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At the summer 2017 Yellow Springs High School Reunion, a group of classmates began reflecting on the unique ways they came to understand issues of race in Yellow Springs, sometimes through negative experiences, and other times through positive ones. Hearing about The 365 Project’s project Blacks in Yellow Springs: An Encyclopedia, then accepting submissions, they submitted their reflections on race.

Because the reflections were more personal and anecdotal than the material being collected for the encyclopedia, members of The 365 Project decided that the reflections would be better-presented as an independent, ongoing project on The 365 Project website.

Click here if you would like to submit your reflections
Residents' Reflections on Race in Yellow Springs

The Color Line in Yellow Springs in the 1950s and 1960s

My family moved to Yellow Springs in 1953 where my father, Gus Rabson, began teaching math at Antioch. My parents had been members of the NAACP in Michigan, and met with leaders of the black community after arriving in Yellow Springs. After that our family avoided patronizing the Glen Cafe, then segregated, and got our hair cut at Pemberton's Barber Shop on Dayton Street to avoid the segregated shops. Later, around 1963, a friend of my family in the music department, David Epstein, testified in the court case brought by the NAACP against barber Lewis Gegner who claimed, at first, that he refused to cut blacks' hair because he didn't know how. Epstein, whose hair is classically African, testified that Gegner had cut it the week before. Later Gegner changed his claim, that he had the right as a business man to refuse any customer.

 Bill Lee, a member of the Detroit NAACP my parents knew, stayed in our house on his way south to help organize the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.
 

 In the late 1950's students from Prince Edward County, VA came to Bryan High School after the public schools closed there rather than desegregate. Sam Taylor was in my class and played on my team in intramural basketball. He came later to our class reunions, but unfortunately passed on a few years ago.

A Family Legacy of Supporting Equal Rights in the North

Here is some more about my family's experiences.

 

My family is Jewish and had supported equal rights since the 1930's. When I was born in Detroit in 1943, my father was stationed there during World War II working on the re-tooling of auto factories to make tanks and airplanes. That was the year of the (first) Detroit riot, which was actually a KKK massacre. My parents told me that whites were waiting with baseball bats at bus stops to attack black commuters. We lived in an apartment on Six Mile Road, recommended for the family of wartime government workers, that was owned by the people downstairs who seemed very cold to my parents. Later, when we moved, they found that someone had poured ink in all the boxes that contained our clothes. Only the people downstairs would have had the key to their apartment.

 

When my father taught at U. of Michigan in the late 1940's, Ann Arbor real estate was segregated. The street we lived on, Dewey Avenue, was all white. The next street over was all black. Later when we moved out of the city, my parents sold their house to the black family of another faculty member at Michigan over the strong objections of neighbors.

 

In 1959, when I was a sophomore at Bryan High School, Doug Berley drove Phil Lawson and me to the French Lick, Indiana (hometown of Larry Bird) jazz festival. As requested in the newspaper ad, I sent a telegram to the local Sheridan hotel there making reservations for us the nights of the festival. When we arrived after the long drive, I went up to the front desk explaining that we had telegrammed our reservation. The clerk looked at Phil and, without even checking the box of telegrams on the shelf behind him, said they didn't have our reservation.

 

That night, exhausted and starved, we went to a greasy spoon diner to eat. We sat at a table in the place that had very few other customers and waited twenty minutes, but no one came to hand out menus or take our orders. Finally, a teen-age boy came out of the kitchen, walked over, and said to Phil very politely, "I'm sorry. We can't serve you here." (This was one year before the Greensboro sit-ins in 1960.)

 

Berley picked up some hamburgers at a truck stop, and we slept in his car in the sweltering heat swatting mosquitoes all night.

 

Performers at the jazz festival included Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. I learned later that, when musicians played in such places, they stayed in private homes as guests of the families.

     

My mother lived on West Hilldale Drive off Woodward Avenue during the Detroit Uprising of 1967. She said that the first few days had seen a lot of property damage, but few deaths or injuries. Then, Gov. George Romney (Mitt's father) called out the National Guard and Michigan farm boys came riding into the city with their loaded rifles. The eventual death toll was 43.

Martin Luther King at Antioch, 1965

August 1, 2017

On June 19, 1965, I was in the audience for Dr. Martin Luther King's commencement address at Antioch. I had graduated the month before from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and returned to Yellow Springs where my family lived and I had gone to high school. Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, had attended Antioch College. Music for the ceremony was provided by Professor Walter Anderson, Chair of Antioch's Music Department, who played the organ and had been my piano teacher.

