Title: Robert W. Easley Papers and Photographs
Date Span: 1950-1985
Acquisition Number: N/A
Creator: Robert W. Easley
Donor: Madeline Easley Scott
Date of Acquisition: 2002
Extent: 1 reel of microfilm
Location: Monroe Fordham Regional History Center, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State
Processed: Processed 2002, Madeline Easley Scott; Reprocessed 2017, Hope Dunbar
Robert W. Easley was the father of Mrs. Madeline O. Scott. For most of his adult life he was a community activist, businessman, labor advocate, and civic leader in the city of Olean, NY. His papers were organized and prepared for microfilming by his daughter, Mrs. Madeline Scott.
Robert Waite Easley was born in Chicago, Ill. June 7, 1908. Robert was one of 6 children born to Rev. Moses & Melissa (Busby) Easley. Rev. Easley a Pentecostal minister was a plasterer by trade. The family moved often and Robert attended schools in Indianapolis, Kokomo, Indiana and in 1926 graduated from High School in Benton Harbor, Michigan where he lettered in football and track. He attended one year at Kalamazoo State Teachers College.
In 1927 he came to Olean, NY with a 5 piece band in which he played the drums, to play at one of the local night clubs. The saxophone player (Turentine) became ill and was replaced with a local sax player Darwin Barnes. Darwin introduced Robert to his sister Lois who was a piano player. In 1928 Lois J. Barnes and Robert married in Williamsville, NY. They lived in Niagara Falls for a few years where two of their 7 children were born. Robert worked at the Carbide plant. The family moved back and settled in Olean.
During the the 30’s and 40’s jobs were scarce, especially for African Americans. Robert Easley worked days as a Bell Hop at the Olean House Hotel where he had the opportunity to meet Eleanor Roosevelt during a presidential campaign. At night he worked at clubs with his wife Lois along with other musicians in the Bob Easley Band. The band continued through the mid 60’s playing clubs, country clubs and other social events throughout the southern tier and nearby Pennsylvania communities. In his spare time, Robert mentored the young black males teaching them how to play football, run track and play baseball. These young men kept in touch with him when they went into the service and throughout his life.
Around 1940 a British Company constructed a munitions plant that would make bombs in Eldred, Pa. which is about 30 miles from Olean, NY. Robert and his brother Moses, Jr. applied for work and both were hired as security guards by a Lord Wellsby from the British Purchasing Commission. Robert was promoted to the position of employment officer which put him in charge of hiring. The job also required him to be in charge of the issuing of ration stamps. This gave him the opportunity to hire many blacks who lived in Allegany & Cattaraugus County. He remained at the National Munitions plant until it was closed at the end of World War II. Once again he faced the problem of finding a job. For a short while he worked at the railroad in the ash pit. Later he went to work at the feed mill where he became active in the Grain Millers Union. During the early 1950’s Robert enrolled in and completed a course in Industrial Labor Relations conducted by Cornell University at night at the Olean High School. He became proficient in labor law, negotiations and organizing.
Robert Easley became active in the local Musicians Union and served as Treasurer/Business Agent for ten years. In the 1950’s he attended as a delegate a national Musicians Convention in Houston Texas. At the time they were selecting a site for the next convention he rose and put forth a motion that the Musicians convention would never be held in a location again where black & white musicians had to have separate lodging and eating facilities. The motion passed almost unanimously. New York City Local # 802 agreed to take the 1951 convention. For 10 years he served as President of the Cattaraugus & Allegany AFL-CIO Labor Council. Serving in this capacity allowed him to meet and work with many political figures such as former NYS Governor Averill Harriman, Nelson Rockefeller, U.S. Senator Jacob Javits and U S Senator Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy was instrumental in helping Robert Easley get his job with the Department of Navy.
In the 1965 he took a job with the Department of the Navy as an industrial and contract compliance officer. This job involved overseeing the integration of all Navy contractors. In 1968 he joined the National NAACP Labor Department as a Special Labor Assistant. He organized African American Construction Contractors and assisted them in getting bonding and government contracts.
Robert Easley retired in 1978 at the age of 70. He returned to Olean resuming his community, political involvement. He ran unsuccessfully for political office as an Alderman but remained active in the Democratic Party.
When Robert Easley died in Olean, NY on August 27, 1991 many of the people he had mentored came to the funeral from various parts of the country. They talked about the influence he had on their lives. His grandchildren, nephews & nieces to this day talk about how he talked to them about getting an education or trade making a contribution in their community, taking care of their families and to always reach back to help someone else less fortunate.
In 2007, Robert Easley was designated an Uncrowned King by the Uncrowned Queens Institute.
-Madeline Easley Scott