Changing the Course of Civil Rights in Yellow Springs 50 Years Ago This Week

Mar 14, 2014

The controversy began in 1960 at the Gegner Barber Shop located in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The owner, Lewis Gegner, claimed “I don’t know how to cut their (Negro’s) hair” and refused to provide service to African Americans.

Local citizens marched in support of the Civil Rights movement nationally and in support of progress in Yellow Springs in the early 1960s.
Local citizens marched in support of the Civil Rights movement nationally and in support of progress in Yellow Springs in the early 1960s.
Credit courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College

By 1960, the Antioch Committee for Racial Equality (ACRE) and the Antioch Chapter of the NAACP were successful in desegregating other businesses in the Village of Yellow Springs. But Gegner refused even after being fined for violating the local anti-discrimination ordinance.

When the court dropped the charge a year and half later, concerned citizens began to picket in front of his business and held a sit-in at his shop in April 1963. Despite the demonstrations and continued picketing the court of appeals kept ruling in Gegner’s favor. The court granted an injunction to limit the number to three picketers in front of his shop at any given time. WYSO covered the demonstrations as they intensified.

On March 14, 1964, Antioch students and students from nearby Central State and Wilberforce colleges, along with hundreds of villagers, gathered to demonstrate in front of the shop. WYSO Archives Fellow Jocelyn Robinson attended the demonstration as a child with her family.  Sterling Wright, a young teenager, and Bomani Moyenda, ten years old were also here.

"To see that many people, like occupying downtown and the tension that was in the air, you know, to sense that, and to hear the singing and the shouts of the protesters, you know, it was really intense." - Bomani Moyenda

Officers in riot gear used nightsticks and fire hoses to break up the demonstrators. Those of us watching from the sidewalks scattered and ran, blinded and choking as tear gas billowed through the crowd. Abandoning nonviolence, some protestors actively resisted arrest, and over a hundred people were hauled off to jail. The years of insistent but peaceful protests ended up in a riot that was carried on the national evening news. The barber closed the shop that day, never to reopen, never to integrate.

 

The Civil Rights movement marched on. That summer, volunteers from all over the country headed for Mississippi to open Freedom Schools and register Black voters. And Congress passed the Civil Rights Act on July second of 64, making integration the law of the land.

 

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