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Happy Black History Month!

National Black History Month was started over one hundred years ago by author and historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, to former indentured servants James and Anne Eliz Riddle Woodson. He worked in local coal mines to support his family and could not attend school. However, at the age of seventeen, he was finally able to go to Douglass High School and received his high school diploma within a year and a half in 1896. After graduating from Berea College in 1903, Woodson started his career as a high school teacher and eventually became a principal at his old high school. From 1903 to 1906, he supervised schools in the Philippines for the U.S. War Department. After that, Woodson spent a year studying and traveling in Asia, North Africa, and Europe. After returning overseas, he enrolled and graduated from the University of Chicago with his B.A. and M.A. in 1908. Four years later, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.

In 1915, he launched the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and in 1916 founded the Journal of Negro History. Four years later, Woodson became the dean of the School of Liberal Arts and head of the graduate faculty at Howard University. Then became the dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute. During his tenure, he organized the Associated Publishers, a black-owned publishing company, and reorganized the curriculum for this institution. His visit to Egypt in 1907 ignited his love for black history. On February 7, 1926, he started Black History Week to highlight the contributions Blacks made to the United States. He picked February because it coincided with Frederick Douglass's (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln's (February 12) birthdays. He promoted this event heavily by sending marketing materials like pamphlets to the press, schools, and community organizations. In addition, he hosted lectures, spoke with mayors, and prepared exhibits to amplify his cause.

In 1975, President Ford issued a message about the importance of Black history week by stating, "recognize the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens." In 1976 during the U.S. bicentennial celebrations, Black History Week expanded to a month. Sixty years after the initial proclamation of Negro History Week by Woodson, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 99-244, which designated February 1, 1986, as "National Black (Afro-Americans) History Month."

Reagan stated in his Presidential Proclamation 5443, "The foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity. It is also a time to celebrate the many achievements of blacks in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion. It not only offers black Americans an occasion to explore their heritage, but it also offers all Americans an occasion and opportunity to gain a fuller perspective of the contributions of black Americans to our Nation. The American experience and character can never be fully grasped until the knowledge of black history assumes its rightful place in our schools and our scholarship."

Ohio became the first state to ban slavery and had a significant role in the Underground Railroad. The southern border, the Ohio River, provided the path to freedom. The fugitive swam across icy water, or Abolitionists and Underground Railroad conductors served as guides and sent coded notes to aid their runaways to freedom. It is unclear when the Underground Railroad began or who coined the term. However, the term underground became embraced because it was illegal for individuals to help runaways to escape.

  • Enslaved Blacks: cargo or passengers

  • Stations: hiding places or safe houses

  • Conductors: guides that helped the runaways

  • Agents: people that helped the escaped individuals

  • Stockholders: Parties that provided financial assistance for completing those activities

However, the Quakers, or the Society of Friends, secretly began helping freedom seekers in the early 1780s. Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin were part of the Northwest Territory. During the late 1700s, the Northern states outlawed oppression under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and 1850 permitted people to reclaim their freedom, even if they relocated to a free state. However, to truly gain their independence, they had to move to Canada.

Ohio was a refuge for free and runaway blacks, which caused many to migrate here to escape the Jim Crow South. During the Great Migration (1910-1970), 1.5 million African-Americans left the south for a better life and settled in large cities like Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown. Notable first came from this state.

Interesting Facts

  • In 1880, George Washington Williams became the first Black to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives.

  • In 1855, John Mercer Langston became the first dean of Howard University's law school and the first Black elected official in the United States. In addition, he won a town clerk position at Brownhelm Township (present-day Oberlin, Ohio) in Lorain County.

  • In 1851, Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women's rights activist, gave her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the Women's Convention in Akron.

  • Carl B. Stokes was the first African-American elected mayor of a major city, Cleveland, Ohio, in 1967. While his brother, Louis Stokes, became the first Black Congressman from Ohio in 1968. There is a Carl & Louis Stokes Making History exhibit at the Cleveland History Center.

  • Langston Hughes: Langston Hughes was the great-nephew of John Mercer Langston. Hughes was a member of Karamu House and a prominent Harlem Renaissance poet. Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" title was from a verse in Hughes' "Dream Deferred" poem.

  • Halle Berry was the first African- American to win a Best Actress Academy Award for Monster's Ball.

The Kings Association with Ohio

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King both had ties in Ohio. Dr. King held civil rights meetings and spoke at churches in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland served as one of the hubs for the Civil Rights Movement. His wife, Coretta Scott-King, attended Antioch College in Yellowstone, Ohio, a small liberal arts institution founded in 1852 by the Christian Connection. Her older sister, Edythe Scott-Bagley, was the first black student to attend Antioch on an integrated basis. Scott-Bagley wrote Coretta often about her experience on campus. Coming from the south, she never was exposed to the curriculum that allowed blacks to think independently and take risks. Those letters persuaded Scott-King to join her sister at Antioch College. During Scott-King's freshman year, she served as a junior music counselor at Karamu House. The following year, she worked at the Friendly Inn Settlement House for five months. In 1951, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and elementary.

