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Xenia Tales: Things that make you go hmmm

05 Feb

Xenia is in many ways, as I have stated before, a dichotomous society. It is both the very model of a small midwestern town and an almost complete anomaly.

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.

 

 

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12 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Childhood, Race, Social Justice, Xenia

 

12 responses to “Xenia Tales: Things that make you go hmmm

  1. S. E. Ward

    February 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Ms. Cookie, I’m not sure what era this was so you may be too young to remember this, but my mom says there was a theater in Xenia that only let black folk in on certain days. She said one day a large group of white students from Antioch came in to tloown and purchased 2 tickets each to the show, later they were joined by a group of students form Wilberforce and when show time began each white would use their two tickets to take a black student into the show. I guess that peacefully integrated the show. I wonder if anyone else remembers that? She’s also talked of a race riot uptown it must of been about 1942. I will ask her for more details but she’s 90.

     
    • minerva5

      February 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

      Hello!
      That was before my time. I have heard stories that the Ohio Theater was segregated, and there certainly were places blacks sat and white sat in the Xenia Theater, but I do not know if that was by design or by preference. The Antioch students took the lead in many demonstrations and social justice events in Xenia, including protesting against Geyer’s restaurant which would not allow blacks to eat in the place.

      I was not born yet in 1942, but I would be fascinated about any details she might have about a race riot. My mother is 93 and I will ask her too!

       
    • Jayne

      May 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      My mother worked at that theater, and I remember her mentioning something like that but it was well before the 60’s. You have to remember, if you are going back a ways in time, that Ohio didn’t allow blacks to live in the state prior to the war between the states. They just grew a little faster than everyone else, especially in the smaller towns.

      I have to agree with the author here. We were an oddity. I moved south and married a Mississippi born and bread southerner. What I remember of the 70’s, and learned through school prior, race was not a factor in my life. Sure, most black people lived in the East End, but not all. I grew up not knowing anything personally when it comes to race issues, and my husband is just dumbfounded with that fact. We grew up in two completely different worlds. We agree to disagree, most of the time.

      And Antioch College – they had a penchant for stirring up trouble. Not only at home, but they were also responsible for the Freedom Riots in the south. They may have felt their intentions were good, but they led to bad situations.

       
      • minerva5

        May 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm

        If you did not know about race it was because you had white privilege that let you ignore the oppression and bias going on around you. And the students at Antioch were champions for social justice. Sometimes things need to be stirred up if they are immoral and wrong.

         
  2. kerose98

    December 16, 2014 at 3:16 am

    I am a former Xenian and now a Santa Barbarian! (California that is). I love reading your posts. I was there for the 1974 tornado.

    Where race is concerned, we always had plenty of African American students at Tecumseh, Shawnee, Central, and the High School. Even our church was integrated (Christ Episcopal). I was born in 1965 and quite unaware that race was an issue. I just knew we had some friends with a darker skin color than ours.

    Where I live now, we have a high Hispanic population. My son attends an excellent public school that is 64% Hispanic. Our daughter attends a junior high that is quite diverse – her best friend from Mexico lives with very modest economic means. Another classmate lives in an area of town where the homes make Oakwood look like slums. (Hope Ranch – too rich for our blood).

    I’m an engineer and a church organist in the Santa Barbara area. By the way, both the Greene County Courthouse and the Santa Barbara County Courthouse have courthouses with Spanish Tile and Clock towers. We can climb to the top of our clock tower – I wish you could do that in Xenia as well. Both cities have a good network of bike trails. I am proud to have lived in both places.

     
    • minerva5

      December 16, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks for your post. Glad you are enjoying Santa Barbara County. My son Michael was born in 1967 and you must have been in high school at the same time. There were all kinds of racial problems in Xenia at the time, still are and some of them are the same, including lack of black teachers at the secondary school level. People are people, the problems that existed still exist. I had to go to the high school and talk to Mr. Clifton, I was teaching at Warner at the time, because Ms. Harvey had her students read Huckleberry Finn out loud in class including the word nigger. Michael was the only black kid in the honor’s English class ( that continues too, very few minorities in honor’s classes) . His white friends and classmates were embarrassed and kept glancing at him when they had to read the word. Clifton, who had racial problems among other moral failings, was terrified when i called for the appointment and blurted out immediately ” I will tell them not to use that book anymore.” I told him that was not my issue, I like the book and actually Twain was making a point with it about racism, I just wanted some preparation for the class by the teacher about the use of the word in the time and reasons it was in the book and to let the students know that reading the word aloud did not apply to Michael anymore than it did to them and that it was literature. That is Xenia racism in a nutshell. There are a few really evil people, like everywhere else and a whole lot of people who are clueless about race.

