Steel Museum Opens New Exhibit Today, Hosts Roundtable

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A roundtable discussion this afternoon and a new exhibit at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor stand to help the public better understand how memory impacts academic disciplines and social movements.

The roundtable, “Working With Memory,” begins at 4 p.m. and will then segue to the new exhibit, “Hearing Our Voices: Discovering Black Youngstown,” afterwards at 5:30 p.m. in the center’s lobby. Refreshments will be provided.

Retired Youngstown State University history professor Donna DeBlasio’s Museum Curation class from the fall 2022 semester developed the new exhibit. The display panels feature photographs, quotations from YSU’s and the Historical Center’s oral history program and items that reflect the experience of Black residents in the Mahoning Valley.

“It’s not comprehensive,” DeBlasio said. “It’s to give an introduction to the Black community and let people know about the rich history and idea of what’s out there.”

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 said.

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

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 said of Williams’ account. 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 to 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.

The roundtable, “Working With Memory,” features five YSU faculty members from the history, psychology, art history, geography and English departments, said Martha Pallante, the YSU Charles Darling Endowed Faculty Chair in American Social History.

Pallante said the purpose of the roundtable is to discuss how memory is perceived and used by those in a variety of academic and professional pursuits. “The importance and use of memory for a psychologist, for example, and the definition of what constitutes memory is different than a historian’s,” she said. 

Among the topics discussed is the importance of memory as it relates to actual events, Pallante noted. “There’s a whole question about what’s important,” she says, “what people remember or what really happened. They can be two different things.”

This is the fourth roundtable hosted by the center, known more commonly as the Steel Museum. Other roundtables have included discussions on pandemics, systemic racism and immigration and migration, Pallante said. “We’re hoping for the same kind of discussion.”

The roundtable, exhibit and reception were funded by a gift from the Charles Darling Memorial Endowment in History. The Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor, a site of the Ohio History Connection and operated by YSU’s Applied History program, is located at 151 W. Wood St. in Youngstown.

Pictured at top: Standing, from left, are Donna DeBlasio, retired Youngstown State University history professor; Emily Treharn, junior history major at YSU; Gabriella Vass-Gal, junior history major at YSU; John Liana, assistant curator at the Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor; Viktoryia Paliakovich, graduate student at YSU; and, kneeling, Sabrina Krause, master’s candidate at YSU.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.