Notes & Comments: The Akron Fair Housing Case

By: Thomas Powell, State University of New York, Emeritus

Editor’s Note:
In January of 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case in which the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, a builder of low-income housing, sued the city of Cuyahoga Falls for delaying construction of a housing project-an action they claimed was motivated in part by issues of discrimination. Although three months later the court overturned a lower court ruling and found in favor of the city,[1.  City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio et al. v. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation et al. No. 01-1269. A copy of the decision can be found through the FindLaw website at Briefs for the case are at] the case illustrates the continuation of long-standing divisions concerning race and residence in this Northeast Ohio Community.

Nearly forty years before the recent Supreme Court decision, Cuyahoga Falls was the focus of another lawsuit over discrimination and housing: Mercer Brancher et al. v. The Akron Area Board of Realtors et al., also known as “The Akron Fair Housing Case.” Thomas Powell, a former University of Akron professor and resident of Cuyahoga Falls at the time, here presents a first-hand account of his family’s role in the development of this case. Powell has chosen to write his account in the first person, present tense in order to impart the sense of “bite” and immediacy he felt as an eyewitness to these events. Given recent events, his stylistic choice seems particularly appropriate-even after forty years, some of the basic issues he discusses still have currency today.

Kevin Kern

Continue reading Notes & Comments: The Akron Fair Housing Case

Book Review: The Once and Future Union

The Once and Future Union: The Rise and Fall of the United Rubber Workers, 1935-1995. By Bruce M. Meyer. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. xviii, 457 pp., photographs, index. Paper $27.95, ISBN 1-88483-685-2.)

Bruce M. Meyer’s account of the “rise and fall” of the United Rubber Workers is a welcome addition to the region’s historical literature. It provides a useful overview of an institution that was once thought to play a critical role in the region’s economy and unquestionably did play a central role in the lives of many individuals. It rises above that level in portraying the last third of the union’s history, the years from the mid-1970s to 1995, when the URW became a symbol of industrial decline in Ohio and the Midwest. Yet because Meyer devotes approximately two thirds of the book to those years, he inadvertently creates the impression that the URW’s “fall” was more important than either its “rise,” in the 1930s, or the long period, ranging from l940 to the 1970s, when it represented virtually all U.S. and Canadian tire workers and bargained aggressively to improve their wages and working conditions. Continue reading Book Review: The Once and Future Union

Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves

Helping Others, Helping Ourselves: Power, Giving and Community Identity in Cleveland, Ohio, 1880-1930. By Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan. (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2001. 222 pp. Paper, $29.00, ISBN 0-87338-711-2.)

Until the New Deal era, much social support in the U.S. came through private philanthropy. In considering the means and ends of such private philanthropy, historians have explored “top-down” philanthropy whereby wealthy Americans gave funds and endowed non-profit organizations to shape society in particular ways. When Andrew Carnegie, for example, chose to finance public libraries he was not merely expressing a benign belief in the power of reading. He gave his money to support his idea that the less fortunate should not be provided direct aid, but rather given the indirect means by which they could choose to help themselves. For Carnegie and other wealthy philanthropists, thus, giving was a way to control other groups in the U.S.

In Helping Others, Helping Ourselves, Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan has written a social analysis of philanthropy that moves beyond this top-down approach by shifting from philanthropy of the wealthy to that of more “ordinary” people in Cleveland and asking how and why they chose to give to others within their community. She admits that such philanthropy too was an exercise in power, but insists that the “giving” of more ordinary people was rooted in their sense of belonging to Cleveland and that patterns of giving reveal “a social relation, one that both reflected and shaped society” (150). Continue reading Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves

Book Review: European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream

European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. By William Reynolds, Edited by Peter K. Gifford and Robert D. Ilisevich. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. 288 pp. Hardcover, $44.95, ISBN 1-88483-691-7.)

First, a fair warning to readers, European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, is not, as the title would imply, a secondary history of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. Instead, this is the story of one of the railroad’s earliest leaders, William Reynolds, and how he viewed the organization and construction of the railroad from 1851 until his resignation from the road in 1864. Reynolds’ recollections, written some forty years after his departure from the railroad, provide an interesting glimpse into the problems with ’empire’ building in 19th century America. Continue reading Book Review: European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream

Academic Regalia at Oberlin: the Establishment and Dissolution of a Tradition

By: S.E. Plank, Oberlin College[1. I am grateful to my colleagues Robert Haslun, Secretary of Oberlin College, and Roland M. Baumann, College Archivist, for their kind assistance and encouragement. I dedicate this essay to the memory of Geoffrey Blodgett, Danforth Professor of History Emeritus at Oberlin and devoted chronicler of Oberlin history.]

