African-Americans have made strides toward equality in the 50 years since the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, with many economic and educational gains, but progress still falls short, a three-person panel said Saturday during a Black History month event downtown.
“Fifty years later, I think disparities still exist,” said Cecelia Adams, the Toledo Board of Education’s president. “President Obama made a point that there is an undercurrent of racial bias and discrimination and it is difficult to quantify, and it’s hard to even discuss because it elicits ‘sometimes’ responses from individuals who disagree.”
“But we know that there are things that are still not right and we know that there is still a struggle,” she said. “We’re not having the big race riots. We don’t have the lynchings, but we do have an undercurrent that exists and we have to address it.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Civil Rights Act celebration
Ms. Adams was joined by Paula Hicks-Hudson, president of Toledo City Council, and the Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of Toledo’s First Church of God, one of the largest black congregations in the city.
She recounted being 13 when the Civil Rights Act was passed and watching “things that were happening to people that were indecent, the spraying with hoses, the dogs that were unleashed on people trying to fight for civil rights.”
Ms. Adams also told that crowd of more than 100 people at the Toledo-Lucas County Main Library how she and her sister integrated Toledo’s Bowsher High School in 1968.
“We were attending Scott High School and my mother decided the attempts at desegregation weren’t working very well,” she said. “So we had this 100 percent white school and we had this almost-100 percent black high school. ... We didn’t have a single minute of trouble.”
Ms. Hicks-Hudson said voters’ rights are still under attack.
“What we have today is not necessarily that blatant discrimination based on race, but we do have it based upon poverty,” the council president said.
Ms. Adams and Mr. Culp both said inequities are carried hand-in-hand with poverty.
“I think we also have to get rid of injurious, harmful laws like Stand Your Ground,” Ms. Adams said, eliciting applause.
Mr. Culp — who told the crowd of meeting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and participating in the March on Washington in 1963 — said the single most important issue for the future involves racism.
“Racism is in the very fabric of our society,” he said. “We have rubbed it, stretched it, done everything it seems we can do to eliminate it, but the stain is still very much there.”
Mr. Culp added: “I feel the days ahead will be better days, and again, we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”
The event was moderated by Kristian Brown of WTVG-TV Channel 13 and included performances by University of Toledo’s Zeta Phi Beta and gospel music.
Later in the day, 10 local African-Americans were honored at St. Stephen’s Church of God: Aleathia Mae Young Carson, 101, of West Toledo, who was a clerk at the Mott Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library; Cecilia Gaither-Ragan, who spent more than five decades with Toledo Public Schools; Charles Doneghy, a retired Lucas County Common Pleas judge; Robert Penn, a retired Toledo Municipal Court judge; Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell; Eddie Cole, a Toledo lawyer; Bishop Edward T. Cook; Pastor Louis Self; Pastor Tony Thomas, and Brian Thomas.
Also invited to the event were the five black members of Toledo City Council: Ms. Hicks-Hudson, Jack Ford, Theresa Gabriel, Tyrone Riley, and Larry Sykes.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson said the 12-member council has a historically high number of African-Americans.
Judge McConnell said recognition like that from St. Stephen’s is important for the community.
“I think it is important to do a bit of recognition for those individuals who have spent time with community issues and offer their services,” he said. “You don’t do it to be recognized, but you do it to serve.”