LIMA — February marks Black History Month in the United States, but area black leaders remind us there are historic figures still doing good work in the region.
This week, The Lima News profiles five of those inspirational community leaders, Frank Lamar, Ann Miles, Chris Jackson, Beverly McCoy and the Rev. Bob Horton. Today we look at Frank Lamar.
Frank Lamar has been a busy man. After working at Ford Motor Co. Lima Engine Plant for 40 years, he decided his work in the community wasn’t done.
He was a Perry Township trustee for 12 years after his retirement at Ford and served on numerous community boards, including the Lima Allen Council on Community Affairs and the board of Baton Rouge.
“I’ve always been doing something. I can’t just sit and do nothing,” Lamar said. “And I really enjoy it.”
But starting from the beginning, Lamar knew he was meant for more than the hand he was dealt. Growing up in Selma, Ala., he graduated in 1950 from high school. He came from a poor family and he wanted to make a living for himself, so he and three of his friends migrated to Hartford, Conn., to work on a tobacco farm. But Lamar knew his destiny wasn’t in Connecticut. It was in Lima.
“To make a long story short, it took me three days to get from Connecticut to Lima,” Lamar said. “And I’ll never forget, when I was entering Lima on [state Route] 117, I saw that big flame. I was coming from the east and I saw that big flame, the refinery. Something I’ll never forget.”
After arriving in Lima, he took a job at St. Rita’s Medical Center washing dishes for a year. But 1957 was a good year for him.
“That’s when my luck struck. Ford Motor Co. was coming to town. I started on the assembly line there,” Lamar said.
From the assembly line, he began working with the union. In 1980, Ford began what they called its “team concept” and he was put in the position of representing the United Auto Workers union within the company, something he said he really enjoyed. He stayed in that position until his retirement.
While in that position at Ford, he looked to Furl Williams as a role model, a man who also worked as a UAW international representative and paved the way for racial equality in Lima.
“He’s the one who told me to get involved in activities in your community and if you see things that you don’t agree with, then try to change them,” Lamar said. “And that’s what I try to do.”
So he decided to get involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter in Lima to try to make a difference for minorities in Lima. But what he didn’t expect was a phone call from Detroit, the caller telling him he’d been nominated for president of the Lima chapter. Of course, he had to accept.
Through the years, Lamar has seen the city change. Some changes for the better, some not. But regardless, he’s been a part of those changes.
“The community changed somewhat because it had no choice but to change,” Lamar said. “I don’t think there have been enough changes for minorities and blacks. I’m not putting the blame on anyone. Obviously there’s some discrimination in jobs and still is.”
That discrimination, Lamar is all too familiar with. As president of the NAACP, he knew there were a lot of things needed to be done for minorities for equal hiring. So naturally, he reached out to many businesses and manufacturers, letting them know if they needed contacts for hiring minorities, to call him. Including his own company, Ford.
“They wouldn’t hire females. They’d hire them in the front office, but not on the assembly line. That was one hurdle we needed to get over. There was a big expansion coming at that time. We knew there would be a lot of people coming to this plant because they had a new line coming,” Lamar said. “And I knew the guy really well, and I told him that was discrimination. He said, ‘Unless someone higher up tells me to hire females, I’m not going to do it.’”
That didn’t sit well with Lamar. He told the human resources manager he would have to help these women file lawsuits against the company, despite his employment there. Not even a month later, the man told him they would be considering female applicants, Lamar said, smiling ear-to-ear.
That wasn’t the only discrimination situation Lamar encountered as NAACP president. The Honda plant in Anna refused to hire employees from Lima or Allen County, he said. So he got into contact with the leaders there, who referred him to its headquarters in Marysville.
He met with them, coming back from a conference in Indianapolis specifically for the meeting, and was straight with them. After that, he said, he got a letter in the mail. The letter said the plant would now be accepting applications from Allen County, but not making a public announcement of such. A small victory for Lamar.
“About two weeks later, I got the letter. I was proud of that,” Lamar said, smiling. “I didn’t go around publicizing it. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and that’s what I wanted to do. And there’s all kinds of people — black, white, Hispanic, all minorities — may not know who opened that up for them. It was the Lima NAACP.”
And after all that, Lamar was looking forward to a relaxing retirement, until one day, a little woman from down the street knocked on his door, telling him he should run for Perry Township school board. He declined, sending her away. But not even a few years later, she came again, this time, telling him to run for Perry Township trustee.
“This time, she didn’t take no for an answer,” he said, laughing. “She said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll circulate your petition and get those signatures.’ And she did and she fought for me.”
He was elected the first time he ran. As a trustee, he served three four-year terms, where he enjoyed managing the township.
Lamar still lives in Perry Township with his wife. He still serves on boards and volunteers in his free time and he finally gets to relax every once in a while.