Leggroan, Russell Morris


photo of  Russell Morris Leggroan

Russell Morris Leggroan was the youngest child of Henry Alexander and Esther Jane James Leggroan. At his birth in 1915, his oldest sibling, Hyrum, was twenty-six years old and both he and Russell’s sister Henrietta had already married and left the Leggroan household. Russell never knew his older brother, Gilbert, who had died in 1907 at the age of nine.

When Russell was just over two months old, his parents took their new baby to the Wilford Ward in Mill Creek, Utah where Bishop James D. Cummings pronounced a priesthood blessing upon him on 5 March 1916.[1] Later, after he turned eight, Russell was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as were all of his brothers and sisters. James B. Burton baptized Russell on 26 January 1924, and John W. White performed the confirmation on 3 February.[2]

Russell had deep LDS roots through both his father’s and mother’s family lines. His paternal grandparents, Edward (Ned) Leggroan and Susan Gray Reed Leggroan joined the church in 1873 and his maternal great-grandmother was Jane Manning James, a convert of 1843. In addition, his mother’s grandfather, Frank Perkins, was also a long-standing member of the LDS Church.

Growing up in Mill Creek, Russell participated with neighborhood boys in the Boys Scouts of America. In 1931, he was initiated into a local branch of the organization by receiving his Tenderfoot award at a meeting held at the Wilford Ward.[3]

As a teenager, Russell attended Granite High School where his older brothers played football. Russell, instead, joined the track team.[4] After graduation he found work as a porter on the Union Pacific Railroad. By 1940, Russell had moved to Ogden, Utah where he worked as a waiter but within a year he moved to Portland, Oregon, to seek employment.[5] In the first half of the twentieth century train travel was popular in the US and the railroads employed many black men as porters or redcaps. As a railroad hub, Portland offered the prospect of continuing lucrative work for Russell. He stayed there and worked as a redcap at Portland’s Union Station.

By the end of 1942, he had met and married Delores Lorraine Caldwell. Delores was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but had lived most of her life in Portland. After their marriage in Boise, Idaho, on 14 December 1942, Russell and Delores made Oregon their permanent home.[6] Dolores was tiny in stature, but she was energetic and vivacious and earned the nickname “Bounce” from her husband.[7]

Russell and Dolores had two children, a daughter, Sharon, and eight years later, a son, Russell, Jr. The Leggroans worked hard to provide their family with a small home in a good neighborhood. They also bought property in north Portland for an investment and after a few years were able to build a house on one of their lots for their own family. Russell continued his occupation as a redcap but also picked up part-time jobs to supplement his income and make it possible to finance their new home. One of his secondary jobs was at a steel mill. In addition, in 1968 Russell was employed as an assistant corpsman superior for Job Corps.[8]

The Leggroans socialized with a number of other railroad employees and their families. Portland could support three black social and athletic clubs during the 1940s and 1950s. Russell enjoyed golf and therefore elected to join the “Leisure Hour Golf Club.” The club which is still in existence in 2019, was founded by several African American men in 1944 to provide “power in numbers” during a time when very few black people were able to play golf on public courses.[9] Leisure Hour held yearly tournaments at Tualatin Country Club and its members enjoyed competing with each other as well as socializing. During the tournament, the golfers’ families were allowed to swim and enjoy the facilities at the host club. The white members vanished during the tournament and Leisure Hour black families had a wonderful holiday.[10]

Russell worked evenings at the train station and Dolores worked days at a Portland hospital. They made sure their schedules allowed one parent to be home with their children. Russell’s daughter, Sharon, remembered a game her dad frequently played with her after they dropped her mother off at work. He pretended to be lost and drove all around the city but somehow he always found his way to his favorite hamburger shop where he bought pineapple shakes. Once they found the drive-in, he seemed to always know his way home from there![11]

Sharon also recalled a time when she was in high school and wasn’t very interested in homework or getting good grades. Russell had a heart-to-heart with her telling her how important education was and encouraging her to take it seriously. She had never seen him so emotional. He teared up while talking to her and she promised him she would graduate from college. Despite having to finish after she married and had a daughter, she kept her pledge to him and graduated with her younger brother. Russell, himself, continued to enroll in college classes until he, too, earned a degree, so his children knew he meant what he said about the importance of learning.[12]