 

Dr. King's commencement address is summarized below.

Between 'the Dying Old and Emerging New'

Remembering MLK's Prescient Speech at Antioch

By Steven Rosen · January 12th, 2011 · Yellow Springs News

 

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speeches address the crushing issue of his time: ending racial segregation in America. His “I have a dream” exhortation at the 1963 March on Washington and his foreboding “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon at Memphis, just before his 1968 assassination, are the best examples.

 

But at 7 p.m. on Monday, which is the national holiday in his honor, a lesser-known but still powerful speech by King from 1965 will be broadcast on WYSO (91.3 FM) in Yellow Springs, a bucolic, progressive village about 65 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

For people who are out of range of the signal, it is available for streaming on the archive page of the public station’s Web site, www.wyso.org.

 

On June 19, 1965, King gave a commencement address to Antioch College’s 296 graduates, plus some 1,200 others who crowded the outdoor gathering space by the school’s main building. He spoke of American civil-rights issues — he was only three months past the national crisis in Selma, Ala., where racist officials tried to stop a march. And there would be more struggles in the future.

But he was also just six months past accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, so he had a visionary, internationalist view of what awaited a post-segregation America. It was important for him to share it with the next generation at progressive liberal-arts colleges like Ohio’s Antioch and Oberlin, where he gave a similar commencement address during the same year. (King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, attended Antioch but graduated from New England Conservatory.)

 

Today the Antioch speech sounds incredibly prescient.

“Those of us who live in the 20th-century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods in human history,” King begins. “Indeed, we find ourselves standing between two ages, the dying old and the emerging new. “…We are challenged today more than ever before to develop a world perspective,” he later says. “The world in which we live is geographically one, and we’re challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

31 Jul 2017
 

My family moved to Yellow Springs in 1953 where my father, Gus Rabson, began teaching math at Antioch. My parents had been members of the NAACP in Michigan, and met with leaders of the black community after arriving in Yellow Springs. After that our family avoided patronizing the Glen Cafe, then segregated, and got our hair cut at Pemberton's Barber Shop on Dayton Street to avoid the segregated shops. Later, around 1963, a friend of my family in the music department, David Epstein, testified in the court case brought by the NAACP against barber Lewis Gegner who claimed, at first, that he refused to cut blacks' hair because he didn't know how. Epstein, whose hair is classically African, testified that Gegner had cut it the week before. Later Gegner changed his claim, that he had the right as a business man to refuse any customer.

Bill Lee, a member of the Detroit NAACP my parents knew, stayed in our house on his way south to help organize the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.

 

In the late 1950's students from Prince Edward County, VA came to Bryan High School after the public schools closed there rather than desegregate. Sam Taylor was in my class and played on my team in intramural basketball. He came later to our class reunions, but unfortunately passed on a few years ago.

The Effects of Rising Housing Costs

August 9, 2017

You mention in your message that fewer blacks still live in Yellow Springs. I recall one of my Bryan schoolmates moving out of town across the Clark County line a few years ago because he could no longer afford to live in the village. But it's not only blacks. Land values, along with rents and mortgages, have skyrocketed in recent years driving out many long-time residents and their families. When I visited in July, the downtown on weekends seemed like one of those tourist towns on Cape Cod at peak season--crowds of loud-mouthed tourists, the roar of motor cycles, and clogging traffic with no parking spaces. When I lived there (1953-61) a few tourists would come to "look at the hippies," but things were generally quiet and peaceful. And housing was still affordable.

 

Navigating the Color Line While on the Road​

August 18, 2017

 

In 1959, when I was a sophomore at Bryan High School, Doug Berley drove Phil Lawson and me to the French Lick, Indiana (hometown of Larry Bird) jazz festival. As requested in the newspaper announcement, I sent a telegram to the local Sheridan hotel there making reservations for us the nights of the festival. When we arrived after the long drive, I went up to the front desk explaining that we had telegrammed our reservation. The clerk looked at Phil and, without even checking the box of telegrams on the shelf behind him, said they didn't have our reservation. 

