Utica Phoenix Reports

Group Photo (bottom left)

Six elders of Utica’s Black community gathered at the Burke Library of Hamilton College to delve into the newly established Oneida County Black History Archive recently donated by For The Good, Inc. Accompanied by Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, Kirkland class of 1974, The group poured over volumes of binders full of photographs from the early to mid 20th century in an effort to identify as many of the names and places captured in time. The group was hosted by Christian Goodwillie, curator of the College’s special collections. 

Front row, left to right: Jean Baird Davis, Rachel Hamlett, Jaunita Sims, CHL Kirkland ‘74, Robbie Dancy, Walter Stubbs, and Lillian Hill Woods. 

Juanita Sims

Juanita Eaves Sims was born in Waynesboro, Va., which is a very small town. Juanita finished high school and applied to nursing school but forgot all about it when she met her future husband, George Sims. Sims had come to town in 1950 to work at radio station WAYB as a FCC licensed transmitter Engineer. They fell in love and were married and by 1951the couple was headed for Utica where George accepted a job with GE. Juanita was pregnant with her first child as they made their way North through the endless snow. She remembers it snowing all the way as she stared out the window. 

Once in Utica, the young couple took a room with the Eunice Veese Jefferson, the mother of Arnette Jefferson. Soon after, the young family rented a room from Mr. Edward Bass on Riverside Drive. They went on to rent from a Mr George Hill who had a house across the street. They ended up a purchasing a home to just off of Riverside Dr. where they raised a family of three children Patricia, deceased, George, Jr. of Woodbridge Va and Anthony of Las Vegas. After raising her family Juanita held the position of teller at Oneida National Bank in downtown Utica where she excelled. She was chosen to attend school for training and became a bank officer. Her skill and efficiency resulted in her being employed in various positions throughout the many branches of the organization. The lovely Juanita Sims remains a member of  Hope Chapel as well as a member of numerous club and civic organizations. The Sim’s have one granddaughter, Britany Juanita Sims. 

Jean Davis 

Mrs. Jean Davis was born in Deerfield NY from one of the oldest Black families in Upstate NY.  She lived there until she and her mother, Anna Baird, moved to the City of Utica when she was 8 years old. Jean counts her mother among her role models as well as Bessie E. Hicks, the founder of the Cosmopolitan Center.

Jean graduated from Utica Free Academy. She earned her bachelorette degree in Psychology from Utica College and her Master’s in Education from SUNY Cortland. Mrs. Davis worked at Griffiss Air Force Base and the Utica Municipal Housing Authority where she began as a cashier and rose to Tenant Relations Assistant , responsible for the renting all NYS aided projects in the City of Utica. 

Mrs. Davis is a retired teacher of the Utica City School District and was also Utica’s first Black Head Start teacher. Mrs. Davis is remembered by many, many local adults who attribute their success to the exemplary education and guidance which she provided as a teacher. She worked in the district until 1992 and was a volunteer with the district until the age of 70. 

An accomplished musician, Mrs. Davis began her musical training on piano with Mrs. Bessie Hicks and sang in both the Utica College as well as the Hope Chapel choirs. Davis was the substitute pianist for Hope Chapel for many years until Mrs. Whitfield retired in 1980’s whereupon she became full time pianist for Hope Chapel. 

Davis was blessed with two sons, Craig Owens of Utica and Allen Owens of Oceanside CA, the first Black police lieutenant in the 125th history of the  Escondido  Police Dept. She has two grandchildren, Holly Owens and  Joseph Cochise Owens and she has two great grandchildren, John Cardone III and Joseph Cardone.

Mrs. Davis remains and is a lifetime member of Hope Chapel AME Zion Church.

Walter Stubbs 

Walter Stubbs was born June 20, 1942 to Barry B. Stubbs and Mamie Collins Stubbs in St. Luke’s at its original location on Whitesboro St. in West Utica.  One of 9 children, Walter was born and raised in Utica. He was educated in local schools. Walter was formerly an orderly and medical tech S.t St Luke’s and a Mental Hygiene Therapist Aid at Marcy State Hospital.  

