“There’s a changing neighborhood in Cincinnati, would you like to look at any of those houses?” was a question posed to D.D. & Bob Starr as they were moving to Cincinnati in 1961. “Yes, we would” was the answer and soon 6446 McHugh Place became their home. They knew this was the place they were meant to live. They
really knew this was meant to be when they found a tennis court, a swimming pooland the school their children would attend across the park from their home. D.D. is often named as a key person who worked to help stabilize the community in the early years of integration in Kennedy Heights. Bob was less visible but very much a supporter. Both of them were professional social workers and had a long history of believing in and working toward integration, often through the aegis of the YWCA and YMCA.
D.D. grew up in Anniston, Alabama, the site of the most infamous Freedom Rider bus burning, with her mother and paternal grandmother. She credits them with not showing any racial prejudice toward blacks. Her mother permitted her to spend summers in YWCA workshops that were empowering for her. Not only did she have the model of women as leaders, she was involved in work that sought to integrate blacks into the mainstream. She was in leadership positions in college and in the Y. She met Bob at a YWCA-YMCA conference in Columbus, OH in 1948 that was a mixed group, meaning blacks and whites as well as women and men. Bob credits an ecumenical service in Cambridge, OH with emphasizing the disparity of blacks’ freedom in society for him. The church was told of black soldiers escorting German Prisoners Of War across the South by train during World War II. The POW’s were able to be fed in restaurants but the black soldiers were not.
The neighborhood certainly had those that were unhappy that blacks were moving in, but more were fine with the changes. D.D. remembers taking her youngest daughter, Juliana, in the stroller up and down the street as she talked with people, making the statement that here was a white family that chose to move here.
D.D. was chair of the housing committee. Polly Reading, as a member of the committee, was influential in welcoming people to the community. Phil, her husband, wrote the ad for the New Republic which invited people of all colors who were moving to Cincinnati to come to KH. Mack Magorian had opined that if the community was going to be stabilized, whites would need to also move here.
An early highlight was the invitation to Bob and D.D. from Jeane and Bill Goings to accompany them to the Cincinnati Gardens to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. It was a stirring affair with lots of “Amens”.
The Starr’s son, Bart, was a member of the newly formed Ken-Sil baseball team as the only white at that time. The family was involved in the KH Presbyterian Church. They remember it as a wonderful place to raise their children. The children attended Vacation Bible School and Sunday School there.
Bob states that it was a great learning experience living in KH, “a wonderful happy time”. He told a story of going to a UC football game with Paul Henry, a UC prof. Bob told Paul that they were going to a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert that evening to hear Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony. Paul immediately started humming a melody of it. Bob said it ‘blew me away’, he didn’t think a black man would be interested in classical music. He came away with the thought ‘never assume anything’.
D.D. and Bob left KH in 1969, moving out of state. They currently live in Iowa, D.D. is 86 and Bob, 88. When asked about the impact of living in KH on their family, D.D. remembers vividly the time when Juliana came home from the 2nd grade. They were living in an all-white area. She fell to her knees and sobbed as she entered the house. D.D. tried to learn the problem but the sobbing continued. Finally, the answer “Mama, there aren’t any black kids in my class.”
D.D. recounts a 1962 meeting which seven people attended that included staff members of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee (MFRC). The purpose was to consider how the community could become stable. They met at KH Presbyterian Church. Attending were Ann Magorian, a KH resident and a member of MFRC; Cecil Wesley, representing First Baptist Church; Stan Lambert, KH resident and longtime KH Presbyterian Church member; Alvin Wesley, staff member of MFR; and Lois Conyers, Urban League staff member; and D.D., a newcomer to the neighborhood. The 7th person was the Associate Pastor at KHPC who opened the meeting with prayer and left.
Several serendipitous connections were made that evening. D.D.’s maiden name was Wesley, Cecil Wesley and Alvin Wesley were black. Both Ann Magorian and D.D. were graduates of Alabama State College for Women. Lois graduated from Talladega College. D.D. had organized an event that women from her college (all had the permission of their parents to participate) would attend the nearby black college (Talladega) and stay overnight to meet in a show of support and sisterhood. At this KH meeting D.D. and Lois realized they had both been at that meeting at the College President’s home. The evidence? There was a cross burning on the President’s lawn as the black students returned to their dorms.
The members of this group of seven decided that if they had 3 Wesley’s, both black and white, 2 members who graduated from the same Alabama college and 1 who graduated from a black Alabama college, as well as 2 who had attended their one and only cross burning together, then only good could come from this meeting.
A result of this meeting was to work toward forming a community council with interracial leadership and deal directly with the issue of integration. The decision was made to have co-presidents of the council (KHCC), one black and one white. Paul Henry and Stan Lambert were the first co-presidents. (That practice continued for about 15 years.)
Bob went to the 1963 March on Washington as a representative of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). They boarded the train in Covington. There were 600 people from Cincinnati. He said he learned “We Shall Overcome” as they traveled that evening. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be part of that event. When he returned, their next door neighbor, Homer Alexander, a black man, came to shake his hand and told Bob he appreciated his attending. He felt as though Bob was standing in for him.
D.D. remembers all the efforts the Council gave to making the neighborhood an enjoyable place that both blacks and whites could live. Zoning laws were updated to ensure that there would not be overcrowding, they worked with the realtors to end the block-busting and explained to them the vision of KH, they enlisted people to join the Council and become involved so they would have ownership in a stable community.
The night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, April 4, 1968, Bob and D.D. and their children congregated at the First Baptist Church with a black and white crowd. It was a quiet, reverent evening. Other parts of Cincinnati became violent, but not in Kennedy Heights.
Many individuals were instrumental in the efforts to bring stability to KH. Beside those mentioned earlier: Cecil & Florence Wesley, George Rowe, Jim Wolfe, Joe & Betty Crawford, John and Carol Ramey, John and Geneva Leahr, Roger Engstrand, Tommie Birdsall and June Alexander.
When asked what they would suggest to people now moving to KH, D.D. stated she always felt they were living on the edge of history as these events were unfolding, now the new residents can say they are living in an historical place where both races have lived together for a long time.
Kennedy Heights has far surpassed what they hoped for as they were working to quell the fears of what integration would bring. D.D. read the May/June 2014 edition of Neighbor to Neighbor, the KHCC newsletter, and was glad to read about the current activity and that the community is thriving. She described news of the KH Arts Center as ‘marvelous’. Bob hopes that KH can become better known throughout the city.