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Overview of Civil Rights in SW Ohio
Timeline of Civil Rights Conflict in SW Ohio
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I stand before you today a thief and a robber. I stole this head, this body, these limbs, and ran off with them.
--Frederick Douglass

Timeline of Civil Rights Conflicts in SW Ohio

A CITY IS BORN (LATE 1700s / EARLY 1800s)
Europeans-mainly Caucasians of British descent-begin settling here. Because of the policies of the national government, the early settlers immediately go to war with Native Americans with the goal of driving them farther West. The settlers succeed by the 1800s.

Beginning with statehood in 1803, the state of Ohio (and buttressed by local Cincinnati laws) adopts a series of "Black Laws" to not only discourage blacks from settling here, but to segregate the ones who live here. These laws prohibit blacks from attending public schools or receiving public aid of any kind; they prohibit blacks from fighting in the militia; they even require blacks to pay $500 to the state as bail/bond in advance, just in case they are jailed.

RIOT OF 1829: BLACK CODES UTILIZED
The rapid growth of the black population prompted city officials to begin vigorously enforcing the Black Laws. Many who cannot afford to post the legally-required bond ask for time to explore the possibility of resettling to safer locations, including Ontario, Canada. On August 13, however, a mob of over 200 whites lose patience and take matters into their own hands. The mob drives between 1,000 and 1,200 Cincinnati blacks-about half of the total black population-out of the city. Some former Cincinnatians scatter to other northern cities, some to Canada while others gradually filter back to Cincinnati.

RIOT OF 1836: ABOLITIONIST TARGETED
In an attempt to pacify civil unrest, Cincinnati citizens try to ban an abolitionist newspaper, James Birney's The Philanthropist, from being printed. When Birney refuses to stop publishing his paper, an angry white mob destroys his print shop, dumps his press in the river and destroys the homes of innocent black men and women.

RIOT OF 1840
In late 1840, white mobs begin threatening black neighborhoods, so blacks organize a defense and retaliate. The city's Black Laws are enforced as hundreds of blacks are arrested and runaway slaves are identified and returned to slave owners.

RIOT OF 1841: BLACK COMMUNITY ORGANIZES FOR SELF DEFENSE
During the multi-day Cincinnati Riot of 1841, unemployed whites attack blacks after a summer-long drought renders many Cincinnatians jobless. Many of the city's poorer immigrants resent blacks, who had built their own successful subculture and managed to secure their place in the local economy.

For the first time, the black community chooses a leader and organizes a defense of their homes. In the end, blacks are arrested, penned in like animals at Sixth and Broadway and then are thrown in jail. City officials later release the blacks and say they imprisoned them in order to protect them from rioters.

WEIHNACHT (CHRISTMAS) RIOT: GERMANS AND IRISH CLASH
A December, 1853 visit by a disliked Papal Emissary incites a demonstration by a group of radical Germans who had fled Europe after the Papacy helped to violently suppress the liberal democratic movements that swept the continent in 1848 and '49. The mayor of Cincinnati calls in the police force (largely Irish immigrants) to handle the situation, but since the two groups don't get along, massive fighting and rioting erupts between German and Irish Cincinnatians.

KNOW NOTHING RIOTS / THE CRISIS OF NATIVISM
In 1855, a group of "Nativists" (anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic protestors who are part of a much larger national movement of the same name) attempt to fix an election in their party's favor by stealing ballot boxes in German voting wards. For three days and three nights, the Nativist mobs attempt to invade the Germans' Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. But the Germans establish their own militia units and, by creating a barricade across Vine Street, are able to successfully keep the Nativists out. As a result of this riot, the Know-Nothing movement eventually loses power and disappears.

FORMATION OF THE "BLACK BRIGADE"
In 1863, a group of local black men tried to enlist in the Civil War to help fight for the freedom of slaves. Not only were they told they were not allowed, but many of their homes were searched and they were rounded up and confined once again to a pen in the middle of downtown. Eventually, the men were freed and permitted to fight in the war via formation of their own "Black Brigade."

SLOW RIVER TRADE ECONOMY SPARKS RIOT
In 1863, one of Cincinnati's predominantly Irish and black neighborhoods (the downtown area east of Sixth and Broadway) falls prey to numerous riots and civil unrest as the post-civil war loss of river trade takes its toll on the local working-class economy.

