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Efforts to prevent a Sylvania Catholic church from moving a house said to be part of the Underground Railroad reached the front door of the Diocese of Toledo yesterday when about 40 marchers banged drums, chanted, and expressed their opposition.
The march, made up mostly of teenagers from around the area, was designed to get Bishop Leonard Blair to stop St. Joseph's parish from moving Lathrop House, which is off Main Street across from the parish church and school. The church bought Lathrop House, built in 1835, for future parish expansion.
The Rev. Mansour Bey, one of the march's organizers and an associate pastor at the First Church of God, said his pastor, the Rev. Robert Culp, has a scheduled meeting with Bishop Blair tomorrow to talk about Lathrop House.
Sally Oberski, the diocese's communications director, confirmed the meeting. She said she did not know what would be discussed, but believed issue Lathrop House issue would come up.
The diocese also issued a statement yesterday reiterating Bishop Blair's continued commitment to St. Joseph's plans to move the home.
"On behalf of Bishop Leonard Blair, the Diocese continues to see it in the best interest of the community to move forward with the restoration and preservation of the Lathrop House less than 300 yards from its current location," the statement said. "Together with the City of Sylvania, the [Toledo Area] Metroparks, and St. Joseph's parish, the Lathrop House will be reborn."
The battle over Lathrop House has been brewing since 2001, and it took a vote of residents in November to keep the City of Sylvania from using eminent domain to save the structure at its present site. Plans call for moving the house to nearby Harroun Community Park.
Friends of Lathrop House, a group pushing to keep the structure at its present location, said the house would lose its historical value if moved.
Alpha Phi Boule, an African-American fraternal organization, and other groups also have taken up the fight to keep Lathrop House where it is.
Protesters walked from Alpha Towers, 525 East Woodruff Ave., to inside the gates of the Catholic Center, 1933 Spielbusch Ave. They held a brief rally at the center's front entrance, where they were met by Ms. Oberski and Michael Youngblood, the diocese's director of Black Catholic Ministries.
Mr. Youngblood accepted letters from the protesters and said he would pass them along to Bishop Blair.
Brandon Blackman, 17, a senior at Start High School who attended the rally, said history would be lost if the move takes place.
"This is a place where blacks and whites came together for the betterment of the community," he said. "We don't want to see that moved and taken away."
Niki Aktipis, 14, an eighth grader at Arbor Hills Junior High School in Sylvania, said she attended the rally to show her support for the Lathrop House.
"This is a part of American history, and we want to keep it where it is," Niki said.
Members of Alpha Phi Boule have been meeting regularly at First Church of God, 3016 Collingwood Blvd., to discuss its plans to oppose the Lathrop House move.
March organizers took tomorrow's meeting as sign of a door opening.
"A few weeks ago, it looked like there was no hope," John Moore told those at the rally. "Now, there's high hope.""For the young people here today, you will never forget this day in April when you made a difference," he said. "We will change their minds. We will save the Lathrop House. We will not stop today. We will not stop next week."
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