Scott-King once dated Robert P. Madison, Ohio's first Black architect to register in the state of Ohio. He graduated from Western Reserve University in 1948 and later received his graduate degree from Harvard University and Fulbright Scholarship to study in Paris. Madison's architect firm, Robert P. Madison International, Inc., opened in 1954. His work is known internationally. He designed the Louis Stokes' West Wing of the Cleveland Public Library, the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, and the Medical Associates Building in the Glenville Neighborhood for doctors of color in 1960. Later, he became the associate architect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center.

Famous Black Ohioans

  • Dorothy Dandridge

  • Arsenio Hall

  • Regina King

  • Toni Morrison

  • Leontyne Price

  • Nancy Wilson

Places to Visit

Central State University: This institution was initially associated with Wilberforce University and was known as the Combined Normal and Industrial Department. In 1951, it was renamed Central State College after gaining its independent status and expanding from a two-year to a four-year program. In 1965, it became Central State University.

Cleveland Summit: On June 4, 1967, prominent black athletes Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, along with Mayor Carl Stokes, held a press conference in front of the offices of the Negro Industrial Economic Union to support Muhammad Ali, who had been stripped of his heavyweight title and faced charges of draft dodging for his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War.

Cory United Methodist Church: This is the place where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his last speech in Cleveland. Malcolm X also gave his "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech here. This church also provided spaces for civil rights activists to conduct action planning.

Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church: This church served as the headquarters for the United Freedom Movement, which comprised Black and White civic organizations like the NAACP, Urban League, and Congress of Racial Equality. Rev. Emmit Caviness was the lead pastor during that time.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's House: Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabins became the century's best-selling novel. This further amplified abolitionists' call to end oppression by vividly depicting the immorality and evilness of the act.

John Rankin House: John Rankin was a conductor of the Underground Railroad. The steps leading to his house were known as the "Freedom Stairway". Rankin's house stood on a bluff over the Ohio River and was one of the most bustling railroad stations.

Oberlin College: This institution was founded in 1833 and focused on ending repression for racial equality. In 1835, it became one of the first institutions to allow blacks to attend. As a result, Mary Jane Patterson became the first Black to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in the United States. Frederick Douglass' daughter, Rosetta, attended there too.

Plymouth Church: In March of 1850, thirty members left the Old Stone Church congregation because they were against servitude and formed the Plymouth Church.

Harveysburg Free Black School: It was the first free school for African-Americans in Ohio.

St. John's Episcopal Church: This church is in the University Circle area. The runaways hid in the church's bell tower. Lucy Bagby's arrest there amplified the Nation's attention toward the importance of emancipation.

Wilberforce University: In 1856, this institution became the first private university, historically Black College or University.

Wilson Bruce Evans House: Wilson Bruce Evans, carpenter and furniture maker, was born free in North Carolina. He built this red brick, hipped roof house in the mid-1850s. Evans and his brother, Henry, participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue in 1858 and faced an indictment for assisting a fugitive servant named John Price. The authorities incarcerated the brothers for 84 days. They were later released when "Lorain County agreed to halt proceedings against the slavecatchers in exchange for the dropping of charges against the rescuers."

Other Places to Visit

  • African American Cultural Garden

  • Reuben Benedict House

  • Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Cozad-Bates House

  • Daniel Howell Hise House

  • Dialogue, Diversity, Democracy Mural

  • Facer Park South side of Hancock & Water Streets

  • Gammon House

  • Haines House

  • Henry Merry House at 330 East Adams Street

  • Hubbard House

  • James and Sophia Clemens Farmstead

  • John Brown House

  • John Gee Black Historical Center

  • John Mercer Langston House in Oberlin

  • John Parker House in Ripley

  • Joshua R. Gidding Law Office Museum

  • Kelton House Museum and Garden

  • King Arts Complex

  • Larry Doby Statue

  • National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce

  • National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

  • Nelson T. Gant House

  • Oberlin Heritage Center

  • Olivet Institutional Baptist Church

  • Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton

  • Perkins Stone Mansion

  • Putnam UGRR Interpretive Center

  • Rhoads-Harter House

  • Ruby Dee Monument

  • Rush R. Sloane House

  • Salem Historical Society & Museum

  • Second Baptist Church at 315 Decatur Street

  • Spring Hill Historic Home

  • Stephanie Tubbs-Jones Mural

  • The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in Dayton

  • The Springboro Area Historical Society

  • The Underground Railroad Museum

  • Unity and Community Mural

Call to Action:

In today's political climate, we must embrace the past. William Faulkner once said," The past is never dead. It's not even past." Suppressing the past with legislation is not going to change what happened. There are so many untold stories that we need to bring to the forefront. We should confront our sins as Germany reckoned with the Holocaust. During Black History Month, you have one commitment to action to fulfill: visit and take pictures of historical sites in your city. Use the hashtag #travelbh365 (travel black history 365) on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram so people can visit those hidden gems.

It is time for us to change this country's trajectory collectively. But first, we need to acknowledge all races and ethnicities for their contributions over the years. When children see representation, they develop positive self-images, dream bigger, and learn how to overcome adversity.




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