Retracing Toledo's Radical History

Derek Ide I Social Movement Studies I History I September 21st, 2015

It is not difficult to sense the alienation and demoralization that impinges upon so many people as they drive through the streets of Toledo, Ohio. These are streets that were constructed to be driven on and nothing else. Unlike many of the cities in Europe, or even some in the United States, it is not a walkable city. The haphazard urban planning, or lack thereof, and the complete lack of any public transit system, with the exception of TARTA buses and private cabs, combine to make Toledo more than inhospitable to those without their own private vehicle. Those who can afford it have spent the past five decades fleeing to outlying suburbs, and those who cannot remain trapped within the confines of a "Little Detroit" which, after the 1970s, has witnessed the gutting of its manufacturing base. Since 2000, Toledo area poverty has risen faster than any other U.S. city. [1] In 2009, nearly 30% of the population of Toledo lived below the poverty line. Over 11% lived below half the poverty line.[2]

In Toledo, isolation is the rule rather than the anomaly. While the Occupy Wall Street movement rocked the United States in 2011, Toledo's Occupy Wall Street was anemic and enervated. Responses exist but they are individual, small-scale, and incapable of drawing the numbers that such dire conditions warrant. Aside from a few key activists and organizers, most individuals, even those who have lived here their whole lives, have taken the state of things for granted, or at least feel powerless to change them. No mass movement exists, in spite of the abject conditions, that people can plug themselves into. Toledo, as someone recently put it, is "a hard place to love if you didn't grow up here."

This has not always been the case, however. Toledo was once a center for economic activity, a hub of material exchange through which goods and labor moved rapidly. More importantly, however, Toledo has a long and radical history, one that has often been hidden away by the quotidian drudgery and daily grind of life. From the 1934 Auto-Lite Strike to the Black Panther Party headquarters on Door St., the city has not always been bereft of a culture of resistance. This once-proud resistance was not only manifest in one of the few general strikes to every rock a major U.S. city, or in the sheer violence and force brought down against the Panthers, it was also located on the campus of the University itself. From UT's Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1970s to the Black Student Union, which spearheaded the divestment movement from South Africa in the mid-1980s, Toledo students have always been engaged in the struggles of the day. The purpose of this article is to recount these struggles, but more importantly to provide as much space as possible to the voices that engaged in them. It should be noted that while what comes below is not an all-encompassing account of every radical initiative and movement in Toledo's history, plenty of which remain to be written about and exceed the knowledge of the author, this is a brief attempt to retrace as much of Toledo's radical history as possible. It is a history that every Toledo worker, student, and citizen should know.

The 1934 Auto-Lite Strike

By 1934, Toledo was in the midst of the depression. While the crisis was astute on the national scale, in Toledo it was catastrophic. Whereas 25 percent of all workers and 37 of all nonfarm workers were unemployed in 1933,[3] Toledo faced an unemployment rate of over 50% in 1934.[4] As Rebecca E. Zietlow[5] and James Gray Pope explain:

Without an economic safety net, people literally struggled to survive. Toledoans told stories about families eating nothing but apples, and burning their furniture to warm themselves during the harsh upper Midwest winters. These conditions were devastating for those workers without jobs, but they also had a profound impact on employed workers. The managers at industrial plants such as the Auto-Lite plant treated unskilled and semi-skilled workers as fungible and disposable.

Over one-third of Toledo's population lived on meager emergency relief during the depression. Willys-Overland employed 28,000 in 1929, out of a total population in Toledo of 290,000. By 1932, it employed only 3,000 people.[6] As Willys-Overland and other automobile plants shut down or significantly reduced production, so too did auto parts manufacturers, a significant component of Toledo's industrial base.

The Electric Auto-Lite Company, an auto parts manufacturer, was the site of one of the most heroic and historic strikes in not only Toledo, but U.S. history. At Auto-Lite, workers were treated contemptuously, and supervisors exercised arbitrary power over all aspects of their work life. Although Congress had enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933 which, under Section 7(a), provided workers with the right to organize, Roosevelt's insertion of merit clauses "granted employers the right to establish open shops and discriminate against militants." [7] As Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward explain:

Early in 1934, demands for union recognition at the Electric Auto-Lite Company and several smaller firms were rejected, and 4,000 workers walked out. The workers returned to the plants after federal officials secured a commitment from the employers to "set up a machinery" for negotiations. But Auto-Lite then refused to negotiate, and a second strike was called on April 11. Only a minority of the workers joined the walkout this time, however, and the company determined to keep its plant open, hiring strikebreakers to reach full production.

