“A Snapshot of the Negro in Toledo pre-1930s” by Ella P. Stewart

Gary Franklin is a retired attorney and college administrator. In this article, he introduces an article by famous Toledoan, Ella P. Stewart, who wrote about the development of the Brand Whitlock Homes–the first public housing development in Toledo. 

In 1938, the Brand Whitlock Homes were opened as the first public housing development in Toledo, Ohio as an effort to decrease the proliferation of slums in the African American community.  Built by the New Deal-era Public Works Administration (WPA), it provided affordable housing and employment for out of-work skilled tradesmen and construction workers.

In 2012, this complex, extremely deteriorated over time, was demolished to make room for a new, modern housing development.  During the process, a time capsule was discovered in the cornerstone of the complex’s former office building.  This time capsule contained a treasure trove of documents which provided a history of the justification and planning for the Brand Whitlock Homes.

As noted in an article in the Toledo Blade newspaper, August 5, 2012, documents found in the cornerstone, stated that “there are four sections of the City of Toledo where Negroes are permitted to rent or purchase homes….The section in which the Brand Whitlock Homes project is situated is by far the largest…..All are cast-off dwellings of more fortunate elements of the population.  There is scarcely a single modern home among them….”


Many of those homes lacked running water or electricity.  The conditions of the area fostered poor health conditions, including many instances of tuberculosis, as well as high rates of vice and crime.


One document included in the time capsule was the transcript of a speech prepared and given by Mrs. Ella P. Stewart, a pioneer African American female pharmacist and prominent civil rights activist of Toledo.  In it, she outlines the history and progression of the Negro in Toledo, with emphasis on their occupational and educational development.  A brief document, it provides and insightful glimpse into the make-up of the Negro community by occupation at that time.  That document is reprinted here:


The Negro in Toledo

“While Toledo loomed large as one of the chief centers of Negro population in the North during the post-war era, yet the part Toledo has played down through the years in the history of the Negro is not so well known.  The history of the colored man in what is now Toledo antedates the Civil War, the California Gold Rush, and equally famous historical events.

Because of its strategic location on the lake front, Toledo became a focal point for the operation of the Underground Railroad in the early forties.  While records show that slavery existed in Ohio, there is yet no actual confirmation of its existence in Toledo.  History has left the names of the aiders of the fugitives:  David Andrews, Congressman James Ashley, Mayor Brigham, Dr. H. Scott, William H. Merritt, a Negro, and others.

In the early  1870’s the separate schools for Negroes and whites in Toledo were abolished; these had been established in conformity with state-wide discriminatory practices including disenfranchisement, invalidation of mixed marriages, the vacillating civil rights bills, and discrimination in the libraries.

After this time sentiment gradually grew in favor of the Negro through the efforts of the anti-slavery satirist, David Locke, who under his pen-name, “Petroleum Vesuvius Nasty” satirized the old pro-slavery sentiment which showed itself in lynchings.  The rise of sentiment toward the Negro may also be attributed to the works of two young Negro poets, James Bell Madison and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who through their plaintive pleadings stated the case of the newly emancipated Negro far more plainly than most of their black brothers could have done  Then, too, the influence that the two Negro churches:  Warren A.M.E. Church, located then at the Erie Street address, and Third Baptist Church.


From 1900 to the Great War the Negro was in Toledo but not of Toledo, for he contributed nothing significant.  It was not until after 1917, following the huge migration that the Negroes who had come to this industrial area in search of better economic, educational, cultural, and political advantages began to make themselves felt.  How great this wartime gain was is seen in a casual reference to the census figures of that time.  In 1900 the population of Negro Toledo was 1,710; 1910 1,877; in 1920 5,693; and finally in 1930 13,260.  What this gain has meant to Toledo’s race inhabitants can be seen in the increase in colored enterprises, professional people, and office holders.

