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Talk to detail 1920 'church riot'

UT lecturer to speak at Bedford library


Bonnie Berry says she has been fascinated by the deadly episode of religious strife since her girlhood, when she heard about it from a grandmother whose uncle was one of the gunshot victims.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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TEMPERANCE -- Less than a century ago, Monroe County had a brief, deadly episode of religious strife that amateur historian Bonnie Berry is to detail in a presentation at the Bedford Branch Library at 7 p.m. Oct. 1.

The incident occurred in June, 1920, and involved a vehemently anti-Catholic evangelist who spoke at a Protestant church in northern Whiteford Township.

News accounts conflicted, but two Catholic men were shot and killed, one dying at the scene outside the church and the other later in a Toledo hospital.

Ms. Berry, a Samaria, Mich., resident and lecturer at the University of Toledo, has been fascinated with the incident since she heard about it from a grandmother whose uncle was the second gunshot victim.

"It became known as the 'church riot,' " she said.

"I've been studying it since 1995. Once I started, I didn't want to quit. It was a terrible tragedy, but it was a lot of fun to research."

She accumulated a large collection of research materials that she donated to the Bedford library, where they are archived in the local history room, said Heidi Neil, the local history librarian.

"There have always been stories about this. Now we have all of her papers and research materials. There's a lot here," she said.

Ms. Berry said she has distilled her researches into a PowerPoint presentation she will present at the library, breaking the incident down piece by piece and adding her own observations on points where the journalistic record is incomplete or contradictory.

She did most of her archival research in the Ellis Branch of the Monroe County Library System, which has an extensive collection of newspaper clippings on microfiche. She also talked with family members of witnesses to the incident who had heard accounts of the shooting.

The trouble began, she said, with the evangelist, L.J. King, who was known for his vicious and obsessive anti-Catholicism.

"He was originally a Canadian, and called himself an evangelist, but most of his preaching was against the Catholic Church," she explained. "He was run out of Fostoria for his hate and lies. … He was not a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but he supported it."

His appearance in Whiteford Township, a community not known for intercommunal conflict, was the start of the trouble in Monroe County. A group of Catholic men drove to the church to protest and walked in on Mr. King's appearance. Shouting ensued, and they were told to leave, which they did. Hours later, at least one shot was fired into their car outside the church, striking two men.

The shooter, Bert Sherman, acknowledged that he had fired into the car but said he did so in self-defense. He said a man in the car had a gun and was about to fire on him. He was acquitted at his trial in Monroe.

"It was considered the trial of the century," Ms. Berry said. "The state police prevented King from returning."

At her library presentation, she will lay out everything she has uncovered. She said she even tracked down and visited the grave of Mr. Sherman in Lenawee County.

As for the shooting itself, she believes probably there was blame to go around.

"I think there was prejudice on both sides," she said. "I think people were not tolerant."

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