In 1918, Akron was faced with the responsibility of meeting the social needs of its increasing Negro population. A group of Negro citizens headed by Attorney Thomas E. Green, Reverend R.A. Jones, Reverend E.J. Jackson, Mr. & Mrs. Williams Hardy and Mrs. Elbertha Turner asked the local Y.M.C.A. authorities for assistance. In April 1919, the Y.M.C.A. responded by employing Mr. George W. Thompson to coordinate Negro activities. Little was accomplished for the next few years. In 1924, Mr. Homer C. Campbell, Assistant Treasurer of The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company met with Mr. T.M. Fletcher who was advocating for Negro youth. Mr. Campbell brought the problems of this population to the attention of Mr. Harvey S. Firestone, Sr. In 1925, The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company pledged $10,000 ($1.1 million in today’s money) to be used for work with the Negro citizens of the community. These funds were administered by the Better Akron Federation and governed by a Board of Trustees that was charged with the responsibility of allocating public funds.

Having no background through which they could interpret the social needs of the Negroes in the community, the Board appointed a five-member committee to study this particular phase of community organization and make recommendations. On this committee were Dr. Park Noble, President of The University of Akron; Mr. C.W. Seiberling, Vice President of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company; Mr. E.S. Babcox, President of Babcox Publishing Company; Attorney J.B. Huber; Mr. Charles Herberick, President of The Depositors Savings and Trust Company and Mr. Homer C. Campbell. In March 1925, a meeting was called at the home of Mr. Harvey S. Firestone, Sr. to reveal the work of the committee. Invited to this meeting was Mr. George W. Thompson, the Negro secretary at the Y.M.C.A. On that night, in the home of Mr. Firestone, the Association for Colored Community Work (the Association) was born. In the beginning the Association functioned under two separate boards. The Board of Trustees, a white governing body was responsible for the finances of the agency and controlled the titles to the property. The Board of Directors, a Negro group of men was responsible for creating and conducting programs of the agency, which would meet the needs of the colored citizens of the community to the greatest extent possible with its limited facilities and budget. During the years the Association accepted the responsibility of functioning as a clearing house for all types of problems in which Negroes were involved.

For example, it aided in the adjustment of difficulties in industry and in all places of employment where race was a factor. The Association for Colored Community Work assisted in the development of projects, such as Elizabeth Park, and advocated for coloreds in the workplace, such as public schools and the rubber factories. Mr. George W. Thompson continued to see more in the future for Negroes in Akron. In 1944, Mr. Thompson hired Mr. Raymond R. Brown who was a student at The University of Akron to help run the Association. Under the leadership of Thompson and Brown, the name of the agency was changed from the Association for Colored Community Work to the Akron Community Service Center.

The Creation of the National Urban League

In 1910, prior to the formation of Akron’s Association, a policy-driven organization was founded in New York called the National Urban League. The guiding principle of the Urban League was: “Let us not work as colored people nor as white people for the narrow benefit of any group alone, but together as American citizens for the common good of our common city, our common country.” Akron became the newest National Urban League affiliate in March 1925.

With its location on Perkins Street, the Center was significantly hampered in its ability to provide services. In May of 1950, a new Akron Community Service Center and Urban League was constructed at 250 East Market Street. This new facility included all the amenities that were lacking for the Negro community. It became a fully equipped community center including a gymnasium, swimming pool, meeting rooms, classrooms, library, lounges and a kitchen. In the 1960s, an auditorium was added. It became the safe haven for the Negro community and offered recreational programs for children and adults when no other facilities in Akron would allow them through the doors. This facility has served the community well for over 50 years.

Established in 1925, the Akron Urban League’s greatest achievement during its first 20 years was its leadership in getting Blacks introduced into the rubber industries and accepted to a greater degree as citizens in the Akron community.

A New Facility

In 2007, a new facility was constructed on Vernon Odom Boulevard, following a successful five-year capital campaign. The current building is handicapped accessible and includes computer labs, class and meeting rooms, office space, a banquet hall and a day-care facility.

Throughout its history, the Akron Urban League has remained a solid foundation in the Akron community. It has continued to serve thousands of people each year by providing programs and services that emphasize education, job training and entrepreneurship: the paths to self-sufficiency. It remains one of over 100 affiliates of the National Urban League and continues to be a driving force behind the employment of African Americans and other minorities in the community.

The Akron Urban League offers each person who walks through the door the keys to the American Economic Ladder—