Toledo was a stronghold of A. J. Muste's radical Unemployed Leagues, and the Musteites rapidly mobilized large numbers of unemployed workers to reinforce the picket lines. On April 17 the company responded by obtaining a court order limiting picketing and prohibiting league members from picketing altogether. But the Musteites decided to violate the restraining order, and some local Communists joined in with the slogan "Smash the Injunction by Mass Picketing" (Keeran, 168). A handful of militants then began picketing. They were quickly arrested, but upon their release, they returned to the picket lines, their numbers now enlarged by workers emboldened by the militants' example. More arrests and further court injunctions seemed to only galvanize the strikers, and the numbers of people on the picket lines grew larger day by day. Sympathy for the strikers in Toledo was such that the sheriff could not use the local police to protect the strikebreakers and instead deputized special police, paid for by Auto-Lite.

By May 23, the crowd massed outside the plant had grown to some 10,000 people, effectively imprisoning the 1,500 strikebreakers inside the factory. The sheriff then decided to take the initiative, and the deputies attacked. The crowd fought back, several people were seriously wounded, and a contingent of the Ohio National Guard was called in. Armed with machine guns and bayoneted rifles, the Guardsmen marched into the Auto-Lite plant in the quiet of dawn and succeeded in evacuating the strikebreaking workers. But the next day, the crowd gathered again, advanced on the Guardsmen, showering them with bricks and bottles. On the third advance, the Guard fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding many more. The crowd still did not disperse. Four more companies of Guards men were called up, and Auto-Lite agreed to close the plant. Then, with the threat of a general strike in the air, the employers finally agreed to federal mediation which resulted in a 22 percent wage increase and limited recognition for the union. [8]

The AWP skillfully utilized the language of slavery and emancipation to inspire the strikers:

Its banner equated the end of chattel slavery in 1865 with the end of wage slavery through collective action in 1934. AWP flyers produced at the time made this connection more explicit. One leaflet proclaimed, "Toledo workers will not work at the points of bayonets like craven slaves." Another declared, "[T]he workers of Toledo . . . have starved and sweated and cried in their misery while waiting for this hour. Now they have shaken off the chains of their masters." A leaflet produced by the Auto Workers Union Organization Committee agreed, "It now remains the task of completely closing this slave pen of Minniger."[9]

One of the most important elements of the strike was the influence of A.J. Muste, a leader of the American Workers Party, who helped organize the Lucas County Unemployed League.[10] Charles Bogle explains the vital importance of this development:

The strike would have ended… had it not been for the actions of a committee of Auto-Lite workers who asked for assistance from the Unemployed League. The Unemployed League, affiliated with the socialist American Workers Party (AWP), had formed in 1933 to organize mass actions by Toledo unemployed workers to obtain cash relief. More important for the fate of the Auto-Lite striking workers, the League's policy was to unify the employed and unemployed. [11]

This policy of unification was a vital component of the strike, and allowed a limited, plant-based battle to transform into one of the most important industrial city-wide struggles in U.S. history.[12]

The success of the Toledo strike was a significant factor that contributed to the formation of the United Auto Workers, one of the few remaining unions of any significance in the United States. More importantly, it acted as a catalyst for passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, which codified the legality of trade unions, collective bargaining, elected labor representation, and the right to strike. Although the plant was demolished in 1999, the entrance was left standing, with an inscription that reads: "This stone doorway will stand forever as a symbol of the Toledo Auto-Lite workers' commitment, loyalty, and solidarity, which enabled them to break with the past, and enter a better future." As Zeitlow and Pope maintain, "That future has now receded into the past, and the example of the Auto-Lite strikers affirms to a new generation that with commitment, loyalty, and solidarity, a better future can be won."[13]

National Committee to Combat Fascism (Black Panther Party)

On July 25, 1967, Dorr Street, dubbed "Black Mecca" for the array of black-owned shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, had been the site of a large-scale uprising that came on the heels of an even larger rebellion in Detroit two days prior.[14] One witness to the riots proclaimed "The reasons for the riots, I think, were to achieve some kind of justice - we just didn't have it all the time." [15] Three years later, an organization had arisen to politically direct the energy and frustration manifest in 1967. By 1970, the 1300 block of Dorr Street was home to the Toledo chapter Black Panther Party headquarters. The Toledo Panthers, at this time operating under the name the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF), had organized a nascent Free Clothing program and [16] a Free Breakfast program, in step with other chapters across the country.

