LIMA — For the Rev. E. Dorsey Broyles, there was only one way to go. Informed a member of the Lima-Allen County Human Relations Commission had resigned in frustration over the “apathy and undersurface bigotry of a great percentage of our city,” Broyles, who headed the commission, declared the move “regretful” according to a story in the May 9, 1969, edition of The Lima News.
“If you are working for a cause,” Broyles added, “disappointment is involved but you keep moving toward the objective. Resigning from public life is not the answer.” Broyles only resigned from public life when forced by failing health.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the city’s racial divide was glaringly exposed, Broyles served his adopted hometown as head of the local chapter of the NAACP, as president of the Lima-Allen County Human Relations Commission and as the first black member of the Lima school board.
E. Dorsey Broyles was born in Holly Grove, Arkansas, on May 30, 1914, a time of blatant discrimination and casual racial violence in the South. His father, Elias, was a native of Monroe County, Mississippi, where, in 1889, a black man was lynched for “allegedly (trying) to enter a room where three white women were sitting,” according to a 2015 report by the Equal Justice Initiative. One Mississippi newspaper, the Winston Signal, ran the story of the lynching under the headline “Served Him Right,” noting in its Aug. 24, 1889, edition that the man was “quietly taken from his captors and hung.”
Elias and Queen Esther Broyles moved their family to Pontiac, Michigan, where Elias Broyles worked in a foundry. E. Dorsey Broyles was graduated from the University of Detroit and attended Great Lakes College of Detroit. He became an ordained minister in 1932. In 1951 he married Rowena Carnes and the couple had three children, with one son born to a previous marriage.
After serving as pastor of churches in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Pontiac and Detroit, Michigan, Broyles came to Lima in 1957 as the new pastor of Fourth Street Baptist Church, replacing longtime pastor the Rev. Leroy McGee who had died that year.
Although a long way from his southern birthplace, Broyles would find he had not outdistanced bigotry. Lima “reeks of discrimination like any other Northern city,” Dr. Ralph Latimer, the leader of a black history study group, told the News in November 1966. Unlike in the South, Latimer said discrimination in Lima was practiced “in a sneaky way.”
In March 1960, Lima City Council endorsed the formation of a human relations commission to combat the “sneaky” discrimination. “We are moving into an era of housing rehabilitation in the city. It’s a fact that Negroes cannot get financing unless they buy in certain areas. Since we are moving into this era, I think the committee will have a big job,” city Councilman Frank J. Klein told the Lima Citizen on March 22, 1960.
Broyles became an early member of the commission. In December 1959, he was elected president of the Lima Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Much of the human relations commission’s work was concerned with housing and employment discrimination, although it lacked power to do anything about it. When the group was formed in 1960, the Citizen wrote at the time, “It was emphasized the committee will have no punitive or enforcement powers, but will function as an educational group accomplishing its purposes through education and persuasion.”
Broyles stayed with the human relations commission through the 1960s, although the group remained powerless to do anything other than educate and persuade, and in 1968 was elected its chairman. He was more active in his role as a leader of the local NAACP.
In June 1963, Broyles and the NAACP staged a “freedom rally” to raise funds for the legal defense of persons arrested during civil rights protests in the South. “In a surprising announcement, Rev. Broyles revealed that murdered Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers had been invited to address the Lima rally,” the News reported June 17, 1963. “He had replied that ‘things are kind of busy in Mississippi right now, so I won’t be able to make it, but I appreciate your invitation.’” Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 12, 1963.
Two months later, Broyles joined 250,000 other people in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the Aug. 28, 1963, march, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before the Lincoln Memorial.
Speaking by telephone with the News while the march was still in progress, Broyles said, “I also have the impression this is not the end but the beginning of a sustained effort to secure freedom and jobs, perhaps an intensified effort on the local level. I don’t believe you can help on the national front unless you make progress on the local level.”
In 1965, the march was local. “Nearly 2,000 Negroes and whites staged a civil rights ‘march for freedom’ over a two-mile route along Lima’s South Main Street Sunday morning,” the News reported March 22, 1965. The march, from Fourth Street Baptist Church to the Public Square, was to protest the brutal treatment of civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. Broyles told the marchers that the American Negro had “stood for 100 years looking at his watch and finally has decided ‘it is much too late’ for a continuation of racial prejudices,” the News wrote.
A little more than three years later, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and many of the nation’s cities, including Lima, erupted in violence. Broyles, as was often the case during the racial unrest of the late 1960s, was a calming, persistent voice of hope. A “sniper’s bullet could not hush him,” Broyles declared at a tribute to King at the Lima Senior High School gymnasium on April 7, 1968, three days after King was killed. “We are close to the promised land,” Broyles declared.
In November 1971, with the human relations commission still in existence but inactive, Broyles ran for a seat on the Lima city school board. He finished fifth in a race for three open seats. Two years later he tried again and, on Nov. 6, 1973, became the first African-American elected to the Lima school board.
Broyles suffered a stroke in May 1975 and missed 10 months of school board meetings before returning in March 1976. He continued as pastor of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church until 1980. He died Feb. 1, 1986.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.