‘Loud As the Rolling Sea’ — Alyce Earl-Jenkins on the civil rights generation
- Published: December 18, 2021
In collaboration with 91.3-FM WYSO’s Eichelberger Center for Community Voices, the News is publishing excerpted transcripts from WYSO’s series “Loud As the Rolling Sea,” which highlights the voices from a generation of African Americans in Yellow Springs who were the civil rights activists of their day.
The series is hosted by Antioch College Associate Professor of History Kevin McGruder.
In this installment, villager Alyce Earl-Jenkins discusses student activism in the 1960s and ’70s in Greene County, home to two historically Black colleges — Central State and Wilberforce University — and Antioch College. Students at all three schools organized protests, marches, sit-ins, rallies, pickets and more during those years, pressing hard and relentlessly for civil rights for African Americans.
To listen to the interview: https://www.wyso.org/local-and-statewide-news/2021-06-23/loud-as-the-rolling-sea-dr-yvonne-seon
Alyce Earl-Jenkins came north to Ohio from Alabama right out of college to take a job at Central State University in 1958. The next 10 years would be turbulent.
Coming from Birmingham, she saw the civil rights movement play out here in the north and also in the south where her family lived.
Alyce Earl-Jenkins: Everything in Birmingham was segregated. We had our own movies. We had our own restaurants, our own churches. We had cleaners. We had our own construction companies. We had our own schools. You know, that’s how it was. When integration came, I felt then and I still feel I have some mixed emotions about that, because what happened is that those thriving businesses in the urban cities were gone. And that was how the people were able to build those nice houses and everything and now you don’t have that, you know.
Kevin McGruder: Do you remember anybody anticipating that or even being aware that that might be a possibility?
Earl-Jenkins: No, I didn’t hear anybody say anything about it. And all the time it was after it had happened when I would just talk about it and mention that, you know, how I miss that and how it hurt our community. And people would look at me [and say], girl, I don’t see how you can say this isn’t better now. And I’m thinking, no, it’s not, you know, because they had a lot of Black people and they were successful and their kids went to high schools, nice universities. And so when their businesses closed, like Stevenson’s garage closed [her father was employed there], there was never another full-scale automobile garage in north Birmingham, you know?
And we had nice movie theaters. And Mama said that Sammy Davis — his father used to come and perform at the Pantages in Birmingham and she saw Sammy Davis when he was small, you know, because his daddy was making the rounds to the different cities. And the same thing happened in Atlanta. Anything you need it, you could get in the Black community. But when integration came, all of that disappeared, you know. And here in Dayton, they had a place on Fifth Street and another street maybe was Fourth and Fifth Street. They had lots of businesses over there. It was a thriving area.
McGruder: What was Xenia like?
Earl-Jenkins: It had the east side, most of the Blacks lived on the east side and whites lived everywhere else. They had clubs and things, all the Blacks would go there and we used the same grocery store. They had a nice movie theater. I think we used the front door. I don’t remember using a side door. But then we also had movies on campus. And we had a bus that was… I think the man’s name was Mr. Johnson on the bus. And he would make trips from Xenia to Dayton for people who want to shop and things like that. And then later there was another bus that was going from Xenia to Dayton. You know, it was OK. And I joined the St. John AME Church in Xenia. I knew I was going to join an AME church. But the fact that it was St. John’s made it more attractive because my church in Birmingham was St. John AME Church. So I was a member of that church up until my mother came here in 2000. After the tornado, St. John in Xenia and CME church combined and it became United AME Church.
McGruder: You were at Central State during this period. How was the college affected by the changes?
Earl-Jenkins: Well, during that time, because it moved from desegregation and the economic equality, the movement kind of thing and the housing kind of thing to the historically Black colleges and universities. And it wasn’t just historically Black colleges and universities, the white universities as well, but with the civil rights movement came the peace movement at the same time and human rights and all. OK, so the colleges were affected by the students who all of a sudden saw some of the administrators and teachers and faculty members as being nothing but Uncle Toms because they did not stand up for their rights. So we didn’t stand up for our rights and didn’t do the things that they felt that we should be doing. So we had a lot of student unrest and that was where SNCC [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] was involved with that.
McGruder: Did they have a branch in Dayton or Xenia?
Earl-Jenkins: SNCC was very organized. No school was untouchable as far as they were concerned, okay? So the students came here from different places and they would meet with the leaders on the different campuses and tell them what they needed to do and how to go about doing that. You know, I mean, it was bad.
McGruder: And how did that feel as a faculty person?
Earl-Jenkins: It was frightening. It was frightening. And so they were saying that they wanted coed dorms, and the administration didn’t want that. And so that was the reason for them to protest. They said that they needed to do things in the library. They talked about the food, anything. They were just — we never knew what was happening, you know. We did know that some of the faculty and the residents of Yellow Springs were helping the students. Things would be going along smoothly and we’d look up and there was Stokely Carmichael. We’d say, ‘Dang.’ You know, and whenever he came, you know, that was what it was all about.
McGruder: To what extent were their demands national issues compared to campus issues?
Earl-Jenkins: They were really campus issues at the time, but they were using the same procedures that they had used for the national.
McGruder: Did you notice a difference between Central State and Wilberforce in terms of the way they responded to students?
Earl-Jenkins: No, no. The students had to fight for whatever they wanted. They had to keep pushing and pushing. I didn’t see a difference. I guess maybe I saw more of Wilberforce because I wasn’t at Central when they had their student unrest. But the students would get together and decide that they would just line up and just march and keep making noise all night long. One time we got a call and someone had set the print area on fire at Wilberforce. And Yvonne and I [Dr. Yvonne Seon, also on the Wilberforce staff at the time] were driving there. And as we were going down Route 68, we could look over and see the glow in the sky where it was from the fire. And I said when I left that day, when I got ready to leave that day I said, ‘Alyce, you don’t have to put up with this.’ I mean, this has been going on for so long. And I said, ‘This is a good time for me to leave.’ And so I left. But it was difficult. It was frightening to me. But it was it was more than that. It was hurtful because everybody was working so hard, especially at Wilberforce. They were working so hard to try to make sure they had a good education and all the resources that they could possibly have. I mean, it brought us to tears.
Earl-Jenkins was interviewed for this series in 2013, and her story was edited with help from community producer Mojgan Samardar.
Funding for this project comes from The Yellow Springs Community Foundation, the Yellow Springs Brewery and from Rick and Chris Kristensen, Re/Max Victory and affiliates in Yellow Springs.
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