Judge Jean Murrell Capers moved to Cleveland, Ohio from Florida with her family at the age of six. The move was because Capers’s father wanted her and her four siblings to live in an integrated community that the American South in the 1910’s could not offer. Both of Capers’s parents were graduates of State Normal College for Colored Persons (now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) and they wanted their children to experience the benefits and challenges that came with an integrated education.
Capers’s father got his wish and after years of school in Ohio, Judge Capers graduated from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) in 1932 with a degree in education. From there, she went on to teach at an elementary school for five years and then health and physical education at a nearby high school. Hoping to help her community even more, Judge Capers earned a law degree in 1945 from Cleveland Law School (now Cleveland-Marshall College of Law). When she started her career as an attorney, Judge Capers knew the struggles and disadvantages she would face as an African American (Judge Capers prefers the term “negro”) woman in private law practice. She persevered in spite of the prejudices she faced and gave every judge a chance to prove his fairness. Capers became the first African American woman elected to Cleveland City Council in 1948. In 1977, she was appointed to the Cleveland Municipal Court where she served until 1986.
Once she became a judge herself, Judge Capers vowed to remain fair and has been quoted saying, “The Bible and the Constitution, that’s what I live by, then I don’t have to equivocate one way or another. This is what I believe in.” In May 2009, Judge Capers was honored with an honorary doctor of laws degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, representative of her long and prestigious career. Ever the stalwart, Capers continues to advocate for the rights of seniors in her community today.
(Judge Capers photo credit: Lisa DeLong/The Plain Dealer)
When Juliana Cochran Rogers (1940-2000) contracted polio at the age of 15 and lost the use of both legs, she knew that she would need to use a wheelchair for the remainder of her life. However, she was determined to make sure that her wheelchair did not hold her back from opportunities. In 1966, Julie applied to the Ohio State University and was told that, since one of her required classes was held on the third floor of Derby Hall, she would not be able to attend. Determined to overcome Ohio State’s inaccessibility and unwillingness to accommodate her needs, Julie continued fighting for admission and was eventually able to attend Ohio State in 1968. She enlisted the men of the Delta Chi fraternity to carry her in her wheelchair up the 91 steps to the third floor of Derby Hall for that class.
In her last undergraduate year, as guest speaker for the senior banquet in 1972, Julie challenged her class to raise funds for a barrier-free campus. They raised $300,000 to begin the conversion of campus restrooms for disability accommodation, creating curb cut-outs and eliminating other physical barriers that obstructed the nearly 700 students with disabilities on campus at the time. Julie remained at Ohio State to earn a Master’s degree in Speech Therapy, and to work there for 23 years in speech therapy.
As a speech pathologist, Julie noticed a pattern of dyslexic students were failing courses and dropping out of school. Her focus and concern for these students lead to a personal crusade to provide research and learning resources for dyslexic students at Ohio State and at Ohio Wesleyan, Franklin University and Columbus Technical College (now Columbus State Community College). A lifelong advocate for the civil rights of people with disabilities, Julie’s served with many advocacy organizations, including Central Ohio Easter Seals (as President and board member), the Mayor of Columbus’s Handicapped Advisory Task Force (as Chairperson), the Independent Living Council, and the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities. Julie also raised awareness and visibility for people with disabilities as a Charter Member of the Board of Trustees for the Miss Wheelchair American Pageant, Inc. and winning the first “Miss Wheelchair Ohio.”
The Reverend Leon Troy was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. With his passion for people, social work, and parental involvement in education, Troy has dedicated more than 50 years to public service. Initially, Rev. Troy was interested in becoming a constitutional lawyer. However, after enlisting in the Army he realized that his calling was in the ministry. In 1953, Troy earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toledo. Three years later, he attended Oberlin Graduate School of Theology and earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree and, in 1973, he received his Master’s in Divinity degree from Vanderbilt.
Wherever the Rev. Troy served, he would establish an educational program for children. He believed, “If children are going to participate in the world, they have to be cognitive on how to function in the world.” As pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Sandusky, Ohio, Troy established a Head Start program which was designed to end the cycle of poverty through educating young children in kindergarten through sixth grade. That program generated 10 more Head Start programs throughout the city and country and educated countless children over the years. In these Head Start programs, young children were taught academic and social skills that would help them navigate out of poverty. In 1966, as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Warren, Ohio, Troy established a similar preschool center program serving children aged 3 to 6.
In 1976, Troy became pastor of Second Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. He served there for 20 years until he retired. While serving in Columbus, Troy established the Columbus Laboratory School program for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. In addition to serving as a pastor, he also served as the community outreach coordinator during the administration of Columbus Mayor Buck Rinehart. Rev. Troy has been the recipient of several awards such as the Temple Israel Humanitarian of the Year, United Negro College Fund’s Distinguished Service Award and the Corcoran Award. Additionally, Troy was elected as the youngest person as President to the Ohio Baptist General Convention. He was also a delegate to the Baptist World Alliance in Tokyo, Japan and Stockholm, Sweden and co-authored the book, The Black Christian Experience.