Already at this time across the country, Black Panther Party headquarters had been attacked and raided, and the 21-year old martyr Fred Hampton had been pulled out of his bed and shot in the head less than a year before. In the early morning hours of September 18, 1970, a man approached Toledo Police Officer William Miscannon, stationed outside the Party headquarters at Junction and Dorr. The stories differ as to what happened next. One source suggests Miscannon asked the man what was going on, to which the man responded "This is what's going on," before pulling a silver handgun and shooting Miscannon in the head.[17] Yet another source suggests the man approached and shouted "Hey baby, I've got something for you!" before shooting.[18] Either way, Miscannon was killed and the murder was blamed on local Panther John McClellan. Although McClellan was charged, two different trials ended in hung juries, and no new evidence was able to be presented against him.

The Toledo Police, however, took no qualms in using the killing as a pretext for attacking the Panther headquarters. Within hours, some forty officers surrounded the headquarters and "riddled… [the] Panther headquarters with bullets during a five-hour battle," in what Mike Cross, the Panther defense minister in Toledo, called "an unprovoked attack by racist pigs."[19] The guns were apparently procured by John McClellan's brother, Larry, who took "about 20 rifles" from a shooting range at Bowling Green State University, near Toledo. [20] Sixteen year old Troy Montgomery was seriously wounded. When the ambulance arrived, the police refused to allow the black ambulance driver Leroy Hardnett to take the boy to the hospital. Hardnett reported at the time that "They told us to leave him in the streets and die."[21] The boy was eventually taken to Mercy Hospital and survived. The Panthers stockpile of weapons was confiscated by the police. The assault did not end that night, however. One Black Panther article titled "Toledo Piggery Continues" detailed how "Two members of the Toledo N.C.C.F. (brothers Conrad and Kenneth) were kidnapped, while on their way to the office, and illegally held for eight days in the Toledo Pig Pen. The brothers were unable to make a phone call to let anyone know what had happened to them." [22] Although Panther operations were hampered by this attack, this was not the end of the Toledo chapter.

The thugs of the state continued their war on Toledo's Panthers. On November 28, 1970 an article entitled "The Dungeon" appeared in the Black Panther party newspaper exposing the conditions that prisoners faced in Toledo's Lucas Country jail. The report was signed by ten prisoners, five Black and five white, and immediately they faced retaliation for their political commitments to the struggle. This excerpt from the Black Panther detailing the attack deserves to be quoted at length:

The Inmates knew that their lives would be in grave danger because of this, but they felt that getting the truth to the people about what was happening in this fascist pig pen was much more important than their own personal safety. This was clearly shown in the last paragraph of the article which stated "All the men (five Black and five White) incarcerated in this jail's maximum security section have signed this report being well aware of the physical and mental repression that will follow from the jail's administration. They wish the people to know that no matter what happens to them they have stood up and are resisting as men."

Tuesday Dec. 8. 1970, under pretense of conducting a weapons search, more than 25 racist pigs and their bootlicking flunky nigger pigs, launched an unprovoked, brutal attack against the men in the maximum security section of the Lucas County Jail. When the pigs started brutalizing and beating them, the brothers righteously began to defend themselves. Within minutes the rest of the inmates on all three jail floors began to join in the resistance against the pig deputies. For 2 hours the prisoners of the dungeon resisted heavily armed pigs from the Sheriffs Dept. and city Police… 17 prisoners were beaten, stripped of their clothes and sent to the hole (A 10' × 12' windowless room in the basement). Included among them was a sick 73 year old Black man and two members of the N.C.C.F., John and Larry McClellan. All 17 prisoners remained in this room for 2 days and were literally covered with their own wastes. The only food they received was one cup of water and one slice of bread a day per person.

