In collaboration with the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices of 91.3-FM WYSO, the News publishes excerpts from transcriptions of WYSO’s series “Loud As the Rolling Sea”, which highlights the voices of a generation of Afro- Americans in Yellow Springs who were the civil rights activists of their day.
The series is hosted by Antioch College Associate Professor of History Kevin McGruder.
In this article, villager Alyce Earl-Jenkins discusses student activism in the 1960s and 1970s in Greene County, home to two historically black colleges – Central State and Wilberforce University – and Antioch College. Students from all three schools have staged protests, marches, sit-ins, rallies, pickets and more over the years, lobbying fiercely and relentlessly for the civil rights of African Americans.
To listen to the interview: https://www.wyso.org/local-and-statewide-news/2021-06-23/loud-as-the-rolling-sea-dr-yvonne-seon
Alyce Earl-Jenkins came from Alabama to northern Ohio upon graduating from college to work at Central State University in 1958. The next 10 years will be eventful.
Coming from Birmingham, she saw the civil rights movement unfold here in the north and also in the south where her family lived.
Alyce Earl Jenkins: Everything in Birmingham was separate. We had our own films. We had our own restaurants, our own churches. We had cleaners. We had our own construction companies. We had our own schools. You know, it was like that. When the integration happened, I felt and I still feel mixed emotions about it, because what happened was that those thriving businesses in the urban cities were gone. And that’s how the people could build these beautiful houses and things, and now you don’t have that anymore, you know.
Kevin McGruder: Do you remember anyone anticipating this or even realizing that it might be a possibility?
Earl-Jenkins: No, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it. And the whole time was after that happened when I was talking about it and mentioning it, you know, how much I miss it and how much it hurt our community. And people were looking at me [and say], girl, I don’t see how you can say it’s not better now. And I think, no, it’s not, you know, because they had a lot of black people and they made it and their kids went to high schools, nice universities. And so when their businesses closed like Stevenson’s garage closed [her father was employed there], there’s never been another full-scale auto garage in North Birmingham, you know?
And we had great movie theaters. And mom said that Sammy Davis – his dad used to come and perform at the Pantages in Birmingham and she saw Sammy Davis when he was little, you know, because his daddy was going around the different cities. And the same thing happened in Atlanta. Whatever you need, you can get it from the black community. But when the integration happened, it all disappeared, you know. And here in Dayton, they had a place on Fifth Street, and another street might have been Fourth and Fifth Street. They had a lot of businesses there. It was a prosperous neighborhood.
McGruder: How was Xenia?
Earl-Jenkins: He had the east side, most blacks lived on the east side, and whites lived everywhere else. They had clubs and everything, all black people would go there and we used the same grocery store. They had a nice movie theater. I think we used the front door. I don’t remember using a side door. But we also had films on campus. And we had a bus that was … I think the man’s name was Mr. Johnson on the bus. And he would make trips from Xenia to Dayton for people who want to shop and things like that. And then later there was another bus going from Xenia to Dayton. You know, it was OK. And I joined St. John AME Church in Xenia. I knew I was going to join an AME church. But the fact that it was St. John’s made it more appealing because my church in Birmingham was St. John AME Church. So I was a member of this church until my mother came here in 2000. After the tornado, St. John in Xenia Church and CME Church combined to become United AME Church.
McGruder: You were in Central State during this time. How has the college been affected by the changes?
Earl-Jenkins: Well, meanwhile, because it’s gone from desegregation and economic equality, the kind of movement and the kind of housing, to historically black colleges and universities. And it wasn’t just historically black colleges and universities, white universities too, but with the civil rights movement came the peace movement at the same time and human rights and everything. Okay so the colleges were affected by the students who suddenly saw some of the administrators, teachers and faculty members as being nothing but Uncle Tom because they did not defend their rights. So we didn’t stand up for our rights and do the things they thought we needed to do. So we had a lot of student unrest and that’s where the SNCC [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] was involved in this.
McGruder: Did they have a branch in Dayton or Xenia?
Earl-Jenkins: SNCC was very organized. No school was untouchable as far as they were concerned, okay? So the students would come here from different places and they would meet the leaders of the different campuses and tell them what to do and how to go about it. You know, I mean, it was bad.
McGruder: And how did that feel as a faculty member?
Earl-Jenkins: It was scary. It was scary. And so they said they wanted mixed dorms, and the administration didn’t want them. And so that was the reason they protested. They said they had to do things in the library. They talked about the food, anything. They were just – we never knew what was going on, you know. We knew that some teachers and residents of Yellow Springs were helping the students. Things would go well and we looked up and there was Stokely Carmichael. We would say “Dang”. You know, and every time he come, you know, that was what it was.
McGruder: To what extent were their demands national issues compared to campus issues?
Earl-Jenkins: It was really campus issues back then, but they were using the same procedures they used for National.
McGruder: Have you noticed a difference between Central State and Wilberforce in terms of responding to students?
Earl-Jenkins: No no. The students had to fight for what they wanted. They had to keep pushing and pushing. I didn’t see a difference. Guess I might have seen more of Wilberforce because I wasn’t at Central when they had their student troubles. But the students got together and decided they were just going to line up, walk, and keep making noise all night. We once got a call and someone had set fire to the print area at Wilberforce. And Yvonne and I [Dr. Yvonne Seon, also on the Wilberforce staff at the time] were driving there. And as we went down Route 68, we could look and see the glow in the sky from the fire. And I said when I left that day, when I got ready to leave that day, I said, ‘Alyce, you don’t have to put up with that.’ I mean, it’s been going on for so long. And I said, ‘This is a good time for me to go.’ And so I left. But it was difficult. It was scary for me. But it was more than that. It was hurtful because everyone was working so hard, especially at Wilberforce. They were working so hard to try to make sure they had a good education and all the resources they could have. I mean, it made us cry.
Earl-Jenkins was interviewed for this series in 2013 and her story was edited with help from community producer Mojgan Samardar.
Funding for this project comes from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, the Yellow Springs Brewery, and Rick and Chris Kristensen, Re / Max Victory and their affiliates in Yellow Springs.