Monday, August 27, 2018

Foundations of the NAACP Elmira-Corning Branch

By Rachel Dworkin, archivist

For the last 100 years, the Elmira-Corning Branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has worked to improve the lives of African Americans within our community. The local chapter recently donated their history collection to the Chemung County Historical Society in order to ensure that the stories of the men and women involved in their struggle are accessible to the wider community.  Over the coming months, CCHS will be sharing some of those stories here and in an up-coming on-line exhibit. Stay tuned. The entire collection is available for viewing during our regular research hours.

Mrs. Cornelia F. Stewart Matthews, daughter of Thomas Stewart, was the local branch of the NAACP’s first president in 1917, as well as its fourth in 1925. Heavily involved in politics, she served as the Republican Committeewoman for Elmira’s First District, Fourth Ward. She was not only the first Black woman in the county to serve in such a role, she was the first Black person to do so. An active member in the A.M.E. Zion Church, she often represented the Christian Endeavor both regionally and nationally. 

Mrs. Cornelia F. Stewart Matthews

Locally, she worked hard to help uplift the Black community. In 1918, she was involved in a lawsuit against a real estate company which refused to rent or sell property to “colored people or undesirable foreigners.” In order to obtain an official charter from the national organization, the local NAACP needed 100 members. Matthews arranged for Mrs. Addie W. Hutton, an NAACP leader from New York City, to come and give a presentation on the organization and its aims at the Bethal A.M.E. Zion Church. Although few people attended, they were able to get the membership they needed to be chartered in 1918. 

Elmira Star-Gazette, November 4, 1924
The woman could not stop founding clubs. On February 14, 1924, she established the Nannie Borroughs Club at the local YWCA. Named for a nationally known Black activist and educator who was apparently a personal friend of Matthews, the club was intended to be a safe space for Black girls to socialize and discuss the issues of the day. A few years later, she established the CFM women’s book club, also at the YWCA. The CFM Club lasted well into the 1950s, twenty years after Cordelia Matthews’ death in 1936. The Nannie Borroughs Club eventually became more of a women’s support group before ending in the late 2000s.

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