…[On] Thursday Dec. 10, incarcerated N.C.C.F. member John McClellan, accused of offing racist pig Miscannon Sept. 18th, 1970, stopped a pre-trial motion in his defense to expose the conditions that he and 16 other men had been subjected to for over 48 hours in the hole. He refused to participate any further in the court proceedings until the cruel and unusual punishment was immediately ended.

Presiding Judge, Wiley, adjourned the court and visited the jail along with newsmen and attorneys, from 1:30 P.M. to 2:30 P.M. When court was re-convened he ordered that John McClellan released from the hole immediately. This brother again showed that he is a true servant of the people when he said. "The constitutional rights of the other 16 men are also being violated. I will not leave those other men in the hole to die. If we are not all released together, then I will return to the hole with my friends, many, who are sick and will die it not released immediately." Judge Wiley then ordered Sheriff Metzger to release all the men held in the hole. This racist pig Judge had seen with his own eyes, the degradation of 17 naked human beings covered with their own wastes and visibly very sick. Yet, all he could relate to was releasing John McClellan. This brother exposed the true-nature of this pig and backed him up against the wall, where in order not to show his fascist nature, he had to recognize the rights of the other prisoners held in the hole…

Now a prisoner can remain in the hole for only 12 hours at a time and then be released for 6 hours before returning again. Still this rule doesn't stop his said constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment from being violated. It just determines how long his rights will be violated.

A prisoner will still he stripped naked, forced to sleep on a concrete floor if its not too crowded, have no toilet facilities or running water and receive bread and water to eat. Actually, nothing has changed regarding the way the prisoners are treated in the hole. only the length of time they are to be kept in there. To end the sham. Pig judge Wiley had the nerve to dink the following statement' "This is an unsatisfactory solution, but I had to balance the necessity for security against a minimum of decency."

The pigs have always put their security and profits before the desires and needs of the people. The crimes being committed daily in the "Dungeon" are comparable to the horrendous war crimes committed by the Nazis against their victims in the concentration camps.

Today, the barbarous ruling class of America far surpasses the Nazis in Germany. They are making and implementing plans for the total extermination of Black people in America, and waging a genocidal war on the rest of the poor and oppressed in the world. We are not going to rid ourselves of the brutality and murder waged daily against the people of the world by the Nixon-Agnew-Mitchell-Hoover fascist clique, unless all people rise up and begin to wage revolutionary armed struggle within every oppressed community of the world. In essence, we must relate to the social and political ideology of inter-communalism so that all people of the world can no longer be manipulated along racial, cultural, and national lines by the fascists of America.



Toledo N.C.C.F.

1334 Dorr St.

Toledo, Ohio[23]

In stark contrast, The Byran Times presented the "disturbance" as an "attempt to free two Black Panthers." This revolt was "quelled" by the "authorities."[24] But the Panthers and McClellan were not demonized by the Black community, despite how the press sought to malign them. Indeed, in July of 1972 the Toledo NCCF held a "Community Day of Justice." Some "6,000 people, mostly Black, attended Community Day for Justice to show support for Comrade John McClellan." The John McClellan Free Food Program distributed "1,000 free full bags of groceries (with a chicken in every bag)" and over 1,000 Sickle Cell Anemia tests were given. A "massive number" of people were registered to vote. When the bags of food arrived, "everyone felt as one beautiful, Black sister did: 'Lord knows, those Panthers are really going to do it'." [25]

Campus Activism from the Black Student Union to Students for Justice in Palestine

As the Black Panthers were organizing on Door Street, just a mile or so west students were organizing around a variety of issues on the "Toledo University" (now University of Toledo) campus. Both the Black Student Union as well as the Students for a Democratic Society became politically active at the college. Toledo's SDS, while small, ruffled a lot of feathers on campus and were even the target of extensive FBI surveillance. Recently declassified documents reveal their tactics were extremely dirty. One COINTELPRO operative, Gene Foder, recalled how he "would attend an organization's meeting and wait for speakers to denounce law enforcement, as they often did. Then, with a burst of apparent outrage, he would rise and point out his fellow undercover officers. The groups would kick out those officers and often welcome Mr. Fodor into their ranks, grateful for his watchful eye and unaware that he too was a part of the system they opposed."[26] The BSU, for its part, was also quite militant. At one point it occupied University Hall, the iconic building on campus,[27] in the aftermath of the the Jackson State shooting:

At 6:00 a.m. on Monday May 18, Black students blocked the entrances to University Hall for five hours. A crowd of about 2,000 gathered when they could not get into the building to attend classes, some angry and some supportive of the BSU. Their demands, very similar to those of Black students at San Francisco State College and Cornell, were as follows: "$200,000 for a Black studies programs, manned and directed by Blacks; the hiring of a full time coordinator of Black studies; first priority placed on hiring of Black professors in each department; a Black student enrollment commensurate with the population of Blacks in the City of Toledo; a minimum of three Black graduate students in every department" ("The Declaration," 1970, May 18). These demands arose after the BSU perceived that the UT administration did not respond to the deaths at Jackson State.[28]

The BSU continued this confident, militant approach throughout the 1980s. In 1985, at the age of 43 years old, co-founder of the Black Panther Party Huey P. Newton broke ten years of silence by addressing a crowd at the University of Toledo. He had been invited by the University of Toledo Black Student Union (BSU), which was in the midst of its struggle to get the University of Toledo to divest from its holdings in apartheid South Africa. He told the audience he had "thought BSUs had gone the way of my organization of SNCC," but instead that explained that the BSUs represented a "structure to start to build a national organization freedom." He maintained that students in general, and black students in particular, were becoming politically conscious largely through the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.[29] The BSU also brought former Black Panther, Communist Party leader, and prison scholar Angela Davis to campus. She, like Newton, engaged the issue of the divestment movement on campus: "I hear that there is a pretty strong divestment movement on this campus… Well, I think that you should keep on pushing for full and immediate divestment." [30]

The BSU at UT in the 1980s was at the forefront of radical student politics with leaders like Mansour Bey who not only brought figures like Newton and Davis to Toledo, but militantly challenged the administration on issues like divestment from South Africa, even in the face of intimidation. [31] Throughout 1984 and 1985 the BSU brought anti-apartheid activists and native South Africans to campus to raise awareness and in June 1985 circulated a divestment petition. In October 1985 the BSU organized a march with over 100. Chants like "Long Live the African National Congress!" and signs such as "Apartheid is dead… may it rest in hell" characterized the march. [32] When protests alone did not accomplish their goals, the BSU erected mock shanties in protest, calling for total divestment. As The Blade reported at the time, the student action "placed TU [UT] on the crest of the biggest wave of protests on college campuses since the Vietnam War."[33] The shanty they erected was not removed until Mansour Bey, president of the BSU at the time, had secured a meeting with UT's president James McComas, who explained that UT would make its position on divestment public in three weeks.

Throughout this entire process the university administration harassed and threatened BSU leaders. As one statement explains, on the same day that they finally received a telephone call from the president in July of 1985, another call "came into the Black Student Union to tell us that campus security was investigating the records" of BSU leaders, including president Anthony Muharib and vice-president Mansour Bey. Then, Chief of Campus security Frank Pizzulo confronted Mansour Bey about some "old bench warrants" on the activists, which they claimed may "prove embarrassing if we, as student leaders were to be arrested." The BSU's July 31, 1985 remained defiant, however:

What we are concerned with here today is the double standard that prompted today's press conference [regarding divestment]. On the one hand, James [McComas] establishes a committee to study U.T.'s investments in South Africa, while on the underhand, the U.T. Security Forces launches an investigation and surveillance of those campus activists who have led the campaign to raise the political and moral consciousness of U.T.'s students and faculty… We are also very concerned with the overall implications of these police tactics which remind us of the very oppressive and inhumanitarian policies of the South African government which we are protesting against. Why these police tactics? Are they intended to intimdate all students into backing away from getting involved in controversial and unpopular issues? If so, it is not working! Therefore, we are today calling upon the support of the progressive elements of the Toledo community to stand with the Black Student Union in solidarity for our right as students and citizens of the United States to express our constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech. And furthermore, that we be permitted to continue our campaign to educate and motivate this campus to speak out on the evils and injust practices of the Botha regime in South Africa. Finally, we demand that the university's campus police forces cease and desist their harassment, investigations, and surveillance of U.T. students.[34]

