In this 2005 interview, Dargan Burns, an African-American discusses his involvement in integration efforts in Cleveland from the 1950s to the present. Burns, born in South Carolina, fought in the Army in World War II, and was educated at the Hampton Institute and Boston University. At BU, he met and became a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.. He was also a friend of J. Harold Brown, who was very active in Karamu House. In 1954, Burns joined the then white elitist Church of the Covenant as one of its first African-American members. Thereafter, he became active in the Church's affairs as well as in other efforts to integrate schools and other institutions in the University Circle area of Cleveland. In the interview, he also talks about some of the activist pastors of the Church of the Covenant in the Civil Rights era.
Burns, Dargan (interviewee)
Kaczmarski, Lindsey (interviewer)
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:00:04] If you wouldn't mind saying your name again and where you are from.
Dargan Burns [00:00:10] I now live in Cleveland, Ohio, having moved here from Boston, Massachusetts, where I was in graduate school, but my original home in Sumter, South Carolina. I was born and raised there since 1925.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:00:32] Okay, yeah, I read in Carol Poh Miller that you were originally from South Carolina.
Dargan Burns [00:00:36] Yeah.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:00:37] Can you tell me something about growing up in South Carolina?
Dargan Burns [00:00:41] Coming from South Carolina was an interesting experience for me because I've been traveling throughout the South. I was familiar with folkways and mores in the South. But when I left the South and came to Virginia where I entered school, Hampton University, I found just a little difference in the climate conditions, but not much of a change back in those days. But it was a growing experience and it was interesting because I had to adjust to another way of life, but it was a matter of learning and adjusting to the ways of the location.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:01:26] How did you come to Cleveland? It came from Cleveland, from South Carolina.
Dargan Burns [00:01:31] No, when I was in Virginia I discovered Hampton Institute because I was looking for a job. I found a job in Hampton, a job driving a truck for an engineering company. And as I was going from one location to the other, building installations for the beginning of World War II, I came across this campus that said Hampton Institute. I said, that's interesting, I've heard of Hampton. I have never been there, but here I am, and I had a lunch break and I decided I would have my lunch on the campus and I was[audio goes out]. So many African Americans were there. It was a Black college and I decided this is the place I want to have lunch every day if I pass this way. I met some wonderful people, and they were so nice to me. They thought I was a student because I was driving a van so, I wasn't dressed like an engineer or laborer. So they welcomed me to the campus and I ate my lunch there every time I passed that way and I decided that I should come to go to college, this would be my college. And then it was.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:02:56] Can you tell me a little bit about your family and when did you get married and have children?
Dargan Burns [00:02:59] Yeah. Let me begin with my family in South Carolina. There were six of us. My mother and father. I had two sisters and I had one brother. My father was a very active person in the community. As a matter of fact, he was an NAACP officer and he was very active in the community. And during those days and times, he was considered a militant because he was self-employed. He had his own furniture business, a repair shop. And he was more or less one of the community pillars. Because he was the one that called the NAACP members together. And he was the one that spoke for the community for the most part. And of course, my mother was equally as active as he was, and the children fell in line. So we were always on the cutting edge of race relations in Sumter, South Carolina.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:04:15] When did you meet your wife?
