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Vertner Woodson Tandy
Vertner Woodson Tandy


Born in Lexington, Kentucky on May 17, 1885, Jewel Vertner Woodson Tandy was the son of Henry A and Emma Brice Tandy His father, Henry, came to the blue grass area of Kentucky, shortly after the war in 1865 With very little education and attending schools when he was not engaged in work, Henry Tandy found employment in Mullens Photography Studio, developing negatives on plates of glass After two years, he began his career as a brick mason for GD Wilgus, one of the largest contractors and builders in Central Kentucky He rose rapidly to foreman, and in 1892, after the death of Wilgus, he formed Tandy and Byrd Contractors It became one of the leading contractors and builders in Lexington, constructing buildings and residences throughout the city Henry Tandy employed many young men in construction and was looked upon with great respect in the community.

Henry Tandy married Emma Brice in June 1875 The Tandy’s were very prominent in Lexington Tandy was Deputy Grand Master of several fraternal lodges including the UB F and the SMT of the State of Kentucky In the book Kentucky’s Prominent Men and Women, the author wrote about Henry Tandy: “Everybody knows and admires the genial, dignified citizen whose life is worthy of emulation… Modest in all his ways, dignified in his manner, Mr.

Tandy always makes one feel at home in his presence” No doubt it was Henry Tandy’s ebullient personality that influenced his son, Vertner, who himself would develop a comical, charming and serious nature about him as well as a zest for life and an interest in helping others, particularly those who are in need Our future Jewel’s education was obtained at the Candler School in Lexington, Kentucky Watching his father build and develop homes, Vertner Tandy found interest not in building but designing and decided early that he wanted to be an architect In 1904, Jewel Tandy entered Tuskegee Institute to study architecture and was for a short time under the tutelage of Professor Booker T Washington and the Tuskegee machine Tuskegee’s Architecture program was started in 1892, when Booker T Washington recruited Robert R Taylor to develop his Mechanical Industrial Department Taylor, who was one of the first African-Americans to graduate in architecture from MIT, taught at Tuskegee for forty one years and designed many of the major buildings.

He influenced one of the first generations of African-American architects, including his “prize” student, Vertner Tandy, who, in September 1905, transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to continue his architectural education Jewel Henry Arthur Callis recalled that Tandy arrived on the hallowed grounds of Cornell in a rather “tight cadet’s uniform with a saxophone under his arm” He was, as Callis reflected, “A big, jovial, good natured, lovable fellow with a keen sense of humor He did his own thinking He enjoyed disregarding customs that ignored fundamental human values” Tandy found himself with the group of young men who formed the Alpha Phi Alpha Society, ultimately destined to become the first African American Greek letter Fraternity His early influence and involvement has been carefully documented in Wesley’s History of Alpha Phi Alpha: A Development in Negro College Life Jewel Tandy soon made acquaintance with Richmond, Virginia native, Eugene Kinckle Jones, who became his roommate They developed a close bond and as the Fraternity developed and expanded, the two of them went out and set up chapters at Howard University (Beta Chapter) and Virginia Union University (Gamma Chapter) and the University of Toronto (Delta Chapter) His comrades called him affectionately “Tandy.

” It was during his affiliation with the Fraternity that he designed the beloved Fraternity pin (the first of which was dropped in the snow on the campus of Cornell and lost forever) and served as the first treasurer of Alpha Chapter Jewel George Biddle Kelley recalled that “Tandy was anxious that we retain our custom of selecting members in our chapters so that the organizations would not become packed with undesirables” But he, himself, was not a complete paragon of virtue according to Second General President Roscoe Conklin Giles, who recalled the time that Jewel Tandy disappeared from the house for a week: “Fearing something serious had happened to him, we held a council of strategy deciding if Tandy did not show up noon Saturday, it would be necessary to report his absence to the provost When we came home Saturday we went to Tandy’s room where we found him in a deep sleep Attempts to interrogate him were futile We were never able to get a word of explanation about his absence Two weeks later a man in clerical garb came to the home inquiring for the Rev Vertner Woodson Tandy We told him that there was no minister living at our house” As it turned out Jewel Tandy had gone into the city, “ended up into riotous living and had run out of money.

” Not having funds to return to Ithaca, he had gone to the pastor and preached a sermon for him The minister had lifted a collection for the benefit of his itinerant assistant which enabled Tandy to accomplish his objective Tandy, out of gratitude, told the minister “if he ever came to Ithaca to look him up” A few years after he graduated from Cornell, Jewel Tandy, an outspoken advocate for Civil Rights, led a demonstration at Sage College in 1912 to have African-American women admitted He married the former Sadie Dorsette, and in 1922, they became the parents of one son, Vertner Woodson Tandy, Jr (Tandy, Jr was initiated into the Fraternity in 1951 and at last report resided in Monsey, New York) During World War I, Jewel Tandy was the first African-American man to be commissioned an officer in the State of New York, but this was to be only one of several “firsts” for Tandy Jewel Tandy returned to Harlem, New York, opened his architectural firm on Broadway Avenue and, was an integral part of the period known as the famed Harlem Renaissance Abyssinian Baptist Church, Lenox Avenue, the Apollo Theater, the Renaissance Ballroom, the Utopian Neighborhood Club, the photography of James Vanderzee, the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Arma Bontemps, and all of the other literary icons of Harlem society were a part of the world that Architect Vertner Woodson Tandy and his family lived in during the decade of the twenties and thirties.

