One of the great things about having written Juliette Gordon Low’s biography is coming into contact with her relatives. I count myself lucky to have met some decendants of William Washington and Nellie Kinzie Gordon. The Gordon family is full of people who took–and take–their civic duties seriously. This blog, from last summer, features Juliette’s brother Arthur.
George Arthur Gordon was one of Juliette Low’s brothers. He was born in 1872 and named for his maternal uncles, George and Arthur Kinzie. He was always known as Arthur. Although he was twelve years younger than Daisy, Arthur Gordon was the rock of the family and she and all her siblings depended on him in matters great and small, particularly after their parents passed away.
Arthur took after their father in many ways. Like Mr. Gordon, he graduated from Yale University, entered the cotton business, and earned the goodwill of his neighbors and colleagues who placed him in positions of trust in several civil, educational, and political organizations. Arthur led a life devoted to service. He gave generously of his time and resources to many causes, but one has always stood out to me: the Negro Employment Exchange.
L. B. Thompson was the manager of the Negro Employment Exchange, and he called Arthur Gordon the “father” of the business. “Had it not been for your advice and encouragement in the beginning,” Thompson wrote, “I never would have taken up the work.”
The Negro Employment Exchange attempted to provide African-American workers with jobs. In segregated Georgia in 1915, most employers were white and few would hire black laborers if whites were available–but in most cases, whole categories of jobs were simply completely closed to African Americans. Arthur Gordon helped L. B. Thompson to start up his company, contributing not just “advice and encouragement,” but financial assistance, too. Like job agencies today, Thompson’s Negro Employment Exchange tried to match would-be employees with employers who needed any of a long list of skilled and semi-skilled African-American workers: cotton pickers, hotel help, cooks, delivery boys, housemaids, seamstresses, nurses, chauffeurs, porters, house cleaners, and laborers in factories, farms, saw mills, and the railroads.
Arthur Gordon’s sense of duty and his work for the Negro Employment Exchange is a timely reminder that philanthropy need not be the province solely of millionaires. The practical advice and modest sums he (like his father) gave to Savannah’s African Americans would have been welcomed at a time when race relations were terrible and getting worse. Small deeds can make big differences in the lives of their recipients, a lesson Daisy Low took with her into the Girl Scouts.
L. B. Thompson to G. Arthur Gordon, 19 January 1915, in the Gordon Family Papers, MS2235, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.