The Zenith Club Celebrates 60 Years of Community Service

The Zenith Club recently celebrated its 60th anniversary serving the community.  Take a walk back in time to learn about the organization and its mission, and to get a glimpse of past and current members.

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“We stand on the shoulders of our predecessors who have gone before us. We, as their successors, must catch the torch of freedom and liberty passed on to us by our ancestors. We cannot lose in this battle.”  Benjamin Mays, 1981

zenith 055On February 14, 1954, Jesse Bradford, Robert C. Brown, George Carter, Ernest M. Dandridge, Sr., Q. D. Fleming, Sr., Silas Johnson, Sr., George A. Lewis, Sr., Benjamin L. Patrick, Louis Rodriquez and Edward D. Tolbert met for the sole purpose of organizing a social club. The meeting was held at the home of Ernest M. Dandridge, Sr. on Eagle Avenue in Charles Town, West Virginia. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there had never been a men’s social club in Charles Town, although a women’s social club, the “Modern Maids and Matrons Club” had been organized there in 1946. Upon organizing the club, the members adopted “Zenith” as a temporary name for the group, however, they decided to keep the name, which still remains today. Initially, dues were $1.00 per month and meetings were sponsored jointly at member’s homes, usually preceded by a delicious meal. The Zenith Club had an immediate impact on the surrounding community as other clubs, such as the Men’s “Eureka Club”, and another women’s social club, the “Loyal Ladies” were organized. Many of the Zenith Club members had wives in the Modern Maids and Matrons Club.

The year, 1954, was indeed a year to remember. On May 17, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that racially separate schools were in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Racial segregation had been a constant factor in the lives of the Zenith men and their families, so they were encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision. Collectively, they had always promoted civic and political involvement, higher education and youth activities. These areas would become the cornerstones of the Zenith Club, along with being a social outlet for the community. The men spent a great deal of time discussing national, local and state events, and of course, politics. A major topic of discussion back then was the Korean War, which had begun in 1950, and continued to engulf and split the nation. However, the war came to a close in June 1954, just a few months after the club was organized.

So, who were these Zenith men who simply wanted to improve and support their community? Jesse Bradford was a carpenter; Robert Brown worked at the Blairton Stone Quarry; George Carter and Silas Johnson, Sr., were employed by the local Ford dealership; Ernest Dandridge, Sr., was principal of the all-Black Page-Jackson High School; Q. D. Fleming, Sr., taught shop and vocational agriculture at Page-Jackson; Benjamin L. Patrick was the business manager at Storer College; Louis Rodriquez was employed as a jockey’s valet at the Charles Town Racetrack; and, Edward D. Tolbert was a custodian at the Charles Town Post Office. These founding members all believed that the Zenith Club could succeed, and fulfill their vision of community service.

All of the social clubs strongly believed that a portion of their finances should be given towards community projects. The Zenith Club often gave financial donations to the fire companies in response to local disasters, and provided Christmas baskets to the Jefferson County Red Cross and the Jefferson Memorial Hospital. They also supported the Charles Town Recreation League programs and many other local charities. The Recreation League included young boys, primarily African-Americans, who participated in basketball activities. In addition, the Zenith Club sponsored formal dances in Frederick and Winchester, attended stage shows in New York City and held holiday parties in and around Charles Town. In the 1960s, the club donated Black magazines, newspapers, and books to the de-segregated Charles Town Library. Today, the Zenith Club regularly supports the NAACP and the Special Olympics, and has provided financial assistance to deserving young students in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Club members were politically conscious, and felt a strong desire to give back to the community. Q. D. Fleming, Sr., Edward Braxton, James A. Tolbert, Sr., and C. Larry Togans became political candidates for either county or municipal offices, and were given small donations to assist with their campaign expenses. Four members served in political offices. Q. D. Fleming and Edward Braxton served on the Charles Town City Council for several years. Dr. Madison Briscoe completed an unexpired term, and was thus the first Black on the Jefferson County Board of Education. Q. D. Fleming and C. Larry Togans were elected to the Board of Education; with Fleming serving on the Board and the Charles Town City Council simultaneously, and Togans was later elected Board President, becoming the first Black in Jefferson County to serve in that capacity.

Throughout the Zenith Club’s 60-year history, there have been only 35 members, though not all members had long tenures. Some resigned, however, most members stayed active in the club until they moved, were physically disabled or passed away. Occasionally, a member would request to be placed in “inactive” status, and would be granted the request. Members who became incapacitated, or were unable to continue were never removed from the club rolls; they were given “associate” status, with all of the Club’s privileges. Throughout the years, the Zenith Club has steadfastly maintained contact with widows of deceased members, and has invited them to all of the club’s functions, including trips, picnics, parties, and dances.

The following men have followed in the footsteps of the founding members of the Zenith Club:

Paul Austin, Oscar Reeler, Edward Braxton, James Hall, Evans Morris, George V. King, Sr., Stewart Payne, Madison Briscoe, James A. Tolbert, Sr., John W. Tolbert, Jr., Alfred R. Twyman, Sr., Lester Taylor, Elvin Thomas, William Payne Taylor, Charles L. Ferguson, Maurice Smith, John Pendleton, Joseph Johnson, Joseph Pinkett, George C. Rutherford, C. Larry Togans, Harold E. Stewart, Henry Thomas, Daniel D. Jackson, Jr., Paul Jones, David Yates, James Green, Jr., James Leverett and Charles E. Jackson.

So, what does the future hold for the Zenith Club? Only time will tell, but one thing for sure is that they will continue to build on the legacy of the past members, and eventually pass the torch to future members who also are committed to serving the community.

“The future must be planned today. We may never see it in our lifetime, but the success of our ventures will impact future generations.”   L. Douglas Wilder, April 1988

For more information on The Zenith Club, contact James Green, Jr.