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
During and after World War I, most African Americans in Ohio's major cities lived in largely segregated neighborhoods. By 1930, for example, 65 percent of African Americans in Columbus lived in just four of the 19 census districts in the city.
During World War I, housing shortages limited the options for African-American migrants in Ohio. Often confined to overcrowded and low-rent neighborhoods, African Americans also became easy victims of landlords who took advantage of housing shortages by engaging in rent profiteering. After the war, discriminatory practices and “white flight” resulted in greater segregation within urban areas.
African Americans in Ohio cities faced problems common to rapidly urbanizing areas. They were especially vulnerable to health problems such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and more likely to die from these diseases than whites. Ohio cities were also susceptible to common “vices” of city life—brothels, gambling houses, and saloons. In Columbus, the brothels and opium den in the “Badlands” neighborhood and “red light district” were largely ignored by the city government. Not surprisingly, adult crime and juvenile delinquency also experienced a surge in Ohio’s cities.
African Americans left the South, in part, to escape segregation and discrimination in the public sphere. Yet, in spite of the Ohio Civil Rights Law of 1884, discrimination persisted in Ohio’s theaters, hotels, and restaurants. Some businesses openly disregarded laws, posting “Whites Only” signs. Even by the middle of the twentieth century, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found wanton disregard of the laws against discrimination. The Commission’s report detailed discrimination in dance halls, skating rinks, swimming pools, bowling alleys and cemeteries.
Ohio schools were also sometimes segregated despite laws against such practice that passed Ohio’s legislature in 1887. Of course, given the residential patterns of cities, schools often experienced de facto segregation. However, school board policies often resulted in gerrymandering of attendance zones that created segregated schools within integrated districts. Columbus Public Schools, for example, gerrymandered its attendance areas in 1911 so that African-American students attended Champion Avenue Jr. High. There they were taught by African-American teachers (including four that been transferred from predominately white schools). White students from the same neighborhoods attended different schools.
Teaching Columbus is a pubic history and civic engagement initiative by and for Columbus educators.