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 Doreen Uhas Sauer
Famous educator Booker T. Washington made frequent appearances in Columbus in the early 20th century. He was here for conventions, special occasions with families he knew well (like Ralph Tyler, auditor of the U.S. Navy and Dr. Scarborough, president of Wilberforce), and student Bible conferences.
Sometimes Dr. Washington stayed in a rooming house on West Eleventh Avenue with a family he knew from St. Paul’s AME Church. When he did so, he liked to work in the mornings in bed so he could spread his papers out while he wrote. The daughter of the family, as a small child, was asked to take a tray with coffee to him one morning, and after leaving the tray ran down the stairs to report an “accident.” Dr. Washington, she announced, had broken his glasses and would not be able to work. Did he break them in half, her mother asked? Yes, the top of the glasses are gone. Her mother smiled; no problem. Her daughter had never seen reading glasses before.
On May 24, 1900, Dr. Washington spoke at Memorial Hall (the old COSI building that is now county offices on Broad Street) because the hall had a large seating capacity, and on his previous visit to Columbus, he spoke at Reverend Washington Gladden’s church. But thousands had to be turned away. Dr. Washington was in town for a special Student Bible Conference and would speak without charge at Memorial Hall. It was noted in the newspapers that, “all throughout the South, as well as the North, the leading white citizens, business and professional men, and white women of culture and refinement crowded to hear him. Even the governor and other state officials were present and accorded him the greatest courtesy.”
It was noted he would stay at the North Hotel (no longer there but would have been in the Short North) where rooms had been reserved for him. But this was a change of plans from the original reservation at the prestigious Neil House, across from the Statehouse. Though Dr. Washington had stayed at the Neil House before and on another occasion the fine Chittenden Hotel, this time, however, the Neil House could make no assurances that he (and the other African American men who were to attend the conference) would be welcome.