Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — We Dressed Up

Palace Theater by Cinema Treasures licensed under CC BY 3.0

My wife and I went to the doctor the other day. Both of us put on nicer shirts and remarked that this was the old Youngstown coming out in us. When we were young, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s (and before that as well) people dressed up on a number of occasions.

To go to the doctor. That’s a little ironic because you often take off your clothes in the exam room. I guess we didn’t want people to think of us that way!

To go downtown. Women and girls in dresses, hats, and gloves, men in nicer slacks, shirt, tie, and jacket.

To go to the theater or a concert. Notice how everyone is dressed at the Palace. Most of the men even had hats! If it was a symphony concert at Stambaugh Auditorium, you really dressed up–evening wear for men, formal gowns for the women.

To go to weddings and funerals. We still do that to some extent. Dressing up honors the bridal couple. It honors the deceased.

To go to church. We believed we should dress in our best for God–and not just on Christmas and Easter! I remember that both my brother and I would polish our shoes on Saturday and we’d be in nice slacks, jacket and tie on Sunday. Of course there was the ritual of the Saturday night bath (whether you needed it or not!).

I remember staying dressed up to visit grandparents, which we did many Sundays. It was a sign of respect.

To go out to a restaurant. For one thing, going out to a restaurant was a big deal, usually for some special occasion. And many restaurants were owned by families and were fancier than today’s very casual, chain-owned dining establishments.

Things changed in the late 1960’s with hippies and protests. Jeans and a t-shirt became the uniform. Anything more was pretentious and “phony.” We criticized it as a show, one of keeping up with the Joneses. Maybe underneath it all, we just wanted to get comfortable.

We dressed up for the things we (or our parents) thought special. Our dress reminded us to act the part as well. We acted our best in our Sunday best.

Maybe coming out of the pandemic reminds us of this. We’ve lived our past year in sweatpants or yoga pants, untucked shirts and casual shoes. I had a work-related meeting recently at a restaurant and pulled out dress slacks, shirt and shoes that had been in the closet for the past year. It was another reminder of what we did on so many occasions.

Special occasions.

At a time when Youngstown was a special place.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Charles P. Henderson

I grew up hearing that he was one of the best mayors Youngstown ever had up to that point. He was the grandson of William Henderson, an iron worker at Brown-Bonnell Iron Works. Charles P. Henderson was born March 3, 1911. He graduated from Princeton in the class of ’32. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Michigan and returned to practice law. He was elected a municipal court judge in 1941. His political career was interrupted by World War 2. He served four years in the army then returned to Youngstown.

He found a city rife with crime and racketeering and decided to run for Mayor on an anti-corruption platform. In 1947, he defeated incumbent Ralph O’Neill by 3671 votes. Some think he won because voters were fed up with three City Council members who stayed away from meetings to block appointment of a councilman for the third ward. One of his first acts was to appoint FBI trained J. Edward Allen as police chief with a mission to clear out organized vice and crime. He appointed a new, ten man vice squad. Operators of the “bug,” and bookies were arrested. Much of the action shifted over the county line centered on the Jungle Inn, in Liberty Township.

Henderson worked to reduce smoke and smog, eliminate dumps, and improve housing. His efforts won him national attention and in 1950 he won the American All-City award for progressive attention. He won his 1951 campaign by 7,000 votes. However, resistance to his anti-corruption measures was growing and he was defeated in 1953 in his attempt to win a fourth term by Frank X. Kryzan. Meanwhile, Henderson was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a member of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an effort to coordinate federal and state government efforts.

In 1965, he was appointed by Governor James Rhodes as a Probate Court judge. He participated in a number of organizations related to the practice of law: Mahoning County. and Ohio State Bar Associations, Ohio State Municipal League, the Association of Probate judges the Judicial Conference, and Judicial College. He also participated on the boards of the Public Library of Youngstown, and the county Boards of Mental Health and Elections. In the late 1960’s, after a series of failed school levies threatened to, Henderson headed up a citizens committee spearhead an effort for the levy passage. It failed but the seventh try finally passed.