In the end the University of Toledo convened an ad hoc South African Investments Study Committee that eventually called for divestment from South African apartheid. By August 1989, on the midnight hour of the apartheid regime, UT and two related private organizations completed their divestment from South Africa, totaling some $4.7 million in investments.[35]

Today the BSU is a far cry from the militant organization of the 1980s. Instead, some of the BSU's responses to the rampant murder of young black men has been paltry, acquiescent, and cowardly, not to mention their refusal to challenge US imperialism and militarism. [36] Part of this stems from the social composition of the current Black Student Union. In 2014 the BSU president refused to sign on to a statement linking the #BlackLivesMatter movement with Israel's summer assault on Gaza. The president of the BSU cited that with four of seven of their executive board members serving in armed forces via the University of Toledo's ROTC program, the BSU could not critique US policies. UT itself has recently been "recognized as a top school for military education,"[37] with one of the categories of qualification being "military culture," as can be obscenely witnessed by the disproportionate amount of students roaming the campus in their fatigues and the various training and combat simulation drills that regularly occur on campus grounds.

The BSU is not alone in this transformation from radicalism to acquiescence, however. The Latino Student Union, with radical Mexican-American working class roots, has largely devolved into a social organization that occasionally parrots US propaganda against radical states in Latin America. In 2014, for instance, the LSU become the marionette of a small but influential group of Venezuelan expats at the University of Toledo when they willingly spread vicious lies against the Venezuelan state.[38] The malicious campaign of propaganda continued in 2015, with one prominent Venezuelan student calling for US sanctions against her own country in an effort to oust Nicolas Maduro, the inheritor of Hugo Chavez's legacy, and the radical PSUV.[39] To combat this a collective of students interested in challenging the narrative of the powerful and privileged Venezuelan elites came together to form the University of Toledo Friends of Venezuela Society. Their first public statement called for "Hands off Venezuela, no to sanctions":

Aside from the delusions of wealthy Venezuelan expatriates in Toledo and other U.S. cities, there is nothing the Venezuelan government has done that warrants sanctions. The primary reason they want to apply sanctions is because Chavez, Maduro, and the PSUV have threatened both the cupidity of the ruling class in Venezuela and challenged US hegemony in the region. As scholar George Ciccariello-Maher has argued in Jacobin magazine, "While the Venezuelan opposition in Venezuela is almost as delusional as the Venezuelan self-exiles in Miami [or Toledo], there's one big difference: opposition leaders on the ground have to live with the consequences of their catastrophic decisions… [Thus] while radical right-wingers in Florida [or Ohio] may be celebrating the sanctions, it would be suicidal for the opposition in Venezuela to do the same. They would simply prove what Chavistas already believe: that they are treasonous lapdogs of imperial power."

Indeed, students at UT and people of conscience should not fall for the narrative espoused by "treasonous lapdogs of imperial power." It is imperative, now more than ever, that progressive forces here in the US and around the world stand up and say "No to Sanctions!" and "Hands Off Venezuela!" Within just over a week four million Venezuelans signed a petition condemning sanctions against their country. We ought to listen to the millions of urban workers and campesinos, not the spawn of the elite here at UT.

Perhaps the most important political development on UT's campus in the past few years, however, has been the advent and augmentation of the Palestine solidarity movement. Inspired by the upsurge in Palestine solidarity organizing around the country, a group of students came together to form Toledo's first organization dedicated to Palestinian solidarity in the summer of 2011. After four years of organization, education, and agitation on the issue, UT Students for Justice in Palestine led one of the most high profile divestment campaigns in the country. Calling on UT to divest from corporations that profited from the occupation of Palestine, UTSJP spearheaded an initiative modeled on the BSU's successful anti-apartheid divestment initiative. [40] In September, 2014 UTSJP paired with UT's Student African American Brotherhood to celebrate the resistance to police violence in Ferguson and the resistance to Israeli occupation in Gaza. Furthermore, they called "for the immediate end to police militarization and violence aimed at black communities in the U.S. and an immediate cessation of the $3 billion provided to Israel annually by our government to oppress the Palestinian people."[41]

