Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Keeping The Memory of Schuyler Colfax Alive

March 23, 2013
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA -- On the day when he would have turned 190, about 40 people gathered Saturday where Schuyler Colfax once lived, at 601 W. Colfax Ave., and spoke of his role to end slavery and uplift civil rights.

"He's sort of our (Abraham) Lincoln," said Tony Flores, president of the local AFL-CIO union.

"Without Colfax," Melvin Reed said, "we don't have Martin Luther King."

The group stood at the former home, which long ago was torn down and now is the Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church, and spoke of a man who served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he voted for and influenced the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and who also became the country's 17th vice president.

It was the first observance of Schuyler Colfax Day, created by the South Bend Common Council in January to preserve his memory. The day also revealed what's missing.

"I've come to know him quite well," said Ann Leonard, a history buff who's made it her hobby to study Colfax over the past 25 years, collecting about 800 letters to and from him.

She's picked up copies of the letters in her travels, including a visit to a man who'd written a biography of Colfax, and turned her research into articles.

The group drove to the City Cemetery to continue the ceremonies, where the Daughters of the American Revolution noted a piece of Colfax that's gone neglected.

"This is a disgrace," said Carol Nichols, an officer with the Schuyler Colfax Chapter of the DAR, pointing out where Colfax's bones rest. "This is our vice president. We need some new stones."

A small rectangular headstone for Colfax, with all letters eroded to flat nothing, sits lined up with similar stones for his family -- also weathered into anonymity.

There lies his son, Schuyler Colfax Jr., who'd become South Bend's mayor, along with Colfax's two wives (he married again after one had died), his mother and his daughters.

Oliver Davis, the city council member who introduced the resolution that created Schuyler Colfax Day and who presided over the ceremonies, nodded as he listened to Nichols.

As events came to a close, he told the crowd: "We do need to fix up this area. In honoring history, we really have to do a better job."

The Colfax Chapter of the DAR is raising money to restore the Colfax grave monuments, including a larger one that was added later. So far, the fund has just $379, Nichols said.

"We are frantically trying to find what the top of his (larger) monument looked like, because it was broken off," said Glenda Erskin, the regent or head of the chapter. An angel on top is not original, and no one yet has found a picture of what the monument had looked like.

Colfax goes beyond just the namesake of this DAR chapter, which formed in 1911 and has 152 members.

"We have quizzes (on Colfax history) to be sure the ladies are staying on top of it," Erskin said.

Members of St. Joseph Lodge 45 of the Free Masons conducted a brief ceremony at the grave. Colfax belonged to that lodge.

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