Henderson retired in 1985 and passed after a sudden heart attack on September 15, 1990. He was survived by his wife, the former Margaret Arms. Henderson was probably one of the most trusted people in Youngstown. While the city didn’t always want its politicians to be good, Henderson was one of those people came to when the public trust was important. I’ll leave others to decide who was Youngstown’s best mayor. But it’s clear to me he was one of the good ones.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty

Life magazine, on June 27, 1969, ran a feature story titled  “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” The article ran ten pages and simply featured face after face, 242 in all, of Americans who died “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam” in one week. One of those faces was listed as “Patrick M. Hagerty, 19, Army, SP4, Youngstown, Ohio.” He was a field wireman and the picture in Life shows him on a pole, with safety belt and protective gloves, doing his work.

I came across the Life article searching for a story of one of those from Youngstown who died in Vietnam to remember on Memorial Day, the day this country sets aside to remember those who died in uniform in service to our country. According to the Virtual Wall, he is one of sixty-four from Youngstown who died in Vietnam.

Patrick Michael Hagerty was born on July 27, 1949 to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hagerty who lived on N. Garland Avenue. He was a member of Immaculate Conception Church and attended East High School. He enlisted in the Army in September of 1966. He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on August 11, 1968 as a field wireman. He was attached to the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, B Company.

On May 31, 1969 his unit was about 10 kilometers south of Kontum City, located in the central highlands of what was then South Vietnam, not too far from the borders of Laos and Cambodia. During a hostile action, he suffered multiple fragmentation wounds (wounds resulting from the fragments of an explosive device) which he did not survive.

He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. The Purple Heart is awarded for “Being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces” Sadly, Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty, qualified. His name is engraved on the Vietnam War Memorial Panel W23 Line 27. At the Virtual Wall entry for PVT Patrick Michael Hagerty, you can see a virtual rubbing of his name on the memorial.

[After posting this article Patrick’s nephew pointed me to this comment about Patrick which may be found at The Wall of Faces under his name, possibly written by his Platoon Sergeant]:

I’ve tried to track down all of our Platoon, Patrick, and to post some small note of Remembrance…

You’re one of the last for me, although I visited you once again down in DC last month, for Veterans Day. I remember that you were assigned to my Platoon from another outfit, and that you were VERY ‘short’, possibly within two weeks of going back to The World. I recall that I asked if you wanted to become an RTO for awhile, and perhaps ‘coast’ a little, until we could get you sent back to the Rear…

You wanted no part of that, Patrick, and you took your assignment as part of Bravo’s flank security during our movement… When the contact ensued, you were in the middle of it all…

Everyone who reads this should know what a brave young man you were, Patrick, and a damned fine soldier as well.

See you soon,

He was 19 when he died. He enlisted and so chose to answer his country’s call. He represents both what is noble and tragic in war. His is only one of sixty-four Youngstown stories of those who died in Vietnam, and one of many more from Youngstown who died in America’s wars. Each one is worth remembering. I chose this Memorial Day weekend to remember Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty. Who do you remember?

We remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Front Porch City

The home I grew up in with our front porch. (Photo taken by Carol E Campbell)

I recently discovered a website called The Front Porch Republic. The idea is to encourage local culture and community, believing too much attention is given to far off national political structures and divisions. I have no interest in getting into any political discussions. But the website shares something in common with my series on Youngstown. It is all about loving the places where we live or have lived. And I really like the name. The Youngstown I grew up in was a front porch city.

Maybe I’m thinking about it because this was the time of the year we pulled out the front porch furniture. At my house we hung awnings to keep the porch shady in the afternoon. We didn’t grow up with central air conditioning. Cooling was either window fans or air conditioners in windows that mainly cooled the room they were in. The front porch was the place we went to cool off, catching whatever breeze there was, with a cool drink at our side. We’d sit out and talk late into the evening. Sometimes, especially if you had a screened in porch, you slept out there on the hottest nights.

The other thing we did on the porch was visit with neighbors. Porches were our social network. If we weren’t on our porch, we were walking a dog or going for ice cream, and often stopping to talk with other neighbors. We’d catch up on vacations, expected babies, sick relatives, and engagements. We’d talk about projects we were working on around our homes, or something we needed to repair on the car. And yes, there was the passing of neighborhood gossip. Guys would talk about strike rumors, the Indians and the Pirates and the team we all loved to hate–the Yankees.

I knew every neighbor on our street, and as I grew up I began to learn all the ways people could be different, and that different was just different. Old people and younger families. Catholic and Protestant. People fussy about their yards and others more laid back. I knew the families of friends on other streets and all the people on my paper route, many who waited on their porches for their paper in the summer.