By early 2015 UTSJP had pushed divestment to the forefront of campus life. In what was called "the craziest stories we've ever reported" by prominent commentator Phillip Weiss, the UT administration and Student Government originally colluded to shut down the UT Divest movement in a kangaroo court that ruled divestment "unconstitutional."[42] After a massive campaign led by a strong coalition of student groups at UT and solidarity organizations from around the country, the Student Government was eventually forced to reverse its position and voted 21 to 4 in favor of divestment on March 3, 2015.[43] Just over a month later, in late April, UT Divest won a major victory in the form of a student-wide referendum in which 57.13% of students voted to divest. Despite all of this, the university has refused to divest against the will of a majority of its students. As UTSJP's post-referendum victory letter explains, however, the struggle continues:

We do not believe divestment is "contentious" or "incredibly difficult." Society's intolerable injustices do not require the search for a full consensus on what perfect justice looks like. We support divestment because we believe in human rights and international law. We believe UT should strive to actually implement its ethical and moral commitments, and adhere to its own mission statement of "improving the human condition." The majority of UT students agree with us. #UTDivest has created a movement on campus, a movement so resilient that it will continue to grow, to learn, to evolve, and to win. We will continue to work with and organize alongside all organizations that support social justice, and will struggle to ensure that UT is a place where human life is more important than profit. Consciousness has been raised, bodies have been moved, hearts and minds have been won. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. #UTDivest will continue to move forward in the struggle for justice. [44]

The 2005 Toledo Rebellion and #BlackLivesMatter

One of the moments Toledo captured national media attention was in 2005 when a small group of neo-Nazis from outside of Toledo came to the city, ostensibly protest "crime." The neo-Nazis successfully utilized the state security apparatus to protect and shield themselves from mass popular resentment, invoking first amendment rights in order to acquire police protection. Hundreds of antiracists forced the city to cancel the attempted march by the neo-Nazi group, called the "National Socialist Movement," through a mostly black neighborhood in North Toledo. Instead, hundreds of residents faced off with 15 Nazis standing in "formation" on the lawn of Woodward High School. After escorting the neo-Nazis away from the anti-racist demonstration, riot police clashed with local residents angry over the neo-Nazi presence and the police protection provided by the city of Toledo. These clashes made national headlines. The city spent over $100,000 protecting the Nazis in 2005. As one local community activist, Washington Muhammad, explained at the time: "Everybody else does without a police escort. The Nazis should have had a banner behind them that said, 'Sponsored by the City of Toledo.'" [45] Anger spilled over into a small uprising, with some shops and local establishments being broken into and looted. Many of the black youth who clashed with police were arrested and sentenced, some for prison terms. In all some 114 protesters were arrested, with charges ranging from "assault, vandalism, failure to obey police, failure to disperse and overnight curfew violations." [46] The neo-Nazis were not only protected by the city of Toledo, they were successful in using the repressive apparatus of the state to arrest and then imprison black youth.

A decade later, on the tenth anniversary of their original visit, the same neo-Nazi organization, this time with a few more members, decided to attempt the same routine as before. This time, however, the city of Toledo confined them to a small section of downtown Toledo, and all of the surrounding blocks were shut down. Hundreds of on-duty, over-time, and volunteer police officers protected the small group of neo-Nazis. A highly militarized riot squad had dozens of police, some armed with assault rifles. These riot police were paired with hundreds of regular police officers. Armored vehicles were present, as well as an elaborate identification system that required facial photographs of any individual entering the area near the neo-Nazis. Although no clashes took place this time, largely due to the efforts of local organizers who held a well-attended Black Lives Matter Day in a separate location, the city of Toledo spent some $76,000 in overtime pay to protect the Nazis.[47]

Thus, the tactics of the neo-Nazi groups who came to Toledo suggest that these small extremist organizations make full use of the resources of the repressive state apparatus. The tentacles of the state not only shield the racists from popular anger, they are also used, as in 2005, to assault targeted populations and further the strategic goals of the neo-Nazis. Thus, as one local organizer proclaimed after the 2015 visit, there were around 300 fascists in Toledo that day; only 25 of them were neo-Nazis.

