By Peter H. Milliken
As the 50th anniversary of some watershed events in the civil-rights movement approaches, the Newport branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County will sponsor a special event to remember local contributions to that movement.
“The Civil Rights Movement in Youngstown” is the title of the program to take place at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the branch, 3730 Market St., by Cyndi Hickman, a librarian, who will give a slide presentation.
Participants are encouraged to bring their own memorabilia, souvenirs, photographs and memories to the program.
“This is an important year for Black History Month, especially because it’s the 50th anniversary of the ‘I have a dream’ speech and the March on Washington. It’s also the 150th anniver-sary of the Emancipation Proclamation,” observed Heidi Daniel, library director.
The program’s goal is “to help the people of Youngstown reflect on the history as we move forward as a community and also as a nation,” she said.
“If we can’t reflect on where we have been, we certainly will never understand where we are going” in the full context of events, she added.
“This program strengthens the sense of community because it allows people to gather and share their memories,” said Janet Loew, library communications and public-relations director.
On Aug. 28, 1963, local residents joined the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
They included the Rev. Edgar Fisher Jr., longtime pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Ben Frazier, a United Steelworkers Local 2163 grievance committeeman at Youngs-town Sheet & Tube Co.
Also attending that historic march, coordinated by King, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, was the Rev. James Ray, a former Youngstown State University campus minister, who was a University of Illinois campus minister in 1963.
Local clergy took the lead in promoting racial equality, with several members of the Mahoning Presbytery taking a strong pro-civil-rights stand in October 1963, followed by Youngstown’s Bishop Emmet Walsh urging Roman Catholics to write to U.S. senators in support of what would become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In March 1965, local clergy participated in civil-rights marches in Selma and Montgomery, Ala., according to Vindicator files.
One of those marching with Dr. King in Montgomery was the Rev. Lonnie A. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown, who died late last year.
Also in March 1965, some 1,000 people gathered in Youngstown’s Central Square for a Freedoms Day celebration.
In July 1965, the Rev. Stanley J. Bartlett, then pastor of Newton Falls First Christian Church, returned home after spending four days in the Jackson, Miss., jail for participating in a civil-rights march.
Roy Wilkins, NAACP executive director, told a Youngstown audience of 800 in April 1967 that civil rights was the No. 1 issue in the United States.
After the April 4, 1968, assassination of King, community leaders conducted a peaceful demonstration in his memory in front of the Mahoning County Courthouse.
Among them were Ron Daniels, then a YSU history instructor; Burl Charity, who was a former boxer, and Frank Halfacre, a radio disc jockey. Charity, who was the bailiff for municipal Judge Lloyd Haynes, died in 2005, and Halfacre died in 2006.
The peaceful courthouse rally was in sharp contrast to fire-bombing, window-breaking and looting in Youngstown in the days immediately after the King assassination.
That violence was met by fully mobilized police, about 500 National Guardsmen and a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew declared by then-Mayor Anthony B. Flask.
“My strongest memory is of the 1968 situation. ...I saw National Guard on each corner,” on otherwise nearly empty Youngstown streets, said Loew, who was then a YSU student.
“I remember getting home and my mother being terribly worried. She didn’t know where I was,” Loew said.