In our own front porch republic, we had parents, and then there were the other adults in the neighborhood. You were expected to respect them and their property the same ways you respected your own family. And other parents could yell at us when we got out of line.

Most of the time people were pretty self-sufficient. We all kept up our own places but we were around to lend a hand when an extra one was needed. We cut our grass, and in the winter shoveled our walks. But in the front porch republic, we learned when someone was sick or had a family member in the hospital and pitched in to help with some yard work, or a meal.

The pandemic has been a time of rediscovering neighbors. When you couldn’t do very much else, you went for walks. And you met people on your street you hadn’t met before. We discovered again the joys of small talk and care for one another, wishing each other’s health. We found out life may be better off social media and not listening to 24/7 news streams, and how much we longed for real human connection, even at a social distance.

I hope that is something we can keep. I’m troubled by the rising gun violence in many of our cities. The risk of random gunfire puts the front porch republic at risk. The restoring of the fabric of neighborhood, where the adults on the front porch keep watch not only on their own kids but others could be part of turning the tide. The neighborhoods we live in are still more important to the health of our cities than any virtual community we may find online. That’s something we grew up with in Youngstown. We knew about front porch republics before they ever became a website. We had them in every neighborhood.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown Area Jewish Federation

Recent violence in Israel has reminded me of the vibrant Jewish community of Youngstown, for whom these events must be of deep concern. That community can trace its beginnings at least back to 1833 when Jacob Spiegle, who came from Alsace, settled in Ohltown and opened a store. By 1867, the first congregation, Rodef Sholom, was established. It exists to this day. In future years the names Strouss, Hirshberg, Hartzell, Lustig, Haber, and many more would be associated with downtown retail establishments. In later years Fred Friedman would serve as an editor at the Vindicator and his wife Vera headed up advertising at McKelvey’s and gave significant leadership to efforts at the Youngstown Playhouse. We still buy Schwebel’s bread even in Columbus. I’m only scratching the surface of the many physicians, attorneys, educators, and many others who gave civic leadership not only in the Jewish community but wider city.

One of the most important civic organizations formed by leaders of the Jewish community was the Jewish Federation of Youngstown, which later became the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. It was organized on November 7, 1935 under the leadership of Clarence J. Strouss, Sr. Remember that this was the time when the rise of Nazism under Hitler threatened the existence of the Jewish people throughout Europe. Howard C. Aley highlights the Federation’s commitment to “the social, cultural, educational and recreational needs of the Youngstown Jewish community” (Aley, p. 348).

Over the years, the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation has served as a center uniting the Jewish community in greater Youngstown, provided vital education in Jewish history and heritage and advocated for the rights of Jewish people. It has also created an umbrella of agencies serving not only the Jewish but the wider community. Jewish Family Services provides every thing from home delivered meals, services to the aging and various forms of individual and family therapy. The banner on their webpage says “everyone is welcome.” That is also the case for the Jewish Community Center, which, while committed to Jewish values, welcomes all into membership. They have two locations on Gypsy Lane and the Logan Center offering fitness facilities, pools, wellness classes, arts and culture, a summer camp and much more. Levy Gardens offers assisted living services and Heritage Manor is a rehabilitation and retirement facility. Akiva Academy is a K-8 school open to all with a project based curriculum.

In addition to these extensive community services, the Federation also supports various regional and national efforts. Key to all of this is the Youngstown Area Jewish Foundation, a vehicle for charitable giving within the Jewish community. They handle everything from annual pledge giving to donor advised funds and retirement asset giving to bequests. They manage a number of endowments for everything from emergency needs to college scholarships. One of the impressive things is that on Charity Navigator, one of the best places to go to check out the integrity of non-profits, they score 100 out of 100 on finance and accountability. Their program expense ratio is 92.51% which means over 92 cents of every dollar given goes to actual programs, which means they are a very efficient organization in use of funds with little “overhead.” They are independently audited and 26 of 29 board members are “independent,” that is, not employees of the organization.