 

That night, exhausted and starved, we went to a greasy spoon diner to eat. We sat at a table in the place that had very few other customers and waited twenty minutes, but no one came to hand out menus or take our orders. Finally, a teen-age boy came out of the kitchen, walked over, and said to Phil very politely, "I'm sorry. We can't serve you here." (This was one year before the Greensboro sit-ins in 1960.) Doug picked up some hamburgers at a truck stop, and we slept in his car in the sweltering heat swatting mosquitoes all night.

 

Performers at the jazz festival included Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. I learned later that, when musicians played in such places, they stayed in private homes as guests of the families. It seemed outrageous that segregated local businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, were profiting from their performances

 

White Intimidation in Dayton Against Crossing the Color Line

August 11, 2017

 One summer in the early 1960's Jem Filler and I were home in Y.S from college. He said there was a bar on the West Side of Dayton that had live jazz music, so we drove over there one night in his tiny Crosley car, and parked on the street. We were the only whites in the neighborhood and inside the bar. We stayed for two enjoyable sets of a tenor-organ trio, sipping beers, and left around 11:00, heading back to Jem's car.

 

We hadn't walked two blocks when we suddenly realized we were being followed by a large group of burly white men. We tried to speed up our pace, but they ran ahead of us surrounding us at a street corner.

 

"If you boys start running, we'll just have to chase you down," said their apparent leader. "Now what are you doing here?" he asked threateningly. For the first and only time in my adult life, I peed in my pants.

 "We came to hear music," I said. "Now you boys know you don't belong around here," he said. Inexplicably, Jem started to say "We have a perfect right . . . " Squeezing his arm hard, I interrupted. "Yes, we were just leaving." We walked slowly back to his little Crosley. They followed us part of the way (They could have easily destroyed the car.), and we were able to drive away.

 

We soon passed a police station, and Jem wanted to stop and "report it." Remembering that, in the south at least, the police were often allied with local segregationist thugs, I managed to talk him out of it, and we drove back to Y.S.

 

I met Jem later in the 1990's at a party in Y.S., maybe in Lynn Russell's house. He had married a black woman who had been born the same year (1943) and in the same hospital (Harper) in Detroit as I was.

The Prom and the Color Line

August 16, 2017

Speaking of the prom, I recall hearing about a Bryan H.S. prom from which Superintendent Augsburger tried to ban inter-racial couples. Their parents stood up to him  and nixed the ban. Does anyone else remember this well enough to write it up for the collection? ….. Steve Rabson

Yellow Springs as a Refuge from Resistors to School Integration in Virginia

August 27, 2017

I attended Bryan High School in Yellow Springs, Ohio, from 1957 to 1961. This town in Southwestern Ohio is home to Antioch College and a chapter of the American Friends Service Committee. Students at our school included a few political refugees from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It was in this context that Sam Taylor and Phyllistine Ward arrived at the start of  one school year from Prince Edward County, Virginia. 

 

My most vivid memory of them was how studious, polite, and well-dressed they were. Furthermore, while most of us were resentful of having to go to school every day and would rather have been somewhere else, they seemed to enjoy it and thrive there.

 

Like me, Sam played sports, but neither of us were talented athletes, so we joined the intramural after-school basketball program run by Coach Jim Cook. Sam and Phyllistine were comparatively quiet and soft-spoken, but popular among the other kids. Sam was an especially good dancer at the prom, I can't ever remember either of them cussing, drinking alcohol, skipping school, or doing any of the other "bad" things we did.

Steve Rabson

October 1, 2017
 

I first learned that Blacks were treated differently by some people in Yellow Springs when my family moved there in the summer of 1953. Two barbershops and the Glen Cafe did not serve Black customers. My parents joined with other faculty families at Antioch to avoid patronizing these places, getting our haircuts at Pemberton's Barber Shop on Dayton Street, and eating our meals out at other restaurants.

 

I don't recall any Black faculty in the public schools at that time, though the janitor of the elementary school was James McKee, later police chief. When I was in high school, Mr. Wingard joined the teaching staff. Education majors from Central State supervised our study halls, and assisted Coach Wingard in P.E. classes. One of them, Mr. Drummond, had played running back briefly for the New York Giants. He taught us the strategies of football. The students wanted a team, but it never happened in those days because the parents thought football was too dangerous, and the school board didn't want to pay for the equipment.

