Valley’s hidden history revealed
What started as research on the Spanish Flu from a century ago became author Sean Posey’s third book focusing on local history.
“Hidden History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley” (Arcadia Publishing) follows 2016’s “Lost Youngstown” and 2017’s “Historic Theaters of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley” by Posey, 44, who lives in Canfield.
“The idea was to try to tell people some things they didn’t know, the hidden history,” he said. “The Spanish Flu was a good place to start because no one alive remembers it and there are a lot of parallels (with COVID-19),” he said.
Two other inspirations for Posey’s research were the work of cultural anthropologist Peter Turchin and the 2018 Oscar-winning film “Green Book.”
Turchin refers to the second decade of the 20th century as the “violent 1910s.” Posey said, and while most folks alive today only know of World War I, it was a decade defined by labor struggles.
“Two very important strikes tied the Warren-Youngstown area into the national history of what was going on at the time — the East Youngstown strike of 1916 and the Great Steel Strike of 1919, which involved the entire Mahoning Valley,” Posey said.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” that inspired the Mahershala Ali-Viggo Mortensen film was a guide published from 1936 until 1966 that informed travelers of the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that would serve African-American travelers at a time when segregation and racism were practiced openly.
“I knew about the Green Book already,” Posey said. “I’d written a chapter in ‘Lost Youngstown’ about the Monkey’s Nest neighborhood and some of the Green Book businesses there. When the movie came out, I happened to get lucky and found some people who could point me in different directions. I talked to the grandson of the gentleman who built (the Allison Hotel in Youngstown) and he talked about meeting everyone from Stevie Wonder to Wilson Pickett at this small black-owned hotel.
“I was surprised how many businesses there were. Around 1950 there were just as many listings for Youngstown as Cleveland. Youngstown had a vibrant black business community and six, seven, eight hotels in Youngstown … As far as I can tell, this is one of the few regional histories of the Green Book travel guide and why it was needed.”
The book is illustrated with historic photos accompanying the different tales the book uncovers, but Posey said his research on the project was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic because some of the libraries and historical archives were closed to the public during the outbreak.
Posey was born in Youngstown, but his family moved to the Akron-Canton area when he was 5. His father told him some stories about the region when he was growing up, but his interest in the Valley’s history did not really start until he moved back to the area and earned his master’s degree in history from Youngstown State University.
“I realized this area is a microcosm of so many trends in American history — civil rights, labor unions, organized crime,” he said.
Posey will talk about the book at noon Feb. 17 at the Tyler History Center in Youngstown as part of its Bites and Bits of History lecture series. He also will speak to the Hubbard Historical Society at 6:30 p.m. March 3.
The book just came out last month, but early response indicates he was successful in uncovering some hidden tales.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I thought I knew everything there was to know and I didn’t know anything about some of these chapters.’ That’s good to hear.”
If you go …
Author Sean Posey will talk about some of the stories in his book, “Hidden History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley” as part of the Bites and Bits of History lecture series at the Tyler History Center, 325 W. Federal St., Youngstown, at noon Feb. 17. Admission is free.