[I]f any season is worthy of symbolical expression and emphasis, it is the Commencement season, the initiation of new members into the international fraternity of educated men. . . .Viewed in this light all the formalism of college life assumes significance; it becomes an awe-full thing to wear a cap and gown.
The Oberlin Review (June 21, 1906)

Styles of clothing carry feelings and trusts, investments, faiths and formalized fears. Styles exert a social force, they enroll us in armies–moral armies, political armies, gendered armies, social armies.
John Harvey, Men in Black (1995)


With the adoption of the Intercollegiate Code in 1895, American universities and colleges embraced a uniformity of design in academic costume that has held sway until the relatively recent proliferation of university-specific gowns.[2. For a summary of the Intercollegiate Code, see Hugh Smith, Academic Dress and Insignia of the World (Cape Town, 1970), II, 1527-75. Smith observes that “by far the most interesting feature . . . of United States academic costume in the period from 1960 to date (1970), has been the deliberate attempt of certain of the best-known and most influential Universities to break away from the uniformity of the Intercollegiate Code. The result of this has been the creation of distinctive academic costume for some or all of the Graduates of at least the following Universities: California, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Fordham, New York, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Tufts, Union Theological Seminary and Yale.” To Smith’s now outdated list may be added Adelphi, Arizona State, Boston College, Brown, DePaul, Illinois, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Michigan, MIT, New Mexico, Rochester, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rutgers, Stanford, Temple, Washington, and Wayne State Universitites. A significant number retain the basic design of the Intercollegiate Code, though they alter the color scheme of the gown to create a robe of distinction.] Accordingly, studies of American academic costume may find questions of usage a richer inquiry than questions of design and development, questions of social history more compelling than a study of regalia as autonomous objects unto themselves. A particularly interesting example is the usage and social history of regalia at Oberlin College (Ohio), a usage established around the beginning of the twentieth century as the college experienced a burgeoning interest in “collegiateness,” and a usage dramatically altered in the late twentieth century with the politicizing of the campus and its ceremonial events. Continue reading Academic Regalia at Oberlin: the Establishment and Dissolution of a Tradition

Current History: Spring 2003

Award-Winning Historical Collection Now Available Online

The Oral History Digital Collection at Youngstown State University was named a finalist for a 2002 Award of Achievement by Northern Ohio Live! magazine in the IT/Internet Resource category. The Oral History Program at YSU began in 1974 by Professor Hugh G. Earnhart. In its 28 year existence, the program has collected over 2000 interviews with northeastern Ohioans on topics ranging from education to the steel industry to politics. In 2001, the staff of YSU’s Maag Library digitized the transcripts and placed them on-line, making them available on the internet.

Anyone wishing to examine these materials can access the collection at

Upcoming Events

Continue reading Current History: Spring 2003

In This Issue: Spring 2003

In The Current Issue:

Welcome to the final issue of this first volume of the Northeast Ohio Journal of History. We have been extremely pleased with the response to our publication so far, and look forward to continuing to serve as a forum for high-quality research on Northeast Ohio themes.

In this issue, we feature a group of pieces that reflect nearly twelve thousand years of Ohio history. Brian Redmond’s virtual museum exhibit provides a brief overview of human habitation in the Western Reserve from the earliest Native-American settlements to the founding of Cleveland. Redmond, who is curator of Archaeology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, also outlines recent projects sponsored by the museum to discover more about Northeast Ohio’s prehistory.

Steven Plank’s feature article on the history of academic regalia at Oberlin College is something of a time-capsule piece, steeped in the language and sentiments of two disparate generations of Oberlin students and faculty. Plank, head of the Department of Musicology at Oberlin, illustrates that something as seemingly innocuous as the use of academic regalia has had profound social, religious, ethnic, and political correlates in this academic community over a one hundred year period.

Thomas Powell’s document on the 1965 Akron Fair Housing Case is a unique eyewitness account on the patterns of prejudice in Cuyahoga Falls. Although essentially a diary of events leading up to the seminal court case, this piece also attempts to put these events into a larger context. Powell’s epilogue in particular challenges Gunnar Myrdal’s famous conclusion to An American Dilemma. Given the March 2003 Supreme Court Case concerning housing in Cuyahoga Falls, this article has a sense of immediacy unusual for historical articles.

In addition to the usual book reviews, we also encourage the reader to explore the other features of our site. For those who missed the first issue, please visit our “Archives” link, which contains the entire contents of our inaugural number. We have expanded our “Research Links” feature since last fall, adding not only more primary sources but also links to local historical agencies. We strongly encourage the reader to suggest or send new links for this page. The same is true for items in “Current History,” which is a clearinghouse for information on events of a historical nature in Northeast Ohio. Because we update this section constantly, please feel free to send announcements for it at any time.

We would also like to remind our readers that printer-friendly versions accompany each item. These PDF files are not only easier on the eyes when printed, but also contain basic issue data and page numbers for convenience in citation.

As always, please address any inquiries about this project (or about any other aspect of the journal) to the editor at kkern @ uakron. edu. We welcome all comments and suggestions.

Kevin Kern

Continue reading In This Issue: Spring 2003