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Published: Friday, 2/23/2007

Who Says You Can't Learn Anything From The "Vaste Wasteland?"

FRIDAY

7:15 AM

I watch TV like a guy.

Remote firmly in the palm of my right hand, I will indiscriminately press down my thumb in search of something more interesting at the first sign of semi-boredom.

That s how, last night, I almost ended up missing Grey s Anatomy. Now, I m as weak as the next person, which is to say, I have my guilty pleasures.

And Grey s Anatomy is one of them.

But TV commercials are not.

So during a commercial sometime during last night s GA, that thumb got to work. In search of something mildly amusing in place of commercials, I only had to flip down one channel to find something tempting enough to leave me torn between returning to GA or staying put.

WGTE, Channel 30. "Cornerstones: The African Americans," part of the Toledo public TV station s Toledo Stories.

A mostly life-long Toledoan with a thing for history, I thought I knew a fair amount about this city s past. But this terrific locally produced documentary was an eye-opener.

Take Ella P. Stewart, for instance. There s a school named for her, so for that reason alone the name should be familiar to almost all Toledoans.

And many of us already know why anyone bothered to name a school in honor of this woman who died in 1987: She was a forceful leader in Toledo s African-American community. The first woman to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh s pharmacy college, Mrs. Stewart and her husband, Doc, ran a pharmacy on Indiana Avenue.

She was, as Channel 30 s documentary put it, a joiner. The woman was involved, OK? I first met her as a child, after she and my mother became friends through mutual membership in the Pan-Pacific and Southeast Asia Women s Association. Anyone with an interest in exploring this woman s amazing public life could pop in at the BGSU library's Center for Archival Collections.

There s a shorter summary of her accomplishments here at her alma mater.

Beyond that, however, it was only through last night s documentary that I learned how Ella P. Stewart pushed through the integration of this city s movie theaters.

How d she do that? Simple.

She went to the movies. Where she was ushered to a seat. In the balcony.

Oh, no, she politely told the usher. I prefer a seat down on the main floor.

Told that wasn t the way things were done, she then asked to see the manager.

I m a professional woman, she informed the manager, and I own and operate a pharmacy, and I want to sit where I want to sit.

And so she did.

And so did many black teens from then on after she spread the word through the community that anyone going to the movies who wanted a seat on the main floor should simply tell the ushers they were the nieces and nephews of Mrs. Ella P. Stewart.

I love stories like that, tales of our own social history that explain to us how things used to be, and how they got to be the way they are today. And I love all the old still photos and footage from early Toledo that were showcased in this documentary.

But, I m ashamed to say, I also love Grey s Anatomy. (C mon, gimme a break. Meredith almost died last night!)

So anyway, no, I didn t see the whole documentary. But I m setting my VCR for what looks to be the next re-broadcast at 10 a.m. Sunday.

If I were Chris Borrelli, I'd give it four stars....



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