But it was generally a good place to live and to grow up in most ways. The nastiness, racism and classism, etc. were kept enough in the background that it took getting older and being more aware of human beings and their behaviors to realize. Xenia has always had a confusing relationship with its black population there is no doubt about that.
The Civil Rights movement and integration and the other changes in society that swept the country in the 1960s were muted in Xenia. Besides the demonstrations outside of Geyers Restaurant for not serving black people, which were mainly led by the white students from Antioch College, I do not remember a lot of civil unrest in Xenia at all. Yellow Springs, although smaller,was much more of a hot spot for social justice than Xenia. We were not folks who were up on national trends, or at least we did not emulate them.
I often told my college classes I did not get to participate in either the free love or drug cultures of the 60’s because by the time they reached Xenia I was married with a child, and mothers in that era, simply did not do that unless they wanted to be the object of public scorn.
When I was growing up in Xenia it was a bedroom community in the true sense of the word.White people and black people in Xenia worked at the factories in Dayton, Frigidaire, Delco, Chrysler, NCR, or Springfield, International Harvester, or at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, fondly called “The Field.” Black people might also work at either of the two historically black universities, Central State or Wilberforce. I do not remember white folks working at either college until about the 1970s.
So we had two societies, primarily separate, but still cordial to each other and still able to pull together when required to defend Xenia and Xenians. I think I have mentioned before that when I had a stint as an editorial writer for the Dayton Daily News I was fascinated that my columns, usually about race and generally pretty condemnatory of my home town as far as racism is concerned, were almost universally loved and lauded by everyone, including, ironically some of the very people I was writing about. After all I might be a difficult black woman, they seemed to feel, but I was one of theirs, a XENIAN!
There was much more of a sense of community in Xenia it seems to me, back in those earlier days, even if the town was fairly rigidly segregated. I often wondered how people reconciled what happened in the factories they worked in or the Field where blacks and whites must have interacted and at least been on speaking terms and what the dynamic in town was. I remember people complaining that white folks they worked with would not speak when they ran into them at stores or on the sidewalk in town.
It happened to me only once. I was in high school and walking downtown when I saw a group of white girls I knew from school. There were four of them and three had their noses pressed to the display window of a store, the fourth one was facing in my direction. She saw me and quickly turned her head. About that time one of the other girls turned and saw me and waved and spoke. All four of them came up to me and we chatted, but I never forgot the girl who was not sure she should speak to one of her classmates because she happened to be black, at least not until she was reassured by her white companions that it was okay.
Black people did not work in stores in downtown, but they did work at Greene Memorial Hospital and there were always a few black faces–not very black generally, it seems the lighter you were the more the county wanted you–at the county courthouse. I remember Viola Ward working there in the basement, not sure what she did, but she was my church member from Zion Baptist–she always impressed me by how mean she was, not sure why.
We had the occasional black policeman. Mr. Robinson who lived around the corner from us was one of the first I believe. I think his duties were confined to the East End. I do not remember a black Sheriff’s Deputy except a few who were deputized to work at the county fair.
I wonder often why the taxpaying blacks in Xenia did not raise hell about the fact that both the city and county refused to hire black folks–actually I think from what I can see it is still true. One of the many mysteries of life in Xenia, but surely not the only one.
Being a typical small town meant rules were made and enforced based on privilege, sometimes it was racial, sometimes it was economic and sometimes it was simply knowing the right people. My father was a lifelong Republican–there I have admitted it–like many black men of his era. Even when it became obvious that the Republican party had abandoned the black people in favor of the racists–read up on the Southern Strategy adopted by the GOP in the 1960s– my father stayed a Republican. Why? Because the GOP has always dominated Xenia and Greene County and he got favors, like a summer job with the Ohio Department of Transportation each year for my brother when he was in college.
In the spirit of full disclosure let me say that I was on the Democratic Central Committee in Greene County when we had a Democratic governor and my son Michael also got annual jobs with ODOT as a fence inspector when he was in college. But then I really am a Democrat! After all black folks voting Republican is like chickens voting for Col Sanders. But I digress.
In some ways I feel like Xenia has been and to some extent still is in some kind of bubble that insulates and isolates it from the rest of the world. There are still attitudes about a variety of things there that I doubt you could find anywhere else. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but they are all uniquely Xenian. I guess there is some comfort in that. We all would like to believe we are truly unique in some way and being from Xenia, the largest town in the world that begins with X ( or is that just a myth?) certainly makes one unique. The main thing it has done for me is to help me realize how many different guises wonderful people come in, and how few are actually a waste of protoplasm. Don’t get me wrong, there are some folks who have no purpose other than serving as a bad example, but they are mercifully a small minority, both in Xenia and elsewhere.