Integrated Boy Scout Troops
Troop 152 Scouts, Philadelphia, at Camp Hart, Pennsylvania, July 1, 1971. (Photo taken by Bernie Kelley. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout motto. Edgar Cunningham, Sr. was, of course, just that.

He stood proudly before his fellow Troop 12 Boy Scouts on June 6, 1926, and recited the Boy Scout Oath. Becoming the first African American Boy Scout to earn Scouting’s highest rank, he likely reflected on the principles that Eagle Scouts seek to live by: honesty, trustworthiness, bravery and kindness, to name a few.

There are records of an informally recognized African American Boy Scout troop dating back to 1911, five years before the organization established the first official African American troop in Louisville, Kentucky. The Ku Klux Klan and others complained and threatened the Boy Scouts of America with violence and financial starvation. But within ten years, there were nearly 5,000 black scouts, with all Southern communities but one accepting black troops.

Standing against the politically and financially powerful Klan and their cohorts was no small feat. But Scouting had made a commitment to prepare boys for manhood. And nowhere in the Scout Law or Oath had that commitment been limited based on race. In fact, Scout leaders knew that in order to face the violent racism of the day, black boys would need the preparation that only scouting could provide. Scouting could insure that black boys would in fact, be prepared.

Since then, the tradition of African American scouting has grown stronger. I was the first Eagle Scout for Troop 185 in New Orleans back in the early nineties. Over two decades, my Scoutmaster Garry Winchester has ushered hundreds of mostly African American boys through the ranks of scouting. He will graduate four new Eagle Scouts in a few short months. As flood water rose during Hurricane Katrina, Ashton Pruitt, an African American Scout in New Orleans Troop 35, used scouting survival skills to save the lives of his family members when he created makeshift life preservers and swam his entire family to safety, traversing nine feet of flood water.

Substitute race with sexual orientation and it turns out, today is not much different from the trying times that tested scouting nearly a century ago. Over the past several years the Boy Scouts of America have wrestled with the question of whether to allow gay members and leaders. …

Read the rest at the MHP Show blog.