Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Milhollands and the NAACP


In a bizarre story which broke the other day, Rachel Dolezal, the President of a branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - website here) is actually white. That's not really a big deal, as the organisation was founded by white people. The issue is that she has been pretending to be black, and has got away with it for years. Her family has just recently exposed her chirade.

The scandal reminded me of John Elmer Milholland (1860 – 1925). He was the NAACP's first Treasurer. His father, John Milholland (1819 – 1895) was an Ulsterman (believed to have been born at Tamlaghtduff / Tamladuff near Bellaghy)  who arrived in America in the 1840s to become a farmer at Lewis in New York State. The 1831 Census has many Mulhollands in the area. John Sr's father was a Protestant and his mother Catholic, with more of the relatives in the area Catholics. John Sr is known to have gone to Scotland for work during harvest season, a common practice well into the 20th century.

After a fire killed his wife and daughter, John Milholland Sr sailed back across the Atlantic with his son and came to Tamlaghtduff for two years. The family have been described as 'Scotch Irish American ... staunch Presbyterian'. (source here).

Returning to the USA, John E became a newspaperman, Editor of the New York Tribune (owned by Whitelaw Reid, and Milholland is said to have assisted Reid's political campaigns) and later set up a pneumatic underground mail tube system in New York, and did the same in Philadelphia - securing lucrative contracts with the US Mail. He married Scotswoman Jean Torry who was then living in New Jersey. Eventually he was so wealthy that he bought a property in London near Kensington Palace.

He was described as "the last of the Lincoln Republicans" and in 1905 published The Negro and the Nation. He campaigned for racial and social reform, founding the Constitution League. He found himself opposing fellow Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, President Woodrow Wilson, and lost the US Mail contract in the aftermath.

He maintained an interest in Irish politics, and was pro-Home Rule (see page 31 here) but seemingly prone to a newspaper man's hyperbole, claiming that Edward Carson had a personal audience with the Kaiser in order to arm the Ulster Volunteer Force.

His daughter Inez inherited his political passion, and was a leading Suffragette, but she seems to have spent much of the family's fortune. Inez died young, and when John E died he left only his property "Meadowbank" and "a few worthless bonds". Another daughter, Veda, was an opera singer and had an Irish Setter dog called Derry. 

• Further reading: The Life and Times of Inez Milholland

• Milholland's NAACP colleague Moorfield Storey had opinions on Ireland too. Here is a 1919 article in the Spectator archive which is interesting, as much for the editor's comments at the end.