I only had one contact with the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. In college, I minored in social work. One of our assignments was to learn about various social agencies in the city by making site visits. That was a long time ago but the things that come to mind were spotless facilities, a compassionate concern for all the members of their community, and gracious courtesy to me, who was an interruption, and probably somewhat reticent on this unfamiliar ground. I was impressed, and as I read about its history, and its present day efforts, I continue to be glad for this organization with a long heritage and deep roots in Youngstown and for the work they are doing. Their website says, “We are guided by the values of Tzedakah (righteousness), Klal Yisrael (the responsibility of each Jew for another), Dor l’dor (the continuity of the Jewish people), and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).” Everything I see about them exemplifies those values.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mother’s Day 1971

Photo by on

My inbox is full of ads for Mother’s Day. We’re excited to get together with our son and daughter-in-law to celebrate. Instead of roses, we typically buy perennials for our yard that keep flowering year after year. We were at the garden center on Friday.

I miss celebrating mother’s day with my mom, who passed in 2010. One year, dad and I went to the garden center and bought a maple tree that we planted in front of the house to shade the porch where she liked to sit on summer evenings. The tree is still there. The house is not. Often there would be a trip to Fellows Gardens. But her favorite thing was to go out for a good steak. We often went to the Brown Derby, a popular place for Mother’s Day until it closed and later to Steak and Ale on South Avenue in Boardman. But I also remember going to Palazzo’s on Midlothian. Great Italian, veal parmigiana, and steaks. Or Lucianno’s in Austintown. When things were tighter, it was a bucket of Golden Drumstick Chicken, which she loved.

I thought for this post I would look at some of the places we took our moms fifty years ago in the Youngstown area. I found a number of restaurants including those above in The Vindicator from May 8, 1971. Get ready for a walk down memory lane! Sure enough, there was an ad for Palazzo’s. Steaks, traditional dinners, spaghetti, and homemade lasagna. All of the restaurants offered children’s menus at special prices. At the Golden Steer Smorgasbord by the turnpike, it was all you could eat for the princely sum of $2.95 with children under 10 at half price! Even The Mansion, one of the more elegant restaurants, had a special menu for Mother’s Day, with children’s servings.

Of course you wanted to take Mom to the nicest place you could afford. Here’s two restaurants that listed prices that were a bit more expensive. At the Town & Country on the Strip on Route 422, my mom could have gotten a petite filet mignon for $4.50, with mushrooms! At the Avalon, you could get prime rib for $5.25. I wonder what it would cost at one of their restaurants today. You would dress up to go to these places–nice dresses and jackets and ties. But mom was worth it.

Families couldn’t always afford the really nice places. There were options all around town for an inexpensive dinner out. Gays in the McGuffey Plaza had a number of dinners ranging from $1.45 for a three piece chicken dinner to $1.95 for home-made ravioli. Tambellini’s on the north side offered a lasagna dinner for mom for $.89! Others paid regular price. Then there was the Harvest House at Southern Park Mall with a $1.29 roast turkey dinner. There were even free gifts for the youngest mother, the oldest mother and the mother with the most children (she definitely deserved a prize!)

Then there was Burger Chef. Remember Burger Chef? They had a deal for a family of four for $1.89 (or more food for fewer people). They did this every Sunday. Other fast food chains also had special offers. Morgan’s Family Restaurants offered of relishes, salad or cole slaw, all you can eat chicken, ham, or top sirloin, two sides, a desert and beverage for $3.50. That’s a lot of food! Remember Red Barn? They offered a barnfull of chicken (nine pieces, a pint of coleslaw, and rolls for $2.99. Like fish? Mom could get FREE fish and chips at Arthurs Treacher’s–“the healthiest sea food in the world.” They must have something on the ball though. They are still in business on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown. [Correction: I learned after posting that the restaurant formerly known as Arthur Treacher’s is now doing business as Captain Arthur’s, with a similar menu. The change occured about a year ago.]

I’ve touched on just a fraction of the good places. Many didn’t need to advertise. Where did you like to take your mother?

Looking at all that food is making me hungry and bringing back memories. The best, though, was letting mom know how special she was.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. William H. Hudnut, Sr.

First Presbyterian Church, Youngstown. Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2019. All rights reserved.

The church pictured above with its stately spire and Georgian architecture presiding over downtown Youngstown represents the oldest congregation in the Western Reserve, being founded on September 1, 1799. The original building was a log cabin built diagonally on the corner and the first pastor was Reverend William Wick. Several buildings followed. The Helen Chapel, a red brick, Italian renaissance building was built in 1889. The current sanctuary replaced a Gothic structure in 1959, under the pastoral leadership of Dr. W. Frederic Miller, reflecting a commitment to stay in the city. The buildings are connected by Hudnut Hall, a tribute to one of the illustrious pastors of this church.