Dargan Burns [00:04:16] I ran into some trouble in Sumter. And you can imagine. I applied for every job that was listed in the newspaper. But no one was hiring blacks at that time. So I decided I was going to start my own business. My uncle was a Pullman porter, so he was on the road most of the time and allowed me to use his car and I used his car as a taxi and he gave me permission to do that. Of course, you didn't make much money during those days, but I knew how to make money. I decided I would engage all of the teachers at my elementary school to allow me to transport them, and I would pick them up in the morning before the students arrived at school and took them to school. And they paid me by the month when they got their checks, and they meant to... they would call me in the afternoon after school for their special transportation. So I had a nice, thriving business, but they didn't know how I make my money and so they thought I was bootlegging [laughs], but I wasn't. But then I had some trouble. They thought I was bootlegging, but I wasn't. So I was advised to get out out of the town for a while, so I did. So I went to Newport News, Virginia, to find a job because the war was breaking out at that time, they were looking for people to work. And that's why I left Sumter. And that's how I happened to have found Hampton Institute. Then I was drafted into the Army, I went into the Army in 1942 and stayed in 1946 and I was eligible to go to college on the GI Bill and that I did. I went to Hampton and I finished up in three years. I applied for admission to Boston University, which was the second school of Public Relations program organized in the country at that time. Syracuse University was the first and Boston University was the second. So I was admitted to Boston University after I finished in 1949 at Hampton Institute, but they admitted me for 1952. But they're telling me that they had no notion of admitting me to BU. I had to wait three years, but it didn't bother me. I wrote the federal government and told them I had been admitted to Boston University and could you transfer my papers as soon as possible. And they did, so I was registered by the federal government, and I went to Boston. I was ready to enter Boston University and they said that's fine. He said, Do you have the application? I said, I have a copy. But you have the original copy. He said, Did we reply to you? I said, No, but the government did. They admitted me, so I don't know why you can't admit me. He said, Well, you see that room over there? There are about 40,000 applications there, and we don't know where yours might be. I said, Well, how are they stored? By state? Are they alphabetical? How do I find my application? He said, You mean you're going to try to find your application? I said, Sure, why not? I'm here. I have no place else to go, so let me find it. [Laughs] At that time, I was the only African American on campus with 40,000 students. But that didn't bother me at all either, because I wanted to go to school, but I couldn't wait three years in 1952. It was 1950 at that time, so they allowed me to go into the room and look for my application. So I did. Day by day, people come and see this black guy in this room trying to find an application. That went on for four or five days and everyday people would come back to see the newcomer on campus trying to find this application. So the Dean came by one day and said, Young man, are you still looking for your application? I said, Yes, but you can stop at any time you want because I have the information you need. I'll be glad to get it for you. He said, Well, let me see what I can do. That's the last I saw him. Anyway, I did meet the Dean of the School of Public Relations and told him that I would work on my application but classes were beginning tomorrow. I would like very much to be able to audit the courses that I need to take. I have the courses, and now will you permit that? He said, I will if your professors admit you. And I went and talked to each of them. They were reluctant to do that, but they said you can come audit the course if you wish. I did. And I found it very difficult because the courses of study at BU were quite different from the courses I'd taken in school at Hampton. But I was able to study around the clock at night to catch up with the rapid pace of the educational system at Boston University. I made pretty good grades. And I was able to pass the test and I passed all of them with a couple of C+'s, one B, and one A–. I said, well I'm on the right track anyway. So I got those grades and took 'em to the dean and he said, If your professors will credit you with these, I'll accept them. So finally, I did the same thing the next semester and I went to the Dean and asked him if he would now please make my attendance legitimate and allow me to be a student in fact and not in essence. And he did, so rather being admitted in 1952, I got my master's in 1952, but it was interesting at that time. There was some very interesting people at Boston University at that time, and I met and got to know Martin Luther King very well. He was a student at the time studying theology, and there were several African Americans at that time, they called us Negroes. So we all sort of got together and studied together to help each other with difficult periods in our studies at Boston University. We got to know each other through a lot of support along those lines. An exciting experience in Boston at the time.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:12:17] So when you eventually came to Cleveland... Can you tell me about J. Harold Brown?
