Atlanta exhibition spotlights Toledo’s Old West EndWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The story of racial progressiveness in Toledo’s Old West End during the 1960s will make its way next month to a hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement thanks to a former resident of the Glass City.
An exhibition that highlights the neighborhood’s presence of racial integration will be on display Feb. 3 to 28 in the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System’s Central Branch as part of its observance of Black History Month. “Why Toledo’s Old West End was the Best Place to Live in America in 1964” features a collection gathered by former Toledoan Sandra Alexander, who grew up on Lawrence Avenue and moved to Georgia more than 20 years ago. The exhibit focuses on Alexander’s experience with racial integration in the Old West End when her family moved into the neighborhood when she was in the first grade.
“What was amazing to me when I moved [to Atlanta] and started to learn about black history and the history of the South, I was just really shocked comparing what was going on in [Toledo] compared to what was going on in the South,” said Alexander, who works as a senior library assistant at the East Atlanta Branch Library. “We didn’t have any of those issues that they were having.
“I kept comparing and saying, ‘Is this the same time period?’ “
Though the neighborhood was mostly white residents at the time, Alexander said the Old West End did not resist school integration or black families settling there. One example of that came in the form of her classroom at Glenwood Elementary School, which had a diverse student body.
“It’s amazing how harmonious the community was,” said Alexander, noting she has several family members who still live in Toledo. “I don’t think that anybody planned anything, it just happened.”
A self-described preservationist, Alexander, now 50, said the historical relevance of her experiences as a youth in Toledo inspired her to create the collection, which features photographs and other personal items from the era. The collection was displayed last year during the Toledo Museum of Art’s (TMA) Juneteenth Celebration.
“More than 4,000 visitors attended our third annual Juneteenth Celebration in 2007, which included the exhibition ‘A Community’s Story: Celebrating Juneteenth’ in the TMA Community Gallery,” said Jennifer Bandeen, community gallery coordinator, in a statement. “Ms. Alexander’s loans of archival material added to this exhibition a distinctly local flavor of Toledo’s Old West End neighborhood.”
Marietta, Ga., resident Peggie Mathis, who also grew up in the Old West End, said she experienced racial tension at a young age because of a friendship she had with white classmate.
“Her mom would have to sneak her out the back door to spend the night at our house,” Mathis said.
Mathis contributed several items to Alexander’s collection, including photographs, articles and the deed to her parents’ Toledo home.
Richard Cruce, manager of the Atlanta-Fulton Central Library’s special collections department, said Alexander’s exhibit is relevant to Atlanta’s residents because many of them came from other parts of the country. He said Alexander’s work allows those people to make comparisons between their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement to hers in Toledo.
“I think that’s a good thing for people to know,” Cruce said. “Most people down here don’t know very much about Toledo at all.”
For more information, visit www.af.public.lib.ga.us.