Initiative to Preserve Sites of Black History in Cincinnati

“…for a long time communities of color have had to “carry around knowledge and stories in our bodies,” because resources were not devoted to preserving the spaces that held those stories”.   Elizabeth Alexander, President, Mellon Foundation CEO

Finding, Celebrating and Preserving the Sites and Buildings of Black History in Cincinnati  

An Initiative by Cincinnati Preservation Association with Funding from the Carol Ann and Ralph J. Haile, Jr. Foundation and The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Project Summary

This project seeks to increase awareness and preservation of sites and structures that tell the story of the Black experience in Cincinnati. Work will include research, community engagement and action to protect sites through historic designation. Ongoing follow up activities will promote the reuse and restoration of significant historic sites. 

Do you know of a site we should include in the project?  If so feel free to email us about it or use this online from to have it included in the project. 

Background and Rationale

The historic preservation movement has made substantial progress in preserving and commemorating the places that reflect the history of white America.  Less focus has been placed on the sites associated with the history of Black community.  Only 2% of the 95,000 entries on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the experience of Black Americans. Cincinnati has a similar deficit.  While there is increasing recognition of places such as Greystone Ballroom at Music Hall, the Manse Hotel in Walnut Hills, and King Records Studios in Evanston, these important sites are only a small part of a much larger untold history.  This project seeks to bring recognition and protection to unknown or little-known sites that tell the story of Black people of  Cincinnati.

Scope and Phasing

The Project will be executed in three phases.  This proposal is seeking funding for Phase One.   Subsequent phases will be addressed in future proposals.  It is anticipated that the tasks listed in Phase Three will become ongoing activities of Cincinnati Preservation.

Phase One: Research, Survey and Identification of  Sites

      • Identify and Prioritize places of Black History in Cincinnati
      • Bibliographic Research
      • Interviews with community members
      • Consultation with scholars of African American History
      • Driving survey of neighborhoods to establish current status of sites 

Phase Two: Protect, Celebrate and Memorialize  

      • Local historic landmark designations
      • National Register of Historic Places nominations 
      • Historic markers and other interpretative material at sites
      • Events at sites to promote public awareness
      • Web publication of site details, photographs and short videos including interviews 

Phase Three: Restoration, Renovation and Reuse of Historic Buildings and Sites 

      • Document current status and condition of buildings and sites
      • Seek uses and partners for key sites
      • Direct action by CPA to restore at least one key site

Community Engagement

The project will consult with Black Cincinnatians to prioritize themes and sites for inclusion.  A variety of methods will be used to ensure broad participation.  During the Covid-19 shutdown methods will be developed to conduct safe socially-distanced interviews and community forums with neighborhood groups and African American organizations.  We will also use online surveys, telephone interviews, Zoom forums with community groups to expand opportunities for participation.  An advisory committee will be established to prioritize sites for inclusion and to identify preservation opportunities that emerge from this work.  The advisory committee will include community members and several CPA board members.

Measurable Outcomes

We believe this simple, straightforward program has the potential to have a significant and lasting impact on Cincinnati.  The project will increase the breadth of the Cincinnati story and has the potential to enrich lives by highlighting the historic sites of Black Cincinnatians. Our shared civic identity will be a more complete reflection of who we are. This intangible benefit is important but, since it is difficult to measure, more objective data will be tracked. Phase One impact will be measured by the number of sites identified and the number of community members engaged in the process.  Impact for Phase Two will be evaluated by the number of historic designations enacted, the number of markers placed  and the number of events hosted at historic sites.  Phase Three will be evaluated by the number of buildings restored due to the program.

Thematic Organization

Preservation of historic sites provides an opportunity to tell stories from many aspects of life and culture.  The work of this project will be organized around themes that emerge from our community engagement.    The initial themes will include sites associated with Black musicians, educators, entrepreneurs, civic leaders and sites associated with the civil rights movement.  Historically-Black neighborhoods or enclaves will also provide opportunities to designate historic sites.                                               

Preliminary List of Research Sources

Preserving Ohio’s Place in the Civil Rights Movement Ohio History Connection

Context Document for Civil Rights in Ohio Ohio History Connection

Interviews with African American History scholars

Black History Project, Cincinnati Herald

Underground Railroad Freedom Center Library

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Museum Center’s History Library and Archives

Public History Program, University of Cincinnati

African-American Experience in Ohio 1850-1920 Ohio History Connection 

The Union, Cincinnati’s African American newspaper – weekly, 1907-1952, online archive of newspapers 

Who’s Who in Colored America, Multiple Editions

Cincinnati, Gina Ruffin Moore, Black America Series, Arcadia Publishing

The Green Book, Cincinnati Editions

WP Dabney’s “Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens” (1926),

Links to Recent Research on Black History in Cincinnati

Cincinnati Black America Series – Cincinnati Arcadia  – 2007’ by Gina Ruffin Moore

Dr. Lucy Orintha Oxley: Family Medicine Trailblazer,  by Maya Drozdz – CPA website

Mamie Smith at Music Hall, Thea Tjepkema for Friends of Music Hall

Mapping Cholera in 1849: John Lea and Henry Boyd in Cincinnati by Paul Muller – CPA website

Music Halls Ties to black music explored in Friday’s Classical Roots concert Cincinnati Enquirer, 04/18/18

Further Reading on Black History and the Historic Preservation Movement

The African American Cultural Heritage Fund “We are committed to crafting a narrative that expands our view of history and, ultimately, begins to reconstruct our national identity, while inspiring a new generation of activists to advocate for our diverse historic places.” National Trust for Historic Preservation

Why Are There So Few Landmarks to Black History? Bloomberg City Labs

The Fight to Preserve African-American HistoryActivists and preservationists are changing the kinds of places that are protected—and what it means to preserve them”.  The New Yorker, January 27, 2020

The Widespread Failure to Preserve African American History Equal Justice Initiative website