1926: Seven years after the end of the war to end all wars, three years from the stock market crash, a lifetime from Pearl Harbor. It was also the year that a fight broke out between white and Black teenage boys at Columbus’ East High School. The cause of the fight: should the Black students be allowed to participate in the social life of their own school.
The city followed a policy of neighborhood schools, and so whites who lived south of Broad Street attended East High School-located at the corners of East Broad Street and Taylor Avenue-along with Blacks who lived north of Broad Street. Thus, some of the schools were racially integrated.
Tired of being rebuffed, several young Black men met on the third floor of 1312 East Long Street under the sponsorship of Truman Gibson and formed their own club, christening themselves the Merry Makers. The original membership quota was set at 25. Club members have since voted to increase that number to 35.
There is some confusion about who the original members of the club were; there are no records from those early years. Moreover, according to a history of the Club written by Mrs. Anna Bishop (called the Mother of Black History in Columbus), some of the young men had been members of a club organized in 1924 called the Peri Club, and this has contributed to the confusion about who the founding members were. It is known, however, that at least two founding members were the late Floyd Brown and Harold Ward.
In the beginning, the Merry Makers functioned primarily as a social club, sponsoring dances and parties. Surely these activities took a lot of the sting out of not being able to participate in the social life of East High School. However, Mrs. Bishop reported that by 1936, no doubt due to the maturation process of its members and the misery of the Depression, the Merry Makers began to become involved in charitable and civic activities.
During the 1930s the Club purchased furniture for the solarium, to be used by guests and family members of patients at the Franklin County Tuberculosis Sanitarium, distributed Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to the poor, and donated to a variety of organizations, including Charity Newsies and the Columbus Urban League.
The Merry Makers have grown into a proud organization enriched by the realization that whatever gains have been made in the past or whatever gains may come in the future, is based on the real fellowship among its members and between the members of the larger community and through all the wrenching changes, they have stayed true to their motto:
By the 1940s the Merry Makers could boast that a number of its members distinguished themselves in a variety of professions. Merry Makers served in World War II-all attaining at least the rank of non-commissioned officers-on the staff of the Secretary of War, and as insurance executives, lawyers, physicians, teachers, principals, and labor leaders.
Over the years, the Merry Makers have held a variety of events to support the black community, assist the needy and have fun. Maryland Park Pool, located on the east side, was for many years the site of beauty contests as local young ladies spiritedly vied for the title of Miss Merry Maker.
Raffles, (one year a new Ford Thunderbird was the grand prize), holiday dances, and most recently, sports banquets and golf tournaments, have helped the Merry Makers fund their most successful philanthropic venture, that of assuring African American youth the opportunity to obtain a college education.
To date, the club has raised over $310,000 allowing many students from Columbus’ Black community to earn degrees from The Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College. Today, the organization is seeking to strengthen its ties with the Black community, particularly with young people.
Over the past months, our Foundation has supported the efforts of the following local service organizations:
The central mission of the Merry Makers Club, is to unite in a bond of fellowship, civic minded persons of culture, patriotism and a high sense of honor. The Merry Makers Club promotes the social, intellectual and moral welfare of its members and the community in which we live. The Merry Makers Club raises, strengthens, and distributes permanent charitable funds to benefit Franklin County and the surrounding region.
The key values governing the Merry Makers Club’s growth and development include the following: