I often wonder if some of the white folks in Xenia have any idea of how many brushes with black history they have had over the years due to the proximity of Central State University and Wilberforce University, either voluntarily or accidentally. I think most black people who live in Xenia or Wilberforce have some concept of the historic nature of the place and the many, many famous people who have either matriculated at or visited one or both campuses.
Let’s start with Wilberforce, which is is the older of the two. The history of the school is, in some ways, a snapshot of the American race landscape. The Tawawa Springs, a hot springs resort, was for rich white folks, and located in what is now Wilberforce in the 19th century. They sometimes brought their slaves with them ( if you have not read the book Wench, this is good time. Rosi has it at Bluejacket Books I think).
After the springs dried up, the resort fell on hard times. At the same time some southern white men–plantation owners, who had fathered black sons, were looking for a place out of the south to educate their duskier progeny. Enter an academy for black males born on the wrong side of the blanket as the British say. The school was, of course, supported by slave owners money, so in some ways it was ironic that some black people were being beaten, raped and generally abused to make the white master rich, who would then send some of his ill gotten gains to the school for the benefit of his black son. Of course, the cover story was that it was owned by the African Episcopal Church. Complexity is one of the constants in race and race relations.
After the end of the Civil War, when the white plantation owners no longer had money due to the fact the South lost the war, let me repeat that for some of you Neo-Confederates, the South LOST the war. Anyway, the AME Church with the help of the Abolitionist William Wilberforce, took true charge of the school and Wilberforce University was truly born, actually it was probably Wilberforce College first. In the 1940’s a philosophical split developed on the campus and those who did not want to be associated with the AME church facilitated a split, Central State would be a secular, state supported university and Wilberforce would remain affiliated with the AME church.
All kinds of black luminaries have visited Wilberforce University and Central State. The two schools also have a long list of distinguished alumni, anyone from Leontyne Price to James McGee the first black mayor of Dayton, Ohio, not to mention me! I had the honor of knowing Dr. Charles Wesley, who was, at one time the president of Wilberforce University, then the president of Central State. He was an internationally known scholar. Read about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_H._Wesley
And yet, the two schools have never had any kind of traction with most of the people of Xenia who are not of color. It is a puzzlement. I would think that race and race relations had evolved by this time to the point where anyone would want to see famous people who were brave enough to venture to southwestern Ohio, even if it was on CSU’s campus. I have seen everyone from Stevie Wonder, Poncho Sanchez, Bill Cosby, Colin Powell, Mohammed Ali, Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks, every educator you can think of black and white, and virtually every entertainer of any kind you can imagine.When I was a child I went to a tennis match on CSU’s campus to watch Althea Gibson play.
Charles Young Jr. , who was a friend of my father’s, was the son of Colonel Charles Young ( http://www.buffalosoldier.net/CharlesYoung.htm) a famous and much decorated man, his house still stands in Wilberforce on Rte 42, it is the big white house on the left if you are coming in from Xenia, between Stevenson Road and Wilberforce-Clifton.
A lot of people are wondering if we still need Black History Month. If we live in a society where some folks will not come four miles, even to interact with history making people, then perhaps we need to expand it to two months!