Dargan Burns [00:12:28] J. Harold Brown, Yeah. J. Harold Brown was the director of music at the Karamu House, K-A-R-A-M-U. Karamu House is the cultural arts center and community theater down on the east side at 89th and Quincy. He was a brilliant musician. He had classes at Karamu and he had a quartet at Karamu and was in great demand for musical performances on the organ and of instruments throughout the city of Cleveland. It so happened that Karamu House had an outstanding board of trustees, professionals, doctors, lawyers, ministers, civic leaders, business persons, and including Dr. Zelma George, who was the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the president of the NAACP was on the board at Karamu House at the time. Rev. Hoover and Rev. Starling, the Urban League executive secretary was on the board. There was a cross section of relief for blacks in Cleveland at the time. It so happened that the Minister of themChurch of the Covenant was on the board at Karamu House. And there was also a doctor from Cleveland Clinic on the board of Karamu House and you may have known knew about through history at that time care. Cleveland was very, very segregated blacks, whites did not fellowship between meetings. But it did happen that way at Karamu we started and practiced integration fair play and tried to eliminate the matter of segregation and racism as best we could. The board of trustees decided that if we were going to change the way of life in Cleveland, we must start someplace, and the best place to start was a church. At that time, because most of the major the churches. So far as I know, all of them were segregated because it was known at that time that 11 o'clock on Sunday morning was the most segregated time in the whole country, and we decided we want to change that. So J. Harold Brown was asked by the board of trustees that he would be willing to try to integrate the Church of the Covenant. Now, why the Covenant because at that time the Covenant was the most powerful church in Cleveland. It had the Mayor of the city of Cleveland as a member, and the four largest banks in Cleveland chairmen were members of the Church of the Covenant and many of their staff were members of Church of the Covenant. Cultural Lodge people were the person from each and every institution the art museum, University Circle, social agencies. It was a conglomeration of Cleveland's elite. J. Harold Brown said to the board of trustees. Yes, I'll be glad to join the Church of the Covenant if you will, support. They said we will support you. And he asked who else will join the Church of the Covenant. Someone said. We have a new member here on our staff Dargan Burns he just integrated Boston University maybe he will join you. So he asked me if I will join him and I said, by all means, let's go.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:17:04] He played a big role in integrating the Church of the Covenant.
Dargan Burns [00:17:08] Yes, he did. He knew he was a forerunner. He first to join, and it was very difficult for him because he was a professional organist, one of the best in the country. But he could not play the organ they said the organ was too expensive for a Negro to play the organ.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:17:42] The next question is a little personal. The Church of the Covenant was pretty progressive when it came to race relations. In the church's history, it says when you went to church you sat in the upper balcony and three white couple got up and moved away from you. Can you tell me what that felt like?
Dargan Burns [00:18:06] Yeah. Well, the church was usually filled every morning...every Sunday morning. As matter of fact, there were two services one at 9 o'clock, another one at 11 o'clock and the service were very good, excellent choir and the difficultly of the people out of the first service to allow people to come in from the second service we had got the second service. The only seats available were in the balcony. So, no Usher seat us. My wife and I just went up to the balcony and sat down in the first two seats we could find. And when we did it a few couples got up and moved away from us and my wife said let's go they don't want us here. I said they don't want us here but they need us here I did not leave, I'm still there. We became very active in the church and it was very difficult to because, it was not a pleasant greeting except for very few people who wanted the same things, we wanted to integrate the Church of the Covenant. And those few people thought help as.... the Minister Reverend Harry Taylor wanted to very much make the Church of the Covenant a Christian church, and he supported within reason the gradual integration of Church of the Covenant. And that is why the church...many churches in Cleveland are integrated today because of the Church of the Covenant started it. With Ralph Locher who campaigned against to get him out of office and we fail to do it. And the members of the board of trustees who had money in the bank were chairman who were at that time very conservative. But we were able to break the barrier and they eventually came around. At least in a reasonable amount of but it was an interesting experience.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:20:53] What year did you officially join the church?
Dargan Burns [00:20:57] September 1954.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:21:02] '54?
Dargan Burns [00:21:02] Right.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:21:03] And since then what role have you taken on as a member of the church?
Dargan Burns [00:21:09] I was on virtually every committee that you could think of was put on a session because they were talking about integration. Wanted to spread the African Americans into many, many committees of possible. I got on the session board and I was very active on that. And people were tolerant. I should say I didn't try to make any ripples. I just sat as a member I'm learning primarily, but I'm voting on everything, I questioned everything. And at that time, they had only one black working in the church, Negro. He was a part-time custodian. And I asked if we had any negroes employed at the Church of the Covenant and we asked for pledges and tithing. So on...And they said, no we only have one. And I said who is he? And she told me he is a part-time handicap individual living at the Veterans Administration, he's not an employee, is he? Oh yes, he works three days a week. I say, well, do you plan to increase your involvement of people of color? Well, we hadn't thought about it. Let's think about it if you don't mind. So he did. But today we have an associate pastor who is African-American. We have a business manager who is black. You have two African American clerks in your office. And we have blacks who help the body structure of the church. We are very proud of that we still had problems because it's difficult to overcome. But idiosyncrasies that deep-seated and determined to maintain the status quo. But I'm happy to say that when the church of the covenant became integrated many other churches fell in line Fairmount Stone Church and many, many others. If the rate things are in Cleveland, integration is really the mode of operation. Thank goodness.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:23:48] You led right into my next question. Why do you believe the church became integrated?
