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Antioch College

Paul Graham with the original Ohio Civil Rights Commission complaint he filed after being refused service at Louis Gegner's barbershop in Yellow Springs. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Gegner legacy strong after 50 years

Fifty years ago this month, African-American villager Paul Graham walked into Lewis Gegner’s barbershop on Xenia Avenue, sat down in his barber chair and asked for a haircut.

“I can’t cut your hair,” the white barbershop owner replied, according to Graham’s account. “I don’t know how. That’s all there is to it.”

That day Graham filed a complaint against Gegner’s discriminatory practices with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in a case that reached the Ohio Supreme Court.

The historic moment was part of a 20-year effort to desegregate Yellow Springs, which escalated to the dramatic 1964 confrontation between police and protesters picketing Gegner’s shop  —  an event that landed 100 people in jail and thrust Yellow Springs into the national spotlight during the height of the civil rights movement.

Soon after the confrontation, Gegner sold his shop and moved out of town, and the Supreme Court refused to hear Graham’s case. Gegner had never consented to cut a black man’s hair when pressured.

Today, the villagers and Antioch College students who participated in the Gegner actions look back on the incident with a mixture of pride and disappointment, and draw lessons from a struggle which both defined and divided the community.

“It became apparent that Yellow Springs wasn’t the type of community we thought it was,” Graham said.

See the Nov. 24 issue of the YS News for the full story.

 

Hundreds of local and area students, residents and law enforcement officials jammed downtown Yellow Springs on Xenia Avenue during a chaotic demonstration against Gegner's Barber Shop on March 14, 1964. (Photo courtesy of Antiochiana)

From left, Arthur Morgan, Paul Graham, an unidentified man, Walter Anderson and Hardy Trolander (partially hidden) led a march through Yellow Springs in May 1963 to protest discrimination at Gegner's Barbershop. More than 550 people participated in the march. (Photo courtesy of Antiochiana)

Lewis Gegner, right, tried to remove Antioch student Jim Fearn from his shop in 1964. (Photo courtesy of Antiochiana)

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4 Responses to “Gegner legacy strong after 50 years”

  1. Tony Dallas says:

    I remember as a junior high school student standing with a crowd of folk on the portico of the Presbyterian church watching the demonstration play out. Jim McKee, Yellow Springs’ African-American police chief, symbolically (at least it seemed symbolic to me at the time) removed his gun belt. The urgency of the YS police force and the fire department was to clear the street before Greene County Sheriff Russell Bradley and his men showed up in their cruisers (68 was, after all, a state highway). The fire department threatened to turn on the spout atop the fire engine on the demonstrators. The demonstrators responded by linking arms and singing louder. A countdown was given by the fire chief (Dalrimple at the time?). When the demonstrators didn’t disperse, the spout was opened, and the wind blew the rush of water in a rather gentle spray onto the spectators–of which there were a great many. It seemed a particularly Yellow Springs moment. Then Bradley and his men showed up, and the teargas canisters started to fly.

  2. John Buhaly says:

    I was about 18 years old and a resident of Yellow Springs, Ohio when: I was getting a haircut at Lou Gegners barber shop when a “colored” man came in and asked for a haircut, I don’t know if it was Mr. Graham, but I do know that Mr. Gegner responded to the colored person saying that he was not qualified and did not know how to cut a colored persons hair because of the coarseness of the hair. But, there is a barber shop over on Dayton St. that specializes in cutting a colored persons hair. He referred that person to the barber on Dayton St. and at the same time he mentioned that he gets referrals from the barber on Dayton St. Some time after that, while employed at Village Bakery I witnessed the confrontation between the Ohio National Guard and the Antioch College students. To me, this was a low point in the history of Yellow Springs. An honest businessman, run out of business based on one incident. Since then, nothing angers me more than when a newscaster says that there is at least one person that has a conflicting opinion. I only care about what the majority decides.

  3. Dana E. Wilson says:

    This article brought tears. I am proud of YS! You are fighting the same battle for equality today as we were then. We must never forget that racism is alive and well. The maldistribution of wealth in 2011 is as extreme today as it was in 1929. Long ago I delivered the YSN for Keith Howard and I still cherish your progressive editorial outlook. YSO is a special place. Keep the faith. This world is not a resting place.

  4. Dan Plecha says:

    I’d like to say thanks to Mr. Graham for helping to make Yellow Springs, Ohio, and America a better place.

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