Community Center Comeback
The Ann Arbor Community Center descends from the Colored Welfare League, a self-help organization created by the Rev. Ralph Gilbert and a group of Ann Arbor black leaders in 1918. In the mid-1920s, the CWL's youth clubs spun off into a new organization--the Dunbar Center--focused specifically on providing services for young people.
Initially headquartered in a board member's house on Catherine Street, it was headed from 1926 to 1936 by Savonia Carson. When she resigned, Douglas E. H. Williams, a pharmacist turned social worker from Atlanta, succeeded her.
The choice of a licensed social worker was calculated to attract funding from the city's Community Fund, a forerunner of the United Way. Soon after he arrived, Williams led the center's purchase of a new headquarters at 420 North Fourth Avenue. The brick house at the corner of Kingsley (now Legal Services of South Central Michigan) became a clubhouse and youth services center for the entire black community.
Williams tripled the Dunbar Center's membership while working quietly to improve race relations in the city. Older residents recall him as a skillful diplomat who successfully maneuvered through the maze of local politics to work on behalf of the city's black residents without increasing racial tensions.
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