skip to Main Content

Oyster Bay’s Color Line

“Oyster Bay’s Color Line”

This was the title of The New York Times’ article on Monday, July 11, 1904 regarding the ejection of an A.M.E Zion pastor from a local, white barbershop the previous Saturday in Oyster Bay, New York. Rev. James T. Gaskill—misnamed “Gaskin” by the much of the press—was from another church, and traveled to the Bay to preach the Sunday sermon. In fact, by September, he would be appointed church’s new pastor. He wanted a shave, but could not have imagined the civil rights commotion that would ensue. The wire service recorded in more detail what happened next.

The Elmira Star Gazette and Free Press, for example, published this wire story also on July 11. After waiting in line for his turn, the pastor was informed by the barber who declared that “your color is against you,” and was refused service. Rev. Gaskill appealed to the proprietor, saying “I insist, sir, as a Christian and a gentleman, that I be shaved.” There are two versions of what occurred next. The clergyman said that he left the shop when the owner threatened him with a club. Witnesses, on the other hand, denied this. In any case, the pastor immediately sought recourse.

The Times’ article points out that he appealed to Justice of the Peace, Walter Franklin, whose answer was not a legal remedy. He stated that the “law was on his side, but for the peace of the community and the welfare of the local [Zion] church, to drop the matter.” The Free Press’ wire service article indicates that the minister did more than seek some sort of intervention from the Justice—he asked specifically for a warrant for the arrest of the barber. No warrant was issued, and Rev. Gaskill did not mention anything about the case in his sermon the next day.

News regarding the minister’s ejection spread quickly, and there were intense feelings among Oyster Bay’s black residents. The point of view of the church’s Deacon, Thomas Leads, illustrates these emotions. The Times quotes him as saying “we are not decided what we should do, but we will not let this matter rest as it is, on the advice of Justice Franklin. However, after careful thought and prayer, Rev. Gaskill proposed a new approach, and it held sway.

The Free Press presented Pastor Gaskill’s view of the case in own words:

I regret very much that this thing happened in the president’s own town. While I do not believe in the social equality of the races—that is, I do not believe in the social intermingling of the races—I do believe, with President Roosevelt, that honesty and integrity should make all men equal, at least in public places. This affair, however, had nothing to do with the president, and I do not wish to connect him with it in any way. It is something that might have happened anywhere.

So, Rev. Gaskill was a polite man who did not want to impugn President Roosevelt—who was at his home in Sagamore Hill at the time—whose interest in civil rights was, in part, tentative. There is no record in the press of any reaction to the incident by the President.

One year later, on July 26, 1905, Rev. Gaskill did get to meet the President. On July 26, 1905, Huntington’s Long-Islander briefly discussed the meeting earlier that week. The Reverend was joined by Bishop James Walker Hood, an occasional advisor to TR. However, there was no report on their discussions.

This article was originally published on 9/8/17 on NewYorkAlmanack.com.

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top