ELYRIA — Eddie Holoway struggled with his emotions as he talked about how the 2016 protests have affected 91-year-old Allyn W. Gibson.
“He was accused of being something that I know he’s not, and that’s a racist,” Holoway, who is black, said. “In my life, I have been a marginalized person, so I know what it feels like to be called something that you know you’re not. I could feel his pain. I knew where he was coming from.”
Holoway testified that he grew up in Oberlin and began working at Gibson’s Bakery when he was 11 years old, a job he continued working at through high school and while he attended a technical school. He later became an engineer with Boeing and moved to Washington, only to return to Oberlin nearly three decades later.
Holoway said he remembered helping his father with odd jobs for Gibson’s father and mother. He spoke of the two of them tearing down a chicken coop for the Gibsons and being invited into family’s home each day to each lunch with them, despite being covered in dirt and dust from working.
Thursday was the sixth day of the civil trial between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. Gibson’s sued the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students for the college, for libel, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass in 2017. The bakery also is suing the college for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.
Holoway also talked about the effect the aftermath of the 2016 protests have had on David Gibson, the son of Allyn W. Gibson and the co-owner of the bakery.
The alleged damage done to the bakery’s reputation and business have “had an adverse effect” on David Gibson, who has been all-consumed by the allegations against the bakery and the family, Holoway said.
The rift between the bakery and the college began in 2016 when a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store and the two got into a physical altercation.
Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.
Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black, and the incident became racially charged. All three students pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.
Allyn W. Gibson also took the witness stand Thursday and recounted some of the history of the family business, which was started by his grandparents in 1885. Allyn W. Gibson talked about how he had worked at the bakery as a child and how he saw his responsibilities increase there during World War II while he was in high school, due to employees being drafted to fight in the war.
While on the stand, Allyn W. Gibson also talked about the long-standing business relationship that Gibson’s Bakery had with Oberlin College, which dated back to before World War I. He also said his grandparents had been married by Charles Finney, who was the second president of Oberlin College.
Allyn W. Gibson also talked about the May 2017 incident at his apartment in which he fell and broke his neck, which is the reason he still wears a neck brace and is unable to live on his own anymore.
He said that after full day working at the bakery, which testimony has said he worked nearly every day at the bakery even in his late 80s, he went home and fell asleep in a recliner in front of his television.
“I turned on the television, but I didn’t even see it come into focus before I was out,” he said.
About 1 a.m., though, he was awakened by someone pounding on the windows of his apartment. He got up and shouted to tell whoever it was “I’d be right there.” He went to the front door and opened it, only to see that no one was there, he said.
Allyn W. Gibson said there was a car parked right in front of his door with its headlights shining on him. He also said he saw two people sitting in the front seat, but he didn’t recognize the car. The people didn’t get out of the car.
“I stepped out toward the parking lot toward the car,” Allyn W. Gibson said. “Then I started thinking, ‘What are they doing here at 1 a.m.?’”
He then decided to go back into the apartment and call the police, but as he took a step back into the apartment, he stumbled, fell and broke his neck. The car then drove away.
Attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery have argued that the incident could be related to the student protests and the backlash against the bakery, its employees and the Gibsons.
An employee from the bakery also testified Thursday that the tires on her vehicle have been slashed “several” times while it was parked behind the bakery.
Testimony also discussed a meeting between administrators of the college and David Gibson, which attorneys for the college referred to as reconciliation between the two sides to work toward the resumption of business.
Holoway testified that he went to the meeting with David Gibson and met with Raimondo and Oberlin College Chief of Staff Ferdinand Protzman at Quick and Delicious. Holoway said that during the meeting David Gibson requested the college write a retraction or a statement to clear up some of the allegations that had been made against the Gibsons during the protests and the weeks after.
“There were a lot of things that were being said, a lot of things that were being done,” Holoway said. “There were situations of large numbers of students and whoever that protested Gibson’s Bakery. To start out (with reconciliation) you would need to have some kind of statement, in my estimation, from the college at least to state that what had occurred was wrong at that the accusations had no merit.”
Holoway said Raimondo and Protzman didn’t seem interested in that, though.
“They really didn’t want to go there,” he said. “They wanted to talk about going forward and going forward only.”
However, the college administrators did try to get David Gibson to meet with Oberlin College students and explain the actions during the shoplifting incident.
“I think we both kind of agreed, ‘How do you do that?’” Holoway said. “Until you clear the air and make the truth known, talking to the students, I just don’t know how you would do that.”
Holoway also said that both Protzman and Raimondo gave their business cards to him and David Gibson and asked that if any students from the college were caught shoplifting at the bakery David Gibson call them before calling the police.
Testimony in the trial will resume this morning at 9 a.m. Attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery had said they hope to rest their case in the afternoon.
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