Dargan Burns [00:23:53] Why it became integrated, it was the right thing to do, number one. Number two, we have some powerful people in the church and in the community working toward those goals. But it was not easy. We had some group steering meetings and seminars and we had seminars. We will have as many as 200 people who come to our seminars were held between the first service and the second service. And we had no place to put people seminar because people going into the church. So we decided that we would have the seminars at Case Western Reserve because there is no place in the church to accommodate. But we overcame the feeling of racism and lack of communication. Now we have open meetings and we move it along.
Dargan Burns [00:24:56] But it's not as joyous and as camaraderie rises and falls and it's difficult for you to eliminate those deep-seated feelings among the whites and blacks. We try hard and we have ups and downs we are able to attract Africans from various countries and of all nationalities. You have a cross-section of almost, oh, maybe 60 countries, nations worshipping with us at various times. And it works. One of the most beautiful ceremonies I read record Church of the Covenant was that we had a congregation that was... I would say, 30 percent Negroes and Africans and we had 34 nations, of members of Church of the Covenant from various countries in Africa on stage repeating the benediction in their native language and in their native regalia, one of the most beautiful moving experience you ever want to see. And it was something that the church will never forgotten. But they have graduated and moved about onto their back to their home, and what have you. We maintained relations with the members of the Church of the Covenant who have gone back to their respective communities. And we have a collaborative experience with them. So, it's working not only in the Church of the Covenant, the cabinet, but other churches as well. Thanks, Goodness.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:27:00] What comes to your mind when I say, Reverend Harry Taylor?
Dargan Burns [00:27:04] About Harry Taylor?
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:27:09] Your personal feelings, when I say his name what comes to mind?
Dargan Burns [00:27:11] His aggressiveness, his spirituality, his determination to make the Church of the Covenant a wholesome, desirable leader in Christian fellowship, and it cost him dearly because he did not give up. And I can truly say that the real civil rights movement in Cleveland began with Harry Taylor and the Church of the Covenant because he spoke to the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis, club and he spoke about the matter, what must be done in Cleveland if we are going to have a thriving moral city. And he had a lot of resistance and he suffered quite a bit for it. But he was determined at what happened. And I praise him till this day. He lost a surrogate at that time and it wasn't easy, but He's a blessed savior.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:28:27] In 1954, Harry Taylor actually walked the picket line at William Elementary he was part of the protest.
Dargan Burns [00:28:44] Oh, yeah.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:28:48] He walked the picket line to protest the racial segregation in Cleveland public schools.
Dargan Burns [00:28:49] Right.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:28:51] Did that shock you when you heard that?
Dargan Burns [00:28:54] No, it didn't shock me, but a shock...
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:28:57] I know he's got into a little trouble for that but...
Dargan Burns [00:29:02] It shocked members of the church.
Dargan Burns [00:29:03] Well, I was glorified and gratified that he did it and he had to do it alone. I wanted to go with him, but that would've been self-defeating. Because they were not going to allow me to walk on Murray hill with a picket sign on my back. He didn't get away with it because they attacked him and he got a lot of bruises, but they would have killed me, I knew that. But it so happened that when I was engaged by University Circle to help alleviate between Murray Hill and other communities because I was working out of Karamu house at that time and we were ahead. We were working with Alta house and other group agencies and Murray Hill and worked out a system whereby we had community meetings and we invited people from Murray Hill to Karamu. And they reciprocated by bringing more groups from Karamu House into their meetings. So little by little, it was brought up to a friendship, not to the point that you would just arbitrarily go to Murray Hill because you have good food and camaraderie. But we did have a relationship, we didn't have the kind of racist attacks up there that we did before. So it was done in moderation, but we were able to live together. We still had segregated schools in that area for a long, long time. But we were able to see the end of the rainbow. Thank goodness.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:31:04] How did Harry Taylor preach?
Dargan Burns [00:31:19] Harry Taylor was a wonderful preacher. He'd do a lot of studying, he did some beautiful writing of his sermons, but he had to write his sermons geared to the very, very conservative-minded person, the very, very liberal-minded person, the very affluent person as well as the very, very limited people, beggars and foreigners and people who were on welfare. There was a conglomeration of membership. But he was able to reach all of them through the Bible, through his extensive knowledge and study of the Bible. He knew how to how to deliver sermons and reach a lot of people. It didn't make much difference to some people no matter how well he preached. But he made a difference to majority of the people and he was... and he was replaced by a person who was equally determined to bring about a more liberal attitude toward race relations. That was James Dowd, D-O-W-D, he was there about for about 15 years, and he was the one that did a lot of soul searching within the congregation and brought them around because he had the spirituality, the background, and the history and the prediction of what would happen if you do not change our way of doing things and I have kept some of the sermons, from Harry Taylor as well as Jim Dowd I'll be glad to share them with you. You will love to read these. As a matter of fact, I used to take about 25 or 30 sermons, sort of mail them out to ministers in the city to let them see what was happening at the Church of the Covenant. Because they were well documented in terms of the spirituality of the sermons. What I found was that many ministers were using these as their sermons for people from these, you know, that's fine that they were being honest and completely above board and indicate where they came from. But some were not doing that so I had to cut that out. I said if you want to hear these sermons, come to the Church of the Covenant. But that's how we tried to make the church grow. But we're coming along. We have a new minister now, Reverend Campbell, and he understands the history of the church. And he has a good tone on where we are, where you want to go and how you how we hope to get there, not make it work for you.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:34:45] Following Taylor before that was Albert Jeandheur, who followed Taylor as minister of the church?
Dargan Burns [00:34:49] Albert Jeandheur followed him. Right.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:34:49] How did you feel about him?
Dargan Burns [00:34:52] He was a different kind of minister. He was the educator and he had a doctrine of self-reliance and the Holy Spirit was key. But he reached out into the community as best he could. But he also... open-minded about many things. And he told me one day, he said, Dargan, they gave me a membership in the Union Club and I don't know what to do with the darn thing. I said, Al, let's go have lunch at the Union Club. He said, You wanna go? I said, Sure, if you take me. So he took me to the Union Club for lunch, made reservation in his name. It just so happened that there was a boycott in Cleveland of the McDonald's food stores and the person who was handling the legal aspect of that was Jim... James Davis, who was chairman of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, very powerful person, very influential person. He was the chairman also in Squire, Sanders Dempsey. So as we walked into the Union Club, all eyes turned toward Al Jeandheur and this Negro walking in with him, and of course, the waiter was hysterical. He had never had this dilemma of having to seat a Negro in Union Club. So he was reluctant. But I saw Jim... James Davis, sitting over here, had a table for one, and there was another table for two, next to him was a table for two, and I just walked up. I said, Here's Mr. Davis, I said hello to him. He said, Dargan, how are you? Yeah, come on. Have a seat. So the waiter said, Oh, my God, you can take my job. I said, Good, I got one for you. [Laughs] I did have one for him, but we sat. But that was part of the beginning of integrating the Union Club. Because Dr. Zelma George and Mrs. Cyrus Eaton were at that time trying to get women admitted into Union Club. So there was a lot of pressure on Union Club at that time to do so, but we were able to get it open. It's integrate now if you can afford it. We had a wonderful time bridging that gap and Union Club is better off today for it, I would say, because they don't have the problem. If you can afford to come here, fine, you're welcome. If he had other visitors at the Church with the Covenant they always put them up at Union Club because it had an application. He had a membership. But I think they may have cut that out now. [Laughs]
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:38:27] How was Jeandheur... How do you pronounce his name?
Dargan Burns [00:38:34] James Dowd. D-O-W-D.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:38:35] No, Jeandheur.
