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The Kings Art Complex in Columbus

Explore Ohio's African American History

Learn and celebrate Ohio history, heroes and museums.

The Kings Art Complex in Columbus

Explore Ohio's African American History

By Ohio.org Staff

Posted On: Feb 1, 2022

Ohio is rich with history. It was the first free state formed from the Northwest Territory and home to the first private historically Black college or university (HBCU), Wilberforce University. It's also the birthplace of presidents, astronauts, inventors and writers. Many of these Ohio heroes were African Americans who fought tirelessly for equity and justice.

From historic homes to museums, there's lots to see throughout the state. Often these museums are operated by volunteers, so you'll want to check on guidelines and reservations before you visit.

mom with two young children, a boy and a girl, looking and walking through exhibits at Kings Arts Complex in Columbus Ohio

The Kings Art Complex in Columbus

The Martin Luther King Jr. Performing and Cultural Arts Complex connects the community through the arts. The Elijah Pierce Gallery presents a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions that include painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and decorative arts. The main gallery is named in honor of the late Elijah Pierce, America's foremost wood carver of 20th century folk art.

They also offer an award-winning youth arts program and were named "Best Community Art Center" by Columbus Parent Magazine

Ohio History Connection in Columbus

The Ohio History Connection has several experiences and resources on their website regarding African American History, as well as resources on the Black individuals who have profoundly impacted sports, the Civil War and the women's suffrage movement.

This year for Black History Month, they're offering a variety of programming. Like Martin's Dream - presented by The Children's Theater of Cincinnati - and "Hidden Figures Revealed: Dynamic History of Black Mathematicians" - an online talk about the history of Black math students and professionals. 

Tuskegee Airmen thematic alcove inside National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus Ohio
Photo credit: National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Facebook

National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus 

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum showcases the history and facets of the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Guardian, Coastguardsman, and their families. Throughout the museum, you can walk and learn from numerous exhibits and installations.

There are 14 thematic alcoves, including one featuring the history of the Tuskegee Airmen - who were the first African American military aviators and fighter and bomber groups in World War II.

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce

The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is less than two miles from NAAMCC, and it's a National Park Service site. Colonel Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to become a national park superintendent, a military attaché, and a colonel, making him the highest-ranking Black officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922. His legacy lives on today at this national monument. 

The Young Family Home is closed and visitor services have been relocated to the Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom Memorial Library on the Payne Theological Seminary campus. The temporary location will also be the visitor contact station for interpretive talks and activities as the Young family home is closed for renovation. 

exterior of National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce Ohio

National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce

The National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (NAAMCC), which is part of the Ohio History Connection's historic site system, is the home of one of the nation's largest African American archives and collections. Items include Alex Haley's final draft of Roots, Alphonso Woodall's Carnegie Hero Medal, and an unparalleled collection of works from the Black Arts Movement. 

For this year's Black History Month, the museum (along with Ohio History Connection) will host a series of live and virtual programs through their  Historically Speaking Series - Black History Month.  

The Children's Theatre of Cincinnati

The Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is celebrating extraordinary African American individuals this season. "Harriet Tubman: Straight Up Outta' The Underground" has been on tour since Nov. 5. It's showing virtually this year from Jan. 17 to Feb. 28.

You can also check out their current season, featuring performances of Martin's Dream and Abiyoyo (which is based on a South African folktale). 

closeup of guitar plaque inside the The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in Dayton Ohio
Photo credit: The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center

The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in Dayton

Dayton was dubbed the "Land of Funk," for a reason. This museum preserves the legend of funk music in the Gem City through a collection of memorabilia and interactive activities. While you're there, check out the Interactive Funk Music Visualizer, created by The Ohio State University graduate students.

For even more funky fun, head over to their YouTube page and watch interviews with artists, producers and other Funk Storytellers. 

John Parker House in Ripley

The John Parker House is the former home of African-American abolitionist John Parker. He escaped slavery to become a successful inventor and businessman in Ripley before the Civil War. Parker is credited with assisting hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through this Front Street home.

black and white portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton

Learn about the life of internationally-acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at his house in Dayton. Dunbar gained worldwide fame for his poetry, stories and plays in the early 20th century and was a voice for equality. In 1936, the Ohio General Assembly dedicated the house as the very first state memorial honoring African-American history. 

John Mercer Langston Historic House in Oberlin

A National Historic Landmark in Oberlin, this house was the home to John Mercer Langston, an attorney, abolitionist, diplomat, U.S. Congressman and college president. As the town clerk in Oberlin, Langston was one of the first African-Americans elected to public office in the United States.

side view of the exterior of the John Rankin House in Ripley Ohio

John Rankin House in Ripley

Explore Ohio's connection to the Underground Railroad at the John Rankin House in Ripley. The Rev. John Rankin was an ardent abolitionist who assisted the enslaved on their paths to freedom. When you visit, you'll be stepping inside one of the best-documented and most active Underground Railroad "stations" in Ohio.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati

Discover the the place where this famous author spent her formative years. Stowe was an abolitionist and women's rights advocate and wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, the popular 19th century novel credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War.

A number of events and talks are hosted each month and you can also check out several exhibits showcasing different historical aspects of the Stowe's and the 19th century. 

outside of Elizabeth Harvey First Free Black School in Warren County Ohio with Ohio Historical Marker in front of building

First Free Black School in Harveysburg 

Visit the one room schoolhouse, and now museum, built specifically to educate non-whites in Warren County. The Elizabeth Harvey Free Black School, built in 1831 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, still stands on its original location.

The school remained in operation until the early 1900s. And one of the students from this school, Orindatus S.B. Wall, became the first African American captain in the U.S. Army and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center immerses visitors into the stories of the Underground Railroad. The mission of the museum is to reveal stories of heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring us to fight for human rights today. 

They've also created a series of programming for Black History Month

This is just a small sampling of the many Black historic and cultural institutions within a few hours of where you live. There are African-American art museums, galleries and community centers on college and university campuses as well. Learn more about the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans—known and unknown—around Ohio.

For more Ohio history, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org.

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