Monday, July 26, 2004

Vanishing history recorded

Glendale film project explores local African-American roots

By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

GLENDALE - In the 1930s, when racial segregation thrived in many parts of this nation, Charles "C.J." Parrish walked into a white-owned cafe in Glendale with two high school friends.

Blacks could buy food and drinks there, but had to consume them outside. The three black Glendale residents knew the owner and were hoping to buy a bottle of whiskey.

Charles Parrish (left) and Eric Duskin talk about growing up in Glendale.
(Enquirer photo/ERNEST COLEMAN)
Parrish noticed a black doll with a string around its neck hanging in front of the mirror in back of the bar. Angered by this miniature replica of a lynching, Parrish climbed over the bar and yanked down the doll. The white patrons fell silent.

Parrish, a large, muscular teenager, struck a fighting pose, daring anyone to challenge him. No one did. Parrish and his two frightened friends walked out of the cafe.

"When I saw that black doll, I just couldn't take it," recalled Parrish.

"I never spent a dime in that place again," said Parrish, 86, who recently moved from Glendale to Hamilton for a larger house. "I never spent a dime in that place after that."

This is one of the stories that will be captured on film by a group of residents who are conducting videotaped interviews with long-time black and white residents on the history of blacks in Glendale, a small northern Hamilton County community of about 2,200 residents known for its stately 19th-century homes and winding, tree-lined streets. About 14 percent of the village is African-American.

The taped interviews will be distilled into a one-hour video. The interviews, which already are being taped, will be stored in their entirety in the village's historic archives.

The project was conceived as part of next year's 150th anniversary of Glendale's incorporation.

"You can't tell the history of a place without telling the history of all its citizens," said Nancy Floyd, a long-time black Glendale resident and a former village vice mayor and councilwoman who is working on the video project.

Although Glendale's public image in Greater Cincinnati is that of a wealthy and white community, the village's black roots extend into the 19th century.

An all-black neighborhood formed in the northwest part of town around Washington Avenue. Most of the residents were servants, cooks and chauffeurs of Glendale's prosperous white residents.

Another black section developed in the central part of Glendale on Cleveland and East Willow avenues.

The formerly all-black neighborhoods are still predominantly black. Blacks live in other sections of Glendale and have helped lead many village, school and civic organizations and activities.

Robyn Carey Allgeyer, a white Glendale resident, proposed the film project as a way to acknowledge the importance of blacks in the village's history and to include them in the sesquicentennial celebration.

"The idea came to me after I talked to a black resident who told me, 'This is our home, too, and we've had to work really hard to stay here,'" Allgeyer said. "There isn't much documented history of the black community, and that history is vanishing."

Allgeyer, Floyd, Paul Breidenbach, John Viall and Forrest Sellers volunteered their talents for the project.

"I see Glendale as an example of the American elite class coming into its own in the late 19th century," Breidenbach said. "This project is a particularly interesting look at the color line - how it's blurred in some respects and vivid in others."

Glendale was conceived in the mid-19th century as a forested suburban oasis far removed from the urban ills, yet linked to Mill Creek Valley industries and downtown Cincinnati by a railroad.

As in other communities in the region, racial segregation manifested itself in Glendale not just in the housing patterns, but also in the school system.

Blacks went to Eckstein School on Washington Avenue for grades 1-8. They joined the white students at Congress Avenue School for high school.

Only whites were permitted to attend Congress Avenue School in grades 1-8.

That changed in the early 1950s after the NAACP filed a lawsuit that caused school officials to admit black elementary students into Congress Avenue School, now called Glendale Elementary School.

Edith Lewis was one of several mothers in the black community who initiated the push for the integration of Congress Avenue School by marching into the school and telling the principal they wanted their children to enroll there.

At that time, the second floor of Eckstein had been condemned, and the restroom didn't have a door. Eckstein also didn't have state certification.

"We were really upset," said Lewis, who still lives in Glendale.

Despite the turmoil surrounding Eckstein, Parrish and Edith Lewis and her husband, Wilbur, say Glendale's past racial conflicts were much more mild than in many communities, and there was no violence.

"The whites up here didn't stoop to cross-burning or anything like that," Wilbur Lewis said.

The same features that attracted whites to Glendale also have enticed blacks into moving there - its beauty, its small-town atmosphere, its relatively low crime rate and the high quality of the Princeton School District.

"It's peaceful and quiet," said Eric Duskin, a 38-year-old black resident. "You don't have to worry about anybody breaking into your house."

Floyd, who moved into Glendale in 1971, said it's a good place for all races to live. "I can't think of any time when I was treated any less than equal to others," she said.

But she and others leading the oral history project believe it's important not to ignore the negative side of blacks' history in Glendale.

"Some people have said to me, 'Why would you open up old wounds?' " Breidenbach said.

"History is old wounds."

map Glendale by the numbers

Population: 2,188

Whites: 1,812 or 82.8%

Blacks: 310 or 14.2%

Median household income: $75,113

Median value of a single-family, owner-occupied house: $212,200

Bachelor's degree or higher: 56.1%

Source: 2000 U.S. Census



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