Aaron Eugene Malone was born in Kentucky in 1867, a descendant of slaves in post-Civil War America. His family moved to Metropolis, Illinois, where he met Annie Turnbo, a classmate he would re-connect with later in life. The family relocated to Quincy and Aaron 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.
Principal 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 “home-like 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 re-ignited his childhood romance with Annie Turnbo, who had moved there to open a cosmetics college and launch a business legacy. Annie 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) Illinois. 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 cosmetic products for Americans of African descent. 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 Aaron Malone had lobbied for Quincy contractors to build. It is unknown if Quincy men actually built that roof garden or any of Poro College.
In 1922 a Poro College commencement ceremony was held at the Eight and Elm Street Baptist Church in Quincy, and Mr. and Mrs. Malone were honored guests. Six young married Quincy ladies took extension courses from Mrs. Marion Hall of Quincy, herself a graduate of Poro College in St. Louis. Mrs. 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 of flowers presented by Annie Malone; their class motto being “Not at the top, but climbing.” Marion Hall had begun her beauty parlor in a back room of her home. She and her husband’s success led to them buying and remodeling a modern home at 1870 Vermont; complete with a new beauty parlor.
Business success followed the Malones into the 1920’s. 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 also shared their growing wealth in personal charity. The Malones maintained a home in Quincy at 921 Lind Street. 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 9th and Oak.
Later that year they funded and hosted a huge picnic for Quincy’s Poro Club at 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 they performed at events throughout Quincy in the 1920’s, sometimes with the Jubilee singers. They held concerts at South Park, Washington Park, Berrian Park, Highland Park at 20th and Cedar, Soldiers and Sailors Home (Illinois Veterans Home), churches, and even socials held at people’s homes. E. McPipe had a fundraiser for the “Step Lively Girls” at his house at 919 Lind St. 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 a thousand dollars 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.”