About Dearborn YMCA
Our Heritage Y
The first YMCA established to serve African American people came into being in 1853, eight years before the American Civil War and ten years before the institution of slavery was officially ended in the United States.
Black YMCAs became what one Y leader called "educational and spiritual oases" -- secure places where members could discuss prominent public issues of the day without having to mute expression of their views as African Americans. Programs were similar to those of other Ys: Bible study, moral and religious improvement, adult education, physical education and organized sports. Black associations housed lending libraries and built pools and gyms.
A Young Men’s Christian Association to serve the youth in north Mobile was first considered in 1909, with the earliest meetings conducted at the State Street Church. Some of the early leaders who made an effort to establish this YMCA were: C. First Johnson; Dr. H. R. Williams, Sr.; Dr. Harold N. Kingsley; Dr. E. T. Belsaw; and E. B. Bowman. W. T. Poole served as the first Executive Secretary. Other Executive Directors of the Dearborn YMCA included: W. O. Powell; Rev. T. E. Williams; Rufus DeWitt; Cleveland Lamar; and Catherine P. Anderson.
In 1933, several leading citizens of Mobile recognized the value a YMCA program could have in helping to build good character and developing citizenship among youth. These individuals applied for and received a charter from the National YMCA and the present day YMCA came into existence. E. S. Peters served as the first president and the old Medical College on St. Anthony Street served as the “Y’s” home for 15 years.
In 1948, a small administrative building was constructed on Dearborn Street to be used temporarily as a program center with plans to add a gymnasium and activity area. For over 20 years, the “Y” endeavored to provide a program for the boys of the area with very limited facilities. The YMCA Board realized that these incomplete, worn-out facilities were inadequate for the needs of an ever-growing community and decided a solution to the problem must be found.
In 1969, through the cooperative efforts of the Dearborn Street YMCA, the Community Chest and Council, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Mobile Housing Board, the possibility of developing a neighborhood multi-service center on Dearborn Street was first considered.
In early 1970, after a detailed program-needs study, the building and service committee of the Dearborn Street YMCA met with representatives of the Community Chest and Council and the City Planning Commission to finalize their plans for a Center. In the fall of that year, architects were selected and by the end of 1970, the project was approved by the Board of Directors of the YMCA.
After cost estimates were developed and legal aspects of the plan researched and cleared, the YMCA committee met with the City Commissioners and received unanimous approval of the project.
The City of Mobile applied for and received a Federal Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to construct a neighborhood facility. The local share of financing this project was provided by the City of Mobile and from voluntary contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations in the community through a successful Capital Fund Development Campaign.
On November 27, 1974, representatives of the Dearborn Street YMCA, the City of Mobile and the Dearborn Street Community Center signed the final agreements. The building contract was signed on March 4, 1975 and construction began March 24, 1975.
The official groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 28, 1975. Good weather favored the contractor and the building was officially accepted on December 15, 1975. The Mental Health Center was the first agency to move into the new facility on December 26, 1975. Since that time, Dearborn YMCA has collaborated with several other agencies to provide programs in the multi-service center.
A variety of factors including demographic changes and institutional racism led to many of the YMCAs established in Black communities during the 19th and early 20th centuries merging with larger, metropolitan YMCAs, being closed, or abandoned. In spite of this trend, the national office continued to seek out strategies to better meet the needs of African Americans.
As of 2020, there were only three remaining historically independent YMCAs serving predominantly African American communities (Dearborn YMCA, Mobile Alabama; Dryades YMCA, New Orleans, Louisiana; and West Broad Street YMCA, Savannah, Georgia).