Article

Theodore L. Bailey

Boston served as one of the many destinations for African American southern migrants searching for new economic opportunities and fleeing discrimination during the Great Migration. This article highlights the journey of one of these southern migrants who settled in Boston, as shared on Boston National Historical Park’s Stories of the Great Migration page.

Born in a small town in Virginia, Theodore L. Bailey spent several years of his life moving to different towns looking for new opportunities before he arrived in Boston. In this city, he continued his search for employment, working in several different occupations, including as a blacksmith at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

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Theodore L. Bailey

August 14, 1892 to July 3, 1959

Learn about Bailey's journey from Norfolk, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts.

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Theodore L. Bailey

August 14, 1892 to July 3, 1959

Learn about Bailey's journey from Norfolk, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts.

A postcard of the Accomack County Court House, 1899.The Accomack County Court House in 1899, several miles north of Craddockville. (Credit: "Penny Postcards from Virginia," a USGenWeb Archives Web Site.)

August 14, 1892: Craddockville, Accomack County, Virginia

We know very little about Theodore (Ted) Bailey’s early life. Born August 14, 1892, Bailey grew up in the small community of Craddockville, Accomack County, Virginia. There are no census reports for Craddockville from 1900. However, the nearby town of Belle Haven reported a population of 331 in 1900, suggesting Craddockville may have had an even smaller population at the time of Bailey’s birth. As a community on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Craddockville sits near the coast of Chesapeake Bay. Perhaps growing up by the water led Bailey to pursue employment at shipyards throughout his life.[1]

1923 index map for Norfolk, Virginia and surrounding areas.During the 1910s, Ted Bailey joined the African American community in Titustown, Norfolk. (Credit: Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library, VA)

1916: Titustown, Norfolk, Virginia

Around 1914, Ted Bailey married Mabel V. Porter. In July 1916, they had their first son, Leon Bailey, in Norfolk, Virginia. They lived in the area of Norfolk known as Titustown, a community established in 1911. This neighborhood formed when Mr. Stroud, a local lawyer, sold land to Black families and required them to pay the full price of the property before building their homes. This history gave residents of Titustown a strong sense of pride and community that has lasted over the years. Bailey and his family witnessed the beginning of this growing neighborhood. [2]

Shipbuilders standing as a group at the Noank Shipyard.As a shipsmith at the Palmer Shipyard, Theodore Bailey could be in this 1917 photograph. (Courtesy of the Noank Historical Society, NHS1975.123)

1917: R. Palmer and Son Shipyard, Pearl Street, Noank, Connecticut

During World War I, Bailey found employment at R. Palmer and Son Shipyard. Brothers Robert and John Palmer originally opened this shipyard in 1850 and named it R. & J. Palmer Shipyard. This shipyard remained family-owned over the years until it eventually went out of business when “son” Robert Palmer Jr. passed away. With the onset of World War I, Groton Iron Works reactivated the shipyard and it later became known as the Noank Shipyard. Ted Bailey worked as a shipsmith at this shipyard as a way to support his young family still living in Norfolk. [3]

Mass. Ave. at Huntington intersection showing corner of Horticultural Hall.Bailey lived a few blocks away from this major intersection in Roxbury. (Credit: Boston Pictorial Archive, Boston Public Library)

1920: 19 Dilworth Street, Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts

After the war, Ted Bailey and his family left Norfolk, Virginia for the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. During the Great Migration, Roxbury became a hub for Black southern migrants, with other African Americans following a similar path from Norfolk to Roxbury. On the same street as the Bailey family lived other African Americans from Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and the West Indies. While many migrants residing in Roxbury found employment working for railroad companies, Bailey worked as a blacksmith at this time.[4]

View overlooking Dock Square and Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston. Bailey worked at Faneuil Hall Market for a few years from 1928-1930. (Credit: Leon Abdalian Collection, Boston Public Library)

1920s-1940s: Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Over the next three decades, Ted Bailey worked in a variety of jobs. According to city directories, he worked as a salesman (1923), a meat cutter (1926-1927), a lugger at Faneuil Hall market (1928-1930), a meat cutter again (1931, 1933-1936), and as a musician (1937, 1939, 1941-1943). Perhaps Bailey frequently changed jobs because they provided better wages. While we do not know why Bailey and his family moved North, they may have been looking for new economic opportunities. [5]

Article about a birthday event for Douglass and Lincoln. The February 23, 1935 Baltimore Afro-American article about the Douglass and Lincoln birthday event Bailey's band played at. (Credit: Baltimore Afro-American)

