A few weeks ago I “scratched the surface” concerning the subject of women who were influential in Miami County through involvement in their communities or via some broader arena. Of course, most women have always had a continual effect in history through influencing their husbands, as well as raising their children; fostering or being a “big sister” to others.
Diane Miley contacted me and reminded me of two ladies who helped to change some of the processes and attitudes in Troy concerning race relations … sadly, it took a tragedy to initiate the process.
Lucille Wheat and Lois Davies were two typical ladies in the mid-1940’s, caring for their families and involved in the community; except one was black and the other white. They had grown up in Troy, in fact, they had attended Troy High School at the same time. They knew of each other, but did not really know each other.
Although Troy, like other communities around the world, has always had individuals who did not like minorities, and made use of situations to sow division, the town was relatively peaceful. Troy and Miami County had experienced one brazen attempt at organized racial bigotry when in the early 1920s; a reconstituted form of the KKK had spread into the Midwest, including Ohio and Miami County, and held membership drives and meetings. Although some people joined, by-and-large, the majority was not interested in joining a group like that.
However, although there were not “Jim Crow” laws in Troy, there were “understandings” about certain things. Such as, it was only acceptable for blacks to live in predetermined neighborhoods in Troy, that blacks were expected to sit at the back of the Mayflower Theatre, etc. Most Trojans did not see this as overt racism; rather, it was just the way things were. It was interesting for a community which had integrated their schools in the 19th century.
One of the areas of understanding was that African-Americans and Caucasians did not swim in the same pools — “It just wasn’t done.” In the 1940s, the African-American community could swim at the Lincoln Community Center and others in Troy had the Hawthorne Swimming pool at the northwest corner of W. Main and Ridge Ave.
In early October, 1945, Lucille Wheat’s 11-year-old son Lowndes fell into the Miami River and drowned. “Why was an 11 year old boy not able to save himself?” “Did he not know basic lifesaving techniques which might have saved his life?” These were some of the questions Lois Davies, a certified Red Cross water safety instructor asked. It quickly dawned on Mrs. Davies that the black community probably did not have an American Red Cross lifesaving instructor to teach the children those skills. Instructors in those days often would not teach blacks interested. This was a problem all over. Mrs. Davies eventually became an instructor for the children.
Through a mutual friend’s encouragement, who was a religious education instructor, Mrs. Wheat and Mrs. Davies began to meet and journal about their thoughts and experiences and how they viewed one another. They discovered that each of them had so many preconceived ideas about the other person. As they met and revealed much common ground, a true friendship began to grow.
Later, the journaling of Mrs. Wheat and Mrs. Davies was put together in book form and then in the 1980s was made an off-Broadway play. If interested, the book “Some Self-Evident Truths” was published in 1980 and is available to read at the Local History Library in Troy.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org