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9th Annual Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame
Meet our 2017 Inductees!
Chief Lawrence Harper
Lawrence Harper was born in 1926 in Mansfield, OH and would remain there for most of his long and trailblazing career. Nicknamed, “Bunker,” Harper left Mansfield Senior High School at age 18 to join the marines on D-Day, making him one of the first black men to enter the Marine Corps in World War II. Harper would finish high school in 1947, after serving in the in the 12th Ammunition Company of the 6th Marine Division for two years. As a Marine, Harper served in the South Pacific and in China, and took part in the invasion of Okinawa. He earned several medals in his relatively short time in military service, including the Combat Action Ribbon, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and a China Cruise Medal.
Shortly after returning to Mansfield and graduating from high school, Lawrence Harper joined the then 36-officer police department as Mansfield’s first black police officer. "I saw that there were no blacks on the (police) force, and I thought, 'That job is waiting for me,'" Harper said, according to a 2001 Mansfield News Journal article.
As an officer in the early 1950s, Harper made the city's first drug arrest, stopping a man who was carrying a bag of marijuana. He advanced through the police ranks over the next twenty years, promoted to Sergeant in 1966, to Lieutenant in 1967, to Captain in 1973 and to Major in 1978, serving as second in command to the chief. After 41 years in the Mansfield Police Department, Harper was appointed as the first black police chief in Mansfield at the age of 63 and would retire as the department's longest-serving police officer and longest-serving police chief. After retiring from the Mansfield Police Department in 2002, Harper continued serving the community as bailiff in the Richland County Probate Court and Juvenile Court
Harper’s advancement was not without challenges and discrimination. Harper’s promotion to Major followed a lawsuit against the city, contesting the rating he was given on a promotion exam. The court finally found that the city bypassed its own evaluation system in deciding who to promote. As Major, Harper had to sue again, this time for pay discrimination. As second in command he was still receiving lower pay than Captains subordinate to him. Harper won his initial claim and just three weeks before his swearing-in as Chief, Mansfield City Council approved a settlement in late 1980 allowing a $19,000 payment and higher annual salary.
In spite of his need to fight civil rights battles in court, Harper had no ill will with other members of the police force. He was known as a great communicator and was highly respected. In September 1999, Harper was inducted into the National Criminal Justice Honor Society at Ashland University, where he earned a degree in criminal justice with a sociology. He also earned an associate's degree in law enforcement from North Central Technical College in 1985. Ocie Hill Neighborhood Center's gymnasium was renamed the L.E. Harper Gymnasium in his honor in August 1998.
Lawrence Harper died at age 90 in December 2016. City Councilman Butch Jefferson said of Harper, "To me, he was an icon. He broke down barriers and he did an excellent job once he got in. He carried himself well once he was in a position of authority, and he handled those who were below him well. He never carried himself like he was above anybody. He was a good man."
Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert H. Jones
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Gilbert H. Jones began his life of service at a young age, enlisting in the United State Air Force after his graduation from Columbus Central High School in 1961. Jones served as an air policeman and left the Air Force as an Airman Second Class. The young Jones wanted to continue his service and looked to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. After completing the rigorous Highway Patrol Academy training, Jones graduated as a member of the 69th academy class in February 1966.
Indeed, in the early 1960’s, the State Highway Patrol was not the most welcoming place for an African American. Jones was only the second African American officer to graduate from the Academy, more than ten years after the first black patrolman (Louis D. Sharp) broke the color barrier in 1955. When he became an officer, Jones was the only minority out of all 850 patrolmen.
In spite of the challenges of being a minority officer in that era, Jones became Sergeant of the London, OH post in 1973, becoming the first minority Ohio State Highway Patrol officer to be promoted to a supervisory position. His leadership style earned him the respect of his peers and those under his command. He continued trailblazing through the ranks, eventually becoming the first minority to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.), as second in command of one of the most elite police organizations in the country.
During his time with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Lt. Col. Jones actively mentored numerous officers, regardless of race or gender, providing them with the guidance and direction needed to be successful. He was also a staunch advocate of ensuring fairness and correctness. One of his more notable accomplishments was as a Captain when he was assigned to lead the newly formed Recruitment and Minority Relations Section. Through his diligent efforts, the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s percentage minority representation eventually exceeded that of the state of Ohio, including one year in which 40% of graduates represented minority groups. The recruitment plan that Lt. Col. Jones developed is still in use today.
As Major, Jones was assigned as Academy Commandant. In that role, he was responsible for the training and development of six classes of new Highway Patrol recruits. Jones was also instrumental in establishing the Ohio chapter of the National Central State Troopers Coalition, a minority police organization created to support minorities in law enforcement. His active leadership inspired the membership to rename the Ohio chapter, the Gilbert H. Jones Chapter.
Lt. Col. Jones also recognized the importance of serving the community and volunteered countless hours promoting safety. He played an important role in the success of “Project Lighthouse.” This program was designed to reduce violence against children and families in central Ohio by providing youth activities, tutoring, counseling and education programs relating to gangs and crime. He was actively involved with the Diversified Community Services Inc., a non-profit organization that provided residential and human services for individuals and families with physical and mental disabilities. He has also served as a Trustee and member of the Board of Directors for Syntaxis residential care for troubled youths.
