Wiley H. Bates
From Archives of Maryland
Born in Wageburrough, North Carolina, August 1, 1859. Resided in West Virginia. Moved to Annapolis, Maryland, c. 1871. Married first wife Maggie (c. 1852-1892) on November 17, 1884. Married second wife Annie or "Addie" E. King (c. 1866-1921), date unknown. One adopted daughter or niece, Mattie Holt. Resided at 47 Cathedral Street, Annapolis. Died April 1, 1935 in Annapolis. Buried in Brewer Hill Cemetery, Annapolis.
Wiley H. Bates was born into slavery in North Carolina. After the Civil War he worked as a water boy and freight boy on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad between the ages of about nine and twelve. After the death of his father at age eleven, Bates found employment on a boat that traveled on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland and worked there until he was about 13. He then moved to Annapolis, Maryland with his mother about 1871, where he worked culling oysters. When Bates was eighteen years old he joined Asbury United Methodist Church, the oldest black congregation in Annapolis, and organized its Lyceum Debating Society. He waited tables and worked at the oyster and crabbing business until about 1879. From 1880 to 1882 he worked at splitting and peddling wood, building up a clientele that later patronized the grocery store he opened at 54 Cathedral Street about 1883. That same year he became secretary of the People's Brewer Hill Cemetery Corporation of Anne Arundel Maryland, started in 1883 when Nicholas Brewer sold a plot of land to eleven black citizens who formed their own corporation. In November 1884, Bates married Marylander Maggie King, and the couple resided at 47 Cathedral Street near the grocery store. As his grocery business grew, he became known for his fair business practices and honest dealings with his customers, who called him the "Negro Gentleman."1 He was an active member of the A.M.E. church and was a thirty-third degree Mason.
Bates' popularity and leadership skills earned him a seat on the Annapolis city council in July 1897, when he was elected Annapolis' third black alderman representing the third (later fourth) ward. During his two years on the council, he was a member of the standing committees on public buildings and electric lights (the other standing committees being finance, streets, Market House, fire department, and by-laws).2 Bates worked with the mayor, the city counselor, and five other council members to conduct such city business as electing city police officers, overseeing the grading and paving of city streets, the installation of electric lights and telephone poles throughout the city, they laying of additional track for the Annapolis and Baltimore Short Line R.R. Co., and the granting or denying of city liquor licenses. Far from being a passive member of the council, Bates took a leading roll as an advocate for city blacks from his earliest days on the council. In early October, 1897, he spearheaded an effort to petition the legislature for funds to build of the city's first public school for "colored" children.3 When in May 1898 the city council ordered an additional appropriation to help pay the salaries of teachers at the all-white Annapolis High School in order for the school year to extend into June, Bates made sure that the salaries of black teachers were increased for the same purpose.4 In October 1898, Bates proposed a council resolution condemning the lynching of Wright Smith, a black man accused of assaulting two white women, who was dragged from the Annapolis City jail in the middle of the night and then shot in the back while trying to flee a mob of angry white men. Bates called the lynching a disgrace to the city and cited his belief that Smith would shortly have been brought to justice by due process of law. Although Governor Lloyd Lowndes publicly condemned the lynching as "an outrage,"5 Bates' resolution was defeated in the city council with only one other member voting in favor of it.6
Council members made decisions that had city-wide as well as state-wide implications. While Bates served on the council, members passed an ordnance making it illegal to play baseball or football on any streets, lanes, alleys or vacant lots within the corporate limits of the City of Annapolis without prior written permission from the mayor; they granted the Waterwitch Hook and Ladder Company use of assembly rooms to hold a ball; and granted a "petition from the Rescue Fire Co., No. 7 asking that the City Fire Marshall be authorized to have the hose reel painted and put in condition in time to participate in the State Fireman's Convention, to be held on June 9 & 10, 1899."7 In February 1898, council members petitioned the legislature to pass a law authorizing a $30,000 bond issue to pay off the "floating debt" of the city.8 On December 14, 1897, U.S. Senator from Maryland A. P. Gorman introduced a bill proposing that a U.S. Naval dry dock be built at Round Bay. On January 10, 1898, the Annapolis city council resolved to work with Senator Gorman "so as to keep said Congressional Delegation fully and correctly informed in reference to the due importance of said Naval Works" to support Senate Bill 2778.9 The council resolved at the same time to extend thanks to the Baltimore Sun for "calling attention to the present needs of the United States Naval Academy, and in urging upon Congress the necessity of appropriating a sum of money for the permanent improvement of said installation" through several recent articles.10 On April 4, 1898, council members adopted and sent a telegram to Senators Gorman and George L. Wellington asking for an immediate hearing before the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs "in behalf of a Dry Dock at Round Bay, Severn River as recited in an amendment by Senator Gorman to the Naval Appropriation Bill." The mayor was also authorized to appoint a "committee of citizens to visit Washington, in connection with the Board, and intercede in behalf of the establishment of the said Dry Dock."11 Their efforts paid off as the bill was passed.
