A Long and Local History
The Akron Urban League has grown to serve the community for 96 years.
In 1918, Akron was faced with the responsibility of meeting the social needs of its increasing black population. A group of black citizens headed by Attorney Thomas E. Green, Reverend R.A. Jones, Reverend E.J. Jackson, Mr. and Mrs. Williams Hardy, and Mrs. Elbertha Turner asked the local Y.M.C.A. for assistance.
In April 1919, the Y.M.C.A. responded by employing George W. Thompson to coordinate black activities. Little was accomplished for the next few years. In 1924, Assistant Treasurer of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company Homer C. Campbell met with T.M. Fletcher, who was advocating for black youth. Campbell brought the problems of this population to the attention of Harvey S. Firestone, Sr. In 1925, The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company pledged $10,000 to be used for work with the black 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 intelligently. Having no background through which they could interpret the social needs of the blacks in the community, it appointed a five- member committee to study this particular phase of community organization and make recommendations. On this committee were University of Akron president Dr. Park Noble, Vice President of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company C.W. Seiberling, President of Babcox Publishing Company E.S. Babcox, President of Depositors Savings and Trust Company Charles Herberick, Attorney J.B. Huber, and Homer C. Campbell.
In March 1925, a meeting was called at Firestone’s home to reveal the work of the committee. Invited to this meeting was George W. Thompson, the black secretary at the Y.M.C.A. On that night in Firestone’s home, 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 group of black men, was responsible for creating and conducting programs that would meet the needs of the black citizens of the community to the greatest extent possible with the agency’s limited facilities and budget.
During these years, the Association accepted the responsibility of functioning as a clearing house for all types of problems in which black people were involved. For example, it aided in the adjustment of difficulties in industry and in all places of employment where race was a factor, assisted in the development of projects, such as Elizabeth Park, and advocated for blacks in workplaces like public schools and rubber factories. Prior to the formation of Akron’s Association, a policy-driven organization was founded in New York in 1910 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.
Thompson continued to see more in the future for black people in Akron. In 1944, he hired Raymond R. Brown, 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. 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 E. Market St. This new facility included all the amenities that were lacking for the black community. Fully equipped, the community center included 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 black community and offered recreational programs for children and adults when no other facilities in Akron would allow them through the doors.
That facility has served the community well for over 50 years. The Akron Urban League moved to its new facility and remains a solid foundation in Akron. Throughout its history, it has continued to serve thousands of people by providing programs and services that emphasize education, job training, economic development, antiviolence, health and wellness, and mentoring. It remains one of 88 affiliates of the National Urban League and continues to be a driving force behind the employment of minority workers in the community.