William Herbert Hudnut, Sr. was born October 24, 1864 in Brooklyn, New York. He received is B.A. from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1886, Princeton Theological Seminary 1887-1889 and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1890. In 1890, he married Harriet Beecher. He subsequently received a Doctor of Divinity from the College of Wooster in 1906 and a Doctor of Laws in 1929.

After serving churches at Port Jervis and Brooklyn, New York, he accepted a call as assistant to a Dr. Evans at First Presbyterian Church in 1899. He came highly recommended and received a starting salary of $2500 a year (the average annual salary of a worker in 1900 was $675). The salary may not only reflect the esteem in which he was held but the fact that this was a congregation that was a “Who’s Who” of Youngstown in that era. A church cookbook compiled in 1905 by the women of First Presbyterian includes contributions from Mrs. Henry Wick and several other Wicks, Mrs. Reuben McMillan, Mrs. Joseph Butler, Mrs. William Bonnell, and Mrs. Myron Arms among others.

Hudnut arrived at a time when Youngstown was undergoing a startling transformation. By 1920, there would be 90,000 more people in the city than when he arrived. A number of the local iron firms started by men in the church would be bought up by the large steel corporations that controlled the Valley for the next eighty years. The growth of steelmaking led to a huge influx of immigrants and Blacks.

William Hudnut was concerned about their treatment. He visited a local steel plant with the plant superintendent. Howard C. Aley in A Heritage to Share records the discussion:

The minister raised a question concerning the welfare of the men who were toiling in the pit beneath him, to which the superintendent replied, “We work them out and get a new batch.” The superintendent had expressed what Dr. Hudnut called “a characteristic attitude toward labor. The ingot was reckoned of more worth than the individual. Those men in the pits were just numbers.”

The anti-Black and anti-immigrant feeling in Youngstown was stirred up by Ku Klux Klan leaders in Youngstown in the mid-1920’s. Most of those elected, including the mayor and school board received Klan endorsement. Many Protestant churches lent support to Klan activity. First Presbyterian and Dr. Hudnut were an exception, along with the Vindicator in denouncing Klan activity. It was not popular to oppose the Klan.

He was a respected denominational leader, serving as a trustee both at the College of Wooster (a Presbyterian school) and Western Seminary, now Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In 1921, he visited Cameroun as a representative of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. He served First Presbyterian Church as its pastor for nearly 40 years, retiring in 1937.

After retirement, he eventually returned to the New York area, living on Long Island in Oceanside. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Princeton the same year his grandson graduated from there, in 1961. In 1962, when he was going on 98, he became Princeton’s oldest living graduate. He passed away in August 1963, just short of 99.

One of the most remarkable achievements of William Hudnut’s life was his children and grandchildren. Many children of ministers want to get as far from the church and ministry as possible for some reason. Two of Hudnut’s sons were ministers and William H. Hudnut, Jr. was twice nominated for the office of moderator of what had become the United Presbyterian Church. His son, William H. Hudnut III also became a minister and then ran for office, serving a term in Congress from Indiana, and then, in 1976, running for Mayor of Indianapolis, an office he held for sixteen years, during which he led a major redevelopment of downtown Indianapolis attracting sports, business, and entertainment to the city.

What emerges is a picture of a family of high moral and spiritual character and integrity, spiritual and civic leaders in their communities who garnered respect. It began with a father and grandfather who refused to confine himself to the elite but visited factories and took unpopular stances, defending Youngstown’s newest residents who were doing the work of creating the Steel Valley.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Simeon Booker

Cover of Shocking the Conscience by Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker

Jet was a pocket-sized news magazine that could be found in barber shops, beauty salons, doctors’ and dentists’ offices in the Black community and in many black homes. In the early 1950’s, it chronicled the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, culminating in an article in 1955 showing the brutally beaten and mutilated body of 14 year old Emmett Till, and a series of articles covering his open-casket funeral, his mother’s determination to awaken the nation’s conscience, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of his murderers in the Jim Crow South.

