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In Search of a “Benevolent Despot”: John T. Emlen and the Establishment of the First Colored Boys’ Club, 1903–1913

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 88, No. 4

Carter Julian Savage, Morehouse College W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University


This article examines the establishment and early history of the first Boys’ Club for African American boys—the Wissahickon Boys’ Club—through the thoughts and actions of its Quaker founder, John Thompson Emlen. The purpose of this article is not only to document the founding of this historic organization but also to describe Emlen's conception of racial advancement through the implementation of vocational education programs within the context of a “colored” Boys’ Club. In examining Emlen's thesis and subsequent work, the article analyzes the similarities of his ideas to W. E. B. DuBois's charge to White Americans in The Philadelphia Negro.


Carter Julian Savage, Ed.D., is the Instructional Designer for the Faculty Development Center at Morehouse College. Concurrently, Savage is an Associate at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. As an Instructional Designer, Savage provides leadership in the development, coordination and assessment of a comprehensive, instructional design program. As a researcher at Harvard, Savage's writing is primarily concerned with the history of African American education as well as the social context of education for African American males in contemporary, public schools. Savage has published several scholarly articles, book chapters, book reviews, and magazine articles on topics such as the history of African American education, the impact of African American teachers in segregated schools, the agency of African American communities surrounding segregated schools, the social context of education for contemporary, African American males, the theoretical framework of after school programs, and the development of after school, prevention programs. Dr. Carter Julian Savage holds a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and a master's in Public Policy (Program Development and Program Evaluation) from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; he is also a 3-year graduate from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in Mathematics.