It is not coincidental that both visits by the Nazis were preceded by events in which the Toledo Police Department were involved in the deaths of black men. In February of 2005 TPD had electrocuted 41-year-old Jeffery Turner to death after shocking him nine times with a taser. His crime had been "loitering" near the Art Museum. Two years later a judge promptly dismissed the lawsuit his family brought against the TPD. [48] In March, 2015 34 year-old Aaron Pope died under police custody. Karen Madden, Pope's mother, explained that the police did not call for an ambulance and used excessive force against Pope. "I want justice. This has gone on too long," she exclaimed, her words not unlike those of the many mothers who have lost their sons to police violence.[49] The TPD is not alone in exercising immense state violence against black bodies. In Ohio alone many high-profile murders of black men and boys have occurred including John Crawford in Beavercreek, 12 year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati, among others. The first two had been holding toy guns, the later was stopped in traffic for not having a front license plate. All were murdered in "unprovoked attack by racist pigs," to harp back to the language of the Toledo Panthers. In the United States a black person is murdered every 28 hours by police. By early June some 500 people had been killed by police in 2015 alone, nearly 30% of them black.[50] In response a collective of Toledo residents and long-standing community activists have formed the Community Solidarity Response Network. CSRN has been on the forefront of challenging police violence against black communities in Toledo.


In summation, then, Toledo is not without its radicalism. Toledo has been the site of social, economic, and political struggle for decades. From the Auto-Lite Strike to #BlackLivesMatter, the Palestine Solidarity movement to the Black Panthers, those of us residing in Toledo have a prodigious amount of inspiration to draw from. Toledo is represents more than just social isolation and neoliberal deindustrialization. Toledo is also the Polish, Hungarian, and Italian immigrant workers who led the Auto-Lite strike, the Black prisoners and "lumpen-proletariat" that formed the Black Panthers and fought back against state repression, the activists who stood alongside their South African counterparts to end apartheid in South Africa, the Palestinian students in the diaspora who fight Israel's occupation. It is them and so much more. As the great Marxist historian and professor at the University of Toledo proclaimed in his final speech at UT: "We have the World to gain, the Earth to recuperate."[51] We in Toledo have always been and must continue to be part of the struggle to recuperate the Earth.





[4] See Zeitlow and Pope, 843.

[5] University of Toledo, College of Law.




[9] See Zeitlow and Pope, 846-7.

[10] On the divide between the Musteites and the Communists, and the role of radical workers in the strike, see Roger Keeren, The Communist Party and the Auto Workers Unions.


[12] For more on the Auto-Lite Strike and other struggles during the period, see Irving Bernstein, Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941.

[13] See Zeitlow and Pope, 854.

[14] Patrick Dyer,




[18] The Times - Sep. 18, 1970,,3714699

[19] The Times - Sep. 18, 1970,,3714699

[20] The Bryan Times - Dec 9, 1970

[21] The Times - Sep. 18, 1970,,3714699



[24] The Bryan Times - Dec 9, 1970 -,4165846



[27] For more on University Hall from one of Toledo's most radical professors, see Peter Linebaugh,

[28] For more on unrest at UT in the 1965-72 period, see Matthew J. Deters, Preventing Violent Unrest: Student Protest at the University of Toledo, 1965-1972. MA Thesis, University of Toledo.

[29] Newspaper clipping, "Newton Ends 10-Year Silence With Talk at TU," Canaday Center, University of Toledo.

[30] Newspaper clipping, John Nichols, Toledo Blade, Canaday Center, University of Toledo.

[31] Add in BSU Statement here.

[32] Newspaper clipping, "Over 100 protestors march against apartheid," The Collegian.

[33] Newspaper clipping, Tanber, "TU Students Erect Shanty in Protest of Apartheid, Ask Total Divestitute," The Blade.

[34] Press Statement, Black Student Union, July 31 1985. Canaday Center.

[35] Newspaper clipping, "UT, 2 groups divest holdings in South Africa," The Blade.

[36] It should be noted that this may be shifting in the 2015-6 academic year, as the BSU is under a new leadership that appears more willing to confront this issue head-on.




[40] For a resevior of video, statements, etc. on #UTDivest, see