The reporter responsible for these articles, perhaps some of the most notable journalism of this era, was Simeon Booker. And Simeon Booker grew up in Youngstown. He was actually born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1918 and moved to Youngstown at age 5. His father helped establish the YMCA for blacks on West Federal Street and later served as a Baptist minister in the city. As an elementary student at Covington Elementary, he composed a poem that appeared in The Vindicator:

“Spring is coming, this I know, for the robin told me so. Flowers and grass are going to grow. Winter goes with ice and snow.”

That was the beginning of his writing career. There is some dispute of sources, one claiming him for The Rayen School, and the other as a graduate of South High School. Covington is on the North side. Later on, he lived on Myrtle, on the South side. In his memoir, he only mentions graduating from high school, so I’ve not been able to confirm which one! He enrolled at Youngstown College but was denied an activity card given to white students. He transferred to Virginia Union University, from which he graduated in 1942. He started writing for the Afro-American in Baltimore, a job obtained through family friends, and then moved back to Ohio in 1945 to write for the Call and Post in Cleveland. In 1950, he received a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard in 1950. The following year he became the first Black reporter for the Washington Post.

He was only assigned general news stories at the Post and decided to leave in 1954 to start the Washington bureau of Jet and Ebony magazines, heading up Johnson Publishing Company’s civil rights coverage. It was in the following year that he covered the Emmett Till story. He covered the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. In 1961, he rode with the Freedom Riders through the deep South. When their bus was fire-bombed, he worked with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to arrange their evacuation. In 1964, his book, Black Man’s America, made the case for the ongoing civil rights movement. In the mid-1960’s, he interviewed General William Westmoreland on the Vietnam war.

He also covered Washington, including every president from Eisenhower through George W. Bush, developments in Congress, and strategies of civil rights leaders. He led the Washington Bureau until his retirement in 2007. In 2013, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. Collaborating with his wife Carol McCabe Booker, he published his memoir Shocking the Conscience. That December, he spoke at Youngstown State’s commencement and was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2016, the Simeon Booker Award for Courage was established as part of Ohio’s Non-Violence Week each October.

Simeon Booker died at age 99 on December 10, 2017 in Solomons, Maryland. On January 29, 2018, he was honored in a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. He was considered the dean of black journalists. His dedicated and courageous life in journalism is something all of us can be proud of, and his unrelenting pursuit of civil rights stands as a challenge to all of us.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — South High School

South High School, circa 1916

It was a time when Youngstown was undergoing explosive growth and particularly expanding south of downtown. Between 1900 and 1920 the population grew from 44,885 to 132,358. In 1910, there was one high school serving the city, The Rayen School. School superintendent N. H. Chaney started leading a campaign to expand the Youngstown City school system.

Architect Charles F. Owsley, the architect for the Mahoning County Courthouse, was employed to design the building. Looking at both buildings, you can see the family resemblance. Metro Monthly has a video online of both exterior details and pictures of the interior of the school. It was a grand building–the auditorium, ceilings, the school offices. The cornerstone was laid in 1909 and the school opened in 1911. The Rayen School had a reputation for excellence, and the opening encountered skepticism that the new school would match Youngstown’s first school for excellence. Superintendent Chaney assured parents of students that would be sent to South High School that they would be prepared just as effectively for life.

Whether the school matched The Rayen School in academics, South quickly proved itself in athletics, defeating Rayen in their first football match 12-0. For many years to come, this would be the major rivalry between Youngstown schools. By 1914 money had been appropriated for a new stadium behind the school. One of the early football stars at South High School under “Busty” Ashbaugh was Chet McPhee, who played at half back, graduating in 1915. After college, he returned to Youngstown to coach at newly established Chaney High School, a new rival for South.

During the flu epidemic of 1918, South High School was converted to an emergency hospital for a time, when existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed. Approximately 380 patients were cared for there, 90 of whom died, including three teachers who had volunteered their services.

Perhaps the most illustrious alumnus of South High School was Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. in 1927. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones was another South High School grad, who eventually rose to the second highest court in the land. Football players Bob Dove and Fred Mundee as well as Major Generals Wilbur Simlik and Robert Durkin were graduates. In later years, Simeon Booker who wrote on civil rights in Jet Magazine was also a graduate. Joseph Napier, Sr, is another South High grad and Youngstown storyteller. One of his videos recounts “The Youngstown South Nine,” South’s one championship cross country team in 1980. Napier was a member.

