Stafford: Moseley mural needs a guardrail

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

If it came to pass, many would declare it an aesthetic disaster of Titanic — as in the ship — proportions.

Not to mention a violation of a beautiful work of art.

Even I recognize that of all the bad ideas I’ve expressed in 40 years of column writing, my soon-to-be ex-friends may consider this the worst.

But after a month of digesting the Jan. 31, 1923, decision that halted attempts to segregate Fulton School, I can’t suppress a yearning to install a guardrail at the bottom of the brick wall on which the internationally known artist Gaia painted a spectacular, heroic and larger-than-life portrait of Springfield Civil Rights activist Hattie Moseley.

My grant applications will call it the Charles L. Johnson and James W. Leigh Memorial Civil Rights Protective League Guardrail and dedicate it to an idea few of us ever give any thought to.

My path to this idea began in January when I checked the Feb. 1, 1923, edition of the Springfield Daily News hoping to find a report on the first ever official meeting at Springfield’s Woman’s Town Club, which had happened the day before.

Bingo. The paper ran a story about at the top of an inside page.

On the front page of that edition, I spotted the headline “Segregated School is Prohibited” and found a story about Common Pleas Judge Frank Krapp’s ruling to permanently enjoin the Springfield City School District from transferring students in or out of the Fulton School district “on the basis of race or color.”

Of course, the mural and Hattie Moseley immediately came to mind.

As it turned out, the legal case was a slam dunk.

Krapp had merely confirmed Judge F.W. Geiger ‘s finding when he granted Messrs. Johnson and Leigh a temporary injunction in a previous court session.

On the crucial factual issue, Krapp ridiculed as “pure sophistry” the defendants’ contention that their actions to segregate the school did not involve compulsion.

“When children are required to attend school and all schools, but one, are closed to certain of them, it is idle to say that there is no compulsory discrimination.”

He then batted away other legal arguments.

“One is that segregated schools are not illegal of themselves,” Krapp wrote. “This is true. When a district is populated solely by one race, the school is not necessarily a school for children of that race. But this is a natural result not brought about by manipulation.”

“The situation is not saved by the fact that white children may attend the Fulton school,” he added. “The fact is that none do, and none reasonably expected to do so.”

With the facts established, he added, “There is no occasion for a discussion of the law. The (Ohio) supreme court has spoken and this court has no opinion in the matter.”

But after saying he “must follow the law as laid down without regard to any personal views on the subject,” Krapp went on to disclose those views.

“In bringing about this condition,” Krapp wrote, “the board was actuated by a sincere motive in behalf of the schools and the public, and especially in affording an opportunity to colored persons to become teachers in the public schools.”

And, indeed, a group of Black citizens had approached the school board saying they would accept a separate school for Black students if it could be staffed with Black teachers. That subsequently touched off a conflict in the Black community over fears that, in the long run, the gain of Black teachers for a segregated school would be offset by the damage done to Black citizens by a more segregated community.

There is this too: The entire controversy unfolded the year after Mayor Burton Wescott was forced to call the Ohio National Guard into Springfield to quell an anti-Black riot, his hand forced by a group of Black military veterans who were providing an armed guard around Black neighborhoods to protect them from white rioters.

Hattie Moseley’s involvement in a boycott of Fulton School provides further context. She likely joined the protest because she’d just arrived in Springfield from Georgia, which she’d left to escape the conditions of a segregated south.

One more point of context: The Great Migration of African Americans northward led a northward migration of the Ku Klux Klan, which was particularly influential in Ohio and Indiana.

That included Springfield, where, in 1923 the Springfield police raided Klan Headquarters and passed along to the newspapers the names of more than 600 Klan members whose names were published in the next day.

Among them were Superintendent of City Schools George McCord and two board members.

Which brings us back to my guardrail.

Its full name would be the Charles L. Johnson and James W. Leigh Springfield Civil Rights Protective League Memorial Guardrail honoring the Rule of Law and the Great Service it Provides the Citizens of Springfield, Ohio, the United States and the World in Times of Political and Social Turmoil.

Hey, you can fit a lot of words on a guardrail.

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