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Articles About African-American culture and history :: Page 3
Every year the local blues fest reminds community members about the roots of contemporary popular music. If gospel can spawn the blues, jazz, reggae and rap, then what can the art of the local community tell us about our own history and roots? African American Cross-Cultural Works and the Tecumseh Land Trust aim to find out when they put on the first ever Roots Fest on Saturday, March 27, at Bryan Community Center. It will be an evening of performances in which villagers use the arts to connect to and share their own stories.
For Jewell Graham, the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were exhilarating times to live in the village. Having come to Yellow Springs as a young African-American woman with her new husband, Paul, who after graduating from Antioch had been offered a job at Vernay Laboratories, Graham was impressed with the quality of relationships between blacks and whites. Many businesses were integrated in a way unusual for the time, and a passion for the civil rights movement further brought people together. There was considerable socializing between blacks and whites in her world, as well as a sense of shared purpose.
If local diversity can be measured by the number of African Americans who live within the geographical boundaries of Yellow Springs, the village has experienced three decades of decreasing diversity, and is likely wrapping up a fourth. Since 1970, the village has lost about 500 African-American residents, mirroring a larger regional trend.
Yellow Springs can be a supportive town for black youth to grow up in, according to a group of 10 current Yellow Springs High School students and recent graduates in recent interviews. But the village is not immune to the issues that tend to divide the community by color and burden some African-American families disproportionately. Instances of discrimination are very subtle, and can be unintentional, but they do occur here, the youth said, and they pose obstacles both of perception and in actual practice that young people of color are challenged to overcome.
For many years after her death in 2002, the glass door to Virginia Hamilton’s writing office remained closed. Every day Arnold Adoff, her husband and writing partner, passed the office at their home in Yellow Springs, but he didn’t want to open it. Then in 2007 fellow children’s book writer Kacy Cook helped crack the vault, and out poured 35 years of research, notes, speeches and manuscripts that formed the gritty trail of an American intellectual and her life as mother, wife and prolific writer.
When Joyce McCurdy accepted a teaching position in the Yellow Springs School District, there was a black chief of police, a black member of Council, and a black member of school board. The principal of the high school was black, and three of McCurdy’s colleagues were also black — and actively involved in the social issues of the day. The year was 1965.
When Isabel Newman graduated from Bryan High School in 1943, Antioch Bookplate President Ernest Morgan hired her to work for the company. Soon after, he sent her to a six-week course at the Mergenthaler linotype school in New York, and upon her return, she worked for the company for over 40 years, retiring as a manager. At that company, whose president actively promoted racial integration, she recalled that typically a fourth of the employees were minorities. The support for a racially diverse staff appeared to be the same at Vernay Laboratories, where two of Newman’s sisters worked, Yellow Springs Instruments and Antioch College, the place that bred all three companies and their socially minded leaders.
When Robert Harris graduated from college with a degree in physics and math, he sought an engineering job in his hometown of Philadelphia. But the year was 1952, and companies weren’t hiring blacks for professional positions.
For each of the several hundred people who attended her memorial service at Bryan Community Center on Saturday, Dec. 5, Deborah Benning meant something unique. But in all her roles as mother, step-mother, partner, friend, Village Council clerk and long-time village resident, she was consistently seen as a supportive leader and a touchstone others could depend on. She served in that way for family and friends as well as for the Village of Yellow Springs, and her death on Nov. 24 is as much a part of local history as the legacy of her family as an early part of the village’s African American community.
You could call Faith Patterson a woman with a passion for bringing people together. As a leader of the African-American Cultural Works, or ACCW, she’s been pursuing that passion for more than a decade, spearheading such community-building events as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the recent Roots brunch, and the upcoming annual AACW Blues/Jazz Fest.