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Audio Postcard: Memories And Future Visions Of Historic West Dayton YWCA

On Saturday the nonprofit Early Visions hosted an 80th anniversary tea party to honor the women of West Dayton. Elizabeth Early-Gainous, president of Early Visions, is working to preserve and reopen the building that once housed the West Dayton YWCA. It was the first African American YWCA in the country.

The branch formed in 1889 and moved into a West Dayton house on South Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, what was then Summit Street, in the early 1940s. But the West Side YWCA closed in the 1970s. In 2020 the National Park Service awarded Early Visions $500,000 through an African American Civil Rights Historic Preservation Fund grant to restore the building.

WYSO’s Leila Goldstein spoke with tea party attendees about their memories of the West Side Y going back to the 1940s. They came to the event dressed in vintage garden party attire.

The following is an edited transcript of this audio postcard. Click the listen button at the top of the page to hear this story.

Rayetta Townsend: I'm wearing roaring 20s dresses with the beads, the gloves and my cigaret holder.

Ebony Hastings: I have on a red tea dress with black stripes with white polka dots in it with the '50s hat.

Chanella Dunford: I was looking at the late 1800s. So I went with that with the little tulle skirt with it and a little bling on the shoe.

Marva Darrett: I said, I remember back in the day we wore sun dresses. I just couldn't put on the gloves today but I did stick a hat on my head.

Norma Cox-McCorry: My memories of this Y are so beautiful. I used to take tap dancing lessons here and in the summer we would come over and meet at the Y and then the bus would pick us up and we would go to day camp.

Doris Jean Arnold Williams: I was in the tap class and also piano lessons and singing lessons. And I sang with the philharmonic choir downtown on Ludlow Street.

Yvonne Walker Curry: I came here for things like a marshmallow cookout. I came here for tap dance lessons. I came here just to hang out. It was just a nice, safe place for young girls to hang out.

Cox-McCorry: Behind the Y, down here at the bottom, there were barracks for women in the service, for WACs [Women's Army Corps], for African-American women. This is where they stayed when they would be at Wright Patt. But this is where they were housed because, back in those days, of course, everything was segregated.

Darrett: I still remember step, step, click, click. And shuffle, shuffle, down, down. That was our tap dancing.

Maxine Brooks: We had a wonderful dance class here. And I always thought that I was probably the best dancer they had.

Leila Goldstein: Did you hear she said she thought she was one of best dancers. What do you think?

Darrett: Well, she did think that.

Goldstein: Would you agree?

Darrett: But I would agree.

Cox-McCorry: I think it is awesome because on our side of town, we don't have that many buildings that are preserved like some of the things down in the Oregon District. So a few years back, they did the boys Y, down on 5th and Mound. And now I think it's just awesome that they are doing this so we can go back and relive all of our childhood memories and everything.

Walker Curry: It just means a lot. It means that our heritage is open again because there are so many of my friends and this is where we hung out.

Hastings: It's monumental because I think so often Black women have led the cause and then we've been forgotten about. We literally initiate the movement and then people come in and take over and we no longer get credit for our hard working efforts and perseverance to get things accomplished.

Cox-McCorry: I've always told my daughter and my nieces about all the things that we used to do over at this Y. So it'll be awesome that, when it's refurbished, that I can bring them and they can see all this.

Brooks: Because we need something like that in our community. Once it's refurbished and open, that means that we have a place that we can go and have our tea and enjoy our tea party.