices to keep from being kidnapped by slave hunters. He also learned the skill of carpentry which assisted him in obtaining employment. John Malvin fought for the civil liberties of the colored race in Cleveland where he established a school for colored children and later worked to have schools created throughout the state. He worked to assure that colored Clevelanders receive social and civil justice. He was a successful canal boat captain, entrepreneur and his carpentry skills help build the First Baptist Church of Cleveland where he and his wife where original members of the church.
Colonel Charles Young 1864-1922 Born in Maylic, Kentucky, during the civil war. When he was 9 months old, his family moved to Ripley, Ohio. Charles Young was home schooled until the age of eight where he learned to speak foreign languages, and play the piano. He attended the local high school where he graduated at the age of sixteen passed the entrance exam to attend the Military Academy of West Point. Charles Young became a commissioned Officer after graduating from West Point where he commanded forces in the western frontier of America. When World War I started he wanted to command a regimen. Instead he was viewed by the Military Board of Examiners as being too weak to serve and ordered to retire as a colonel. To prove he was physically fit, Colonel Young rode his horse from Ohio to Washington, D.C. The ride he took did not change the Board's mind and Colonel Young accepted the assignment to serve as the Military Attaché to Liberia where he became ill and died.
Afro American Cultural and Historical Society Traveling Exhibit Pictured is Icabod Flewellen on the right and his friend Garfield L. Smith, a major component in establishing the Afro American Cultural and Historical Society (AACHS). When the AACHS was first established in 1953 Mr. Flewellen's home was used as the repository. The growth of the collection made it easier to take the collection to the people instead of having them visit the collection at his home.
Cleveland Association of Colored Men A civic organization that was founded by Garret A. Morgan (standing second from the right next to the gentleman in light colored suite), in 1908. The Cleveland Association of Colored Men provided information, social and legal assistance to the colored community of Cleveland. The organization later merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.