Residents recall Dorr Street’s ‘Black Mecca’ daysWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Their memories are of sadness, disappointment and hope.
Members of Toledo’s black community say the Dorr Street area used to be their city within a city — a place they went to shop, see friends and unwind. The neighborhood, they say, was a bustling metropolis filled with black-owned shops, restaurants and nightspots. But most of all, the community was full of pride.
“We were like a little village,” said Kenneth Richardson, 54. “Dorr Street was a bustling community of people.”
“Everything before desegregation was vibrant,” he said.
All that began to change when social unrest that led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s spilled into Toledo July 25, 1967, when riots broke out in several parts of the city. Shots were fired, buildings were burned, and stores were looted as gangs wreaked havoc on the Glass City and dealt several of its sections, most notably Dorr Street, a permanent black eye.
The riots, some say, were the beginning of the end for Dorr Street as a commercial and social hub for Toledo’s black community. What was not claimed by the violence and chaos was ultimately laid to rest later in the decade when urban renewal changed the landscape of the neighborhood to what it is today — a route from the city’s west end to Downtown with little in between.
“Maybe the riots were the end of our Dorr Street as we knew it,” said Toledo resident Diane Flaggs, 67. “When I ride down Dorr Street today, it’s kind of distressful.”
Dorr Street’s former state may be lost, but its memory remains, especially for those like Ricardo Jones, 42. Though he was a young boy during Dorr Street’s heyday, Jones remembered the era as a time when he and others gained an identity they could be proud of. A second-grade field trip to watch an African-American-themed movie at a theater on Dorr Street served as his catalyst.
“I felt so much black pride that day,” Jones said. “It was like I went from being a little colored boy to a little black boy.”
George Ransey, 58, agreed.
“That’s when we started making changes,” he said. “That’s when black pride came about. You started going from colored to being black.”
Ransey, who said he was once a member of the Black Panther party, said the 1967 Toledo riots were a result of what people saw on television during the much larger uprising that occurred in Detroit two days before.
“You knew this was a time about change,” Ransey said. But “the riots really were not necessary.
“I see sadness because of what we lost,” he said, noting the Dorr Street community’s ability to self-sustain vanished after rioting ended. “Dorr Street was never the same.”
Violence again shed a negative light on Dorr Street Sept. 18, 1970, when Toledo police Patrolman William Miscannon was shot in the head at close range while his patrol car was parked near the corner of Dorr Street and Junction Avenue. The shooting sparked a shootout between police and persons inside Black Panther headquarters, 1334 Dorr St., a half-block from the crime scene.
Delores Bates, 61, said she remembers the Black Panthers doing work in the late 1960s and early 1970s to benefit the community.
“They were actually doing a lot of good things at the time,” Bates said. “For whatever reason, it went astray.”
Local photographer Thomas Vines said he has a much different viewpoint of the Dorr Street area and of the violence that helped lead to the neighborhood’s demise.
“I lost a lot of friends to Dorr Street,” said Vines, 65. “They came up here and got caught up in the lifestyle.”
Though several others recalled Dorr Street as Toledo’s black core, Vines offered a much different outlook.
“Black people never owned Dorr Street, they were just participants,” he said.
Leola Green-Haynes, 76, said she often came home to “action” in her neighborhood after getting off work as a second-shift nurse at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. She said though the riots helped destroy the Dorr Street neighborhood, they served a purpose on a grander scale.
“The reasons for the riots, I think, were to achieve some kind of justice — we just didn’t have it all the time,” Haynes said.
“We all enjoyed the benefits that came out of it,” she said. “People felt more respected because nobody liked [the violence]. Nobody wanted that kind of activity. People began to respect each other more.”
Hoover Liddell, 88, disagreed.
“As far as I can see it, they didn’t do anything,” he said of the riots.
Clifton Beasley, 44, was a young boy during the civil rights movement, but his memories of the time and of Dorr Street are vivid.
“I have thoughts of encouragement and bitter thoughts of disappointment,” Beasley said of the Dorr Street area. “That was the Black Mecca of the city.
“Now when you drive down Dorr Street you’re driving to get to another place. When you remember the past, it’s somewhat depressing.”