Meshel: Poverty, music dissolved racial issues in some neighborhoods
By SARA RODINO
Poverty and music proved to be great equalizers when it came to race in some neighborhoods in Youngstown.
At least, that’s how Harry Meshel sees it. Most people in the Mahoning Valley recognize the name. He’s been president of the Ohio State Senate, leader of the Ohio Democratic Party, a professor at Youngstown College, a founder of the Ohio Boxing Commission and a trustee of Youngstown State University.
However, back in 1946, he was just another veteran taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend Youngstown College.
“I was the first one to go to college out of my family of six kids. It was because … food came first, food and rent. It was work first, college second,” said Meshel. “It was a small college, but a good college.”
He remembers the college as being different in some ways from his neighborhood.
“There was a natural inclination that races shouldn’t mix that much, generally, out there. But it wasn’t in the neighborhoods where we were raised together,” said Meshel. “So of course, I’m not the best example (of differences) between the races. I was integrated completely in my lifetime. In the neighborhoods I was raised in, there was every ethnic group there.”
While Meshel was at ease with all races in his neighborhood, he was not blind to the fact that there was an imbalance in the student body.
“There was a predominance of white kids here, of course, at that time, and that was a big difference. The numbers were not as large as they should have been. There wasn’t an aggressive pursuit of minorities to come into the universities either,” he said.
Meshel couldn’t think of any specific instances of segregation on campus. “I’m sure there was some lack of adequate attention given, but minorities suffered that all of their lives, no matter where they were.”
While Meschel said the recruitment of minorities to universities would come later, the country was moving slowly toward racial equality.
“In the ’40s, the war opened up the door a lot. Even though the treatment of minorities during the war was not fair. They weren’t necessarily put into the same companies, divisions … they were assigned to maintenance, truck drivers, things of that sort.
“When (Harry S.) Truman became president, he integrated them by fiat from the president’s office. He said, ‘Thou shalt integrate the military and forces.’ Which was a good move. Like athletics and everything else, you have people of all backgrounds who can distinguish themselves in all things, given the opportunity. That’s what’s so great about higher education.”
Meshel also said he didn’t notice much segregation because he moved in different circles than some students. Love of music, especially jazz, drew all races together.
“We socialized. Those of us interested in music and jazz ran around together, in fact,” he said. “I didn’t see them being treated differently at all. Not really at that time. That certainly wasn’t in classes, in classrooms or anything of that sort.”
Meshel said the creation of the G.I. Bill made it affordable for people of all races and classes to obtain a college education.
It shouldn’t be surprising then when Meshel and other students created organizations that promoted racial mingling.
“We created the first interracial and the first jazz society at that time
(1946). We’d meet over at the YWCA. They were the only ones with a big room we could meet in.”
Eventually, Meshel earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1949 from Youngstown College before earning a master’s degree in urban land economics from Columbia University in 1950.
“When I came out of Columbia, when I did my graduate work, I came back here and started … adjunct teaching. What I observed, if anything, was the natural inclination
of the mixing of the races. Nowhere like it is today. In some cases today, it’s worse than what it was then. There’s a bitterness, too much, between people.”