This is an older article on the Ohio county that was recently awarded an $11 million settlement which made me realize just how current the disparities in treatment of different races is in these modern times...And Ohio is a swing state too?
Ohio Town's Water at Last Runs Past a Color Line
ANESVILLE, Ohio — In January, a strange thing happened when people along Coal Run Road turned on their taps. Drinking water came out. Not the sulfur-tinged, bug-infested stuff that collected in their cisterns or swirled in their wells. Cool, clean, straight-from-the-pumping-station city water.
For most of their lives, residents of this tiny hollow on the edge of town lived a bit like frontiersmen, keeping drinking water in jugs, collecting rainwater in barrels, even occasionally melting snow from their yards, all because they did not have city water service.
"I never thought I'd live to see it," said Helen McCuen, an 89-year-old widow who has lived in the hollow for 57 years.
The story of how they got that water, and were for years denied it, seems anachronistic in 21st-century America. But it speaks volumes, the residents contend, about disparities in living standards that are related to the color of one's skin.
For years, decades really, residents of the hollow had been asking local officials to extend water lines down their narrow, twisting roads. Not enough water pressure, they were told. Too expensive. Too hilly.
Yet just up the hill, not 200 yards away, homeowners have had running municipal water for years. One new homeowner even installed a hot tub and routinely sprinkled his lawn, something residents of the hollow could never do with their 1,000-gallon cisterns, which were constantly running dry.
Almost all the people living at the top of the hill are white. Almost all the people in the hollow are racially mixed: white, black and American Indian. And it increasingly seemed to residents of the hollow that this had something to do with their plight.
"The water stopped where the black folks started," said Saundra McCuen, 49, one of Helen McCuen's seven children. "I don't want to use the race thing, but what else could it be?"
In 2002, two dozen residents filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, asserting that they had been denied water service because of racial discrimination. Last summer, the commission agreed.
The commission found that on Coal Run Road, none of the 17 black or mixed-race homes had city water service, while two white homes did. On nearby Langan Lane, all of the 18 white homes on top of the hill had city water, while five of the eight black or mixed-race homes in the hollow did not. (The other three families had connected to the municipal lines by themselves.)
The commission concluded there was probable cause to believe that the city, county and local water authority had "failed to provide the complainants with access to public water service because of their race."
One month after the report was released, Muskingum County announced it had found enough money to issue a $730,000 contract to extend water lines into the hollow. (Officials had used a much higher estimate — $2 million — when they told hollow residents a few years ago that it was too expensive to connect them to the water system, residents said.)
Government officials say race had nothing to do with the lack of water service in the hollow. But they have also begun blaming one another.
City officials contend that a now-defunct water authority removed the hollow from its service area many years ago, leaving responsibility for water to the city. But Zanesville, a city of 28,000 people, decided it could not extend lines into the hollow because it lies just outside the city limits, said Scott Hillis, the city's law director. The city assumed that the county would provide the water.
But Muskingum County officials contend they did not become aware of the hollow's situation until two years ago. (Zanesville officials said they told the county of the hollow's requests at least eight years ago.)
County officials also contend they have not had enough money to meet the county's needs, since about half of its residents — most of whom live in remote rural areas — do not have running water.
"As far as I'm concerned the suit is ludicrous," said Dorothy Montgomery, a Muskingum County commissioner. "There is nothing done by the commissioners that is based on black or white."
Zanesville, 60 miles east of Columbus, was founded 200 years ago as a way station for migrants moving from Virginia to Kentucky. It became famous for its clay pottery and Y-shaped concrete bridge over the Muskingum and Licking Rivers, but fell on hard times after World War II as many of its kilns and mills closed.
Before the Civil War, the underground railroad ran through the city. But city businesses remained segregated until the late 1950's, residents said. And the Ku Klux Klan has been active for decades, holding small rallies in the region as recently as the late 1990's.
The denial of water service "wasn't in-your-face racism," said Vincent Curry, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates Association, a group based in Akron that helped the residents file their complaint. "This was more, `We won't respond to you because we don't care about you.' "
Until January, Helen McCuen paid a "water man" to fill a cistern buried in her front yard twice a month. And until the 1980's, when she finally bought an electric pump, she and her children used a hand pump and pail to bring water into the house. Drinking water was bought by the jug. And if supplies ran low, the family rationed baths and caught rain in barrels.
"I didn't think I could get used to drinking water out of the tap," Ms. McCuen said, sitting in her cozy living room surrounded by photographs of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "But I did."
For Jerry Kennedy, 54, the indignity of hauling water struck home a few years ago when he offered a friend a cup of coffee. His cistern was empty, so he opened the door and walked into the winter air to gather snow.
"What are you doing?" his friend asked.
"Getting water for your coffee," he replied.
She was stunned, he said, to learn that he did not have water service.
A few residents drilled wells for drinking water. But most local wells have been polluted by iron and sulfur runoff from abandoned mines that turns the water red and makes it smell like rotten eggs in the summer.
John P. Relman, a lawyer in Washington representing residents of the hollow, said they spent 5 or 10 times as much as other people in the area for water because they had to buy or haul it themselves. Mr. Relman has filed suit for the homeowners, seeking compensation from local authorities for those higher costs.
"They stereotyped us as poor, uneducated black folks who didn't have enough sense to ask for water," said Cynthia Hairston, a nurse who grew up along Coal Run Road, left for two decades and then returned with her husband three years ago. "And then we did. And they said: `Where did they come from? We thought we had pushed them back into the corner.' "