A former Boy Scout, in the mid 1960’s, Walter took advantage of the Manpower Development Training Act to acquire his considerable skills as a contractor heating, plumbing and electrical contractor. A well respected housing contractor, Stubby, as he is affectionately referred to, has plied his trade throughout the community for many years, saving innumerable people’s homes and properties from water damage and freezing pipes and temperatures and other domestic catastrophes. Stubbs has always been an active citizen and advocate for civil rights.

Today retired, Walter has been a businessman and real estate entrepreneur for decades. The father of 5 children Walter remains a resident of Corn Hill where is known as a the man who can fix anything that can go wrong in your house.

 Lillian Hill Woods

Lillian was born and raised in Utica, NY and graduated from Utica Free Academy and studied her undergraduate work at Utica College to earn her BA. In 1972 she went to Atlanta University School of Social Work, and graduated in 1974 with her Masters in Social Work. Lillian began to work in community mental health in Atlanta Georgia for 5 years then transitioned to work for the VA Medical Center in the clerical social department of Veteran Affairs. Ms. Hill worked for a variety of clinical social work entities retiring in 2008. 

Always returning home to visit, Lillian permanently moved back to Utica in 2017 to assist her family and she remains a member of St. Paul’s Baptist Church. She also works closely with the organization Rebuilding the Village whose goal is to build an African Heritage Cultural Community Center.

Rachel Hamlett 

Rachel Hamlett was born and raised in Louisville, Alabama. Miss Rachel as she is affectionately known, moved to Utica NY during the Great Migration in 1943 on a segregated train with her siblings and daughter. Rachel met and married George Hamlett who was a Deacon at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. 

In 1945 the Hamletts began their work as foundation Black entrepreneurs in the City of Utica when the opened the Liberty St. Café. In 1946 they received their liquor license and changed the name to Club George which became an enduring and well-known and popular establishment for over 60 years. 

Countless Black musicians and entertainers frequented the club when passing through Utica either on the train or on the Greyhound bus which for many years had a terminal across the street. 

Ms. Rachel was central to the operation and kept the establishment going by cooking and hiring others to help with the cooking. 

She worked for a time for Utica Community Action when one of their facilities was in the H-Building of Washington Courts. She volunteered at Cornerstone Head Start and Marcy Head start as the ‘Grandmother’ in these classes and retired 5 years ago. Ms. Rachel has been a member of St. Paul’s Baptist Church for 75 years and is still an activate member.

Robbie Dancy 

Robbie was born in Louisville, Alabama and came to Utica, NY at the age of 2. She was raised in Utica by her parents Rachel and George Hamlett. She graduated from Utica Free Academy and went to Bennett College in Greensboro, NC a Historically Black College for women. While a student she was an activist and  participated in the sit-ins during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement and was arrested and jailed for sitting in a whites only section of a movie theater

Ms. Dancy graduated with a B.S. degree in Biology, and returned to Utica where she was hired at Faxton Hospital and was the first Black Medical Technologist there. While living in Utica she met Eugene Dancy, Jr. who was stationed at Griffiss Airforce Base and married him in 1966. 

The couple relocated to San Francisco, California, and stayed in the Bay area for 21 years. It was through this union where they had two children Adrienne and David. While in California, Robbie volunteered weekly with The Black Panthers at the Jackson Free Health Clinic in the early 1970s. The family lived in California until 1989 when the family relocated to Chicago as her husband accepted a job offer there. Eugene passed away suddenly in 1992 and Robbie stayed in Chicago until December 1999 where she moved back to Utica. Ms. Dancy is a Silver Lifetime Member of the NAACP, a volunteer docent at the Stanley Theater, the Hope House and the American Cancer Assoc. 

She serves on the Leisure Time Activity Board and is the coordinator of their annual Juneteenth freedom celebration. She currently works for Bassett Healthcare and is a longtime member of St. Paul’s Baptist Church.

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