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History Department

Lowell Cheatham Wormley, Jr., Hanover College Class of 1965 -- Learning in Black and White

Lowell Cheatam Wormley (Revonah, 1951)
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Lowell Wormley came from a distinguished family, being the descendent (through his father) of both James Wormley (1819-1884) and Henry Plummer Cheatham (1857-1935).

Before the Civil War, James Wormley was a member of the small free black community in Washington D.C. He became wealthy while working as a caterer there, and he traveled to England and France to develop his culinary skills further. After the war, he opened the Wormley Hotel, a luxury hotel and noted restaurant near the White House, and it soon attracted famous politicians and other celebrities.  The most notable event associated with his hotel was in February 1877: politicians met there to hammer out a resolution of the 1876 presidential election, which had been in dispute since November. Under the Compromise of 1877 (sometimes known as the Wormley Agreement), Democrats conceded that all the disputed electoral votes would go to the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, making him president. In exchange, the Republicans agreed to remove federal troops from the South and to leave southern whites a free hand in their treatment of the ex-slaves.  James Wormley was a remarkably successful businessman.  When he died in 1881, he left an estate of $150,000, and the (white) managers of rival hotels in Washington served as his pallbearers.

Henry Plummer Cheatham was a Republican Congressman from North Carolina (serving from 1889 to 1893). The Compromise of 1877 allowed southern whites to disenfranchise African Americans throughout the South by the end of the century, and when Cheatham ran in 1888, 60 percent of his constituents were already barred from voting. He won a narrow victory, even so.  When he took office, he was the only African American serving in Congress, and he was one of the last African-American representatives from the South until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lowell Cheatham Wormley came to Hanover from Philadelphia, and his family stories may have inspired him to major in history. (He was named after his father, but his parents divorced when he was about three years old, and he grew up with his mother. Still, his father was the parent listed in college records, suggesting he may have been paying the tuition bills. Perhaps he also encouraged his son to remember their family's connections to history.)

By the 1980s, he had become a systems analyst, working with the developing computer industry. He died tragically, at the age of 49, traveling to consult for a computer company in California. The commercial plane he was taking crashed on take-off, killing all but one of those on board.

  • "Dr. Lowell Wormley Gets Mexican Divorce from Wife and Marries Edna Burge, Brooklyn Socialite," New York Age, 6 Sept. 1941, p. 4.
  • Jack Eisen, "A Family of Substance," Washington Post, 28 Jan. 1986, B2.
  • "Four from Jersey are Victims," New York Times, 2 Aug. 1987, available online.
  • Hanover College, Revonah, 1965 (yearbook), available at Duggan Library, Hanover College (Hanover, Ind.).
  • Jessie Carney Smith, Encyclopedia of African American Business, 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2017), 167, 316-17, 402.
  • "The Flight 255 Family," Their Spirit Lives On . . . In Our Hearts and Minds Forever (memorial website), accessed 20 February 2018.
  • Matthew Wasniewsk, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2008), 200-204.