The James and Bessie Hamm Civic Award

Mr. and Mrs. James and Bessie Hamm

james bessie hamms

Bessie and James:

October 28, 1917 was all about the tradition of Harambee; all about pulling together. That’s the way, on that day, that Bessie and James Hamm started married life. They brought Harambee from Baltimore City to Rochester. Bessie cleaned other folks’ homes, and washed their clothes; James fired furnaces at Bastian Brothers Company. Thrift and hard work enabled them to purchase a house. In time, their home became an oasis; Bessie and James organized “Parents and Students Want to Know,” folks who believed that African American kids could go and succeed in college. The Hamms helped start the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Fund as a source of financial aid that college-bound kids could tap.

Bessie and James Hamm were never blessed with children, but they blessed this community. After Miss Bessie died, Mr. James gave the house to this community, trusting that the Hamm House—the “House that Love Built”—would continue to be a center where Harambee lives.

The Civic Award:

We want to honor Bessie and James Hamm by honoring someone else who has exhibited some of their qualities — that’s why we created the Civic Award.