National Defense Day 1924: A hot, long march in Hannibal


Arnold S. Davis was a boy of about 12 in the fall of 1924 when this photo was taken. He had completed a two-mile march with the Douglass High School band in recognition of National Defense Day. This photo is part of Steve Chou’s vast historic collection.

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

On Sept. 12, 1924, Arnold S. Davis participated in the National Defense Day events at Hannibal, Mo. He was only about 12 years old when he marched with the Douglass High School Band for 18-block long parade composed of an estimated 1,400 battle-ready men.

The event had been billed as a nationwide drill to test the readiness of the nation’s defenses in the case of attack, the Baltimore Sun reported in its Jan. 2, 2019 edition. It went on to say that 91 years later, historians remain conflicted over the actual purpose of the national day of readiness.

In Hannibal, the reality was that the local citizens - with a World War still fresh on their minds – followed the directions of President Herbert Hoover and mobilized into action.

The Quincy Day Herald reported on the events of the day, offering a colorful portrait of a town rallied together for the defense of all.

Defense Day

The Hannibal police force, led by A.E. Turner, city marshal, and Harry Lower, night captain, kicked off the parade.

The newspaper reported that the firemen were all in uniform, accompanied by the “big motor-driven apparatus of the fire department.”

The street department was represented by its team of big draft horses, including seven teams and one, one-horse wagon.

There were three bands: The Hannibal band, the Rotary Boys’ and the Douglass High School band.

The parade concluded at Central Park, and was followed by the presentation of “America” by the combined parade bands.

Memorable photo

Arnold S. Davis was among the parade participants on that eventful day, a proud member of the Douglass High School band.

On the back of a picture taken that day, Arnold’s mother wrote that even though her son looked angry in the photo, he was not.

Bessie Davis Boyd wrote in January 1925: “This photo was taken last fall on Defense Day. It was very warm that day and they paraded about 2 miles. And he was so very hot and tired. That’s why he looks so angry. He is hot.”

At the time of the photograph, he was living with his mother and step-father, Bessie and Benjamin Boyd, at 822 Hill Street in Hannibal. They would later move to 2209 Spruce. By 1929, Ben and Bessie had parted ways, and part of the responsibility for Arnold’s upbringing would fall upon his maternal grandmother, Lizzie Moore of Monroe County, Mo.

Life story

When Arnold S. Davis died in 2001, the obituary printed in the Hannibal Courier-Post told of a man who participated in the Normandy Invasion during World War II, earning three Overseas Service Bars, four Bronze Battle Stars, one Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. While still a teen in Hannibal, he graduated from Douglass High School, earning the rank of class Valedictorian. He worshiped with his family at an AME Church in Hannibal, and his Christian upbringing led him to a lifetime of church service.

He married Sarah Williams at Hannibal on Nov. 7, 1938, and in 1940 was supporting his wife as a car washer for a local garage. They later relocated to Chicago, where Arnold worked as a designer and painter.

When World War II began, he answered the call to duty. After the war, he and Sarah relocated back to Chicago, where Arnold worked for the U.S. Postal Service until his retirement in 1978.

Arnold’s mother, Bessie, died in 1941 and was buried at Walnut Grove Cemetery at Paris, Mo. Arnold and Sarah were laid to rest at the same cemetery, in 2001 and 2012, respectively.

Research resources:

• Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, offers resources to those who are interested in building cross-cultural understanding by documenting, preserving and presenting the history of the 19th and 20th-century African American community in Hannibal and northeast Missouri.

• Researcher Rhonda Brown Hall of Hannibal, Mo., moderates the Negro Family's Research Center on Facebook. She is a descendant of J.T. Brown, who founded McElroy and Brown Transfer in 1909.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes weekly narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation.

Bessie Boyd, mother of Arnold S. Davis, send this photo, dated 1927, to her brother, William H. Moore. She pointed out to him that she had her hair cut in a bob. This photo is part of Steve Chou’s vast historic collection.

On the back of this postcard is the inscription: Bessie Boyd, 2209 Spruce Street. This photo is part of Steve Chou’s vast historic collection.

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