February, 1935: 46 Joy Street, Boston, Massachusetts

As a musician, Ted Bailey and his band performed around Boston. In late February, he played at a celebration for Frederick Douglass’ 118th birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s 126th birthday at 46 Joy Street, formerly the Abiel Smith School and today the Museum of African American History. The newspaper article about this event called Bailey’s band an “ERA band,” which refers to the Emergency Relief Act (1933). The Emergency Relief Act funded employment projects that created jobs for people during the Great Depression. The ERA likely formed Bailey’s band to provide employment opportunities for musicians. While we do not know the name of Bailey’s band for this event, a 1934 article stated he led “Ted’s Whispering Orchestra.” [6]

Poster for the W.P.A. Federal Music Project.Theodore Bailey's band formed under the W.P.A. Federal Music Project. (Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

1937: Adult Recreation Center, Eden Street, Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts

Bailey continued working as a band leader throughout the late 1930s. Beginning in the summer of 1935, he led the County Concert Orchestra of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Music Project. Similar to the ERA, the WPA established projects that provided job opportunities. The Federal Music Project employed professional musicians, vocalists, concert performers, and music teachers to help them support themselves, as well as educate the public. These professionals formed a variety of orchestras and vocal ensembles that played at local concert halls and events.

“Smiling Theodore Bailey” led one of the three all-Black WPA bands in Boston. The County Concert Orchestra performed at the Adult Recreation Center in Charlestown, as well as health events for the Boston Tuberculosis Association and the Red Cross, other recreation centers, a local carnival, and other gatherings around the city.[7]

Exterior of Building #9 of Bedford Veterans Administration Hospital. Bailey and his band played at this Veterans Hospital for World War I veterans. (Credit: Bedford Historical Society.)

July, 1937: Bedford Veterans Hospital, Springs Road Bedford, Massachusetts

On July 12, Ted Bailey and his WPA band traveled north of Boston to Bedford Veterans Hospital. Here they performed for World War I veterans. The program included L.P. Laurendeau’s “War Songs of the Boys in Blue,” Richard Wagner’s “Tannhauser,” and M.L. Lake’s “World War Medley.”[8]

Exterior of Building 105 of the Charlestown Navy Yard.Bailey worked in Building 105, the Forge or Smith Shop. (Credit: Boston National Historical Park)

June, 1941: Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 105, Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts

The local Black newspaper the Boston Guardian recognized Ted Bailey’s new employment at the Boston Navy Yard on June 28. Ted may have struggled to find a job as a blacksmith throughout the 1920s and 1930s until World War II heightened the need for more workers at the Charlestown Navy Yard. In 1942, Bailey worked as a blacksmith in Building 105, known as the Forge, at the Navy Yard under Mr. Alfred Lahey.[9]

Article about Theodore Bailey's son's visit in July 1943. Norman Bailey, Ted Bailey's son and former newsie, visited his parents while on leave from the army. (Credit: Baltimore Afro-American)

1943: Afro-American North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, Maryland

In May, Bailey visited the office of the Afro-American, a Black newspaper published in Baltimore, Maryland. Established in 1892, the Afro-American advocated for “racial equality and the economic advancement” of African Americans. Similar to other prominent Black newspapers, such as the Chicago Defender or the Atlanta Daily World, the Afro-American shared both local and national news, with sections highlighting the happenings in other well-known cities. These papers frequently provided a line of communication between Black communities throughout the country. Some scholars credited these papers, especially the Chicago Defender, with encouraging southern Blacks to move North.

The Afro-American’s Boston section frequently mentioned Bailey’s band’s performances. While it is unclear how Bailey became familiar with the Afro-American, other articles from this paper stated Bailey’s son, Theodore Norman Bailey, had worked as an “AFRO newsie” in Boston. The summer after Bailey visited the Afro-American, the paper documented Sgt. Norman Bailey’s trip to Boston to see his parents, and a month later announced his engagement.[10]

Exterior of the Administration building of Boston City Hospital.Bailey worked at Boston City Hospital after he finished his career at the Navy Yard. (Credit: Boston City Archives)

1944-1950s: Boston City Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts

Ted Bailey continued working at the Navy Yard, although we do not know for how many more years. Boston city directories noted he worked as a blacksmith through 1948 and then pursued other employment in the 1950s. First, Bailey worked as a clerk (1952), and then as a medical worker at Boston City Hospital (1954, 1956-1959), which is now Boston Medical.[11]

Death notice for Theodore Bailey, 1959.Theodore Bailey passed away July 3, 1959. (Credit: The Boston Traveler)

July 3, 1959: Peoples Baptist Church, Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts

