Historian remembers first free Black community in Ohio

Black History Month

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – The Near East Side of Columbus was once known as Bronzeville. It was the first free community for African Americans in Ohio.

In tonight’s ongoing series Honoring Black History, Reporter Brad Johansen introduces us to the people who helped build that community.

“When an African-American migrated to Ohio, Ohio was a free state. It was a free opportunity for African-Americans,” said historian Rita Fuller-Yates.

There were three men that took the opportunity and ran with it, starting with David Jenkins. He came to Columbus from Virginia.

“He worked the Underground Railroad. He owned the newspaper. He established schools. He was part of the politics of Columbus,” Fuller-Yates said.

Jenkins’s Civil Rights paper “Palladium of Liberty” was established in 1843 as part of his national efforts to bring slaves to freedom.

“It is one of the communities that was the, in the 1940s, that was established as the first project in the nation,” Fuller-Yates said.

That project, named after James Poindexter, has now become a small museum in the area honoring the man who owned a Barber shop at 61 High Street. Planted and pastored what still exists as the Second Baptist Church.

“If you want to know anything about Columbus, Ohio history, this church has it all,” Fuller-Yates said.

And Poindexter became the first African American on The Columbus School board, then passing the torch to James Albert Jackson.

“He helped abolish Bronzeville,” Fuller-Yates said.

Jackson was a builder, a seed shop owner, then a grocer.

When blacks were being charged extra to go to the theater and sit only in the balcony, Jackson built his own – The Empress and the Lincoln that once featured a four-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr., and now flourishes again in 2021 under the direction of Suzan Bradford Kounta.

“He was just that type of guy that understands the value of community but also about being a teacher,” Fuller-Yates said.

Fuller-Yates was there in the 70s and 80s. She said back then it was called something else.

“When I was growing up there, it was called the hood,” she said.

Now, she calls in Bronzeville, with two centuries of history to be honored and remembered.

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