Warrior Logo

At Chaney, we went to a lot of games at South’s stadium, one of two serving the high schools in the city. The South High Warriors in their red and blue were often a tough opponent in football and basketball. My other major encounter with South was the field house, from which I graduated. Beyond those experiences, I did not have a lot of contact with South and don’t think I was ever in the building. From the pictures I’ve seen, that was my loss.

Population was the reason South High School was built and it was the reason it closed. As Youngstown’s population shrank in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Youngstown closed a number of schools. In 1993, the decision was made to close South High School. For a time, a charter school used the facility, Eagle Heights Academy. Eagle Heights Academy came under scrutiny because of poor academic performance and financial irregularities around 2010 and eventually closed. A new school, South Side Academy, took its place, and in 2015 moved out of the South High facility due to dissatisfaction with White Hat Management, who at that time owned the building. South Side moved into the former St. Patrick’s Elementary at 1400 Oakhill, out of which they currently operate.

It is not clear to me whether the South High School building has a tenant at present. The satellite map from this year suggests that the bleachers in the stadium are deteriorating, and I wonder from looking at it about the condition of the roof. If that goes, then the interior will deteriorate quickly. This would be sad–it is a gem of a building and a South Side landmark. And it represents an illustrious history as the city’s second high school, one that launched many students into life.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snap The Whip

Snap the Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872. Butler Institute of American Art. Public Domain

When I was growing up, I was told this was the most famous painting in the Butler. If it was on display, every school tour stopped to see it. If memory serves, we had a print of the painting hanging in our school library. I can’t say it was, or is, my favorite. That honor goes to Robert Vonnoh’s In Flanders Field. Art tastes are an individual thing! But it does remind me of some of the playground games we played…

Snap the Whip was painted in 1872. It captures a rural scene in post-Civil War America. It is recess from a one-room school house. You can see the teachers (playground monitors!) standing in the distance. The nine boys are barefoot with a variety of hats, suspenders and jackets, in a grassy field (with a few rocks!) sprinkled with wild flowers. The school and field are nestled in a hilly wooded landscape, thought to be somewhere in upstate New York, perhaps near the Hudson Valley or near Easthampton, on Long Island, both places where Homer spent time.

The painting captures a favorite playground game, Snap the Whip. The lead boy runs back and forth causing the line to weave, and then comes the snap, when the boys in the lead plant their feet and everyone tries to hang on with the “snap” of momentum. Two of the nine boys have let go and are tumbling. Will the rest of the line tear apart as some boys plant their feet and others are still striding?

Executive director and chief curator of the Butler, Louis A. Zona says, “Homer was to painting what Mark Twain was to literature. It shows what life was like in America after the Civil War. Homer has captured the wonders of youth at a special moment in time.” The painting captured for people of the time innocence, simplicity, and play in a peaceful setting after so much turmoil. Even today, it recalls a simpler, agrarian day. I suspect in our risk-conscious, litigious society, Snap the Whip would no longer be permitted (at least when adults are around).

The painting featured as one of the most celebrated works at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia. Joseph G. Butler acquired the painting in 1919, the year the Butler Institute of American Art opened. Butler grew up with William McKinley, with whom he remained friends and about whom he wrote a biography after McKinley’s death. The painting reminded him of their friendship and shared boyhood. There is a second, smaller version of the painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The big difference is that Homer has removed the hills, replacing them with blue sky. My personal opinion is this makes it a less interesting painting. What do you think?

Snap the Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain.

Winslow Homer lived between 1836 and 1910. Many people consider Snap the Whip to be the greatest work of one of America’s great artists. He was Norman Rockwell before Norman Rockwell. One of Homer’s lesser works, Lost on the Grand Banks, sold in 1998 for approximately $30 million. It makes one wonder about the worth of the painting in the Butler. Hopefully, it never will be sold–the Butler’s own website describes it as “the heart and soul of the Butler’s collection.” I personally think the Butler is the heart and soul of Youngstown–built and funded to this day out of an industrialist’s fortune. If so, the painting is at the heart of this heart, the soul of this soul. Writing this article and looking at the painting makes me want to sit with the actual work the next time I visit Youngstown. And it reminds me of what a treasure we have in the Butler.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!