Producing a feature story on Joe and Art Allen a couple of weeks ago to help usher in February as Black History Month was a great opportunity to immerse myself into some relatively recent Schenectady history. It also gave me a chance to revisit the lives and legacies of James Stamper and Ralph Boyd.
I never met the Allen brothers, but I did have wonderful phone conversations with a sister, Earlene Tanner, a son/nephew, Art Allen Jr., and a daughter/niece, Lakeia Allen Bowman. Meeting and chatting with interesting people with a story to tell is one of the wonderful aspects of being a journalist. And, as for Stamper and Boyd, I got much more than just an engaging phone call. In 2005 I sat down with Stamper at his home on Yates Street in downtown Schenectady for an hour-long chat, and later that year Boyd invited me into his Woodlawn home for an interview that went nearly two hours. To say I found their company refreshing and enjoyable would be an understatement.
I remember walking out of each home after our talk and thinking to myself, “wow, that was special.” I think you can tell by reading the opening paragraph of each story I wrote about them how much I liked them.
Here’s my lead on Stamper from January of 2005:
“Few people, if any, have accumulated the amount of good will James Stamper has in his 92 years on this planet.
The awards he used to win for civic and humanitarian service are now being named after him. A native of Atlanta, Stamper came to Schenectady in 1930 at the age of 17, and has been busy ever since making friends, taking care of family, and helping others, many of them strangers, better their lot in life.”
And here’s my first graph on Boyd from September of 2005:
“On Palm Sunday 1945 in northern Italy, a squadron of Tuskegee fliers bombed a mountaintop loaded with German soldiers, helping a black U.S. infantryman by the name of Ralph F. Boyd out of a pretty tough spot. Ever since, Boyd has been returning the favor to anyone in need of a helping hand.”
Stamper was the first black foreman in the history of the General Electric. An Atlanta native, he and his nine siblings jumped in a station wagon with their mom and drove to Schenectady in 1930 when Stamper was just 17.
While Stamper remained state-side during World War II working as a pilot mechanic in the air force, Boyd, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, joined the Army and saw plenty of action first-hand in Europe. He came to the Capital Region during the summer of 1947 to work at a Saratoga Springs hotel. After meeting Stamper and some others, he was convinced to move to Schenectady permanently where he got a job at GE.
We can be thankful that both men lived long lives, Stamper passing away back in 2007 at the age of 93, and Boyd in 2018 at 99. And we’re also grateful for the kind of life they lived. They really did make life better for many of Schenectady’s citizens, black and white.