Ted Bailey passed away July 3, 1959 with his funeral held at Peoples Baptist Church. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Over the course of his life, Bailey actively sought new opportunities in hope of a better life. From working at shipyards, Faneuil Hall market, and Boston City Hospital, among other places, his work spanned across Boston. Theodore Bailey’s perseverance throughout his life exemplifies writer Isabel Wilkerson’s description of Black southern migrants as “among the most determined of [African Americans] in the South, among the most resilient of those who left, and among the most resourceful of blacks in the North.”[12]


Footnotes

[1] “About the County,” Accomack County, Virginia, accessed March, 2020, https://www.co.accomack.va.us/about-us/about-the-county.; Theodore L. Bailey World War II Draft Card, The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147; Series Number: M2090.; U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 8 - Population of Incorporated Cities, Towns, Villages, and Boroughs in 1900, with Population for 1890,” Section 8: Cities, Towns, Villages, and Boroughs, Twelfth Census of the United States - 1900, Census Reports Volume 1 - Population 1, 477.

Image: “Accomack County Court House,” photograph, 1899, Penny Postcards from Virginia, USGenWeb Archives Website, http://www.usgwarchives.net/va/accomack/postcards/ppcs-accomack.html.

[2] Jaedda Armstrong, “What’s in a name: Titustown, Norfolk,” The Virginian Pilot (Virginia), Sept, 28, 2009, https://www.pilotonline.com/history/article_ebd685ca-9b9f-5de1-8216-833c71c2bfde.html.; Leon Everett Bailey World War II Draft Card, The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Massachusetts, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 35; “Neighborhoods: Norfolk 1923 Annexation,” The City of Norfolk, accessed March, 2020, https://www.norfolk.gov/DocumentCenter/View/881/Norfolk-1923-Annexation-?bidId=.; Theodore Lee Bailey World War I Draft Card, Registration State: Virginia; Registration County: Norfolk; Roll: 1984910, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.; United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1920, Boston Ward 7, Suffolk, Massachusetts, Enumeration District: 211, Roll: T625_732, Page 5B.;

Image: “Revised Map of Norfolk and Vicinity, Compiled from Maps of Record, 1923,” map, 1923, Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library (Va.), https://cdm15987.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15987coll7/id/36.

[3] “History of the Noank Shipyard,” Noank Shipyard Collection, Mystic Seaport Museum, accessed March, 2020, https://research.mysticseaport.org/coll/coll353/;
Theodore Lee Bailey World War I Draft Card, Norfolk, Virginia.

Image: Noank Shipyard, "Noon Revival Meeting," 1917, NHS1975.123, Noank Historical Society, http://02d243c.netsolhost.com/htdocs/vex3/6734B2FC-06C0-42F9-AD8D-337550160070.htm.

[4] Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2010), 243.; U. S. Census Bureau, Census Record, 1920, Boston Ward 7, Suffolk, Massachusetts.

Image: "Massachusetts Avenue, about 1926." Photograph. 1925. Digital Commonwealth, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/nv935g021.

[5] Theodore Bailey entry, Boston City Directory for 1923 (Boston, Massachusetts: Sampson and Murdock, Company Publishers, 1923), 167; Subsequent City Directories have the publisher Sampson and Murdock, Company Publishers: Boston City Directory for 1926, 776.; Boston City Directory for 1927, 776.; Boston City Directory for 1928, 775.; Boston City Directory for 1929, 777.; Boston City Directory for 1930, 778.; Boston City Directory for 1931, 781.; Boston City Directory for 1933, 357.; Boston City Directory for 1934, 327.; Boston City Directory for 1935, 328.; Boston City Directory for 1936, 651.; Boston City Directory for 1937, 652.; Theodore Bailey entry, Boston City Directory for 1939 (Boston, Massachusetts: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1939), 142.; Subsequent City Directories have the publisher R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers: Boston City Directory for 1941, 154.; Boston City Directory for 1942, 154.; Boston City Directory for 1943, 148.

Image: Abdalian, Leon H. "Dock Sq. to Adams Sq." Photograph. 1930. Digital Commonwealth, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/fj2375789.

[6] "Boston Pays Homage to Douglass, Lincoln," Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Feb. 23, 1935, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 10.; John P. Deeben, “The Correspondence Files of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, 1933-1936,” Family Experience and New Deal Relief, Prologue Magazine 44, no.2 (2012), National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2012/fall/fera.html.; “Philly Personals” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Dec 1, 1934, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 15.; “Symphonic Swing Band for W.P.A.: Other Groups Planned in Reorganization Here,” Daily Boston Globe (Boston, MA), Aug. 28, 1936, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Boston Globe, 8.; “The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) (1933),” The Living New Deal, accessed March, 2020, https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/federal-emergency-relief-act-fera-1933/.