Russell’s sister, Henrietta, said her brother didn’t attend LDS worship services while growing up in Salt Lake and that did not change after he moved to Portland.[13] Russell’s wife, Dolores, was a member of a black Episcopal church which she and the children attended. Russell worshipped with them for Easter and Christmas services, but never formally joined the denomination. Despite his disinterest in affiliating with his fellow Mormons, the local Portland wards or congregations kept track of Russell who remained a nominal member all his life. Every month home teachers (informal LDS ministerial positions) faithfully visited Russell’s family. Dolores made it clear that she had a faith that she had no intention of leaving, but graciously invited the ward representatives into the Leggroan home. After twenty minutes or so, Russell would always realize he had something “to check on” and excuse himself, never to return. He did not talk about why he chose not to attend the LDS Church and the home teachers never engaged in any discussion of racial issues with Russell and his family. Russell had lung problems and whenever he had to be hospitalized, the home teachers showed up at the Leggroan door and asked if they could provide the family with food and financial help. Dolores never felt they needed it, and politely declined their offers.[14]

The Leggroans lived in a neighborhood with many Latter-day Saint families. At the age of nine, Russell’s daughter, Sharon, occasionally attended Primary activities. At one event, everyone complimented her beautiful work and seemed to be making sure she was having a good time. At the end of the meeting, a child told her that they wanted her to have a really fun time with them now, because when she died, she would go to the same place where liars and murderers went! On arriving home, she told her parents about the conversation. They assured her that people had a lot of ideas that they did not share and they did not believe that her final destiny would be determined by her race or the color of her skin. Sharon didn’t worry further about what the Mormon child had said, but she never went back to Primary either.[15]

Russell kept in touch with his family in Utah. One of his nieces lived with the Leggroans while she attended nursing school in Portland and Russell’s daughter spent some of her summers in his sister, Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead’s home. Russell’s children were aware of their Mormon roots and their family’s contributions to the early settlement of Utah.[16]

Russell Morris Leggroan died on 21 April 1971 in Gresham, Oregon following a game of golf.[17] He was buried in the Rose City Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.[18]

By: Tonya S. Reiter

Primary Sources

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Wilford Ward. Microfilm 26,673. Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deceased Membership Records 1941-1988. Microfilm 884,213. Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Idaho. County Marriage Records, 1864-1867. Russell Morris Leggroan and Delores Lorraine Caldwell. 14 December 1942. Idaho State Archives and Historical Society, Boise, Idaho.

Leggroan, Russell. Ogden, Utah, City Directory, 1940.

“Leggroan.” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1935. CR 4 311. Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Leggroan." Presiding Bishopric stake census, 1940. CR 4 313. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Scouts Plan Annual Fete for Parents.” Salt Lake Tribune. (Salt Lake City, Utah) 27 May 1931, 13.

Steen, Sharon Leggroan. Telephone oral interview. By Tonya S. Reiter. 16 August 2019.

United States. 1920 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Precinct 3.

United States. 1930 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Precinct 3.

Secondary Sources

Leggroan, Russell M. FindAGrave.com.

The Granitian, Granite High School Yearbook, 1933.

[1] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Wilford Ward, microfilm number 26,673, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[2] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Wilford Ward, microfilm number 26,673, Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

[3]“Scouts Plan Annual Fete for Parents,” Salt Lake Tribune, (Salt Lake City, Utah) 27 May 1931, 13.

[4] The Granitian, Granite High School Yearbook, 1933, 120.

[5] Ogden, Utah, City Directory, 1940, Ancestry.com.

[6] Idaho, County Marriage Records, 1864-1867, Russell Morris Leggroan and Delores Lorraine Caldwell, 14 December 1942, Idaho State Archives and Historical Society, Boise, Idaho.

[7] Sharon Leggroan Steen, telephone oral interview, by Tonya S. Reiter, 16 August 2019. Sharon Leggroan Steen is Russell Leggroan’s daughter. She was kind enough to share memories of her father and their family life with the author.

[8] Steen, telephone interview; “Russell M. Leggroan,” obituary, no publisher, no date, courtesy Tammy Wills.

[9] History of Leisure Hour Golf Club, http://leisurehourgolf.org/lhg/history/, accessed 19 August 2019; “Russell M. Leggroan,” obituary, no publisher, no date, courtesy Tammy Wills.

[10] Steen, telephone interview.

[11] Steen, telephone interview.

[12] Steen, telephone interview.

[13] Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead interviewed by William G. Hartley, 22 August 1972, Murray, Utah. Notes in author’s possession.

[14] Steen, telephone interview. Even though Russell’s obituary claimed that he was a member of the congregation at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, Steen insisted that he did not formally convert to the Episcopal Church.

[15] Steen, telephone interview.

[16] Steen, telephone interview.

[17] “Russell M. Leggroan,” obituary, no publisher, no date, courtesy Tammy Wills.

[18] Russell M. Leggroan, FindAGrave.com.


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