Black History month has come and gone but I’m reminded of the article Caesar Carrino wrote in our January 2019 newsletter. It describes in detail the rich history African Americans played in building our community

How African American’s came to Wadsworth
By Caesar Carrino

Wadsworth’s first industry was coal mining. It was
big and really contributed to the economic
development of the Village and served as a stepping
stone to a burst of industry a few years later when the
Industrial Revolution began. Miners worked in
almost inhuman conditions, digging coal in mines
that were only about four feet high, dark and damp,
lacking in clean air and danger-ridden every minute they were inside the tomb-like workplace. All
miners were men and preferably short men, but even they had to work bent over from sunrise to
sunset for only a dollar a day.

Mine owners demanded much from the miners and added more and more conditions on their
production. One such caused the miners to strike: The rule was that broke their backs was that
coal had to be a certain size instead of the huge chunks that could increase the amount of coal
miners could produce if they didn’t have to break it up in smaller pieces. Mine owners built a huge
structure with a grid through which the right size coal would drop. Miners were given credit for
only that coal.

This overview is condensed for presentation here, but the end result was that the frustration the
miner’s felt caused them to all walk out and leave the mine owners without coal to sell. Owners
quickly tried to enlist miners from other mines – Doylestown, primarily – and anyone else who
wanted to mine. Few came – see above conditions miners had to endure – so the owners tried
another measure: The went to Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi and promised blacks
who had just been released from slavery to come to Ohio to work for them, omitting the detail that
they were going to be working in mines.

When they got here, they were not welcomed by the all-white Village of Wadsworth residents, so the
owners took hundreds of trees from the wooded area close to the mine in Silvercreek and built a
stockade for the newly acquired workers. Even there they were not safe. The striking miners
taunted them because they broke their strike effort. There were not enough police to protect the
black miners from the strikers and other community members, so the owners petitioned the
Governor to send the State Militia.

This writer talked with one of the black miners who came with his family as a ten-year-old, and who
was one of the over two-hundred who came with their families. Clarence Watkins was in his
seventies when he told this writer his story: Since the mines were only four feet high, they sent
young boys into the mines. Clarence was one of them. He continued his description of how they
were treated and allowed that it wasn’t too much different from slavery, except that they could ‘go
home’ at the end of the day. The black work force was most disturbed that what they thought was
a promise of a good job turned out to be mining. Yet, they had no option.

Forward to a short time later: The strike ended and there was no more need for the black miners,
so they were free to do or go wherever they wished. They knew they were not welcome in
Wadsworth, so all but fifteen families made their way to their original locations. The fifteen fought
the prejudice, but persevered. They tried to go to churches that were already established but were
rejected. So, in 1880, with their own hands and with almost no help from anyone else, they built a
small church in the neighborhood to which they were confined – Mills Street – and named it Rising
Mount Zion Baptist Church, later, the First Baptist Church. They worshiped there and tried to fit
into the community. Families of the first congregation were: Phillip Scott, Lemuel Cheatham, Ned
James, William Dyson, Pleae Harris, Robert Heath, Primus Watson, [families mentioned in this
report], William Stokes, Creed Haskins, Henry Benton, Beverly Mann, Royal Jones, Winfield Pollard,
Richard Williams, Woody Coleman, William Branch, James Greene, Henry Taylor [mentioned in this
report], Alexander Jones, Aurelius Howard and Meridith Clark. Those without mates were James
Johnson, Paul Coleman, Amanda Greene, Leslie Pollard, Amelia Greene, Sally Miles and Millie
Jones. As is evident, there are more than fifteen families represented above. Not all left to go to
their home base at the same time. When they finally did, fifteen families remained permanently in

The land on which the church was built was owned by Aaron Pardee. He recognized the people
were poor and had no funds, so he let them have a small portion of the land – about a quarter-acre
— west of his house on the square where Watrusa is now. The congregation had no money to
purchase wood for the building. They let this be known and begged for some assistance. Pastor J.
C. Kauffman of Grace Lutheran Church and the Reverend S. C. Goss of Trinity Reformed Church
[now UCC], plus a few other contributors from community afforded them enough money to build
their place of worship.