A Black Antioch College, Department Chair, Links to Civil Rights Icons

August 1, 2017

 

  Walter Anderson was in the Antioch music department for twenty years. I took piano lessons from him when I was in high school. The music I perform is jazz, but he dismissed it as "popular music." In fact, he could play virtuoso stride piano. He was the organist for a while at the First Baptist Church on the corner of Xenia Avenue and West Whiteman Street directly across the street from where we lived at 512 Xenia Avenue. He also played the organ for the Antioch commencement ceremony when Martin Luther King spoke.There is a book about his life, but I couldn't find it on Amazon.com. It should be at the Yellow Springs Public Library. 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2003/11/29/walter-anderson-dies/2b4eee82-85ba-44a5-ab00-d4e3326cf979/?utm_term=.b517f9c6fdc7

 

I knew Steve Schwerner, brother of Michael Schwerner, when he was an Antioch student and ran the Wednesday night jazz program on WYSO which was then on the second floor of the Union Building, now condemned and scheduled for demolition. 

 

Around 1963,  a few days after the police fired tear gas at demonstrators on Xenia Avenue protesting barber shop segregation, there was a peaceful march downtown I joined led by Earl Hull, Jr. and his wife Essie. These events were covered by the Y.S. News

Discovering the Color Line While Traveling

My continued memories of Y.S. always include how fortunate I was to have been able to grown up there.  I remember how several of us went by train to the Navajo reservation in Arizona to volunteer there.  On the way we got off in Chicago to have lunch.  We all went sat at a counter in some restaurant.  We all ordered. but they only brought food to the "white" folk and stated that they couldn't serve the rest.  We did all leave and did not pay for any food. I was so not used to this that I then knew how naive I was and how much I valued Yellow Springs!  I never lose thought of that. 

Diane Bingham

Interest in Learning more about longtime Black Families in Yellow Springs
July 31, 2017

I have so many questions about my neighborhood and hope one day to read about the history of my neighborhood in their encyclopedia.  For instance, why was it called Frog Town? Where did the Perrys, the Lawsons, the Hulls, the Cordells come from, did they come from the same area? or different?  What journeys did they have? I know several families have Indian ancestry as well. Several of the houses on my street were originally log cabins, Old Cass Bell lived in one, and I think the Mundy's house was.

 

Robin Lithgow & Doug Kirkpatrick's reflections

​​July 31, 2017

 I think Louie Cordell went there with David.  I'm not sure if he's on your list but I'll add him and forward this to him.  I dimly remember that there was one of the Cordell boys there and was Dave's best friend.

 Some of my fascination comes from reading Toni Morrison (especially "Beloved") and Virginia Hamilton.  I know that community has a fascinating history with it's lineal connections to the Cherokees, who sheltered runaway slaves in the Smokey Mountains, and their underground railway ancestry.  It's so great that someone is finally documenting this history!

Memories of the Father of Author Virginia Hamilton:

​​July 31, 2017

One tiny tid-bit to contribute is that Virginia Hamilton's father, who ran the Antioch cafeteria for many years, is responsible for my parents' relationship!  He was, apparently, a wonderful raconteur and my dad loved talking to him, and he picked up that dad was kind of interested in the new blond waitress, so he took it upon himself to schedule the two of them on the same shifts.  So in one sense I owe my life to him!

Love to you all, Robin

Phil King's reflections

​​July 31, 2017

Betty Ford (Carl Cordell's aunt and one of the redoubtable girlhood pals of Eugenia et al, was one of my buddies a few years back on the Yellow Springs Open Space Committee in our (failed) efforts to prevent the horror of the solar panel desecration of the golf course.  Betty recently sold her house on Livermore and moved to a condo (Fairborn) with her daughter. 

 Virginia Hamilton was a classmate and friend of Marian Wingfield, our nextdoor neighbor on High Street, 1946-52.  I remember her visiting over there.

And, fast forward to the present:  Andy Hamilton's great-granddaughter was one of my Mills Lawn second graders recently.  Andy's grandson-in-law lives on Rice Road. So things past and present connect.

 

Aloha to All, Phil King

The Consequences of Taking a Crossing the Color Line with a Prom Date

​​August 16, 2017

Here's a memory from high school, 1959 -- I was a junior, didn't have a date for the prom, so I invited Marva Glenn, whose boyfriend had graduated and was away in the military. We had a good time -- and I remember dancing with her again, at our 25th(?) reunion, where we caught up and I learned she'd married a black Jewish convert and they were now pillars of their synagogue in Orange County, CA.


