The recent protests across the nation prompted a question from Anita Greene. She asked if I remembered when a bus filled with protesters came to Wooster during the Hough riots back in 1966.
She said her late husband, Cliff, told her that — during the riots that year — Wooster’s popular black barber Benny Mitchell met the bus at the north end of town when it arrived here from Cleveland.
"According to Cliff," Greene said, "Mitchell told the agitators that ‘Black folks are accepted and treated fairly in Wooster,’ and he told them that the bus should turn around and go back to Cleveland."
Fortunately it did.
Greene was hoping to get confirmation of the story; however, since her husband’s former co-workers at McIntire Funeral Home (who might have known) are now gone ... she couldn’t obtain confirmation from them.
Tom Smailes, former pharmacist at Maurer Pharmacy, was able to confirm the story. He said Benny Mitchell — probably more than once — told outside agitators to go home.
"He’d tell them ‘We have it good here and we don’t want things disturbed by outsiders.’ At least," said Smailes, "that’s what I’ve been told."
"I thought of Benny," said Greene, "after reading of the angst and destruction in the news.
"Thankfully Wooster has not had the loss of life and destruction others have experienced," she pointed out, "but more can always be done to be helpful, caring and understanding in our community."
More Wooster barbers
After reading in this column that — years ago — popular Wooster barber Dick Morrison Jr., was the first black man to be honored as Wooster Citizen of the Year by the Wooster Jaycees, Don Bogner commented, "No small honor for a black man with discrimination running rampant in the 1950s and ’60s.
"I would also put in a plug for my barber, Vernon Woods," he added. "For many years Woods Barber Shop operated on the south side of East Liberty Street (the location of today’s Best Western)."
Jon Belmont said when he and his brother, Jeff, were youngsters, his dad used a home barbering kit to "scalp" them as they sat on a stool in the basement. Then, when his father stopped cutting their hair, the boys went to Vernon Woods for haircuts.
"Six-ounce Cokes were six cents in the vending machine," Belmont recalled, "and Vernon would "fire up" a cigarette when he lathered you up to shave your neck. He was a hard-working guy who had a hard life.
"I loved talking to him."
18 cents an hour
During the early part of the last century many immigrants from Italy found jobs working for the Pennsylvania Railroad here in Wayne County. The average take-home pay over a two-week time period back in 1916 was $21.60.
According to a railroad time book from January of that year, the immigrants worked long 10-hour days and were paid 18 cents an hour.
During the 1960s, Fritz Emerson had a floral business called House of Flowers on East South Street. A red and white striped awning marked the front of the building and the delivery van was white with red geraniums painted on the side.
Thought you should know.
Columnist Ann Gasbarre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-345-6419.