Early ministers who came with them from the stockade were: J. J. Moore, minister at the stockade,
Rev. Collins, J.W. Chetham, Joseph Spells, J.R. Greene, H. B. Brown, Paul Woolridge and Rev.
Herban. There is some indication that several of the ministers were not formally ordained, but were
conversant with the scriptures and served as teachers to the others. Clarence Watkins believed
that religion is what kept them together, since they were not permitted to converse within the

Although they were met with stinging rebuke, they were determined to prove themselves as being
upright citizens. All the men were former slaves or children of slaves, and, as such, were rigidly
formed into submissive, docile human beings. With this type of forced mutation, they had to know
what they needed to do just to survive, and, little by little, began to gain limited acceptance in the

Fast forward again: After the arduous journey from their home territory to the mines, to freedom
without restriction but also without succor, the original fifteen black families had to show they
could become contributing citizens of Wadsworth. We now have in our history some outstanding
examples of people rising from the stable to the stars through their own efforts.
Wadsworth blacks can boast having had two school principals, a noted inventor, several ministers,
nurses, political figures and several who broke the housing discrimination:
George Mills, [deceased] one of ten children whose father worked at the Brickyard and who had
come to Wadsworth as a child, became Principal of John F. Kennedy High School in Cleveland. His
legacy lives on at the school, despite the fact that its enrollment was largely white in a stable, white
neighborhood. George was honored upon his retirement and posthumously for his strong
leadership in a community that was so comfortable that they did not elevate themselves to anything
but the status quo. He changed that. Calling upon his own background, he energized the students
to strive toward higher aspirations. His motto followed the lines of the sage who said, ‘ . . . reach
beyond your grasp; otherwise, what’s a Heaven for . . .’
Jim Rivers, now retired but still active, taught in Barberton for many years and served as a
Principal until he retired. He directed the choir in a church in Barberton and still sings in the

Community Chorus and in various churches. He was a pioneer in breaking the housing
discrimination. His wife, Gwen [now deceased] was a council woman for nine years and worked as
a school nurse until she retired. She was the founding member of the Medina County Women’s
Endowment Fund and a founding Board Member of the Scholarship Foundation of Wadsworth,
serving over 30 years.

Bill Early [deceased] was chosen by the president of the Ohio Match to be his personal driver and
assistant. In that position, Bill gained a great deal of respect from other Match workers, since, at
that time, it was unthinkable for a black to hold a position that had the president’s ear.
Don Taylor [deceased] worked in the rubber industry and is credited with having received over sixty
patents for making tires and other rubber accessories. He was highly regarded among the upper
echelon in rubber circles. When this writer interviewed Don, he chronicled all the inventions he
produced and how they contributed to the efficiency of making tires. In some cases, his inventions
revolutionized how tires were made. The Beacon Journal featured several stories about his patents
and touted him as a strong influence on the rubber industry.

Many other blacks made contributions with their contacts. Jim Rivers Sr. was a custodian at the
Wadsworth High School. Despite his not having had a formal background in counseling, he was
considered a de facto counselor. Students confided in him for the sound advice he would give them.
His affable personality attracted people to him and his advice supported good qualities in those who
sought him out.

Guy [Levi] Mills, younger brother of George Mills, was an outstanding athlete in Wadsworth. His
ability to pass a football dozens of yards was legion. Even more impressive was that the football
would glide through the air as if it were a bullet, never wobbling even the slightest. Levi got his
name from older boys who were playing football when he was about three years old. He wanted to
play, too, and would say ‘ . . . leave I play . . .’ From that time on, his name was Levi. He married
and moved to California and purchased a scraggy piece of land in San Diego that seemed almost
unbuildable. To everyone’s surprise, a developer approached him to purchase the land to build a
golf course on it. The transaction was so lucrative that Levi and his wife, Earnestine, established a
foundation to assist anyone who applied to it. He favored those of color since he knew the struggles
he had as a child in a white community. He was an honored member of the class of 1948, loved by

Joanne Beard [deceased] was one of the most popular girls at Wadsworth High School in the 1940’s.
She had a beautiful singing voice and was the friend everyone sought to have. Her ebullient
personality endeared her to anyone who met her. She excelled scholastically, socially and

The list of blacks in Wadsworth was stable from the later part of the 19th century until the
expansion of the City starting in the 1970’s. More have moved in, but they have probably not had
to endure the nearly impossible task of forcing themselves through the racial barriers as did the
fifteen families who came here one-hundred-fifty years ago. Yet, they did, mainly with their resolve,
good behavior and notable contributions. This writer was Mayor for four years. During that time,
he remembers a list of many offenders. Not one was black.
One of the TV pundits said it well: We have made overwhelming strides so great that we reached
the moon and will soon reach some of the other planets; yet, we have not even reached the
threshold of the house that contains the answer to mankind’s greatest sin: Man’s inhumanity to