William H. Mills
(Credit: Daniel Clemson)
William H. Mills had a barbershop, once located near the present-day Governors Pub. Much of what we know about the Underground Railroad in Bellefonte is because of the life and writings of William H. Mills. Mills was born in Bellefonte in 1847 and learned the barbering trade from Mesh S. Graham, a member of the Bellefonte chapter of the Equal Rights League (Democratic Watchman 1865). Mills started his own shop in 1871 and continued in his trade for 60 years. In 1872, he is said to have cut the hair of Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist and founder of the Equal Rights League, while he was in town on a speaking series. Douglass spoke at Reynolds Hall on March 5, 1872 (download the speech below). Mills was a leading member of the A.M.E. Church and was “instrumental in the organization of the Negro [sic] Masonic Lodge” (Democratic Watchman 1931). The Lodge was next to his barber shop. Along with other concerned citizens, Mills successfully petitioned the local school board to desegregate Bellefonte schools in 1885. William H. Mills also sang with local Jubilee Singers, a heritage that passed on to his grandchildren. His grandchildren went on to form the jazz/pop quartet The Mills Brothers, which was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Learn more about The Mills Brothers here: "The Mills Brothers Trace Roots to Bellefonte." by Daniel Clemson.
Committee on "The School Question," including W. H. Mills
African American 'Footprints' in the Sands of Bellefonte History. Walking Tour Pamphlet designed and produced by The Mills Brothers Society for its 2001 International Convention held in Bellefonte, PA. (Copy available at the Centre County Library & Historical Museum).
Clemson, Daniel, and Susan Hannegan. Underground Railroad Activity in Bellefonte, PA. 2008.
Clemson, Daniel. "The Mills Brothers Trace Roots to Bellefonte." Pennsylvania Heritage. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Winter 2012. http://paheritage.wpengine.com/article/mills-brothers-trace-roots-to-bellefonte/
"Mills." Democratic Watchman (Bellefonte, Pa.). July 24, 1931.
"The Equal Rights League." Democratic Watchman (Bellefonte, Pa.). Nov. 24, 1865. https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn83031981/1865-11-24/ed-1/seq-3/
"The School Question." Bellefonte Republican (Bellefonte, Pa.). Sept. 17, 1885.