Senior Voices: Amatul Shafeek
This week on Senior Voices, Amatul Shafeek remembers the vibrant west Dayton community of the 1950s and 60s. She grew up in Sacramento, California, but spent summers with her grandmother in Dayton before moving here as a young adult. Amatul spoke with Dayton Metro Library volunteer interviewer, Carol Jackson.
Amatul Shafeek (AS): Let’s go [to] the Fifth Street district, the West Fifth Street district, because that was the area of commerce. We had different clubs, like the Swat club. The Swat Club was for Black professionals, that’s where the hub was, where everybody mingled. My uncle, he was one of the co-founders of that club, and then Wesley Allen also had a barbershop and he ran the barbershop business around the city of Dayton. His property was also located on Fifth Street. My great aunty ran the kitchen for the YMCA down there on Fifth Street, and you also had the Palace and some different places that we would go, and all I saw was professional people, or people just moving, moving forward, you know, it was just busy with that kind of energy. So West Dayton, to me, was a place that felt, that I felt at home in.
Carol Jackson (CJ): It sounded like it was very alive, very culturally alive…
AS: Oh, my goodness, it was. People took pride in their property, in how they presented themselves, how they spoke, you know, I remember tipping hats to ladies, I remember that. I remember us having a block clubs, where each one would try and out do the next block, and it was just fantastic the way we did things, of course, we had you know, I didn’t realize this until I got older, but, the kitchen table was the place that we worked out our problems. And I didn’t realize that for years, and now I’m part of a group called Kitchen Theater where we read Black playwrights, but then it was reading the community, reading the interests of the community. So…
CJ: What period, what history, what dates would you give to this experience you had in Dayton?
AS: Ok, my experience would have been during the 1960s, like later 60s, like 69, but they were having these table talks long before that period. And you have to also understand that on the West Third Street and West Fifth Street district, it was a proud moment to see us holding our own, ok?
Now we have the Wright Dunbar area that’s located right there on Fifth Street now, the Wright Interpretive Center, and it brings a light on that neighborhood as well.
There was a riot, there was a West Dayton riot here that really created confusion. I was in California talking to my brother on the phone, and my grandmother, and I’m hearing them taking about a riot, and I’m like “What is a riot?”
I mean I literally didn’t know. Ok, what is happening that people are on lockdown or they can’t be in the streets, and I had to learn about that, I had to grow up to that, I’m still a kid, you know, and I’m not feeling the impact of the separation that was actually occurring here in the city of Dayton, but the reason why I came back, ‘cause I needed to be home, I needed to know my home, I needed to know my history here, on both sides of the family. And I, my mother was getting older, and she’s 86 now, I’m 62 just turned 62. I think one of the other reasons is that this was home for me. California, I have dual citizenship, let’s say that, I don’t mean, in Africa, I mean in California and in Ohio. I’ve traveled to North Carolina, I needed to know my history there, I’ve gone to, I’ve lived out of the country, and I wanted to put all of that into perspective, and I started, I don’t what you’d call that, it was like soul searching, it was like I was woke, I was woke to what was actually happening here in the city.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer and Senior Voices project coordinator Jocelyn Robinson. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible by the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.