Life and Religion
|75 years of service and brotherhood|
|Swank Social Club|
|Published Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:00 am|
The Swank Social Club of Charlotte is for men only, but Daisy Stroud will always be connected to the organization.
Her brother, the late John Merrick Spears, along with six other teenagers at Second Ward High School founded the group in 1934 in a home on Seventh Street.
Spears, along with Ray Booton, John Brooks, Elliot Samuels, John Breeden and Thomas Wyche named themselves after a line of exclusive men’s jewelry called Swank.
“They were all good friends and wanted to start a club together,” Stroud said. “My brother was one of the first.”
Stroud’s husband, Gerson, who died in 2006; was the first member the Swanks initiated, though he lived in Third Ward, Stroud says.
The club functioned until the beginning of World War II when it ceased operations when most of its members were sent overseas in the military. The organization resumed in 1946.
Since then, the Swanks have become more than a social group. It donates to organizations like the McCrorey YMCA, the United Negro College Fund, Loaves and Fishes, Second Harvest and Johnson C. Smith University.
It’s a brotherhood, members say, that has been a staple in Charlotte’s black community for 75 years.
David L. Hunter, a Swank for 10 years, said growing up he always heard positive things about the Swank men.
They are prominent African Americans who range from educators, businessmen and bankers to doctors and lawyers and everything in between.
Hunter, a Second Ward graduate, admired upperclassman in the club and thought of them as pillars in the community.
“Some of the young ladies that we might have been dating in college, their fathers were members of the Swank Club,” Hunter says. “I always admired the people that I knew were Swanks.”
But to join the Swanks you have to be invited. Membership is limited to 30.
Hunter’s late friend, Samuel Pittman, with whom he went to high school and JCSU, invited him to some Swank events. He never got to attend with Pittman, who died just before Hunter was inducted.
“I was voted in and right before my induction period (Pittman) got ill,” Hunter recalls. “I never attended a function of the Swanks with Sammie Pittman. William McMillian Jr. took me in.”
McMillian, who is still active in the organization, also invited Percell Bowser to join.
Bowser, who joined in 1994, admits he didn’t know much about the club since he grew up in Winton, N.C. His wife attended Second Ward.
He says joining the Swanks was one of the best decisions he made.
“I like the brotherhood and the fellowship of our club,” Bowser said. “It’s just unusual for a social club to last for 75 years. When you survive for a long period of time you must be doing something right.”
Since being inducted, Bowser has served as chaplain, secretary and president.
Sam Caldwell has been a Swank for four years. He is the vice-president.
“Any time you get a group of black men and can hold them together for 75 years we think it’s a milestone,” Caldwell said. “Many organizations come and go but we’ve been together and we’re pretty proud of that.”
The Swanks meet on the third Monday of each month at Prime Steakhouse, where the owner is also a member of the club.
When the men get together for functions, sometimes their spouses participate too, Caldwell says.
In earlier times, Stroud says the wives of the Swanks called themselves Swankettes.
In the archives in the Special Collections section at UNC Charlotte’s J. Murrey Atkins Library, Daisy and Gerson Stroud and Spears are pictured together, reminiscent of the Swanks’ beginnings.
“It was pretty hard to get into then,” Daisy Stroud recalls. “They were very selective. The Swank club was a very notable young club for the black Negroes; well that’s what they were called then.”
Stroud believes the Swanks are still upholding excellence. Her brother and husband would be proud.
“It’s still a swanky club,” she said. “It’s very representative of what young black men should have today.”
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