VOICES: The new West Third Street is no ordinary bridge

Work continues on the Third Street bridge replacement project throughout the Summer as the project continues to stay on schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Work continues on the Third Street bridge replacement project throughout the Summer as the project continues to stay on schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

In 1966, Dayton’s West Side was home to 70,000 Black people and the area was separated from the rest of the city by 12 bridges across the Great Miami River and Wolf Creek, the most famous being the West Third Street Bridge. The bridge, which is now under a major reconstruction, then served as a daily reminder that Black people were physically separated from the rest of the city and the lack of inclusion in the halls of institutional power “downtown.”

ExploreLasting Scars: the 1966 Dayton riot, and west Dayton today

I was a new rookie cop working the West Side in 1966 when a Black man was murdered in 1100 block of West Fifth Street on a hot night by a drive-by shotgun shooter. The city’s first and worst riot began and required 1,000 Ohio National Guard Soldiers to quell the violence. My wife, Gwen Nalls, who is Black, was a teenager on the West Side during the riots.

Against the backdrop of one of America’s most violent decades, 1965-1975, West Dayton suffered four riots. In the same decade, a white racist shot more than 30 Black men over four hot summers. He always used a shotgun firing from his car and hated the desegregation of Dayton Public Schools. He ultimately murdered Dr. Charles Glatt, a federal court appointee who had just arrived to oversee the desegregation plan.

I was a homicide detective and met the killer face to face shortly after Glatt’s death. My partner and I were able to get a confession to the racist killing spree.

Dayton Daily News archive photo.
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Dayton Daily News archive photo.

National Guard soldiers once stood with fixed bayonets on the old West Third Street bridge in 1966. In 1975, in the midst of bitter efforts to desegregate Dayton Public Schools, Black and white people marched and met in the center of the bridge and named it the Peace Bridge. They prayed and pledged to work to heal racial conflict, a struggle still worth pursuing.

A ribbon cutting ceremony for the Third Street Bridge is scheduled for 1 p.m. today. The bridge reconstruction is not yet completed and will open to traffic at a later date.

The new Third Street bridge is nearly completed. Workers are now sealing the concrete and working with heavy equipment near the river under the bridge. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
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The new Third Street bridge is nearly completed. Workers are now sealing the concrete and working with heavy equipment near the river under the bridge. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Dan Baker is a retired Dayton Police Lieutenant. He and his wife, attorney Gwen Nalls, published “Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America.”

Daniel Baker
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Daniel Baker

Gwen Nalls
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Gwen Nalls