President Clinton is visiting this week to lead a town hall meeting on racial harmony in a city where residents admit black-white relations are far from perfect.
Despite progress, mixing between whites and blacks in Akron, an industrial city of 220,000, is somewhat limited and people speak of lingering stereotypes.
“We can work together,” said Fannie Brown, executive director of Coming Together, the backbone of Akron’s anti-racism effort. “Hearts are changed one at a time.”
Clinton will come to the University of Akron on Wednesday to lead a 90-minute meeting on young people’s attitudes toward race.
In part, the city was chosen for its Midwestern values and programs to promote racial harmony. The blue-collar town, where the rubber industry served as a draw for Southern blacks and Eastern Europeans, is 73 percent white and 24.5 percent black.
It’s also friendly political turf. Sixty percent of voters in this labor union stronghold went for Clinton in 1996.
The White House also was impressed by Coming Together, which gets more than 5,000 people involved each year in activities that promote tolerance.
Members of the black Mt. Zion Baptist Church and the suburban white Bath United Church of Christ have a joint garden club, have attended gospel music festivals together and have occasional potluck dinners.
“I’ve been able to deal with my racist attitudes - we all have racist attitudes, whether we’re black or white,” said the Rev. Luther Charles Cooper, pastor of Mt. Zion.