Blog: Catching up with some of the first black Eagle Scouts

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(WAVY) — What an experience this was… meeting three local men who all achieved something I dreamed of, but could not make happen while growing up. Mom and pop Roberts raised me, three other brothers and two sisters in our Baltimore row house (yes, with the white marble steps) but not with a lot of disposable income after their two salaries took care of our needs.

I wanted to join the Boy Scouts while growing up. I wanted to camp out, somewhere other than my concrete back yard. Loved the uniform that I envisioned draping with a sash highlighted by at least 21 merit badges. Yeah, I wanted to be an Eagle Scout. But it just wasn’t in the cards.

The next best thing is to know one, or two, or three.

“Basket weaving? I didn’t know anything about basket weaving, with my boys down there. But I learned…”

Jim Chevious learned that skill and a couple dozen others en route to becoming an Eagle Scout. He was an only child. His father died when he was four. But Jim was fortunate to have a mother determined to make sure he spent time with positive male role models. She signed him up with a Boy Scouts troop at Zion Baptist Church, on 20th Street near Jefferson Avenue in southeastern Newport News.

There, legendary scout master Tommy Owens took Jim, Arthur Braxton, and other boys under his strong and broad wing.

“He (Owens) wanted every boy in that troop to believe that they could do anything and be anything that they wanted to be.”

The first Colored, or Negro Boy Scout troop in the nation was founded in Elizabeth City, North Carolina in 1911, a year after scouting began. Troops in Virginia soon followed. But it wasn’t until 1925 that Boy Scouts of America recorded the first Negro to earn scouting’s highest award – the Eagle.

Jim wanted to be an Eagle Scout. And he wanted to be the first Negro in the Hampton and Newport News area to earn scouting’s highest honor. He was beaten out by his friend and fellow scouter, Arthur Braxton. But, being second, and during that time of segregated scout troops, and schools, and lunch counters, and shipyards, was not too shabby.

Chevious earned his Eagle in 1949.

Jim went on to serve 24 years in the United States Air Force. Following that, he was determined to continue a life of service. He went back to school to earn college degrees that prepared him to become prinicpal of a school he once attended. Well, not exactly. Jim was named principal of Huntington Middle School in 1998. He had spent at least four years in the building when Huntington was still a high school. It was the first high school for blacks in the city.

Now at 84, he looks back with fond memories on those years with the Boy Scouts at Zion Baptist. But also, there’s a tinge of sadness at the few troops based at predominantly black churches. It means children like him, with no dad, may miss out on the chance to learn basket weaving, or the challenge of earning Eagle. But they especially miss out on the care of a scout master like Tommy Owens, the man Jim says helped him to “be prepared” for life.

Note: View video of my interview with Jim Chevious, and two other outstanding men and Eagle scouts, Reverend Doctor Harold Pinkston of Hampton, one of the first black Eagle Scouts in New Jersey; and Randolph “Ran” Walker, Jr. a prolific author and assistant professor at Hampton University. He was first African American Eagle scout in West Point, Mississippi!

For more information on Boy Scouts:

Peninsula: https://www.cvcboyscouts.org/

Southside: https://tidewaterbsa.com/

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