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Fred Hazel: Binghamton’s Fighter For Racial Justice

After moving to Binghamton from the City of New York in 1911, Fred C. Hazel’s civil rights work spurred his biographic inclusion in the 1915 edition of Who’s Who of the Colored Race.

His notable pre-1911 accomplishments included graduating from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (the Hampton Institute, who boasted Booker T., Washington as an alum), and owning a business, the Hampton Upholstering Company. After the 27-year-old man relocated to the Parlor City, he quickly pursued two ventures that were completed by the middle of 1912.

First, Hazel organized the Colored Civic League which, among other actions, led the local protest against “Birth of a Nation” in 1916. Second, he helped establish the Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School on 105 acres overlooking the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. The First World War (in which Hazel served) brought an end to both the Civic League and the Normal School.

After the war Hazel served as Chairman of the Emancipation Day Planning Committee scheduled in early January, 1922, but resigned early in the event’s planning for unknown reasons.

Near the end of that decade, Hazel helped rekindle the NAACP branch in Binghamton. The African-American Pittsburgh Courier reported on Hazel’s new enterprise in September, 1928, writing that “Mr. Hazel cannot be too well lauded for his untiring efforts… the new membership now exceeds considerably more than 100.” He remained its President, and was especially inspired in 1931, when three events spurred him to action once again.

In March of that year a guest speaker at the Binghamton Rotary Club vilified black soldiers using a racist tale about the lack of African-American courage during the war.  It wasn’t fear of battle, the speaker claimed, it was fear of boarding the transport ships to France. The only way to force them aboard was blindfolded, he said.

This aroused Hazel’s ire and he asked his Congressman to check the speaker’s war record. Hazel was informed that throughout the war the speaker was never assigned to a port of departure. The speaker’s claims “are only one instance of the misrepresentation which my race constantly endures,” Hazel told The Binghamton Sun. “The war records of negro soldiers are the pride of the race.”

A few weeks later Hazel wrote the paper again: “The words darky, nigger, piccaninny and coon are, have been and always will be distasteful…. [those] who persist in using such terms… are courting trouble.”  The letter was directed in part to the manager of a well-known local radio station. It’s not known if the broadcasted insults to the city’s black community ceased as a result the Hazel’s letter.

A third civil rights encounter pursued by Hazel in 1931 was a campaign to eliminate the inclusion of “Negro” in newspapers which often published such headlines as “Negro Indicted By the Grand Jury”).  Neither local paper publicly addressed the request, but The Pittsburgh Courier noted that The Binghamton Press published an article that did not give a jailed man’s race:  “Before we started our fight, says a communication from [the Binghamton NAACP], this would have read, ‘Drunken Negro Arrested’.”

Although The Courier called this was one of Hazel’s “remarkable results,” it was short lived. An example of the Binghamton Evening Press‘s return to normalcy came just a few months later with an article headlined “Negro Is Held After Slashing Fray In Home.”

In the Spring of 1933, Hazel organized a NAACP membership drive with a prominent speaker, William Pickens, Field Secretary of the national organization.  A year later he served as a member of Binghamton’s Race Relations Commission and two new civil rights organizations had been  formed — the Colored Citizens’ Union and the Interracial Commission. Hazel’s daughter Melba Lewis would serve eight years as a member of the Broome County Urban League’s Board of Directors.

Fred C. Hazel died in 1951 after a lifetime of fighting against racial injustice.

Photo of Fred Hazel, donated by his daughter, Melba Lewis to the local newspapers in 1999.

This article was originally published on 5/19/20 on NewYorkAlmanack.com.

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