1884 COURTHOUSE RIOT
March 28, 1884 sees the outbreak of worst rioting in the city's history. The riot was triggered by mass anger caused when a jury found William Berner, a young German American, guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, for his role in killing his employer. (At the same time his African American accomplice, Joseph Palmer, awaits a separate trial. Their trials had been separated by Berner's defense attorneys because "everyone knew Palmer's race doomed him to death.")

Community leaders call a protest meeting at Music Hall. Nearly 10,000 people show up and transform themselves into an angry mob, which stormed the jail hoping to lynch Berner and Palmer. The next night the mob re-forms and burns the Court House-the symbol of justice-to the ground. The governor sends militia to clear the streets, but not before fifty-six people die and more than two hundred are wounded.

WOMEN EARN THE RIGHT TO VOTE
After struggling for nearly eighty years, American women earn the right to vote on August 26, 1920. Less than one month later, the Cincinnati League of Women Voters is formed.

POLICE BRUTALITY CLAIMED
In 1929, a twenty-two year old African American by the name of Hardison is sitting in a restaurant at 2 am. Two police officers enter the restaurant and verbal sparring ensues. Hardison leaves, followed by the police officers. Shots ring out and the young black man is dead. The police officers claim he attacked them with a knife, but the Black community rejects that claim. Wendell Philips Dabney, the publisher of Cincinnati Black newspaper, The Union, writes, "The boy was butchered! Being black, what difference does it make? His race is poor, inoffensive, not vindictive, hence the killing was simply an amusement."

RACISM TEARS APART LOCAL SCHOOL
Trouble flares between blacks and whites in 1935 after a fight between a black boy and a white boy at Oyler School. Angry groups of whites and blacks gather, poised for a violent clash. Police separate the two groups by blocking the Eighth Street Viaduct. Ultimately, sixteen people are arrested and peace is restored.

WEST END DISPUTE OF 1941
In June a riot nearly occurs in the West End as a result of a dispute between a grocery store owner and an African American customer. The day after the dispute an angry crowd forms outside the store and smashes its windows. The police and a suspected ringleader exchange gunshots. A police officer is wounded and several people are arrested.

MT. ADAMS STONINGS
In the summer of 1944, a group of about one hundred white men and boys stone to destruction a Mt. Adams house where two black families live. When a white neighbor condemns the white men's actions, several hundred more whites stage a demonstration outside her home, where they hang the woman in effigy. Police do nothing to stop the demonstration.

THE RACIAL PROFILING OF NATHAN WRIGHT
In 1946, police randomly stop black ministerial student Nathan Wright while he is driving and then verbally abuse and threaten him. When the city manager chooses not to censure the two white detectives who stopped Wright, the West End Civic League begins picketing businesses that discriminate against minorities.

THE CASE OF HANEY BRADLEY
In 1947 a black man named Haney Bradley is beaten by two Cincinnati Policemen and then charged with disorderly conduct. No disciplinary action is taken against the officers.

THE DESEGREGATION OF CONEY ISLAND
1952 sees the beginning of nearly a decade's worth of negotiation and protest as Cincinnatians work toward integrating Coney Island. The NAACP and the Cincinnati Committee on Human Rights, along with hundreds of local volunteers persist, though, and by 1961, the park, the dance hall and the pool are all open to African Americans and Caucasians alike.

CINCINNATI SCHOOLS BOYCOTT
In 1964, nearly 20,000 African American public school students boycott the Cincinnati Public Schools in protest of the district's segregation policies.

RIOTING OVER DISINTEGRATING CONDITIONS IN PREDOMINANTLY BLACK COMMUNITIES
By the late 1960s more and more people are becoming impatient with the slow results from the peaceful protests of the Civil Rights movement. During 1967, patience runs out and twenty-three American cities experience civil disorder and rioting.

In Cincinnati the spark comes in early June after the arrest of Peter Frakes, who was protesting the death sentence handed down on his cousin, Posteal Laskey. A protest meeting on the night of June 11 leads to vandalism and the arrest of fourteen people. The next day, when the judge gives maximum sentences to those arrested, the black community is furious. Over the next several nights, protestors gather in Avondale, break store windows, set cars on fire and confront police. The National Guard is called in to suppress the disturbances. In the end one person dies and sixty-three are injured, including seventeen police and eight fire fighters.

