Jerry C. Maxey was a born leader. Around 1940, when he was in his mid-20’s, he became a union organizer for aviation workers at the new Wright Aeronautical plant in Lockland (later GE Aviation). The workers came to be represented by Local 647 of the United Auto Workers – the UAW.
In 1944, at a UAW meeting in Grand Rapids, Jerry Maxey was elected national chair of the UAW educational committee. He was the first African American in UAW history to hold this post. In 1947, when Jerry Maxey was 32 years old, he was named president of the foundry council of the UAW, representing the union interests of 80,000 foundry workers.
Maxey left the UAW over disagreements with union head Walther Reuther, and in 1949, Maxey became business agent of the Cincinnati branch of the American Society of State, County, and Municipal Employees, part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In this post, he negotiated for better working conditions at organizations including the University of Cincinnati.
In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare, a former undercover FBI agent named Cecil Scott publicly accused Jerry Maxey of being a Communist. Maxey and several other people were hauled before the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission in Columbus. Before the commission, Maxey denied being a member of the Communist Party, calling the charges “deliberate lies.” The Cincinnati membership of Maxey’s AFL union gave Maxey a unanimous vote of confidence. But a few weeks after the hearings, Maxey resigned his post.
Jerry Maxey rebounded, and in 1958, the Cincinnati Jaycees named him their “Father of the Year.” He was the first African American to win this award.
Also in In 1958, Jerry Maxey opened the Maxey Funeral Home at 5100 Whetsel Avenue in Madisonville. This was a good location, just north of Madison Road, in a cluster of Black-owned businesses including Benna’s barbershop, Cox Cleaners and Juliette Allen’s grocery.
For more than 20 years, Maxey Funeral Home was one of the most prominent Black-owned businesses in Madisonville. Maxey’s wife Roberta Whitaker Maxey was an integral part of the business, counseling grieving families and keeping the books. The Maxeys built a new building for the funeral home in 1979, but they sold the business soon after – it became Thomas-Maxey, and then just Thomas Funeral Home.
Jerry Maxey died in 1980, soon after selling the business. The Thomas funeral home relocated, and the building went downhill. In the late 1980’s, the almost-new building was used as the “Madisonville Better Living Center,” but some time thereafter, it was torn down. Jerry Maxey’s spouse Roberta survived him; she died in Los Angeles in 2002.