Black history in Stark County is obviously a complex subject and throughout the county, you’ll find evidence of the significant contributions that African Americans have made to this area. From performers and athletes to civil servants and politicians to school teachers and laborers, Black history has been made in Canton and Stark County.
Notable African Americans of Stark County:
The first African American to settle in Stark County came to East Sparta around 1800.
The first African American to settle in Canton, sometime before 1865.
In 1879, the lawyer became the first African American to be admitted to the bar in Stark County. He was also a Civil War vet served with distinction, as noted by the Massillon Museum.
“Following the death of the unit’s leader, Pinn lead the troops into battle despite suffering three bullet wounds. He was one of only four African American Ohioan to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
In 1920, Dr. Walker became Canton’s first Black physician. One year later, he helped form the Canton Urban League.
The first Black pharmacist to call Canton home arrived in 1934.
A WWII vet and avid golfer, Bill Powell was sick of racial discrimination in the game, so he built his own course. In 1946, he opened Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio: America’s Course.
Canton’s first Black, female city council member was also the first African American woman elected to a municipal office in the state of Ohio in 1948.
Along with 3 other African Americans, Marion Motley broke the color barrier in professional football in 1948, a year before Jackie Robinson did the same thing in baseball. Motley was a WWII vet and after the war, he walked on for a try out and Massillon legend Paul Brown gave him the spot on the roster.
Canton’s first African American teacher was hired in 1949.
The halls of Canton McKinley High School were the birthplace of The O’Jays in 1958. First known as The Mascots and then The Triumphs, The O’Jays went on to have 7 hits on the Billboard Top 100 and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
A leader of the Civil Rights movement and Massillon born, Charles McDew was a key member in establishing SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Focused on voter registration, McDew and SNCC went to the “Blackest” parts of the country to register and motivate citizens.
Another Civil Rights leader and mentor to SNCC, James Lawson was a Massillon native who helped lead the 1961 Freedom Rides. In the spring of 1968, Lawson invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak in Memphis, Tennessee. King delivered his “Mountain Top” sermon and was assassinated the next day.
In 1962, Marion Connor made his professional boxing debut. He went on to fight Joe Frazer and 53 other professional bouts.
Alan Page graduated Canton Central Catholic 1963. He went from being a Crusader to being a member of the Fighting Irish as he headed to Notre Dame for college. In 1967, he was the 15th pick in the NFL draft for the Minnesota Vikings. Page went on with the team to play in 4 Super Bowls as a member of the Purple People Eaters. His on field accomplishments cemented his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame(a building he played a part in constructing) in 1998. After his playing career, he served on the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1992 to 2015.
Another boxer from Canton, Ronnie “Mazel” Harris won an Olympic gold medal in 1968 in the lightweight division.
20 years after Canton’s first Black teacher was hired, Odes Kyle Jr. is elected to the board of education in 1969.
The first Black citizen elected in a county wide vote won the race for common pleas court judge in 1972.
In 1999, Canton native Macy Gray had one of the biggest songs of the year with “I Try”
In 2021, Kyle Stone became the first African American to become the prosecutor of Stark County.
Black History Locations in Stark County
The MassMu is currently showcasing “The Art and History of the Black Family: Through the Eyes of the 21st Century African American Child” through March 17th.
Another stop in Tiger Town, the Spring Hill Historic Home was an underground railroad stop and is open for tours.
Stark County had multiple safe places for African Americans searching for the freedom and the Haines House was one of them in Alliance.
One of the museums in the Carnation City, the Alliance Black History Museum preserves, collects and furthers the history of African Americans in Stark County and beyond.
Located in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Black College Football Hall of Fame honors the impact that HBCUs have had one the game and in society. Almost 10 percent of players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame attended a HBCU.