Museum Open May - October 2017

Quilt show to honor famous Western New Yorker

By VIRGINIA KROPF
FOR THE DAILY NEWS
PUBLISHED: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016 AT 12:30 AM
UPDATED: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016 AT 12:39 AM

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CHILDS — The Cobblestone Society’s quilt show — scheduled for Oct. 16 — is all for fun, said Georgia Thomas of Medina, who is helping to organize the event.

Seventeen quilts all donated or made for the Cobblestone Museum will be featured in the show, in addition to a historic traveling quilt created jointly by the Dale Association Quilters and the Kenan Quilters Guild to honor Lockport’s Aaron Mossell, an African-American businessman who spearheaded integration of the Lockport city schools in 1876.

Mossell was the grandson of a slave, born in Baltimore in 1824. He learned brickmaking at an early age, and in 1846 married Eliza Bowers. They would become the parents of six children. Because free people of color faced many difficulties living in Maryland in the years before the Civil War, Mossell and his wife decided to move to Canada. Settling near Hamilton, he opened a brickyard, which became a successful business. When legal issues arose, they moved to Lockport at the end of the Civil War.

He opened a brickyard on Trowbridge Street and soon was producing more than a million bricks a year for factories, homes, schools and roads.

As his business flourished, Mossell began to purchase land and opened a hotel at Pine and Walnut streets. He donated land and bricks for the AME Church on South Street, but it was in the field of education where his most lasting contribution to the city of Lockport was made.

Mossell had been denied an education as a child in Baltimore and later attended night school as an adult.

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Lockport had had a school for colored children since the 1840s. The Mossells first settled on High Street, across from the location of the new High Street School. Mossell had obtained the contract to supply the bricks for the new school, one his children were not welcome to attend. He presided over a meeting of the families of African-American children, and they decided to boycott the school set aside for their children and send their children to the neighborhood schools. The Mossell children went to the neighborhood school, but were ignored by their teachers. The families’ pleas were rejected by the Board of Education, but they persisted.

At a special school board meeting, Mossell’s oldest son Charles appealed to the board to allow his brothers and sisters to attend the High Street School. The president of the board, who was a customer of the brickyard, recognized the injustice and persuaded the other members to change the policy.

By 1876, the schools of Lockport were fully integrated.

Charles went on to attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first college to grant degrees to black students. He then graduated from Boston University’s School of Theology and later served as minister of churches in both Lockport and Baltimore.

His brother, Nathan Francis, became the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine in 1882. He continued his training in London, returning to Philadelphia where he helped found the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training Center.

The youngest son Aaron Albert followed his brothers to Lincoln University and continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was the first African-American to graduate with a law degree. His daughter Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was the first black woman to earn a PhD and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

In his lifetime, Aaron Mossell was recognized as one of the leading businessmen of Lockport.

Sue Bonafini, volunteer coordinator for the Cobblestone Museum, discovered the Mossell quilt when she was looking online for something about quilts to highlight their show.

“I discovered this and learned it was a story quilt,” Bonafini said. “The creators wanted it to travel to tell the story of this man. Since we are historians and all about education, this is a good fit.”

Other quilts in the show will be brought in by local ladies who want to share their prides and joys, Thomas said.

One unique quilt is really not a quilt, but a quilt pattern which has been crocheted, she said.

Another quilt, a friendship quilt with signatures dating from 1901 to 1907, Thomas calls “the piece de resistance.”

“It is a premier piece,” she said.

“The signatures make it very interesting,” said volunteer Janet Root of Kendall.

“We don’t always have a complete record of where a quilt came from, but they are all antiques and all wonderful,” Thomas said.

The display will be open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. on Oct. 16.

For more information on the show, visit www.cobblestonemuseum.org.