Dargan Burns [00:38:35] Jeandheur, yeah.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:38:36] Jeandheur. How was he different than Taylor?
Dargan Burns [00:38:41] He was a different personality. He was a theologian, Jeandheur was, he researched his sermons, and he had a certain style about his preachings, and he did not preach controversial sermons at all. To an extent, they were highly theoretical. But he got through them all right. And you would enjoy them because you had to go home and do some research on your own. But Jim Dowd and Harry Taylor preached the Gospel related to current everyday activities and that made the difference. But the Church of the Covenant, who was THE church in Cleveland at that time that stood the distance between chaos and liberality and Christianity. And we are very proud of that fact. We're still struggling, as the case might be...
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:40:02] What organizations do you belong to currently?
Dargan Burns [00:40:05] National Association of Colored People, NAACP, the Urban League, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, National Alliance of Market Developers. But those are just a few of them. As a matter of fact, I brought you a resumé which... The interview I had with the move to drums [inaudible]. Also, I brought you a copy of the church bulletin to show you how diversified the church is in this regard. And we're very proud of what we've done so far. But the Church of the Covenant was the only church in Cleveland back in, it must have been in '67, that allowed the Freedom marchers from Alabama to have a church stop on the way to Washington, D.C., for that weekend. You're familiar with this? That's at Cleveland State, remember that? [inaudible] They were a very active Black group on campus. But this your copy, give you a little background on that. That was from Cleveland State. You see the year on that, don't you?
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:41:43] 1974.
Dargan Burns [00:41:43] Yeah! I have others that are more current than that but that's the essence of what those days were like. Very interesting, very challenging. But it made Cleveland a better place than it was back in those days.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:42:02] Can you describe what typical Sunday service is like today?
Dargan Burns [00:42:10] They haven't changed tremendously. There are certain innovations. For example, we have one of the best choirs in the country. It's their voices and they sing a lot of classics and a lot of gospels. And you enjoy the music because people are dedicated and have good voices and do not mind singing. And we have a very diversified congregation, large families, small families. Foreign, we have Indian, Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, Muslims, it's just a cross section of people. But we find that we are a community of people who work together, love each other. We discussed openly our likes and dislikes, our philosophies and our idiosyncrasies, and respectfully we agree and we agree not to agree. We have a wonderful congregation. We're trying to grow but nevertheless that's every church as the case might be. So it's a lot of fun. And I suggest that you stop in some time [Laughs] and check it out... [crosstalk]
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:43:37] How is the Sunday service like today as opposed to the service in the '50s? How is it, compared to what it was like in the '50s? [crosstalk]
Dargan Burns [00:43:50] In the '50s you go in to service, well, the first Sunday I attended church I knew it was a disruptive experience, not for me, but for them. Oh my goodness, is this beginning of something here, do they accept us or do we stop it now or what have you? And I knew this was on their mind. But I didn't let it bother us when they had coffee after church. My wife was reluctant. I said let's go downstairs and have some coffee. I don't want any coffee. I said you could drink coffee all day long [Laughs], so let's go get some coffee. We went downstairs and had coffee, but there were several people who came up and welcome us, had an exchange of ideas and discussion. So it was a growing experience of meeting a few people who would come up, but most of them did not. That was not our purpose to drink coffee and socialize. We didn't mind, but it was an eye-opener. It broke the ice and the next Sunday we came in, person did not wait till we got seated and moved, they came and sat near us, you know, so we grew into them. We had two boys and they were young and tender. But we had some good teachers who took those boys under their wings, and just gave them the best they could cause Christian philosophy and meeting other kids, making themselves feel at home. And they maintain their relationship with the teachers, they are elderly people now. They come home from Atlanta. They are both entrepreneurs in Atlanta. They meet the members of the faculty who taught them. Those who are still living. And they just have a wonderful time reminiscing, so it was a good experience for my boys.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:46:11] What is your favorite memory of the church?
Dargan Burns [00:46:13] Memory?
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:46:13] Mhm, what is your favorite memory.
