February 2021 Tour: Black History Month

Celebrate Black History Month with a walk through downtown to
learn about prominent Black figures, past and present, who have helped shape Akron’s history. 

Download this month's tour guide here.


Tour Stops

1. Lock Bottom Blues & Jazz + Public Art
Location: Lock 4 is located just north of Lock 3 along the Ohio and Erie Canal and sits between The Bowery and the Akron Civic Theatre.

Since 2010, the City of Akron has hosted the Lock Bottom Blues & Jazz Club each summer. This weekly concert series celebrates Akron's rich Jazz and Blues history. Akron has been home to musical greats, past and present, including James Ingram, Theron Brown and Dan Wilson.

Lock 4 also includes two great pieces of public art. The Jazz Mural, which serves as a backdrop for the concerts, was created by local artist, Michael Ayers. The large mural on the side of the Akron Civic Theatre was completed in late 2020 by LA based artists El Mac and Aise Born.
 
Photo credits: Tim Fitzwater (top) and Claude Christensen (bottom)

 

2. Akron Riot of 1900
Location: Corner of Bowery St. and South Main St. 
August 20, 1900, a six-year-old girl alleged that a 40 year-old African American man sexually assaulted her. Louis Peck, who had recently moved to Akron from Paterson, NJ, was arrested the next day and supposedly “confessed” to the crime. One newspaper printed the story in red ink. Sheriff Frank Kelly secretly took Peck to Cleveland in fear that the townspeople would lynch him.

A crowd gathered at dusk at the jail. Stones were thrown, people tried to break in with a door ram or by taking ladders to upper floor windows, and two children were killed by stray bullets shot in the chaos.

After an official search of the building revealed Peck was not there, crowds gathered again right before midnight after breaking into the nearby hardware selling guns and ammunition. Some brought in dynamite and soon they blew up the walls of City Hall and then set fire to Columbia Hall next door.

On May 6, 1913, Louis Peck was pardoned unconditionally by Gov. James Cox.

Photo of City Hall and Columbia Hall after the riot. Photo credit: Akron Beacon Journal

 

3. Matthews Hotel Monument + Ohio Historical Marker
Location: Corner of Howard St. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. 

The Matthews Hotel was one of the few locations where African American artists could sleep while performing in Akron. Individuals such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong stayed there. George Mathews (note his name had only one “t” but the hotel sign had two) started his establishment as a barbershop and then grew his business. He started a scholarship fund at The University of Akron during the mid1960s. Mr. Mathews died at the age of 95 in 1982.

A new monument commemorates the life of George Mathews, the Matthews Hotel and the
legends of Howard Street providing a reminder of the African American entertainment and
business district along Howard Street. The idea was 16 years in the making as local resident
Miller Horns designed the artwork and dreamed of its completion. In 2011, the City of Akron in
collaboration with the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority and Millworks Gallery started
work on the monument. Through the assistance of numerous companies, it was finished prior to
Mr. Horns death in October 2012.

Photo credit: Akron Beacon Journal

 

4. Sojourner Truth Ohio Historical Marker
Location: Outside the United Way of Summit and Medina offices on N. High St.

On this site May 29, 1851, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, gave her world famous speech known to many as "And Ain't I a Woman?" even though those words were not spoken then or written down until 12 years after the fact.

Her speech recalled the hardships she had endured. Active in both the abolitionist and women's rights movements, she electrified an audience of women and men who had come to the Universalist Stone Church for a two-day women's rights convention.

Sojourner Truth’s accurate speech documented in a local paper in 1851 by Marius Robinson’s in The Anti-Slavery Bugle:
May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter.
I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it.
I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if women have a pint and man a quart - why can’t she have her little pint full?
You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we cant take more than our pint’ll hold. The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don't know what to do.
Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they wont be so much trouble.
I cant read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right.
When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept - and Lazarus came forth.
And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?
But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.

5. Dolores Parker Morgan
Location: Corner of S. High St. and Bowery St. This site is now the Ocasek Building, but was formerly the Akron Armory.

Dolores Parker Morgan (1919-1918) won an amateur singing contest in 1939 at the Chicago Regal Theatre and went on to tour with Fletcher Henderson and “The Rhythm Debs” until 1945 when she then worked for the Earl Hines Orchestra and moved to Los Angeles.

Dolores Parker then went on to audition for the Duke Ellington Orchestra and after winning that singing job, she performed with them at the Akron Armory on February 11, 1948. Parker sang with numerous jazz legends and appeared in films and toured the U.S. and Europe before marrying her second husband, Dr. Gates Morgan. The couple moved to Akron where he became the first African American medical director at Firestone Tire & Rubber Company.

Mrs. Parker Morgan was connected with Kent State University establishing a musical scholarship and came out of retirement to sing with numerous local organizations and becoming a mentor to many through her community involvement. In the early 2000s, Mrs. Morgan performed for Cascade Locks Park Association’s fundraiser at the Interbelt called Hot Jazz. She was recognized by the Society with a Summit Award in 2011.

 

6. Garrett Morgan
Location: NIHF STEM Middle School at the corner of Broadway and University Ave. 

Garrett Morgan (1887-1963) was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005 when the museum was still open here in Akron. Today, the site is used as a middle school for Akron Public Schools focusing on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Morgan was recognized for his invention of the gas mask and the three-way street signal.

In 1916, a tunnel collapsed under Lake Erie and rescue workers were unable to reach the survivors due to the smoke and debris. Morgan used his hooded mask, the precursor to the gas mask, and shared it with other volunteers to help save those trapped. As for his traffic signal patents, he sold them to General Electric for $40,000 and the company developed the electric signal familiar today.

An advocate for racial equality, Morgan established one of the first black fraternities in the nation at Case Western Reserve University.

Photo credit: National Inventors Hall of Fame

 

7. Dr. Haynes Robinson
Location: Corner of Bowery and W Exchange St. 

Dr. Haynes B. Robinson, Jr. (1932-2017) was born in Louisiana, but spent his childhood in Tucson, Arizona. As the rubber industry expanded in Akron, his family moved to the rubber capital seeking greater opportunities. At a young age he became interested in medicine when he was hired to work as a stock boy by Joseph Sholiton, a pharmacist and owner of Sholiton’s Pharmacy.

Dr. Robinson attended The Ohio State University and graduated with a B.S degree in biochemistry and later an M.D., one of three African American students in his class. He pursued additional training in three fields of medicine being board certified in the specialties of anatomic pathology, pediatrics, and medical genetics.

Dr. Haynes retired in 2017 as co-director of the Fetal Treatment Center of Northeastern Ohio at Akron Children’s Hospital. He was recognized by the Summit County Historical Society with a Summit Award
in 2013.

Photo of Dr. Haynes Robinson receiving the Summit Award in 2013. Photo credit: Summit County Historical Society

 

The self guided walking tours are a collaboration between Downtown Akron Partnership and the Summit County Historical Society.