A Veteran of the Great War and the Great Migration
After Arthur Dingle left his childhood home of Manning, SC, he earned money working as a bell-hop and elevator man in hotels, including Hotel Poinciana in Palm Beach, FL; New Raleigh Hotel in Raleigh, NC; Orton Hotel in Wilmington, NC; Monticello in Washington, DC; and Hotel Allen, in Allentown, PA.
“I came to Philadelphia, and went to working for the railroad. And I worked here 23 days, and they called me to the Army. Well, the luck was that [the] Pennsylvania Railroad said that everybody that worked for the railroad and had to go the Army, they had their job when they came back. In 1919, when I came back from France... you couldn’t buy a job, because all those fellows... being discharged. So I was discharged at Camp Meade.... I came right back to Philadelphia, because I know that I had my job when I came back. So I went between the working on the railroad and on the dining cars, and in Broad Street Station.” – Arthur Dingle, July 11, 1983
During World War I, Dingle trained at Camp Meade in Maryland (later called Fort Meade), then served in Europe as part of the famous 92 Infantry Division, comprised entirely of African American soldiers. Dingle attended Officer’s Training School in France as part of an elite group of African-American soldiers. He received a citation of gratitude for combat by the French Government for his honorable service in the Battle of Argonne.
“They sent all the soldiers—Black soldiers went over, too. There was depot brigades and engineers. They went over. Tons of them... What they did was dig trenches, and load and unload ships. That was their job.... in on one of these battles over there, Chateau Thierry... in a ...24-hour period, there was 109,000 American soldiers killed. And after that... the news got back here. Some senator got up on the floor and said that we would have to start sending the Black soldiers over there, because if we sent all our young men over there, and they get killed out, then our women will be at the mercy of the Black man. (laughter) So they set up the 92nd Division....We went over. And we was lucky enough that by the time we got over, the tide was turning. And we didn’t go until April 1918, and the war was actually over in November ’18. But I fought on three fronts over there.” – Arthur Dingle, July 11, 1983
After returning to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Dingle found permanent employment at Theodore Meyer Pest Control Co., where he worked for thirty years before retiring in 1958. There, Dingle also served as a leader of the labor union representing his employer's workers.
In 1926, after living in various parts of North Philadelphia, the Dingles joined the movement of African-American families to West Philadelphia, and soon bought a house in this historic "streetcar suburb." The Dingles were part of an internal migration of upwardly mobile African Americans from Black neighborhoods in South and North Philadelphia who sought the greater open space and quiet of West Philadelphia; as he remembered, “everybody wanted a sun porch.”
“The migration from South Philadelphia and North Philadelphia, they moved out here as the white people moved further on out.... on 52nd Street, there was no black man that had a business on 52nd Street or Market Street, around that area. And now ...most of it is Black or, you know, is Orientals. There’s a lot of them that have businesses out there now.
Thing is—there’s a migration that takes place, and nobody knows why, inside of 20, 25 years. All the White people that was here moved further on out, and just about during the Second World War is when they started breaking into Wynnefield. And now you don’t see a White man at all. There was one family lived in my sister-in-law’s street... and about ... three or four years ago, they moved out. So now the whole block is solid Black from one end to the other.
There’s an old fellow I knew that was a city employee named Bob Baxter…. He lived downtown around 17th and Fitzwater. And he said he’d never move out to [West] Philadelphia because the people out here had sun porches, rubber plants, and second mortgages. (laughs) But he was pretty right.
But I got here…made out all right. I’m one of the few that was not evicted from this street, during the Depression. Almost everybody—well, in fact, there’s nobody here now that was here when I moved here, naturally, because I’ve been here that long. But the people was moving out here like flies, and moving in and out, and the signs up for sale, for rent…. And I was one of the lucky ones. I survived the whole thing. I never was never without a job. And I stayed through all of it.” – Arthur Dingle, July 11, 1983
Dingle and his wife Elizabeth (Spellen) were married for 60 years prior to her death in 1980. Their only child, Geraldine (Dingle) Seeney, served as the Clerk of Courts in Philadelphia. Dingle also was a founding member of the Citizens League of West Philadelphia as well as an officer of the Haddington Leadership Council. He loved to fish, hunt, and play cards with friends. Arthur Dingle died at the age of 98 in 1989. His legacy is that of a loving husband, doting father, community leader, a distinguished veteran of the First World War, and a success story of the First Great Migration.