Dargan Burns [00:46:14] I guess when I was accepted as an elder and I was given the responsibility of coordinating the communion service. I did it for fourteen years. So what I did over fourteen years was to arrange to have a diversified group of people serve communion. We would range from 10 to 15 serving communion at that time. I made certain that we had every nationality possible serving communion, every age verification possible serving communion so that the communion service reflected the composition of the church. Now to me, that was important. Nowadays, they do not stick to that trend. But they should but it's difficult to find people who are willing to serve and willing to be trained how to serve to new and difficult to get people through, to come along and become trained and then give service on Sunday morning because it takes more than a notion you can go and grab an element and serve it passively. It has to be a commitment to get your mind and your body prepared to serve communion and to serve with dignity and pride. But it works and the same thing is true with collection, you can't just pick up a tray and collect money. You must be trained and you must be dedicated to do what you suppose to do. My jaw-dropping experience was being able to orchestrate that in a supportive manner over the years. I don't serve anymore because my term is up. I thought fourteen years was long enough for that type of experience. I said let someone else do it, they need training too. That's just my philosophy. There are many, many others, but nevertheless they all involve gonna be a good citizen and trying to serve the living God.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:49:05] Where do you see this church going in the future?
Dargan Burns [00:49:14] That's a powerful question. [Crosstalk] It will survive in the manner in which it is going. It is moving toward a more diversified but sustained spirituality. Loving thy neighbor, supporting your neighbor, serving the church, and also reaching out into the community, particularly the youth of the community, not only our own members, but we have one of the most active tutoring programs in the city of Cleveland on Saturday morning. Our parking lot is full of cars. Parents bring their children to the Church of the Covenant to be tutored, and that is how many of them were able to get through their academic responsibilities during the week. We are very proud of that you were proud of that because that is a reflection of the interest of the Church of the Covenant and the kinds of outreach programs that we perpetuate and we generate and we support.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:50:42] So you see it going in a positive direction?
Dargan Burns [00:50:44] Oh, yes, Oh, yes. Yes. I think it's going to be accelerated now that we have new members coming in and they are getting involved in various aspects of the church organization throughout the year. And they're going to generate a lot of interest because it gives the older members and less active members a boost. This person coming into a newly joined out doing me at my church. That's not going to happen. It's a positive aspect.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:51:37] How has Cleveland changed since you first came here?
Dargan Burns [00:51:40] Oh, it has changed tremendously.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:51:43] There are many, many changes. What do you, can you mention a few?
Dargan Burns [00:51:47] Well, I can remember when Dr. Zelma George took sick. Dr. George was a UN Ambassador, United Nations, and one of the very powerful leaders in the city of Cleveland. She was a very good friend of Congressman Frances Bolton, and they worked together continuously when she took sick and she called an ambulance. Ambulance said, Where to? She said, The Cleveland Clinic. Ambulance driver said, I can't take you there. Well, get a driver who can take me to Cleveland Clinic, that's where I'm going! [Laughs] And that's where she went. And when she went to the Cleveland Clinic, they did not want to admit her, but she called a member of the board of trustees at Karamu House, who was on the Cleveland Clinic. And Dr. Charles came down to the Clinic and said, Let her in here now! Now! What? Now! She got in there and they gave her good service. Then they said... they had to work... they had to take some action as to what they were going to do next time. And that is how the board of trustees decided we better make some plans. Now what their plans were, I don't know. But Dr. George was admitted three times within the next year and other Blacks would go to Cleveland Clinic also. It was a stern experience but nevertheless it had to be done. And we did the same thing with the Cleveland Museum of Art. They were not allowing Negroes and people of color at the museum. But we had some good artists at Karamu. Sterling Hykes had been trying to get his art in the May Show for about seven years. He had art pieces that were just outstanding. He applied to put them in the May Show, they didn't. And we just went over there with the art pieces and picket. His art pieces were put in and he was the first one to do so. Just wonderful work, but after church on Sunday at the Church of the Covenant, we would take our children over to the art museum. Let them play there on the steps in front of the art museum. And took some nice pictures of them playing and ran them in the Call & Post. Our son may have a picture of blacks playing at the art museum, and that's how they finally let African Americans in the art museum as the case would be. So those were the kind of things, growing pains, but little by little we were able to do that. And then we finally got one of our colored members of the Church of the Covenant on the board of Cleveland Trust. That's a long story, how that happened. But she is on board and we try to help her to make a difference because being on the board is one thing, but making a difference in what the board does is something else. But we tried to get blacks on other boards and we did. Every time we got a black on the board, something happens. For example, one black got on the board of Capital Bank and within six weeks the board had decided they were going to sell... they were going to finance books in Cleveland for Negroes [Laughs] because you couldn't buy a book back in those days if you were African American. But Capital Bank decided to do so. We had to knock on the door. But those were small ventures. But step by step by step, we could break down the barriers. There are a number of things that happened during those days, that was the heydays of the day here. So now we're able to think that most churches look to be integrated. Even some of the black churches getting integrated, not just in Cleveland but throughout the county, throughout the state. And most cities now have integrated churches. Thank goodness, and they're thriving. They're not running away. So it's a matter of how we can embrace each other and make this a better place to live.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:57:11] How has University Circle changed?