Richard (Dick) Weiland was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati in 1947 and attended Williams College, where he had an opportunity to meet First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations. Weiland graduated from the University of Cincinnati School of Law, but never practiced law. Instead he found great success as a business owner and political consultant.
Throughout his life, Weiland has consistently advocated for civil rights. In 1965, he joined the historic march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to protest for voting rights for African Americans. Following the Cincinnati riots in 1967, Weiland joined Bailey Turner and Jimmy Vinegar in putting a stop to civil unrest in Cincinnati. In the 1970’s, he helped Cincinnati’s Talbert House expand to cover welfare-to-work, substance abuse and mental health services. He has received awards from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and from U.S. Senator Rob Portman for his work on prisoner reentry programs. Later in life, Weiland supported the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Scholarship fund for African American students to attend Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
Weiland is also well-known for his involvement and advocacy for the Jewish community. In 1982 Weiland founded the Halom House in 1982, which provides services for Jewish adults with disabilities. In July 2016, he was honored at the 2016 Shuttlesworth Reunion for his involvement in the establishment of a Jewish Community Center. He was also awarded the Jacob Rader Marcus Award for individuals who have supported the mission of the American Jewish Archives to preserve American Jewish history for generations to come.
Marion Motley (1920-1999) was born in Leesburg, Georgia but moved to Canton, Ohio, when he was three years old. An athlete throughout his school years, Motley played collegiate football at South Carolina State College and the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1944, Motley left the University of Nevada to join the U.S. Navy where he played football for the Great Lakes Blue Jackets, a military team coached by Ohio State University football head coach, Paul Brown, who was also serving in the Navy.
After World War II, Motley went back to Canton and began working at a steel mill, planning to return to Reno in 1946 to finish his degree. However, at the beginning of August Paul Brown, who was by then a coach for the Cleveland Browns, invited Motley and Bill Willis, to try out for the Cleveland Browns, where he was eventually asked to join the team.
William (Bill) Willis (1921-2007) was born in Georgia, but his family moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1922, when he was only a year old. Shortly after moving to Ohio, Willis’s father died, and he was raised by his grandfather and mother amid the financial hardships of the Great Depression.An athlete from a young age, Willis played football in high school and enrolled in Ohio State University in 1941 under Ohio State head coach Paul Brown.
Shortly after enrolling at Ohio State, many of the college’s football players left to enlist in the military and serve in World War II. Willis also volunteered for the U.S. Army, but was not able to enlist due to varicose veins.
When Willis graduated from Ohio State in 1945, more than a decade had passed since the last African American had played professional football. A “gentlemen's agreement” to not hire African American players in professional football had been in effect for years and Willis did not have hopes of playing professionally. Instead, Willis took a job as the head football coach at Kentucky State College, an historically black college, in the fall of 1945. After hearing that his former coach Paul Brown would be coaching the Cleveland Browns, Willis tried out for the team and earned a spot.
Trailblazing Teammates: Willis and Motley’s position on the Cleveland Browns made them two of the first four African Americans to play modern professional football and the only two players in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). (The Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League had signed two other African American players the same year). Motley and Willis broke football's color barrier a full year before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Willis and Motley faced racial tensions and outright racism on and off the field. During huddles and tackles, both men were taunted, stepped on and insulted, even by white teammates. Off the field, segregation caused problems for both players. In their first season in 1946, Willis and Motley did not travel to a game against the Miami Seahawks due to threatening letters. Officials for the Seahawks said that if the men tried to play they would invoke a Florida law that prohibited black players from competing against whites. Also in Miami, the team’s hotel refused to host Motley and Willis and only after Coach Brown threatened to relocate the entire team did the hotel's management relent. At an all-star game in Houston, Texas, the players were forced to stay in a separate hotel from white players.
In spite of this racial hostility, Motley persisted and became one of the best players in football history. His 1950 average-yards-per-rush record stood for more than 52 years and he was the second African American player to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. After his playing career ended in the late 1950’s, Motley looked for coaching jobs, but after several instances where he was told there were no vacancies, only to see a white man hired soon after, Motley began to believe that he was not being hired because of his race. Instead, Motley pursued work in public service, working first for the U.S. Postal Service, and later for the state of Ohio Lottery and the Ohio Department of Youth Services. Motley died in 1999.
Willis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971, and in 1977 he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Following his football career, Willis stayed in Ohio working with youth as Cleveland's Assistant Recreation Commissioner and in the 1970s, as chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission, a state agency created to combat criminal behavior among young people. Willis died in 2007.