       
      • kerose98

        December 16, 2014 at 2:33 pm

        Thank you for your reply! Wow! Things were going on I did not know about! I would love to continue the conversation! Please contact me at kerose@att.net

        >

         
  3. webster

    October 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    It is interesting to read and hear the many comments from that time. I was born in 1960 and all through my childhood I never heard my parents talk negatively or have a racist attitude.

    I don’t think we were sheltered from it nor were we ignorant of it. In contrast, thinking back now, I think it speaks volumes that we do NOT have memories of what you have described above, and the many other times I’ve read your posts.

    I think racism, for the most part but certainly not totally, stays alive due to those who choose to relive it and not put it in the past. The fact that we are aware of it mostly via education, media and those who choose to keep it in the forefront, is telling, also.

    History is history and yes, it is educational but there are many events in history which are not taught but could also be a lesson learned. I wish we could say that about racism.

     
    • minerva5

      October 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Racism persists because most white people are not subject to it and do not recognize it when it happens. If they do happen to see it they dismiss it as irrelevant because it does not impact them and therefore cannot be important. Racism is not, alas, history, it is quite present in the everyday lives of people of color. If you would like to stop hearing about racism, work to end it.

       
  4. Mike

    October 26, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Racism exists because: People of all races…Blacks included…Become narrow minded and ignorant towards the rest of society. They begin to think that everyone owes them something! This is not something that happens suddenly, people are raised that way. I was raised to “judge” someone not by the color of their skin or by their religion etc. I judge people by the words of ignorance that come out of their mouths! This thought that white people are automatically “racist” against all black people needs to go away now! It has been taught to black children when they grow up. Then they grow up and keep thinking that ignorance and perpetrate the same thing they were taught. It comes out in their actions/deeds. If you treat someone as if they are going to dislike you and be prejudice, then that is probably how they will treat you because of your actions! If you want to be treated with honor and respect, then start by treating others that way. The same thing also happens to some groups of white people and other races. Again, not every white person is racist. In fact I would say the majority of them are not! White people are however, getting sick of being called a racist simply because they may not agree with the beliefs or actions of some black folks! Many people will say a white person is a racist simply because they don’t like President Obama as the President! We can not like a president because of his policies and political leanings. It does not mean we are racist! I don’t like Pres. Obama’s policies or pretty much most of the stuff he does. BUT I don’t even like 90% of the rest of the politicians either. Does this make me a racist? NO!!! It makes me someone who does not like politicians because they are crooks! Be kind to one another, love each other and help your neighbor ! I try to do that no matter who or where they are from! We can stop the racism by loving everyone, stopping the hate, stopping the political morons from spreading their version of racism to control us all and live like Jesus taught us!

     
    • minerva5

      October 27, 2015 at 12:36 am

      I agree that most white people are not racists, but they tolerate racism. You know this, you have been somewhere where a white person was saying racist things or doing racist things and nobody challenged him or her or said they were offended. And if black people presume some folks are racists it is not what they are taught, it is what they see daily. White privilege is a real thing, starting with the privilege of individuality. If you mess up it is viewed as Mike is a screw up. If black people mess up it far too often becomes ” that is what they are like.” Blacks can dislike whites, even be bigotsbut I have never heard a black person say whites are inferior to blacks, a key element of the term racism. If you believe most of the criticism of the President and his family does not have an element of racism in it then we will have to disagree. The idea that something black people have done, will do , say or have said or will say causes racism is a myth. You talk about what black people teach their children, I think you are looking at the wrong group and what some teach their children. At least one of our political parties, the GOP has one of its substantial bass made up of racists. Google black spremacist groups and then google white supremacist groups and see what you get.As long as the response to racism is “I am not a racist, so this is not my problem.” It will never go away. And you do owe me something. You owe me the right not to worry about my sons being shot by the police because they are black and black basketball players who are millionaires not being denied entry to jewelry stores and black students not receiving inferior educations because they are black and not having history books published that call soaves “immigrants” and “workers” , distorting history , and not having to see people waving a flag of white supremacy in public places. I could go on for a long time about what you owe me but will distill it down to one thing: If you are sick if hearing about racism ( you should try experiencing it frequently) then work to end it. And Jesus is not the answer. Sunday morning is one of the most segregated times of the week. Thanks for your response😃

       
  5. marsha truman

    October 8, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I was looking for some information when I found your page. I was raised in Xenia, from 1958, age 5, to 1976 when I moved to Idaho. I lived on E. Market St., in fact the last house of white people adjacent to the East End. I was very aware of racism when I lived there, from the horrendous all-black grade school near where I lived to the sit-ins at the high school. It was obvious to me even as a kid that when I went places in all-white groups, we were treated rather well; when I went to those same places with mixed groups of kids, we were treated worse.
    What I was looking for was information to a memory I have of a cross being burned on a black family’s lawn, who had moved to a new subdivision, maybe in the early ’70’s? Not sure if that was in a newspaper? Or if the records were lost due to the tornado in 1974. I would appreciate anything anybody might remember. Thanks.

     

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