Dargan Burns [00:57:11] It has grown, It has involved diversity in most of the institutions and they have... Each institution seems to have found an economic trend that supports them. And they are doing more cooperative marketing and programming. And they have more holiday festivals that will embrace and enhance each of their institutions. So that is a plus and it's going to be some growth. And with the Midtown Corridor coming to University Circle, it's going to blossom in no uncertain terms, and that's why I think that the Church of the Covenant and other churches around there are going to be able to increase their membership because the housing stock is improving and it's a growing community, so our fingers are crossed and I think it will happen.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:58:20] What are your Euclid Avenue memories? Euclid Avenue.
Dargan Burns [00:58:25] What about it?
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:58:26] What are your memories?
Dargan Burns [00:58:28] My memory?
Lindsey Kaczmarski [00:58:39] Yeah, of Euclid Avenue.
Dargan Burns [00:58:39] [Laughs] Euclid Avenue used to be a place where African Americans did not spend too much time on Euclid Avenue, as a rule, unless they were going to a meeting or going to take their children to nursery school at the Church of the Covenant or they're going to the hospital. They were not... didn't feel comfortable at University Circle because it was too close to Murray Hill and it's not a place to go. Cedar Avenue was the mainstay of African Americans for the most part and Quincy Avenue because you had Karamu House in that direction. Various churches and Karamu House had a lot of outreach programs that Negroes participated in. One regret Colin Burns Company across the street from Karamu on 93rd street because they had the rathskeller there that we would go to and enjoy beer parties, and we called that the Negroes' Country Club because we had all the beer we wanted to drink. Ian Bowen, the president of... the regional manager... was on the board of trustees at Karamu. So he provided us with invitations to use the rathskeller for our meetings and our programs, soul food dinners, so it was just a wonderful opportunity. I have some beautiful pictures of the Fairfax community using that facility. So it was a community within the community that we enjoyed so dearly and it stabilized that area considerably. Lots of members.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [01:00:55] You had mentioned that you worked as a consultant for a firm at University Circle.
Dargan Burns [01:00:58] Yes.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [01:00:58] What can you tell me about that?
Dargan Burns [01:01:01] Well, when I was asked to work with Neil Carothers, who's the executive secretary at that time, they needed to get Negro organizations to become involved in some of the organizational activities in University Circle. So we had to research the organizations at University Circle to [inaudible] the organizations that could go into University Circle. They could invite University Circle members to join them. And we were able to get the Cleveland Job Corps Center in the old Tudor Arms Hotel to visit some of the social services at Alta House and other social agencies are to go into the area for programs and invite them to the Job Corps Center. And Dr. Zelma George was instrumental in that too because she was the corner of the Job Corps Center and she knew many of the persons at University Circle, so it was a gradual but a very positive program getting people involved, as the case might be.
Mark Souther [01:02:27] We are just about out of tape.
Lindsey Kaczmarski [01:02:27] Okay.
Mark Souther [01:02:27] Do you want to put another one in? [Interview ends]
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"Dargan Burns Interview, November 2005" (2005). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 400012.