On August 30, 1997, Lt. Col. Gilbert H. Jones retired from the Ohio State Patrol after 31 years of service. He held the distinction of being one of only two African American highway patrol/state police officers in the nation holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at that time.
However, Lt, Col. Jones was still not done serving his community. In 1998, the late Franklin County Sheriff Jim Kames recruited Lt. Col. Jones to be his Chief Deputy. In that role, he was the first and only African American to serve as Chief of the patrol division of the Franklin County Sheriff’s office. Lt. Col. Jones quickly garnered respect across the ranks of the Sheriff’s Office and after 15 more years of dedicated service he retired in February 2014.
Gilbert H. Jones’ love of humanity fueled his desire to serve. He championed civil rights in the Ohio State Highway Patrol in an era of non-inclusiveness, ensuring equal opportunity for all. Lt. Col. Jones went beyond breaking the color barrier, and carved a pathway for the future advancement of minority officers. Even in retirement, he still actively mentors and supports officers to help them reach their own great potential.
The Marching Mothers and Children of the 1954 Hillsboro Fight for Integration
In 1954, despite the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, Hillsboro, Ohio had segregated elementary schools. The city had two all-white elementary schools, Webster and Washington, and one all-black elementary school, Lincoln. Lincoln had been built in 1870 and was in poor condition while the other schools buildings were newer and in better shape.
A group of African American mothers tried to enroll their children into the all-white elementary school but were denied due to “overcrowding,” forcing them to remain at the dilapidated Lincoln School.
In an act of frustration and attempt to force the hand of the school district, a respected white county engineer named Phillip Partridge set fire to the Lincoln school on Independence Day. Officials arrested a young black boy for the arson, but Partridge confessed and would serve 9 month in prison. In spite of the arson, rather than close the school, the district made $4,000 in repairs and ordered the black children to remain there.
The city’s reaction to the provided evidence for a legal case attracted the attention of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP who sent Constance Baker Motley to Hillsboro to help the mothers and their children with their legal battle.
Under the leadership of activist Imogene Curtis, this group of mothers began a daily “march” with their children to the Webster School, only to be turned away at the door. This went on every weekday for two years. Dozens of black families pulled their children out of Lincoln School and relied on Quaker women from neighboring communities to come and homeschool the children.
Crosses were burned, mothers who worked in white homes had their jobs threatened, yet the mothers and their children persevered. Eventually the legal battle ended in the Supreme Court with a victory for the “marching mothers” and school integration. In the fall of 1956, Hillsboro Elementary opened for the first time as an integrated school.
This case was the first northern challenge of the Brown decision and the first to reach the Supreme Court. The mothers’ victory not only ended segregation in Hillsboro, but this case was used to end segregation in many other US cities, including Cleveland and Boston.
“[T]he strength, determination and endurance of the families of Hillsboro in the mid-1950s to stand up for their rights and for better futures for their children is remarkable and inspiring. The determined, but peaceful, non-violent action sustained over a two-year period is an early example of the best of the Civil Rights Movement.” Daniel Hurley, President of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Moses Fleetwood Walker
Born in 1857, six years before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, Moses Fleetwood Walker’s talent and perseverance made him one of the earliest African American trailblazers in sports history. Walker was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio at a station along the Underground Railroad. Both his mother and father were biracial and were dedicated to the abolitionist movement. Walker’s father, a physician and minister, instilled in his children the belief that they could achieve great things.
Moses Fleetwood Walker began his prominence in Baseball as a player when he was a student at Oberlin College. Indeed, Walker and his brother, Weldy Wilberforce Walker, were so impressive they were offered a transfer to play for the University of Michigan. The brothers took the offer and moved to Michigan, where Moses Fleetwood Walker would study law and continue his early baseball career.
Walker left the University of Michigan before earning his law degree to play professional baseball for Toledo’s first professional team, the Toledo Blue Stockings, in 1883. However, while he was welcomed to Toledo by that team’s leadership, other teams were not as willing to include a black man. An Illinois team proposed a motion that only white men could play in the league. Debate followed, and Walker’s reputation as an intelligent and respected man was ultimately the reason why a race rule was not instituted at that time. As a result, Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first African American man to play professional baseball, and his brother Weldy became the second.
Being officially permitted to play professional baseball in the 1880’s did not make it any easier to endure the racism of that time, however. Throughout his career, Walker faced open prejudice and bigotry. Before he moved to Michigan, Walker was refused a spot on his team’s lineup in Louisville game because the Kentucky team objected to playing with a black man. In his professional career, Walker faced jeers and racist sentiments from opposing teams, fans, and even his own teammates. Before one game in Cincinnati, team leaders were warned that a mob of as many as 75 men would attack Walker if he was placed on the lineup. In spite of these threats and insults and troublesome injuries, Walker continued to play baseball professionally until 1888. He was the last African American player to play professionally in an integrated league until Jackie Robinson played in the 1940’s.
After his baseball career ended, Moses Fleetwood Walker continued to use his other talents, completing his law degree and becoming an inventor, journalist, author, hotelier, and entrepreneur. He continued to face challenges and his later life included violence and crime. Walker died in 1924, at age 66, however his trailblazing spirit and ability to face adversity makes him an important part of history.