Editor’s note: This is part of a special project looking back at what fueled the 1966 west Dayton riots and exploring how far we have come in addressing those issues, and how much farther we need to go. Go here to read “Lasting Scars, Part 1: Shooting sparked 1966 Dayton riots." Click here for the entire project: "Lasting Scars: The 1966 west Dayton riot."
The call from Dayton Mayor Dave Hall went out shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 1, 1966: Please send the National Guard.
Gov. James Rhodes was contacted at the Ohio State Fair and approved the deployment by phone.
Dayton was in the grips of race riots, sparked only hours before by the senseless shotgun killing of a black man who was sweeping his porch. Witnesses described the shooter or shooters as one or more white men. The incident struck a nerve left raw by segregation and racial tension.
Hall read the riot act on West Third Street — looting and wailing sirens surrounding him — at around 10:30 a.m. and was immediately confronted in the street by W. Sumpter McIntosh, whose shirt sleeves were rolled up, shirt open at the neck.
“This is the city’s fault,” McIntosh said within earshot of reporters. “You can blame the mayor and the chief of police.”
Hall snapped back: “We did what you asked. We did all we could.”
A Journal Herald reporter wrote that rioters moved in clusters, attacking stores and passing vehicles. “As white motorists drove past, the shout was, ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ ” the reporter wrote.
At 12:40 p.m. the order went out to close west-side bars and carryouts.
Roughly 1,000 National Guardsmen under the command of Ohio Adj. Gen. Erwin Hostetler were assembled from Blanchester, Covington, Eaton, Middletown and Xenia. They arrived around 3 p.m.
“I remember them coming in because I was sitting on the porch and they were riding down Lakeview in the military vehicles,” said Bishop Marshall Gilmore, who at the time was pastor of Phillips Temple.
Guardsmen in Jeeps mounted with .50-caliber machine guns patrolled the area. But by then, calm was beginning to take root. Gen. Hostetler toured the city in an unmarked police car without incident, noting only shattered and looted storefronts.
There were numerous injuries and more than 500 arrests. City services were briefly suspended. Trains were re-routed. One estimate put the cost of public safety alone at $20,000 a day, or nearly $150,000 in today’s dollars. Police estimated property damage at about $250,000, or nearly $1.9 million today.
It wasn’t the city’s first race riot. Officers used tear gas and water hoses to put down a 1955 uprising during which rioters chanted the name of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi. His killers were acquitted.
It wouldn’t be the last, either. Crowds became violent in 1967 after a speech by H Rap Brown, a civil rights activist known for advocating violence. That same year a white Dayton police officer shot and killed a black man after allegedly mistaking a tobacco pipe in his waistband for a gun, and then planted a pistol on the victim. Riots again. And again after the killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
But the September 1966 riots were the largest and made national news, adding Dayton to the list of cities where racial strife had become impossible to ignore.
Prominent black leaders predicted the riots in a May 1966 Daily News series titled: West Side ’66, Seething under the Surface.
Dayton’s restaurants, theaters and hotels had only started phasing out racial bans in the 1950s. By the 1960s, there were still few black faces working in banks or government offices — Dayton’s 380-man police force included only 14 blacks. Bank credit was nearly impossible to get and red-lining limited where blacks could live.
There was some integration and progress. Dayton elected Don Crawford as its first black city commissioner in 1961. Dayton had elected Welby Broaddus, the son of a slave, as the first black board of education member in 1952. Residents remember white neighborhoods in west Dayton and black neighborhoods in east Dayton.
But there was a sense that progress was too slow.
“People expected a lot more than has happened,” John Harwood, principal of Wogaman School on Germantown Pike, told the Daily News in 1966. “The civil rights law (of 1964) and other measures said things would be different … These people have been denied all of these years and they are impatient now.”
The Daily News article identified four major complaints:
- Education — The belief that west-side schools were more crowded and not equipped like all-white schools.
- Joblessness — Black unemployment was more than twice that of whites.
- Housing — Blacks were denied home loans through “red-lining,” essentially dictating where they could live.
- City services — A sense that the west side came last to city leaders.
Fifty years later, west-side leaders and prominent blacks identify many of the same issues, the specifics slightly altered:
- Education — West Dayton schools are still overwhelmingly black, have some of the worst educational outcomes in the state and have a hard time luring substitutes and experienced teachers.
- Joblessness — General Motors and other manufacturing jobs have left west Dayton. The black unemployment rate remains twice that of whites.
- Housing — West-side housing stock has some of the lowest value in the region. Residents complain that rented and unoccupied homes are falling into disrepair, and west Dayton residents still have a harder time getting loans than people in other parts of the city.
- City services — While city leaders have launched programs focused on west side revitalization, private-sector dollars haven’t followed as in other regions.
Violent crime wasn’t identified as a major issue 50 years ago, but it is today. A map of area homicides this year — on track to be one of the deadliest in the past 15 years — shows the vast majority are west of the Great Miami River.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said different parts of the city face unique challenges. There are twice as many drug overdoses in east Dayton, he said, and more gun crime in west Dayton.
“To the extent that crime problems aggregate or concentrate in certain areas, then police strategies need to adapt to that reality and approach it in a way that’s going to be effective,” said Biehl, who was assistant police chief in Cincinnati during race riots in 2001 sparked by the shooting of a black teen. He has made improving police-community relations a priority.
Recent years have also been marked by riots in some American cities after black citizens have been shot by police. The Dayton region had one such incident in 2014 when Beavercreek police killed John Crawford as he strolled through a Wal-Mart holding an air rifle.
The incident led to some protests and the Black Lives Matter movement has held marches and other events in the area after similar killings. But the response locally has been peaceful.
“I do think our police department is interested in community policing and how to build those relationships, but I also feel like we’re just one incident away, so if the wrong thing happens there is that opportunity for (unrest),” said Catherine Crosby, director of the Dayton Human Relations Council, which was founded in 1963 to enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
The council in 2011 officially expanded its scope to include improving relationships between police and community after a young black man, Kylen English, died after escaping police custody and jumping off the Salem Avenue Bridge.
After C.J. McLin Jr. died, he was replaced in the Ohio General Assembly by his daughter, Rhine McLin, who would go on to serve as mayor of Dayton from 2002 to 2010 and currently is vice chairwoman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
“West Dayton today is worse off than west Dayton 50 years ago before the riots,” she said in a recent interview. “Those areas were punished for rioting.”
She lives on the west side and called it a “desert” devoid of jobs or businesses, still working to overcome damage done by segregation.
“I see another revolution coming,” she said. “And I don’t say it’s going to be a violent revolution, but you have so many oppressed people in the city of Dayton — and I’m talking east and west Dayton — who are trying to make it, and I don’t feel anyone is hearing their voices.”
Staff writer Jeremy Kelley contributed to this report.
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