Black History

The 365 Project preserves history year-round

By Amanda Dee

This past New Year’s Eve in the Village of Yellow Springs, hundreds of residents gathered to celebrate the ball drop, like every other year. This time, though, police officers reacted in stark contrast to their annual routine.

Minutes after the ball dropped, officers drove squad cars, lights flaring, back and forth through the crowd to disperse them, agitating the crowd. Notably, 29-year-old David Carlson, a black resident, leaned into the vehicle of one of the officers, who was white. According to the police chief’s statement, Carlson appeared intoxicated. The officer reported that she requested Carlson move away from the car, and when he did not, she opened the car door with Taser in hand, the statement continued. Carlson then allegedly stole the Taser from the first officer and ran from the scene, though the Taser he was accused of stealing was never found. Another office fired a Taser, which discharged into the crowd, missing him, and he was later apprehended and charged with a felony and misdemeanor. However, later, witnesses and video evidence did not corroborate the officer’s story and the initial officer resigned.

In the week that followed the incident, local news outlets reported the consequent town hall meeting that gathered about 300 residents, many of which criticized the police tactics that night—and since long before that night—the police chief’s resignation, and the village’s motion to hire an attorney to investigate the incident and ensuing police training.

What also happened the afternoon of New Year’s Day, and what has been happening since the summer of 2016, are formal community dialogues about policing and race in Yellow Springs. (Readers may recall media coverage of comedian Dave Chapelle’s push for more progressive policing at a March Village Council meeting.)

These dialogues began with members of The 365 Project, a nonprofit organization that works toward educational equality for black and white students and the preservation of the community’s black history—the community’s history—beyond Black History Month in February.

The organization’s work is geographically bound to Yellow Springs and Miami Township, but its mission relates to all black Americans—as well as non-black Americans—in the Miami Valley, across Ohio, and everywhere in the United States because it’s reacting, still, to a history of decisions that discriminated against darker skin color.

 

DECADES AGO

Five decades before the ball dropped, tear gas invaded protestors’ airways one evening in Yellow Springs.

In the ’60s, a barber refused Paul Graham, a black customer—after a 600 percent population surge of male students at Antioch College and resulting crusade for integration of barber shops. The barber said, simply, he did not know how to cut Graham’s hair and appealed the matter to the local court, arguing that considering his business a “public accommodation,” a facility open to the public under Ohio’s 1961 law, violated the Constitution. And he won, but it was eventually brought back to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Students from Antioch grew weary of the slogging pace of the court system and acted then; that March evening in 1964 became one of the most violent protests in the village’s history, with reports of tear gas and police brutality against protestors. It ultimately cost the man his business, Gegner’s Barbershop on Xenia Avenue, and, some residents argued, a chance to establish critical civil legal precedent in 1964, amid the rollout of the Civil Rights Act.

This moment in history, collected from sociologist Susan Opotow’s “The History of the Negro in Yellow Springs,” bookmarks a few pages of the “Blacks in Yellow Springs” walking tours led by members of The 365 Project. Some pages are brighter, like those with the indelible marks of Wheeling Gaunt, a freedman from Kentucky who immigrated to the village in 1862 and quickly rose to prominence as a lawyer and community benefactor: he bequeathed nine acres to the village—Gaunt Park, where the swimming pool and baseball field currently reside—with the request they be rented to the highest bidder and the resulting proceeds used to purchase 10 pounds of flour for the community’s widows on Christmas Eve.

Some pages are more faded, like Antioch College’s reputation in the ’40s as the “lily white school,” six years after a Young Socialists’ survey revealed 65 percent of students weren’t comfortable rooming with black students—and despite the first President Horace Mann’s reformative education philosophy to “embrace children of all religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds.”

Historian and Antioch professor Kevin McGruder, a 365 member since he moved to Yellow Springs in 2012, assembled the tours to ensure the actions of those like Gaunt, and like Gegner, would not be forgotten.

“I think people assume that because Yellow Springs is very progressive that attention doesn’t need to be paid to [African-American history] because people get it just by living here,” he says. “African-American history is really a part of American history, but it’s been so intentionally excluded that you have to intentionally include it.”

John Gudgel, 365 founder, has grown up in Yellow Springs and still works in the public school system. He recounts recent classroom experiences with students: “I’m telling them stories about Wheeling Gaunt and [Antioch alumna] Coretta Scott King and others that played a prominent role in this community and these kids are looking at me like, wow, we didn’t know that about our black history in Yellow Springs. And I’m like, yes, it’s a rich, rich history, and we can’t expect or guarantee that they’re going to get this information from their parents or they’re going to get it through their instruction at school, through their history courses.”

 

A DECADE AGO

A decade before the ball dropped, John Gudgel worked as principal of Yellow Springs High School. He conducted a comprehensive study on the achievement gap between black and white students at the school, based on a survey of GPAs from 2009 and other academic records. Before this study, he had examined the gap on a more macro scale, looking at country-wide data.

He learned, not to his surprise, that in the 11 years leading up to the study, students of color were represented less and less as GPA range increased. He also noticed trends of fewer enrollments for AP classes and the National Honor Society.

Coinciding with this study, the pastor of the First Baptist Church contacted Gudgel to relate his fear that the community was forgetting its history. At this intersection in time, Gudgel saw a gap and started building a bridge.

