Once Upon a Time

Black former principal became rich entrepreneur

Aaron Malone and Annie Turnbo posed for these undated photos. | Photos courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Aug. 5, 2018 12:25 am Updated: Aug. 5, 2018 12:31 am

Aaron Eugene Malone was born in Kentucky in 1867, a descendant of slaves in post-Civil War America. His family moved to Metropolis, Ill., where he met Annie Turnbo, a classmate he would reconnect with later in life. The family moved to Quincy, and Malone later went to college and became a teacher. He returned to Quincy and was hired as principal of the all-black Lincoln public school in 1902.

Malone soon became active in the community and the African Methodist Episcopal church. In December 1902 he lectured at the church to a large audience, speaking on "The Future Negro." He condemned racist laws in Southern states that were designed to keep black Americans in a state of inequality, and acknowledged impatience with civil rights equality.

Education and the ability to compete in the business world were stressed, and he referred to contemporary black leaders Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington as people to emulate. Washington himself had stressed economic independence and similar subjects when he spoke in Quincy in 1895.

Malone made educational changes immediately. He began a night school and invited parents to read and play games, creating a "homelike appearance." He started a literary society and a sewing class. A new stove and kitchen utensils were acquired for girls' domestic science classes. The older girls would boil soup for the lower grades, giving them at least one hot meal a day, as many students ate cold dinners at home because their mothers worked at night.

Malone remained principal at Lincoln for nine years before resigning in 1911. He became a traveling Bible salesman. On a St. Louis trip he encountered his old friend and reignited his childhood romance with Annie Turnbo, who had moved there to open a cosmetics college and launch a business.

Turnbo developed an interest in chemistry at a young age and experimented with various formulas designed specifically for black women's hair and skin. Her cosmetology endeavors began at her home in Lovejoy (now Brooklyn), Ill. When the business expanded, she moved to St. Louis and founded Poro College.

Turnbo marketed her products at the 1904 World's Fair, traveled to the South giving free demonstrations and selling, and by 1910 she was distributing her wares nationally.

Annie Turnbo and Aaron Malone married in April 1913 and then joined forces to broaden Annie's business. They expanded Poro College and built a modern three-story building, a training facility and dispenser of cosmetics for blacks. The business boomed, and thousands of agents were selling door-to-door and giving demonstrations. Aaron Malone became Poro's president, and the campus became a gathering place for many black citizens in St. Louis who were otherwise denied admittance to city's entertainment venues. It included classrooms, barbershops, an auditorium, gymnasium, theater, chapel, and a roof garden that Malone had lobbied for Quincy contractors to build. It is unknown if Quincy men built the roof garden or any of the Poro College buildings.

In 1922 a Poro College commencement was held at the Eight and Elm Street Baptist Church in Quincy, and the Malones were honored guests. Six young Quincy wives took extension courses from Marion Hall of Quincy, herself a graduate of Poro College. Hall taught classes in Quincy, as a branch of the St. Louis campus. Lora Robinson, Elizabeth Vinson, Mary Davis, Mary Stone, Amanda Ruffner and Maggie Julious received diplomas and a bouquet presented by Annie Malone. Their class motto was "Not at the top, but climbing."

Hall had opened a beauty parlor in a back room of her home. She and her husband's success led to them buying and remodeling a house at 1870 Vermont, complete with a new beauty parlor.

Business success followed the Malones into the 1920s. They became millionaires, and Poro cosmetics were well-known throughout much of the world. In 1923 the couple paid $38,408 in federal income taxes and shared their growing wealth in personal charity.

The Malones maintained a home at 921 Lind in Quincy. Students of Poro College were often guests. In February 1923 Annie invited three young women from her college to Quincy to attend a Poro Band concert at Bethel A.M.E. Church at Ninth and Oak.

Later that year they funded and hosted a huge picnic for Quincy's Poro Club in South Park. They chartered special street cars for Quincyans, invited people from neighboring towns, and brought a large crowd from St. Louis. There was a feast, races, a dodge ball game, girls' baseball game, and a boys' baseball game between St. Francis and Lincoln schools. St. Francis won 2-0.

Quincy's Poro Band was named after Poro College and it performed at events throughout Quincy in the 1920s, sometimes with the Jubilee singers. Concerts were held in South Park, Washington Park, Berrian Park, Highland Park at 20th and Cedar, the Soldiers and Sailors Home (now Illinois Veterans Home), churches and socials in homes. E. McPipe had a fundraiser for the Step Lively Girls at his house at 919 Lind, and the Poro Band furnished music.

The Malones made a lasting impact not only on the business history of black Quincy citizens, but the entire country. Their generosity and civic-minded drive combined with their business acumen funded many projects, including a $25,000 donation to the St. Louis Y.M.C.A.

Aaron Malone was chairman of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home. Annie Malone was president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation They were both members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Aaron Malone became a Missouri member of the Republican Executive State Committee and gave $1,000 to the Republican National Committee.

When the Kansas City Sun asked him for a public statement in 1920, he responded: "Go to the polls early. Go quietly. Man and wife should go together. Give your service free. Fight if necessary for our women. And insist on a square deal."


Heather Bangert is involved with several local history projects. She is a member of Friends of the Log Cabins, has given tours at Woodland Cemetery and John Wood Mansion, and is an archaeological field/lab technician.



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