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Trotwood author champions a black education pioneer

Gladys Turner Finney does her research with a purpose.


Trotwood resident Gladys Turner Finney weaves family research into historical context in her books, and her latest pulls together her Arkansas educational experience with Ohio and post Civil War history.

Finney’s new book is “Joseph Carter Corbin: Educator Extraordinaire and Founder of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.”

“I came to Dayton in 1959 as a social worker at the Veterans’ Administration,” said the 81-year-old. She met her late husband Frederick here.

“I wrote professional pieces, articles for newsletters and for the African-American Genealogy Group of the Miami Valley (AAGGMV) during my 40-year career — but after I retired, I had plenty of time to look at areas I really liked.”

Her first book combined a hobby with family and history. ”I collect postage stamps that feature African-Americans, and my father’s stepfather, Papa Babe, was one of my favorite people, although he didn’t collect stamps.” Nevertheless Finney put him in the book, “Papa Babe’s Stamp Collection,” published in 1983.

Her husband, a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base analyst, had written about the history of the migration of African-Americans to Dayton and the evolution of Dayton’s Model Cities Program.

“He was Model Cities’ evaluation director,” she said. Frederick passed away in 2008, before he’d completed the book “Call to the Land of Promise,” so Finney edited and had it published.

A charter member of AAGGMV, founded in 1999, Finney had written many articles for the group, and “that’s how I learned to do research and genealogy,” she said.

“In 2007, I decided to research an article on Joseph Carter Corbin, founder of my land grant university, who I’d discovered was from Ohio. Had it not been for an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) and Joseph Carter Corbin, I would not have had an opportunity for a college education.”

Finney, a native of Tamo, Ark., was in the last graduating class of J.C. Corbin High School, the “laboratory high school” on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and went on to get her degree at the university. “Back when it was founded as Branch Normal College, the high school was where education majors could practice,” she said.

Although Corbin is considered the father of higher education for African-Americans in Arkansas, he was originally from Chillicothe, Ohio, and was the second African-American to graduate from Ohio University in Athens.

“He graduated in 1850, then went on to earn two masters’ degrees from OU. His family moved to Cincinnati, where he became a member of the Colored School Board.

“During Reconstruction, he went to Arkansas, ran for superintendent of public education and won. He laid the foundation for former slaves in secondary education with the high school and, later, the college, working there for 27 years.”

Finney set a goal to elevate Corbin’s legacy. She said, “Friends took me to Athens to get the support of OU’s president, and on June 28 an Ohio historical marker will be dedicated on the OU campus in Chillicothe.” In addition, she started an OU scholarship in Corbin’s name.

She discovered he was buried with family in the Waldheim section of Forest Home, an historic Chicago cemetery — but without headstones — and started fundraising.

“On Memorial Day in 2013, I was able to go to the dedication of the headstones,” said Finney. “Chicago Mayor Anthony Calderone presented a resolution, and Forest Home has put Corbin on its distinguished tour.

“So many people have come on board to lift up his legacy and support my mission. I’m so happy.”

But Finney won’t be satisfied until Corbin is featured on a U.S. postage stamp and added to her collection: “I’ve been sending in petitions since 2009, and it will eventually happen.”

The book, published this year by Butler Center Books in Little Rock, is sold at her alma mater’s museum, where she’ll sign books during homecoming week.

Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.



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