African American Collections
Collections documenting the participation of African American Ohioans in business, education, politics, religious organizations, and varied professions are found in the Ohio Historical Society’s manuscript collections. There are also collections representing African Americans historic struggle for freedom in the 1800s and more recent struggle for civil rights in the 1900s.
Examples of manuscript collections that tell the stories of Ohio’s African Americans citizens, include, but are not limited to, the papers of Henry and Willa Adams, a couple who migrated from the south to Toledo where she ran a catering business; material documenting the career of James Edward “Eddie” Saunders who was the first African American radio personality in Columbus; the records of the E.E. Ward Moving and Storage Company, an African American owned business in Columbus; and the George Wesley Allen Family Papers that includes family papers and material related to the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Wilbur H. Siebert Collection consists of correspondence, notes, manuscripts, student papers, maps, and photographs related to the Underground Railroad in Ohio and other states. Of particular interest are interviews that Siebert conducted with Underground Railroad agents and slaves who used the secret network to escape bondage.
There are records of multiple organizations advocating for African American civil rights in the 1900s, including the Ohio Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1931-1973; the Columbus Urban League from 1917-1964; and the Vanguard League from 1941-1972.
The papers of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a native of Dayton, who was the first African American writer to achieve critical acclaim and wide recognition, are a highlight of the OHS manuscript collections. His papers include extensive correspondence with his personal friends and professional colleagues; his mother, Matilda Dunbar; and his wife, Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson and literary manuscripts for published and unpublished material.
Researchers are encouraged to the search the Online Collection Catalog for more materials related to African American history in Ohio. Poetry manuscripts from the Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers are among the items from African American collections that you can see online in the Ohio Memory digital repository.