Bates lost his office after passage in 1908 of the infamous Maryland "Grandfather Law," which provided that only those whose ancestors were eligible to vote in 1868 could vote in Annapolis elections. Because the Maryland Constitution of 1867 provided that only white male citizens could vote, the Grandfather Law disenfranchised blacks. The law was finally overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 1915 and Bates then regained his seat as an Alderman.
Bates maintained his grocery store until 1912, becoming one of the wealthiest black residents of Annapolis. After his retirement from the grocery business, he invested in real estate and bought houses at 125 South Street and 90 Clay Street in Annapolis. During the 1920s and 1930s, Bates built on his reputation as a champion of improved education for blacks. He was a 1925 founding member of the Parent Teacher Association of the first black high school in Anne Arundel County, Stanton High School, where he also served as a trustee for eight years. For four years he was a trustee of Wilberforce University, a university near Dayton, Ohio that had been established in 1856 by and for African-Americans. When the student body of Stanton High School began to outgrow the Stanton building in the late 1920s, Bates donated $500 toward the purchase of land to build a new black high school in Annapolis. The new school opened in 1933, named the Wiley Bates High School in his honor. It served as the only high school for blacks for all of Anne Arundel County until the end of segregation in the county in the mid-1960s, more than a decade after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. At the age of 69 he published an autobiographical book of "sayings" that told of his deep Christian faith, his belief in the value of perseverance, hard work, thrift, brotherly love and a good measure of "pluck." Aware that the basic needs of food and shelter for many of the older blacks in Annapolis were not being met on a regular basis, Bates directed in his will that his house on Clay street be incorporated as "The Bates Old Peoples Home" to be used as a refuge for elderly blacks "regardless of sect."12 He died in 1935 at the age of 76, a testimony to the fruitfulness of diligence and optimism.
Wiley H. Bates is buried at Brewer Hill Cemetery, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, USA.
1. Wiley H. Bates, Researches, Sayings and Life of Wiley H. Bates (Annapolis: 1928), p. 25.
2. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, pp. 348-350.
3. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, p. 374. The Stanton School was built in 1900. Before 1900, the Gallilean Fisherman School, founded by Methodists, and St. Mary's Catholic Church served as private schools for black children. see Philip L. Brown, The Other Annapolis 1900-1950 (Annapolis: The Annapolis Publishing Company, 1994), p. 53.
7. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, p. 417;
Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1898-1901, MSA M49-15, 1/22/1/67, pp. 24, 30, 103.
8. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, pp. 398-399. See also 1898 Md. Laws ch. 370.
9. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, pp. 392-393.
10. Ibid., p. 393. The bill was passed. See Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1898-1901, MSA M49-15, 1/22/1/67, p. 80)
11. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1892-1898, MSA M49-14, 1/22/1/66, p. 403.
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