The African-American experience in columbus blog
This blog features brief articles on the African-Experience in Columbus from the Underground Railroad to the civil rights era.
By Matt Doran
A statue and accompanying marker on the north side of Broad Street near Veterans Memorial tell the story of Arthur Boke, Jr., the first African American to live in Franklinton. Depicting Sarah Sullivant, wife of Franklinton founder Lucas Sullivant, holding up a baby over her head, the statue’s marker inscription reads:
Arthur Boke Jr. was the first African-American resident of Franklinton, Ohio. His story tells far more than the color of his skin. It is a story of love, selflessness, compassion, and understanding expressed by Sarah Sullivant. Her example reaches out to humanity with a mother’s pure love that accepts all human beings as equal, who share each other’s burdens, listen to each other’s stories, and learn what it is to live in harmony.
Who was Arthur Boke, Jr.? We know a few things about his birth and death, but very little about his life. Joseph Sullivant, the youngest son of Lucas and Sarah, wrote this journal entry about Boke:
I was surprised at the seeing the letters L.S. and a date on the bark. This event, which I had heard related in my boyhood, instantly occurred to me, and I perceived I was standing on the precise spot where my father had left this memorial to himself, in the solitude of the wilderness, nearly fifty years before, when fleeing for his life, with nought but his own courage and self-reliance to sustain him.
Joseph Sullivant’s account sheds more light on the Arthur Book, Jr. story. Sarah Sullivant was raised on slaveholding plantations in Kentucky, and Boke's mother had been enslaved to the Sullivant family before coming with them to the free territory in Ohio. Joseph Sullivant identifies Arthur Boke as the father. Boke was a frontiersman who worked as a scout for Lucas Sullivant during his surveying trips. Historical accounts differ as to whether Arthur Boke was the father of Boke, Jr. or whether he was simply named after Boke by Sarah Sullivant.
Arthur Boke, Jr. continued to live with the Sullivant family and learned the skill of surveying from Lucas Sullivant. Sarah Sullivant died in 1814 while nursing soldiers stationed in Franklinton during the War of 1812. Boke died in 1841.
Boke was one of only 300 African Americans living in Ohio in 1803, when Ohio achieved statehood status. A year later, Ohio passed its first Black Laws designed to discourage African-American migration to Ohio. To enter the state, African Americans had to provide a $500 bond signed by two white men within twenty days of arrival. African Americans could not give evidence in a court case in which a white man was a party, could not serve on juries, and were not counted when determining the number of seats in the Ohio General Assembly. By 1810, there were 1,890 African Americans in Ohio, with 43 living in Franklin County (about 1 percent of the county population).
Local historian Bea Murphy rediscovered Boke’s tombstone in 1996 and it was restored in 1997. She also persuaded Alfred Tibor, a Holocaust survivor and noted sculptor, to create the Boke/Sullivant “Celebration of Life” statue.
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