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Youngstown residents suggest school fire drills

This week in history

125 years ago, 1895

Was the school fire drill invented in Youngstown? Perhaps.

When the issue of schools was raised at a public meeting focused on several important issues facing the city, a concerned citizen said the following:

“I think that when the schools reopen in September next, the board of education should have a large electric gong placed in each school building, and while school was in session, the gong should be rung once or twice a week in order that the scholars could be trained in case of fire to leave the building quickly and in an orderly manner. Of course in drilling, the children should have no warning before the bell rang, and in case of a fire the gong could be sounded and the scholars quickly marched out of the building, and they would not realize that it was not the signal for the regular drill until the danger of a panic was over.” Everyone agreed that the idea was quite good and they planned to take the proposal to the proper authorities.

While there were several tragic school fires in the early 20th century, including one in 1908 in Collinwood, Ohio, that killed 175 and another at the Cleveland Rural Grade School in 1923, fire drills were barely used. It wasn’t until after the 1958 fire at Our Lady of Angels in Chicago that the United States took on massive fire safety reform in schools and other public buildings.

60 years ago, 1960

Corrine Huff, a sophomore at Youngstown University and an Ohio Bell Telephone Co. operator, got a surprising telephone call one night. She had recently been selected as the runner-up for Miss Ohio in the Miss U.S.A. contest but the winner, Poland’s Kathy Justice, was too young to compete moving forward. Huff was visiting friends in Cleveland when she got the call that she would be off to the Miss U.S.A. pageant with the opportunity to continue to the Miss Universe contest. Huff, a graduate of New Castle High School, had been living in Youngstown with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cooper, for a little more than a year.

“I was glad to get the chance to come, but I feel very badly about Kathy. She is a wonderful person,” noted Huff as she arrived in Florida for the competition. Huff, the first ever African American state representative in the Miss USA contest, stated that the sponsors of Miss Ohio “wanted to integrate by using one Negro girl. That’s how I happened to get into it.”

50 years ago, 1970

Youngstown’s first Afro-American Cultural Weekend featured three days of events, performances, contests and celebrations to highlight the contributions of the black community to history and art, both locally and throughout the United States. One of the most successful events was a performance by the Eleo Pomare Dance Company, which presented its powerful piece, “Blues for the Jungle” at Powers Auditorium. The New York troupe’s interpretive telling of the stories of black experiences featured innovative uses of both music and dance. The piece begins with a slave auction and then travels through a black community, while choreography shows the complexity of urban life. More than 400 people attended the performance.

A parade down Fifth Avenue featured drill teams, including the Ebonnaires, the Junior Herd Drill Team, and the Martin Luther King Action Center Drill Team. A large ceremony and ball at Reed’s Arena on Oak Hill Avenue culminated in the crowning of Regina Harris as Miss Afro-American Youngstown. The judges selected Harris from a wide pool of contestants, citing her essay on the implications of being black, as the best they had read. Additional activities included religious services at several churches with unity, strength, and cooperation at the heart of the message. Street dances and carnivals accented the festivities while an auction raised funds for educational programs provided by Freedom Inc.

40 years ago, 1980

Mayor George Vukovich chose the Rev. Dr. Luther J. Shipmon as the chairman for the city’s United Nations Day. United Nations Day marked the 35th anniversary of the U.N. and the celebration was scheduled to highlight their great international successes. Shipmon, a local community leader, sought the help of interested citizens in planning the event. Shipmon was the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Northeastern Ohio Regional Council on Alcoholism and chairman of the 1979-1980 United Negro College Fund drive. He served as a trustee of the Mahoning County Unit of the American Cancer Society and was a former board member of the Health Systems Agency of Northeastern Ohio. He was employed as the coordinator of early periodic screening diagnosis and treatment at the Mahoning County welfare department’s social services section. A proud member of the Youngstown’s Northside Coalition, Shipmon was actively involved in the local civil rights movement and several other civic and religious organizations.

• Compiled from the archives of the Youngstown Vindicator by Traci Manning, MVHS Curator of Education

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