Museum Opens Exhibit About Black Community

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An exhibit at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor entitled “Hearing Our Voices: Discovering Black Youngstown” opened Feb. 23.

Retired Youngstown State University history professor Donna DeBlasio and her museum curation class from the fall 2022 semester developed the exhibit. Panels feature photographs, quotations from the YSU and Historical Center’s oral history program and items that reflect the experience of Black residents in the Valley.

“It’s not comprehensive,” DeBlasio says. “It’s to give an introduction to the Black community and let people know about the rich history.”

One panel, DeBlasio says, examines the early experiences of the Black community, mostly in Youngstown. “There’s also one on work, one on building communities, one on segregation and one on the community of faith,” she says.

Excerpts from the oral histories include those of the late Rev. Lonnie Simon, who reflects on his participation in the civil rights movement.

Others, such as Rev. Fred Williams, who worked at Republic Steel’s Warren mill during the mid-1960s, relate firsthand accounts of outright discrimination and intimidation in the workplace.

“He wanted to become an electrician,” DeBlasio says of Williams. However, the night before he was to begin training, his wife received a phone call at home – Williams was listening – warning that her husband should not show up for work the next day.

Williams recognized the man’s voice – it was the personnel director from Republic whom he had spoken with earlier that day. Another Black colleague who was also scheduled for training received a similar call.

Williams arrived at work the next morning. The company responded by reclassifying his job to a much lower position and pay.

The exhibit also features objects from prominent members of Youngstown’s Black community, such as a reproduction painting of the late artist and YSU art professor Al Bright; items from the late George V. Murry, former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown; and objects from Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Carla Baldwin.

Pictured at top: The exhibit team includes Donna DeBlasio, Emily Treharn, Gabriella Vass-Gal, John Liana and Viktoryia Paliakovich. Sabrina Krause is kneeling.