At one point that summer of '59, I was at the YS pool and a guy I didn't know well, Gary Spencer as I recall, was standing in the shallow end with a friend, not from town, who was even bigger than he was. They called me into the water (and young idiot that I was, I went). His first line was, "So, who are you going to take to the prom next year?" and the friend chimed in with some racist remark.  That was followed by mutual insults and maybe some shoving -- at any rate, David Whitmore, who was a lifeguard, blew the whistle to clear the pool for rest time 10 minutes early, and banned the two guys from the pool.


Later that summer, I was downtown, walking up Xenia Avenue with a friend, when Gary pulled his car over on the other side of the street and motioned me over (and young idiot that I was, I went). He said, "I was in the hospital recently with an emergency appendectomy, and I had some time to think. I want to apologize for what happened in the pool. I was a real asshole." We shook hands and that was that.
Of course, the ironic coda to the story is that the girl I did take to the prom the next year was Kathy Riddock, my first love.


Kit/Chris Rohman

Dancing and the Color Line

Barrie Grenell's reflections

August 16, 2017

When the Klingbeals (sp?) came to teach ballroom dancing in 9th (?) grade, Connie Grimshaw's mother would not let her participate because it would have meant dancing with black classmates. 

Barrie Grenell

International and Domestic Perspectives on Race

Horst Gienapp's reflections
August 28, 2017

To all in Yellow Springs and especially those in the late 50's and early 60's; my memories of black history relates to many of the previous recollections but also to significant international events. 

 

I and many of you became aware of this by having the good fortune of knowing a wonderful classmate Alphonse Okuku from Kenya and either meeting his famous brother Tom Myboya and latter thinking of Alphonse when his brother was assassinated in 1969.  (see attached picture taken in my back yard before supper)

 

My small footnote in black history is that I conducted a Senior Ohio University Sociology project completing an attitude survey during the Gegner Barbershop civil rights demonstrations in 1964. Later I had a career on the policy side of the Criminal Justice System and worked in the office next to Robert Chiaramonte who became the Ohio Highway Patrol Superintendent in 1965 until 1975.  I remember in the 1980's we discussed that it would have been instructional if law enforcement could have conducted them selves the way they did in YS in the tumultuous events that took place across the country during that same period. 

 

Have a great day,

Horst Gienapp

A Cross-Burning in the 1950s

Paula Trichler's reflections

August 29, 2017

 

Kevin, Steve got the ball rolling by sharing news of your project with a growing email list of Bryan High School graduates of roughly 1955-1965 vintage.   We have been sharing a lot of memories but also confusions, contradictions, additions, etc. especially surrounding the incident of the  burning cross planted on one (white) family’s lawn in 1956 or 57 because their daughter, age 15, was dating a black man about 3 years older.  It’s a long story with short-term and long-term repercussions (one resolved 40 years later)

 

Racist Intimidation in Yellow Springs

August 30, 2017

 

Re memory, if my dog didn’t make her schedule clear to me, I would often forget her food and her pill, each twice a day.  As you say, the vision of that burning cross is more deeply embedded than where I put my keys.  Incidentally, as we talked about the cross burning incident, i remembered that a couple of nights after that incident a mediocre local hoodlum named Red Burnham drove up and down Davis Street (our street but also Kiki’s street) with the light on in his car so we could see his bull whip.

Paula Treichler

Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff and the Challenges of Writing Books for Children

October 17, 2017

 

Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff were longtime friends of my parents, Paul and Jessie Treichler, and then of Cary Nelson and me also:  Virginia’s first novel Zeely started as a story in my father’s composition class at Antioch; he urged her to do more with it and she certainly did!!   One evening when she and Arnold were sitting around the kitchen table in our house on High Street, Virginia sketched the genealogy of two main extended black families in Yellow Springs. I wish I’d taken notes. The Hamiltons and related families comprised one of these lines while the Cordells, Hulls, and their kinfolk comprised the other.  I hope others can fill out all the connections.  When Virginia and Arnold talked about their work as the writers of books for children & young people, it was a revelation. I knew academic publishing (or perishing!) was tough but our experience was Lollipop Land compared to the vicious, hellish, cutthroat universe of high end New York children’s book publishing.* When they were established as successful writers, Arnold announced that they could now move out of New York City and live pretty much everywhere they wanted.  Where did Virginia want to move?  Yellow Springs, Ohio.

 

* This information helped me when advising doctoral students and said, in the throes of their dissertations and fed up with academic politics, said they would just leave for the more innocent career of writing children’s books!

 

Paula Treichler