“It was just a recognition that if there wasn’t an organization that keeps the issue of racism at the forefront of what’s going on in Yellow Springs, then that’ll be lost,” Gudgel says, “and there would be an underrepresented population of the community, [one which] certainly plays a major part.”

The group, consisting of black and non-black members, officially convenes about once a month. The Young People of Color branch of the project hosts separate meetings, to discuss problems more directly affecting youth—for instance, the tension between students of color and white teachers and students in the school system—as well as to provide a community space to feel listened to and understood.

Though, events like the themed Little Art Theatre film screenings and pool party, at none other than Gaunt Pool, often call for a range of ages to participate. One 365 event that crossed decades of experiences was a series of panel discussions called “Growing Up Black in Yellow Springs,” which shared the voices of black residents of Yellow Springs starting with those in their ’70s and ’80s and concluding with present high school students.

“It’s a really good feeling when you can have all parts of the community [together], because it’s not just people of color that show up. It’s everyone who can show up,” 365’s Young People of Color member Amani Wagner says about events like the annual pool party, adding that it’s a feeling “like it’s not so bad after all—like you don’t have to be alone.”

 

GROWING UP BLACK IN YS 

Right after the ball dropped, Yellow Springs High School’s Amani Wagner was “really, really scared.”

She knew police officers were veering off their regular New Year’s course, and one of her older brothers was in that crowd, and, “I just got this really bad feeling in my stomach about how something bad could happen to him, and I didn’t like that feeling at all,” she says.

Wagner is black, as is her brother. She’s a member of The 365 Project and its subsidiary Young People of Color group, along with a slew of extracurriculars that, understandably, made scheduling an interview a challenge.

“I’ve been living in Yellow Springs my whole life,” she tells Dayton City Paper from inside Dino’s, the cozy cappuccino shop on Xenia Avenue. She’s 17 and it’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday.  Wagner has been involved with the project since she was in eighth grade, and now leads some of the “Blacks in Yellow Springs” walking tours.

“Before I started The 365 Project, I knew a little bit of the history African-American people had in Yellow Springs, but I didn’t really think a lot about it—I didn’t really think it was that important because it wasn’t the same now and I couldn’t relate to it. But once I started getting involved, it changed how I thought about things. Now I can see the color in everything that I do. I started relating to things a lot easier…Like, oh, this was made by an African-American woman.”

Learning a fuller version of history helped her to see her world in color.

And that’s what Gudgel says the project tries to accomplish, explaining, “Part of working with young people of color is to get them to value their own blackness. Because they’re getting a lot of signals that they shouldn’t, [that] whiteness is what’s important—there’s nothing wrong with whiteness, but it has no greater value than blackness. But if you look at popular culture…black children get a lot of messages that would lead them, if someone didn’t intervene, to not value who they are.”

Wagner acknowledges how her mom’s generation lived and knew this history, “but they didn’t know the full effect of it and how it affected everyone in the community.”

On racism today, she reflects, “Sometimes…we don’t fully see the problem. We know it’s there, but we don’t acknowledge it. And for the people that still act like there’s no problem at all, it’s really hard to try to explain to them what’s going on or how we feel about it.”

At the village council meeting following the New Year’s incident, the leader of the project’s Police Policy Committee, Gavin Devore Leonard, spoke to some the group’s collective sentiments: he expressed the belief that this incident did not occur in isolation, rather that it was an inevitable result of poor policy and policing culture. He requested the implementation of a citizen review board, and the department’s clarification of values and definition of community policing.

“We’ve always been talking about it,” McGruder adds about the policing issue.

In regards to all issues associated with race, Wagner shares some of her exhaustion: “Sometimes I feel like I don’t need to talk anymore, and I’m just tired of people always not listening, but then I think about my little brother and his friends, and I don’t want them to grow up in a place—it’s not hateful here, but in other places—where they are going to go off to [that’s] pretty hateful.

“It makes me want to work harder to make sure nothing like that happens again. Even though I don’t want to do it sometimes, I just think about how I’m going to help him and his future.”

 

For more information on The 365 Project or ‘Blacks in Yellow Springs’ 2017 tours, please visit The365ProjectYS.org.


‘BLACKS IN YS’ 2017 TOURS:
4/22- Blacks in Yellow Springs

5/13- Black residential areas

6/24- Black businesses

7/22- Blacks in Yellow Springs

8/26- Blacks in Faith Communities

9/16- Black residential areas

10/21- Black businesses

Tags: , , , ,

Reach DCP Editor Amanda Dee at editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Springfield’s hidden gem

CoverHartman2

Referred to as an American Folk Art site, I didn’t know what I expected on my journey to Springfield’s Hartman […]

Debate 7/17: Flag on the Play

DebateBok

Q: Should persons with certain known behavioral tendencies such as suicide or violence be prohibited from owning guns? Legislatures across […]

Conspiracy Theorist 7/17: Hooray for Domino’s

Year after year, the same roads are torn up and road crews patch them. But they never really repair them. […]

On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

First, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he […]

The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bush at Rose

CULT 2016 Tim Cadiente-2

“Rock and roll never forgets,” the classic rock song goes, and Billy Duffy, guitarist and founding member of the British […]