Families fondly recall first blacks in Campbell’s police, fire departments


By Graig Graziosi

ggraziosi@vindy.com

CAMPBELL

Evidence of Campbell’s historic racial and ethnic diversity is hard to miss.

Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church proudly flies a Greek flag beneath the stars and stripes, and the popular Papa’s Puerto Rican Cuisine and Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church highlight the city’s growing Hispanic population.

Hanging on the wall of Campbell City Hall, two photos pay tribute to a pair of black men who made history by becoming the first black police officer and firefighter in the city’s history.

One photo, faded and amber in color, depicts Edward Stonework in a full police uniform, standing at attention with a nightstick in hand.

The second photo, a black and white capture, shows a smiling man in a shirt and tie, wearing a black cap adorned by a brass fire station medallion. This is Robert Thomas, the city’s first black firefighter.

Today, the descendants of the historic public servants still live in Campbell and still have memories of their forebears.

Edward Stonework’s grandson, Edward Stonework, said his grandfather was a police officer during the Great Depression.

“He worked all through the Depression and we had to make do. My grandmother, Emma, would put a big pot and help feed the neighborhood. That was the way it was in Campbell,” the younger Stonework said.

The Stonework family moved to Campbell from Selma, Ala., near the turn of the century, where the elder Stonework stayed until his death in 1935.

Before he was a police officer, Stonework was a steel worker at the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

“In 1915, during the strike at the mill, my grandfather went back to Selma to recruit black workers and bring them up here on box cars,” Stonework said. “When the strike ended, those men were able to keep their jobs in the mill.”

Robert Thomas Jr., said his father — now deceased — worked as a firefighter in the city between 1935 and 1965.

“My father was a fire engineer. He’d drive and take care of the trucks and the hoses. He’d drive his own truck for anyone who needed a haul,” Thomas Jr. said.

The younger Thomas said in those days there were very few full-time firefighters, and that most worked other jobs in addition to work at the fire house.

The elder Thomas was no different; much like his fellow firefighters, he worked for Zetts Brothers Construction when he wasn’t behind the wheel of a firetruck.

The day his father retired from the fire station, the younger Thomas was offered his father’s job.

Though he considered it, the younger Thomas instead went on to make history of his own, becoming the first black employee hired by the union at Cold Metal Products in Youngstown.

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