A relative of Gloria Matlock who migrated to Ohio from the South. Submitted photo

Documentary shows legacy of racism, still felt in McElrath and Skeels

A recent film revealing the firsthand experiences of Black people who faced racism, segregation and poverty in the McElrath and Skeels neighborhoods of Ravenna during the 20th century will be screened in Kent this week.

Gloria Matlock

The Kent United Methodist Church is featuring a free screening of Gloria Matlock’s documentary film, “Just Another Mile,” at Pierson Hall on Tuesday, April 16, at 7 p.m. The film will be followed by a discussion with Matlock. Donations are accepted.

The McElrath allotment was established in 1920 in north Ravenna, and the Skeels allotment was established in south Ravenna in the early 1950s.

Matlock moved to the McElrath allotment from Cleveland with her family in the early 1960s. She was 5 years old at the time. Her father had heard about an employment opportunity and cheap land in Ravenna and decided to relocate.

Matlock’s family was one of many Black families who uprooted and moved to Ravenna for a better life, but that’s not what they found.

“Everyone wanted to make a better life, and that’s why they were moving out there,” Matlock said. “They thought they were going to a [better] place, but when they got there it probably wasn’t at all what they expected. They moved because they were promised jobs, they were going to make a factory there, and all this, and none of it ever happened.”

Her father eventually built a small house, but the family was still without a sewer and only had a potbelly stove for heating.

Much of the McElrath neighborhood was wetlands at the time and the roads weren’t paved, which made transportation challenging for inhabitants of the community. Matlock remembers many of the houses in the allotments being nothing more than shacks that had no utilities of any kind, such as electricity, gas, or sewer.

The Kent Interfaith Alliance for Racial Reconciliation and Justice (KIFA) is sponsoring the screening. KIFA representative Mary Warlop remembers what the McElrath and Skeels allotments in the ‘70s were like.

“I remember as a grad student in the early ‘70s, I volunteered, and went there and did some tutoring with children,” Warlop said. “There were no roads, there was no water, and the people who lived in that community had to teach themselves how to live, how to have necessities, how to get water, how to feed their children. It was a very strong, resilient community.”

It wasn’t until Matlock moved away from Ravenna in her adult life that she decided she wanted to make a documentary about growing up in McElrath in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

She began searching for information about the McElrath and Skeels neighborhoods at the Ravenna Library, but it wasn’t until she started rummaging through old newspapers at the Ravenna Historical Society that she found some information that she could use to support her documentary.

“I started finding articles about McElrath park,” Matlock said. “It was sad and disgusting, depicting the people as your basic savage. I was like, wow. This was interesting, and this does not tell the real story of who we are, and it sounds really bad.”

She then located some octogenarians from the McElrath and Skeels neighborhoods who went on film to explain what life was like for them.

“You lose your right to vote,” she said. “You’re stripped of your dignity, and you are labeled inferior. You were controlled and denied a fair education, and deprived from decent housing. It’s humiliating. You were hungry, oppressed, a victim of cruel physical violence, imprisoned for being in love. These are the things that people still feel.”

The film has only been shown publicly a handful of times since its unofficial release in 2018.

Jeremy Brown
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