‘You can’t stand by and wait for people to make the city better. You have to change it,’ Dayton civil rights leader says

Jessie O. Gooding says the only thing missing from an event celebrating his service to the community were "ashes" and "dust."

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The Dayton civil rights champion, the former long-time president of Dayton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was inducted in the Dayton Region’s Walk of Fame a week ago.

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

A few days later, Tabernacle Baptist Church presented Gospel + Brunch: A Tribute To Mr. Jessie O. Gooding.

“All they needed to say was ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust’,” Gooding, who will turn 93 on Nov. 28, told this news organization. “They gave me a good eulogy.”

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Gooding, a former member of the Dayton chapter of Congress of Racial Equality, was among the 250,000 on the National Mall to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

The son of sharecroppers born in Minden, La., Gooding made a name for himself in Dayton as one of the community’s chief civil rights warriors after serving in the segregated U. S. Army and earning a degree at Wilberforce University.

“I ended up here in 1949. You could leave one job and get another. Dayton was booming,” Gooding said.

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As a chemist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he witnessed and experienced discrimination in the workplace.

He spent evenings working with W.S. McIntosh and others civil rights workers to address issues in Dayton.

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Gooding advocated for the hiring of scientists and engineers from historically black colleges and universities and worked to establish equal employment opportunity and sensitivity training.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

That training became mandatory in the Air Force in the 1960s.

Under his leadership, the NAACP increased voter registration and pushed for reforms to end discrimination in education, employment, housing and law enforcement.

The member of the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame penned the book “Freedom and Justice for All: My Life and Dayton Civil Rights History.”

We caught up with this Gooding, this week's Daytonian of the Week. 

Credit: Rachel Zahumensky

Credit: Rachel Zahumensky

What do you wish for Dayton?

“I hope the economy builds. Better housing and higher employment, those are some of the things Dayton really needs and, equal opportunity.

What would you change about Dayton?

“Employment and equal employment. (I’d like) better jobs and good police protection. Make sure people are treated fair by the justice system.”

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What do you like about Dayton? 

“They allowed me to live here 71 years, and I am not hungry. I was able to make a living, and that’s a good part about Dayton.”

Credit: Rachel Zahumensky

Credit: Rachel Zahumensky

What should people know about Dayton or its people?

“Dayton is a peculiar city. If you work with it, you can make opportunities, but you can’t stand by and wait for (other) people to make the city better. You have to change it.”

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