Book documents African-American contributions to Mansfield’s 200 years
by Linda Martz
Mansfield News Journal
Wayne McDowell made sure black history wasn’t shoved to the background as Mansfield celebrates its 200th birthday.
During the past year, he and other volunteers worked hard to research and publish “Notable African-American Mansfielders” — a book that will be permanent contribution to local history.
The book shares details on more than 120 people. The subjects range from saxophonist Hiawatha Edmondson to jazz artist Grover Washington (who lived in Mansfield for two years), to professional football player Hugh Douglas to the city’s recently elected first black mayor, Don Culliver.
The book’s first printing coincides with bicentennial events this month.
McDowell, second vice president of the Mansfield branch of the NAACP, remembers being invited to participate in the city’s bicentennial celebration committee last year.
“After attending a few meetings, I recognized that the history and contributions of African-American Mansfielders was not being given adequate consideration,” he said. “I said hey, we’re not doing enough.”
So McDowell asked for and got a bicentennial subcommittee on African-American history and contributions.
Members of the group gathered names, then researched the lives of honorees in nine categories: politics, community safety, medicine, music, ministry, education, business and industry, sports and community activities.
Some honorees are no longer living. Friends and relatives were asked to share what they knew. Living individuals were sent questionnaires.
The book is still at the printer’s, but the subcommittee has begun taking orders.
“If they want to pre-order, they better call quickly. There are only 300 copies being made,” McDowell said.
Those who helped put the book together were inspired by the project.
McDowell said Mansfield’s black and white communities historically were divided along educational, economic, geographical and spiritual lines, until recent years.
“Our white citizens have been deprived of knowledge about our African-American citizens, since few actually venture into our community or study our history and culture, while the study of white history and culture has historically been a requirement for all students in our public schools,” he said in the forward to the book.
For African-American readers, meanwhile, the book serves as a memoir of their rich history and heritage, McDowell said.
Those who gathered information included McDowell, Ruby Tate Jones, Wenda Burnham, Ruby Haynes, Donnell Haynes and Allison Goebel — a University of Illinois sociology student working on her dissertation.
“You learn so much,” Jones said.
Jones, who researched political honorees, was particularly intrigued by late city councilman Ocie Hill.
“I knew his name, but I never knew all that he went through and all of the obstacles he faced,” Jones said.
Those involved in the project said some planned honorees, dubious about the project, never returned questionnaires and couldn’t be included.
Some others were shy at first about participating. When they realized the project focused on African-American history, it hit home.
“They had a change of mind,” McDowell said.
“They got excited about it,” Jones said.
At least one first-edition copy will be presented to Mansfield-Richland County Public Library director Joe Palmer for the library’s local history collection.