MARTIN LUTHER KING FUNERAL RIOTS
After a peaceful 1968 memorial service for the late Dr. King, a Black leader calls for retaliation for King's death, an accidental shooting occurs in the street, and rioting breaks out. A crowd of five hundred begins violent looting and rioting that spreads to Mt. Auburn and Evanston. Police eventually subdue the crowds, but two people die and many are arrested. More racial violence occurs later that year when police shoot a young black man after he throws bottles at them.

WOMEN'S LIBERATION RALLY
August of 1970 brings a rally on Fountain Square for equal rights for women across the United States.

FIRST VICTORY FOR AMERICANS WITH DISABILITES
In 1973, Cincinnatians watch as the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits all discrimination pertaining to a person's disabilities, is signed into law.

BOYCOTT OF DOWNTOWN BUSINESSES
In 1979, the Coalition for Racial Justice and Equality calls for a boycott of all downtown businesses.

MORE GOOD NEWS FOR THE DISABLED
In an effort to ensure that all citizens in Cincinnati and across the country have equal access to American life and all it offers, the Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law on July 20, 1990.

ONE STEP FORWARD: A BAN ON DISCRIMINATION
In 1992, in what is called a "pioneering move," Cincinnati City Council passes an ordinance banning discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability, age, marital status and sexual orientation.

AND ONE STEP BACK
In 1993, Cincinnati amends its charter to become the only community in the nation to ban any law that would offer specific protection to people based on sexual orientation.

PHARON CROSBY
In the spring of 1995, the Cincinnati Police are accused of police brutality and racism after the televised arrest of youth Pharon Crosby.

ROGER OWENSBY
In 2000, two Cincinnati Police officers are accused of asphyxiating Roger Owensby, Jr. while he is in police custody.

THE TIMOTHY THOMAS RIOTS
On April 7, 2001, white police officer Steven Roach shoots and kills an unarmed black man, nineteen year old Timothy Thomas, while attempting to arrest him. Thomas is the fifteenth African American killed by Cincinnati police in the last six years, and the fourth killed in the last six months. A few days later riots break out in Over-the-Rhine and spread throughout the city. Mayor Charlie Luken declares a state of emergency and a curfew. He then forms Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) to address the city's racial problems. One month later, a civil rights investigation of the Cincinnati Police begins.

THE COLLABORATIVE AGREEMENT
Called "historic" and "a model for resolving civil rights investigations," a collaborative agreement is signed in 2002, in which the city, the community, and the Justice Department would participate in the monitoring and enforcement of reforms in the Cincinnati Police Department.

A COLLABORATIVE MINUS ONE
The Black United Front, one of the parties in the year-old collaborative agreement, withdraws to concentrate on the civil rights boycott of the city.

FIGHT TO REPEAL OF ARTICLE XII
Human rights activists work to repeal the charter amendment that forbids the city to extend protection to individuals based on sexual orientation. The issue is slated to be on the ballot in November, 2004.

SOURCES:

1. Cincinnati: A Chronological & Documentary History, complied and edited by Robert A. Vexler. Oceana Publications, 1975.

2. The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: a portrait of two hundred years, by Geoffrey J. Giglierano, Deborah A. Overmyer with Frederic L. Propas. Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988.

3. Race and the City: Work, Community and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970, edited by Henry Louis Taylor Jr. University of Illinois Press, c1993.

4. Plague of Strangers: social groups and the origins of city services in Cincinnati, 1819-1870, by Alan I Marcus. Ohio State University Press, c1991.

5. Cincinnati Then and Now, by Iola Hessler Silberstein. Voters Service Education Fund of the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area, c1982.

6. Cincinnati's Black Peoples: a Chronology and Bibliography, by Lyle Koehler. University of Cincinnati, 1986.

7. cincymuseum.org

  1. Collection & Research
  2. Guide to 20th Century African American Resources
  3. (DESCRIPTION, QUOTED FROM WEBSITE) "The Guide covers selected 20th century resources held by the Cincinnati Historical Society Library dealing with African Americans in the Greater Cincinnati area. Included are many books, periodicals, thesis, photographs, manuscript collections and historical objects."

8. The Cincinnati Enquirer / Enquirer.com

  1. Archives, Enquirer
  2. Special Sections: Top Stories of the 20th Century

9. ADA (www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm)

  1. Enforcing the ADA: Looking Back on a Decade of Progress

10. Cincinnati Museum Center Civil Unrest exhibit

 

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