In a survey conducted in 1935 the Negro businesses were as follows:

Hair dressers and beauty parlors = 10

Tailors = 7

Ice and coal dealers = 6

Dressmakers = 5

Pool rooms = 4

Soft drink parlors = 3

Trucking = 3

Grocers = 3

Hotels = 3

Insurance offices = 3

Real estate offices = 3

Sign printers = 2

Barbers = 2

Auto repairers = 2

Carpenters and contractors = 2

UndertakersTaxi service = 2

Painters and decorators = 2

Shoe repairers = 2

Shoe manufacturing = 1

Building and loan association = 1

Cement contractor = 1

Landscape gardener = 1

Milliner and flower maker = 1

Newspaper = 1

Photographer = 1

Plumbers = 1

Radio supplies = 1

Printer = 1

Electrician = 1

Bricbrac mfg = 1

Lamp shade mfg = 1

Drugstores = 1

Despite this rapid business development the Negro’s other ventures have not lacked.  In churches there seems to be a liberal number from each denomination contributing to the welfare of the citizens.  In this aspect the work of the Negro in Toledo would not be complete without reference to the work of the Race Relations department of the Toledo Council of Churches.  Through the guidance of the Rev. B. F. McWilliams of the Third Baptist Church this committee began and outlined and formulated policies which have helped to give the committee permanency.  Among these include the yearly celebration of the week known as Race Relations week, exchange of pulpits, and panel discussions.  Toledo has several fine church buildings, but by far most of the churches are housed inadequately.

For a long time most of Toledo’s black citizens were confined to the traditional trades of chamber maid, bell hop, bus boys, porters, janitors, and boot blacks.  Slowly but surely the professional class is being formed.  Today there is the Inter-Allied Medical Society which includes in its membership all of the ten Toledo doctors, the dentists, and pharmacists.  Each year it sponsors a health forum and baby contests.  The lawyers number 9 as do the school teachers.  All in all there are more than 100 persons who represent about 400 persons above the menial and manual labor groups.

Despite this seeming prosperity of the Negro there was one definite lack and that was inadequate housing.  This lack made itself felt in educational lines as well as in the other departments of the Negro’s life.  School statistics brought this out especially.  Contrary to all expectations that the introduction of the (National Youth Administration) NYA would keep many in school, the poor housing facilities have necessitated the withdrawal of many.  School attendance has waned since the introduction of the NYA, which was designed to keep the Negro on his march to higher education.  According to attendance figures in 1931 there were 229 Negroes in high school; in 1932 296; in 1933 390; in 1934 332; and in 1933 457.  When interpreted in the light of increasing population and other salient data it is seen that attendance is not advancing.

The Home Makers’ Economic League founded in April 1934 was formed by Mrs. Ella P. Steward to help crystallize sentiment in favor of the then proposed Slum Clearance project.  Under the direction of Mr. C.F. Weiler the development is about to be brought to fruition.  As planned the Brand Whitlock Homes will house about 260.  With such resources as the Indiana Avenue Branch YMCA under the able direction of Mr. Leo B. Marsh, and the Frederick Douglass Community Center, which the late and lamented Albertus Brown founded, and the Colored Working Girls Home, the Brand Whitlock Homes can help materially in the amelioration of the condition of the Negro in Toledo.

The thanks of the colored citizens of Toledo certainly go out to men of the caliber of Mr. Weiler, who have the patience, the foresight, the initiative, and the capacity to bring such a momentous development as the slum clearance project to a conclusion.”


Prepared by Mrs. Ella P. Stewart and assisted by Valarie Justis, August 24, 1937

Photos, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.


Published by: Journey Genealogy Group of Toledo

In the spirit of comradeship and working with others we are on a journey to attract other African Americans to do genealogical research for self and family and to preserve the history of African Americans in Toledo, Ohio. All rights reserved by each blog post author and/or Journey and the Journey Genealogy Group Blog, 2010 till present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the authors and/or the site's owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the individual author and the Journey Genealogy Group Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Categories African Americans in Toledo, Black Toledo, Brand Whitlock Homes, Ella P. Stewart, Great Migration, Stewart's Pharmacy, Toledo, OhioLeave a comment

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