Memory lane suddenly became a smoldering street as Jerry Washington was reminiscing the other afternoon.
He had been leafing through a Stivers High School yearbook from 50 years ago and as he turned the pages, the old pictures appeared and several made him smile.
Those he lingered over the longest were of his buddies – fellow football and basketball players – and they all were white. He was the only black male in the school when he graduated in 1969, he said, and together, he and his teammates formed part of a racial bond that wasn’t happening in many other parts of the city back then.
“I got to give it to them, they took me under their wing,” he said. “There were five or 10 guys I hung around with. We were friends. They were phenomenal.
“That’s not how it always was in the city. In the ‘60s we had some racial unrest here in Dayton. There were some tough times.”
He had some first-hand knowledge from when his family lived on Second Street in East Dayton. His neighborhood was almost all white. His family was not.
“I used to walk to Huffman School, which was a good walk and probably twice a day I was called the N-word by adults sitting up on their porches or driving around in their cars,” he said. “It was fine once I was with my peers in school, but getting there sometimes was hard.
“I remember one instance where guys in a truck were drinking and yelling stuff at me. I hauled (butt) and ran through the alleys. They drove after me but they didn’t catch me.”
Later his family moved to Dayton’s predominately black West Side. He lived on Reisinger Avenue and at times found himself targeted again.
“I was going to Stivers then – I loved Stivers – but I lived right near Roosevelt,” he said. “Some people thought I should be going there. And that’s when I got called other things, like Uncle Tom and stuff like that.”
He started to laugh: “I couldn’t satisfy some people on either side of town.”
And that’s when Memory Lane became a street in turmoil.
It was 1968 – his junior year – right after the Rev. Martin Luther King had been slain Memphis. Riots and civil unrest engulfed many cities in the country. Dayton was no exception.
In fact the city had experienced a riot in September of 1966 when a tavern owner was shot with a shotgun while sweeping the sidewalk. There also had been disturbance a year later, once after H. Rap Brown spoke and another time when a white Dayton policeman shot an unarmed black man and afterward planted a gun on him.
While the 1968 disturbance was another polarizing moment, Washington and his teammates eclipsed it thanks to their Stivers bond.
In those days he often walked to school, using the bus fare his mom gave him to instead stop downtown and get something to eat or drink at McCrory’s.
With the unrest following Rev. King’s assassination, you couldn’t do that.
“You were supposed to stay off of the Third Street bridge,” Washington recalled. “There were (police) snipers on the roof of the theater across from Rubenstein’s.”
He nodded with pride as he recalled his teammates’ response:
“My buddies came over to get me. Guys like Mike Violette, Bud Honshell, Mickey Allen, Jimmy Shoop and Jerry Osborne. They’d drive across the bridge and into my neighborhood. There weren’t any whites there, but they came anyway. They picked me up and made sure I got to Stivers. I was a Tiger back then.”
And come Sunday, he will forever be remembered as one.
That’s when he’ll be enshrined in the Stivers Athletic Hall of Fame for his contributions in five sports there, especially football and basketball, where he was a team co-captain and won all-city honors. In addition he was a four-year chorus member, a class officer two years and a member of the student council.
The 2019 induction class also includes: Jim “Bud” Hounshell, his old teammate and fellow 1969 grad, Jim Campbell (1968), Marcus Jordan (2010), Tom Mantia (1967), Mike Cutshaw (1966), Chuck Hardin (1946), William “Dutch” Ussat (1921) and the Stivers basketball teams from 1953, as well as 1919, ‘20 and ‘21.
Special recognition awards will go to Harold Miller (1953) and Lance Cpl. Joe Paul (1965).
The ceremony, which again will be emceed by Don Donoher and Bill Hosket, begins with a noon social hour at the Presidential Banquet Center.
From Mississippi to Dayton
Washington was born on a cotton farm outside Port Gibson, Mississippi and moved with his family to Dayton when was just a few months old.
“The Mississippi River had taken over much of the farm, so my parents moved here because back them Dayton was booming,” he said. “There was work in all the factories, places like Inland, NCR, Mead and Reynolds and Reynolds,
He said his dad – a bricklayer, carpenter, plumber and electrician – was retired from the Army and strict. He also knew the challenges the kids – there were nine in all – would face in their East Dayton neighborhood.
“I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard when he wasn’t home,” he remembered. “He had racial ideas of his own and he was very particular who I went around with, but he was okay with my teammates.
“A lot of them had been my friends since Huffman. We’d walk to school together then and later in high school they’d come over to the West Side and pick me up to go out with them.”
While he was involved in several things at Stivers, football was his first passion. And one of his finest games came already as a freshman when he caught two touchdown passes in the final two minutes against Wilbur Wright.
Up to that point the Tigers had been losing, 14-0. But with his scores – and a pair of two-point conversions – Stivers won, 16-14.
“The more success I had in school, the more I thought maybe I could go to college,” he said.
He was further driven by the words of an eighth grade teacher, who once dismissed his dreams.
“He told me, ‘Forget about college, you’re not college material,’” Washington said. “He told me I wouldn’t do well there.”
‘It really means a lot to me’
After high school, he went to Sinclair Community College, worked on his academics the first year, joined the basketball team his second and got his associates degree.
He went on to Wilmington College played basketball and got a political science degree.
He married Patricia Kirkland, a girl he’d known since they were teenagers and she lived on Edison. She died of lung cancer in 1986.
He has three children, son Jerry and daughters Jackelyn and Jervia and a fiancé, Chicago pastor Barbara Turner Stroud.
For several years Washington has worked at Sinclair Community College, where he’s now a Security Information Officer and a big part of his job is helping students find their way around campus and keeping them safe.
That sense of what a school can mean to a student was first instilled in him at Stivers, he said.
“That’s why I feel so blessed going in the hall of fame,” he said. “It really means a lot to me. I loved Stivers. And if I could recommend a high school to anybody it’d be Stivers.
“To me, it was the best place in in the world.”
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