February is designated as “Black History Month” and the SCHS’s latest newsletter contains articles on World War I county soldiers who faced discrimination in armed services. Maybe you have read the articles, if not, please do. Also, we are always looking for interesting new stories, so send in your stories or even just suggestions.
Personally I think that categorizing people by race and ethnicity tends to keep people apart or mindful of racial differences. I have mixed emotions about writing articles for a designated month as if black history is separate from American history. Dr. King Day is not a black holiday; it is a holiday for all, just as much as Columbus Day is not an Italian holiday. The late social commentator/comedian Dick Gregory did not consider the leap from Negro History Week to Black History Month to be real progress when he proclaimed “Why did they give us that damn month with all of those missing days?” Anyway designating certain days or months does help to remind us that history is the story of the interconnection of all people; we should not be myopic and overlook contributions from others regardless of race, gender, religion or weight that add gusto to our collective story. So here is a little story for the month of February, the month with those missing days.
Leroy Coles was born on January 15, 1900 in Mahanoy City, a son of Virginian-born Alexander and English-born Amelia Dower Coles. By 1920 Mr. and Mrs. Coles and their six children moved to Pottsville, residing at 610 Laurel Street. Son Leroy worked as a waiter and enjoyed football in his free time, playing fullback with the St. Clair Black and White and Steamroller teams, as well as with the Pottsville Eleven team that was the predecessor of the famed Pottsville Maroons. In 1931 Coles became football coach for the Pottsville Catholic High School team that he helped organize. The team was named the Green and Gold Harpies or Fighting Harpies. Leroy Coles had been the team’s mentor from its beginning, working under handicaps that might have discouraged a less stout-hearted sportsman. He remained coach for twenty-two years. He later went on to become the city’s first police officer of African-American heritage. This heritage was on his father’s side as his mother was of English born. Such a “mixed marriage” probably raised many eyebrows back then in a time when such marriages were illegal in many states including the state of Alexander Coles’ birth.
In 1975 Coles received the CYO Outstanding Citizen Award and later after his death he was posthumously inducted into the Allen-Rogowicz Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Leroy Coles died on May 4, 1980. Internment occurred in the German-Protestant Cemetery, Mahanoy City in the family plot next to his deceased parents and brother, William.
Remember that Saturday hours will once again commence at the Historical Society starting in March (Women’s History Month by the way for those of you that enjoy categorizing). Please stop in and see the World War I Exhibit. 1918 is the 100th anniversary of the biggest battles that took the lives of so many Schuylkill soldiers.