His career as an architect was legendary David Levering Lewis in his book When Harlem Was In Vogue called Tandy “Harlem’s most distinguished architect” As the first licensed African-American registered architect in the state of New York, Jewel Tandy helped to design many buildings in Harlem, including the St Phillips Protestant Episcopal Church The church had attempted to buy a white church in Harlem but was unsuccessful, so they hired Tandy and erected their Gothic structure on West 134th Street He also designed the Housing Authority Abraham Lincoln Houses on 135th Street However, it was his design of the $250,000, Italianate palace, thirty four room mansion in Irvington on the Hudson river for noted hair preparation millionaire Madam C J Walker in 1917 that brought him his greatest notoriety The design and construction of the house was so phenomenal that it made the New York Times Two years later, he designed her country house known as “Villa Lawaro.

” Other works by Tandy’s and his architectural firm on Broadway Avenue in New York, included the popular night club Small’s Paradise, Mother Zion AME Zion Church (1925) and a $100,000 town house near Striver’s row Jewel Tandy was also the first African-American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects In 1938, he was awarded the contract to design the Liberian Building for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York Though his work kept him extremely busy, Jewel Tandy tried to keep up with fraternal activities, however, he had very little tolerance for some of the Fraternity’s and Eta Chapter antics His candor, outspokenness and bluntness was legendary to those who knew him He recalled in a speech to the brotherhood his dismay following an initiation in his chapter (Eta): “In New York, they were having an initiation I was not allowed to talk to the initiates because I had no pin or badge…Many think Alpha Phi Alpha is an athletic association in New York because all they know about is the basketball game.

” At the 26th General Convention in New Orleans in 1937, on the campus of Xavier University, Founder Tandy, the only Jewel present, would really have an opportunity to have his say He gave a stirring and rousing fraternal address and talked about the politics in the fraternity: “We have got to do something for Negroes, there is too much politics in this fraternity I have seen men beaten so badly that three days [later] they could not walk Another thing is that obnoxious black ball system I saw a man at a meeting pick up a handful of black balls and said that he was going to black ball until times got better We need good men, furthermore, this is a good fraternity We need a good fight, we can help our Negro doctors I knew a Jew, a man who exercised the right to keep the Negro under his feet if he can Shall we stand for it? We won t fight Do something constructive so that your sons, your daughters and all who come behind them will be proud of you.

We must fight until hell freezes over and then fight on the ice I may never come back, but I want you to know that I have been here I am going to demand that you do something Cooperate with organizations, don’t be satisfied with giving basketball games and good dances, I want to see you offer constructive work to fight the evils of yourselves and of your country…We, the founders, went through the hardships and now you have the gravy Carry with you home the thoughts that the founders wish you to continue what we started” At the closing banquet of the convention, Jewel Tandy installed General President Charles Wesley and his cabinet of officers for 1938 It was a memorable evening Always a visionary, Jewel Tandy once remarked: “We should go to Africa…and make the Prince of Liberia a member” At the Thirty-third Anniversary Convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1947, Jewel Tandy spoke on “Laying the Foundation for a Fraternity” In his text, he commented on the following: “So at this time, we, the Brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha… need to fortify our defenses and gird ourselves to the larger significance of our standards.

We must put aside the precocity of the imitative social snob and undertake the challenge of our social responsibilities, both to ourselves and to the masses of our people of common experience and of common estate Along these lines we must repair the damage which has been done to our struggle In so doing we must meet the same fundamental needs which the fraternity met in the lives of seven lonely young men thirty three years ago Recognition and remedy of defects is not only desirable but mandatory lest, we repeat, we inhabit not a shelter but a tomb Being men we must put aside childish things and answer the challenge of qualitative worth to meet the times…We therefore must choose, train and encourage the youths of our choice to a more authentic standard of values based upon more universal concepts…Then the ideas of our vision shall have been fulfilled We shall continue to be and to become, in act as well as in mind, the ‘First Ethiopian Brotherhood’, the buttress of our troubled people and an outstanding force in a world of change We shall be not a dead and imitative tradition, but a democratic living culture” While working to complete what would become his last project, “The Apartments,” Jewel Tandy fell ill He died on November 7, 1949 in the Harlem Hospital, at the age of 64, just a month before the 35th General Convention in Atlanta His funeral services were held at the church he designed, St.

Phillips Church, on November 11 (Armistice day) with the Rev Shelton Hale Bishop, officiating The service was very solemn and simple There were no personal testimonies or resolutions read, however, individual sentiment was expressed by the numerous floral arrangements that surrounded his flag draped casket Brothers from New York and Eta Chapter attended in large numbers including General President Belford V Lawson and Jewel Henry Arthur Callis The New York State National Guardsmen also made a tribute Three volleys were fired by the guardsmen as the 30 car procession made its way to his final resting place in Hartsdale Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York Callis stated upon hearing the death of this “Jewel:” “Excellent in his work was his gospel He called no man master.

Yet he was indeed the inspired servant of his fellows” .

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