Image: "Boston Pays Homage to Douglass, Lincoln," Afro-American (1893-1988) (Baltimore, MD), Feb. 23, 1935. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 10.

[7] C. Elliott Freeman, Jr., “Massachusetts State News: Boston,” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (Chicago, IL), Dec 12, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, 5.; Elliott Freeman, “Buzzing Around Bean Town: Boston,” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (Chicago, IL), Apr 17, 1937, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, 22.; Elliott Freeman, “Buzzing Around Bean Town: Boston,” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (Chicago, IL), May 22, 1937, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, 11.; “Federal Music Project (FMP) (1935),” The Living New Deal, accessed March, 2020, https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/federal-music-project-fmp-1935-1943/.; “Greater Boston, Society,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Apr 25, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 18.; "Negro Units of the WPA," The Boston Chronicle (Boston, MA), July 24, 1937, 1.; “New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources,” Web Sources, Library of Congress, accessed March, 2020, https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/newdeal/fmp.html.; “New England: Great Boston, Society,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Dec. 14, 1935; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 14. “New England: Great Boston, Society,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), May 2, 1936; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 18.; “Red Cross Hygiene Class, Graduation,” Daily Boston Globe (Boston, MA), Dec 5, 1936, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Boston Globe, 3.; “South End Carnival Features Checker Match with Human Beings as Pieces,” Daily Boston Globe (Boston, MA), Jul 31, 1936, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Boston Globe, 13.;

Image: Weitzman, Martin, Artist, and U.S Federal Music Project, W.P.A. Federal Music Project information given regarding locations of W.P.A. schools and all subjects taught. New York, (New york: federal art project, between 1936 and 1941) Photograph, https://www.loc.gov/item/98516767/.

[8] George Noble, “Military and Navy,” Daily Boston Globe (Boston, MA), Jul. 11, 1937, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Boston Globe, A42.

Image: “Bedford Veteran's Administration Hospital,” postcard, unknown, pre-1950s, Objectid P1993 121, Bedford Properties and Landmarks Collection,Bedford Historical Society, https://bedfordmahistory.pastperfectonline.com/photo/2C4B726E-0417-4FCC-956E-034453072990.

[9] “City News,” Guardian (Boston, MA), June 28, 1941, 8.; Theodore L. Bailey World War II Draft Card, The National Archives at St. Louis.

Image: “Building 105,” Charlestown Navy Yard, photograph, ca. 1943, Image ID = 9649-4, Boston National Historical Park Archival Collection.

[10] “AFRO Visitors,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), May 29, 1943, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 2.; “Boston Music Group Elects Officers,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Jul. 17, 1943, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 19.; “Founder John Henry Murphy Sr.,” Newspapers, The Afro-American, PBS, accessed March, 2020, https://www.pbs.org/blackpress/news_bios/afroamerican.html.; “Home on Furlough,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Jul. 24, 1943, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 16.; “The First Colored Professional, Clerical and Business Directory of Baltimore City 31th Annual Edition, 1943-1944,” Archives of Maryland Online, accessed March, 2020, http://aomol.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000521/html/am521--13.html.; “The Whirling Hub,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), May 30, 1936, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 18.; “The Whirling Hub,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Aug. 7, 1943, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 17.; Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 36-37, 216.

Image: “Home on Furlough,” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Jul. 24, 1943, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Afro-American, 16.

[11] Theodore Bailey entry, Boston City Directory for 1944 (Boston, Massachusetts: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1944), 142.; Subsequent City Directories have the publisher R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers: Boston City Directory for 1947, 101.; Boston City Directory for 1948-1949, 102.; Boston City Directory for 1952, 297.; Boston City Directory for 1954, 265.; Boston City Directory for 1956, 249.; Boston City Directory for 1957, 217.; Boston City Directory for 1958, 96.; Boston City Directory for 1959, 96.

Image: “Administration Building, Harrison Avenue,” photograph, 1940s, Record Identifier: 7020001-0067, Boston City Hospital Collection, Boston City Archives, https://cityofboston.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_e8e05620-754a-4c4c-b561-4753e002df28/.

[12] “Death Notices,” Boston Traveler (Boston, MA), Jul. 3, 1959, 21, Genealogy Bank.; Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 264.

Image: “Death Notices,” Boston Traveler (Boston, MA), Jul. 3, 1959, 21, Genealogy Bank.

Last updated: October 2, 2020