Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



Blacks in Ohio History. Edited by Rubin F. Weston. Volume IV of The Ohio

American Revolution Bicentennial Conference Series. (Columbus: The

Ohio Historical Society, 1976. 44p.; illustrations, notes. $2.00.)


"As the nation moves into its third century under the Constitution,"

Professor Weston remarks in the introduction, "it is imperative that all

groups who made America be recognized and that their contribution be

included in the history books."

With this purpose in mind, one in a series of bicentennial conferences was

held at Central State University in May 1976. The outcome of that conference

is this volume, with papers addressed to two general areas of black history:

the role of blacks in Ohio's political development and selected biographical

studies of prominent black Ohioans.

In the former area Professor Lenwood Davis draws an overview of

nineteenth-century blacks in Ohio. Despite the "Black laws," he points out,

their numbers grew steadily even prior to the Civil War. He indicates the

important contributions black Ohioans made in such fields as business,

politics, abolitionism, invention, journalism, the arts, and the military. W.

Marvin Dulaney recounts the history of blacks as policemen in Columbus

from the first appointments in the late nineteenth century to the first officer of

lieutenant rank at mid-century. Professor Freddie Colston studies the

influence of black legislators in the Ohio House during the 109th General

Assembly (1971-1972). He reports that the preponderantly Democratic black

legislators did not constitute a bloc but their voting behavior reflected (1)

their racial identity, (2) their heavily black constituency, (3) their urban

background, and (4) a high degree of party loyalty.

In the biographical studies, Professor Emeritus Wilhelmena Robinson

explores aspects in William Sanders Scarborough's "multi-dimensional

personality" which contributed to the frustrations that affected his career.

She pinpoints certain attributes in the character of the noted philologist and

president of Wilberforce University, in the context of his life and times,

preventing this able man from "surviving as an acceptable popular black

leader in the historical literature of Afro-Americans." Percy Murray

indirectly examines the public career of Harry C. Smith in a similar fashion.

Studying Smith from the founding of the Cleveland Gazette up to the First

World War, Murray discusses the editor's triumphs in the legislature but also

notes the failings of this militant champion of integration and civil rights

protections as the urban black community changed in the age of Booker T.

Washington. Professor Gossie Hudson points to the complex nature of Paul

Laurence Dunbar's legacy by stating, "Although he was never a black

militant or even a committed activist, his life's accomplishments constituted

an indirect but powerful force against racism." To Hudson, Dunbar is first

and foremost simply a poet.

The pictures which accompany the first article provide interesting

contrasts. Colston's study contains several tables, including a useful one

listing "pre-contemporary" black legislators in the Ohio House (1880-1970).

Sad to say, only half the papers provide footnotes.