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Early 20th century photo of African Americans about town
Black Life in the Ohio Valley Conference

Black Life in the Ohio Valley Conference

Sept. 9-10, 2022

Scholars and community members will delve into four centuries of Black history and heritage at the Black Life in the Ohio Valley Conference at Ohio University in September.

"The purpose of the conference is to examine Black life in the general region of the Ohio Valley from a variety of disciplinary points of view, with particular focus on the perspectives of humanities disciplines, including history, literary studies, language studies, archeology, anthropology, religious studies, communication studies, and others," said Katherine Jellison, professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences and director of the Central Region Humanities Center, which is sponsoring the conference.

"Recovering and preserving the culture and history of Black life in the Ohio Valley is certainly one aim of the conference," Jellison added. "Also, learning about racial inequality in the region and discussing ways to confront it and deal with it are an important aim of the conference."

The conference, on Sept. 9 and 10 at the Baker Center Theater, is free and open to the public, and audience participation and questions are highly encouraged.

The keynote address, "Diversity in the Heartland: Exploring the Growth and Impact of Rural Diversity Upon Ohio's Small-Town Cultures and Characters," will be delivered by Ric Sheffield, chair of the American Studies Department and professor of Legal Studies and Sociology at Kenyon College. Sheffield will speak at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10.

Other presentations will include a panel on Black history museums and monuments in Ohio, a screening of portions of a new film series about Black life in the Midwest, and paper presentations about a variety of topics, including the Underground Railroad, Black labor activists, and Black ministers in the region.

The conference facilitator will be Jack Marchbanks, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, who earned a Ph.D. in History and a Contemporary History Certificate from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2018.

The photo at the top of this page was taken in Pittsburgh, PA, in January 1940 by Jack Delano and is provided courtesy of the Farm Security Administration.

Tentative Agenda

Friday, Sept. 9

9-9:30 a.m.

Land Acknowledgment and Opening Remarks
  • Katherine Jellison (Ohio University)
  • Jack Marchbanks (Ohio Department of Transportation)

9:30-10:30 a.m.

Introduction: Jack Marchbanks (Ohio Department of Transportation), “The Historical Roots of Black Inequality in Ohio: A Conversation between Two Scholars”
  • Nikki Taylor (Howard University)
  • Adah Ward Randolph (Ohio University)
Black and white photo of man at work
This photo of a man working at an Aluminum Industries Inc. plant in Cincinnati, OH, was taken in February 1942 by Alfred T. Palmer and is provided courtesy of the Farm Security Administration.

10:30-11 a.m.


11 a.m.-noon

The National Park Service and Black Heritage Sites in Ohio
  • Chair: Rachel Terman (Ohio University)
  • Robert Stewart (Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument)
  • Kendell Thompson (Paul Laurence Dunbar House)

Noon-1 p.m.

Lunch Break

1-3 p.m.

Nineteenth-Century Lives
  • Chair: Mariana Dantas (Ohio University)
  • Jazma Sutton (Miami University): "I Always Craved a Home": Black Women, Material Culture, and the Pioneer Home
  • Lesley Barker (Kentucky Faith and Public History Educational Project): 19th-Century Inter-Racial Exchanges in Northern Kentucky and the Rev. Elisha Green
  • Frans Doppen (Ohio University): Richard L. Davis and the Color Line in Ohio Coal: A Hocking Valley Mine Labor Organizer, 1862-1900

3-3:30 p.m.


3:30-5 p.m.

Sources and Memories
  • Chair: Uzoma Miller (Ohio University)
  • Kenton Butcher (University of Pennsylvania): If These Hills Could Talk: African American Life Writing in Appalachian Ohio
  • Kevin McGruder (Antioch College): The WYSO Civil Rights Oral History Project: The Importance of Documenting and Sharing the Lives of Everyday People

5-6:30 p.m.

Dinner Break

6:30-8 p.m.

Introduction: Trevellya Ford-Ahmed (Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society)
Film Preview and Discussion: The African American Midwest: A 400 Year Fight for Freedom
  • Dan Manatt (Coordinating Producer)

Saturday, September 10

8:30-9:30 a.m.

Introduction: Neil Romanosky (Ohio University)
“To See the Invisible: Recent Discoveries and New Theories Transforming the Study of African Descended People in Ohio and the Midwest”
  • Anna-Lisa Cox (Non-Resident Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University)

9:30-10:30 a.m.

Introduction: John O’Keefe (Ohio University)
“Project UGRR Belmont County”
  • Kristina Estle (Underground Railroad Museum, Flushing, Ohio)

10:30-11:0 a.m.


11:00 a.m.-noon

Introduction: Jack Marchbanks (Ohio Department of Transportation)
Keynote Address: “Diversity in the Heartland: Exploring the Growth and Impact of Rural Diversity Upon Ohio’s Small Town Cultures and Characters”
  • Ric Sheffield (Kenyon College)
Group of children in black and white photo
This photo of school children in Omar, WV, in October 1935 was taken by Ben Shahn and is provided courtesy of the Farm Security Administration.

noon-1 p.m.

Lunch Break

1-3 p.m.

Issues of Identity and Definition: From the 18th to the 21st Century
  • Chair: Jonathan Lower (Ohio University)
  • Alexis Guilbault (University of Illinois-Chicago): De Jure and de Facto Unfreedom: Black Enslavement, or Captivity, ‘Servitude,’ and Hiring in the Midwest, 1720-1810
  • Deanda Johnson (Historian and Former Coordinator, African American Research Service Institute-Ohio University): "Ignorance and poverty are conditions which men outgrow": African American Female Teachers and Racial Uplift in 19th-Century Ohio
  • Erica Butcher (Independent Scholar): Multiracial (or Bi-racial?) in the Ohio River Valley: An Autoethnography about Identity Assumptions, Questions and Negotiations Based on Physical Appearance as the Identity Marker

3-3:30 p.m.


3:30-5:30 p.m.

Payne’s Crossing Archaeological Project
  • Chair: Timothy Anderson (Ohio University)
  • Nancy Tatarek (Ohio University): The Community of Payne’s Crossing
  •  Jason Herrmann (University of Pennsylvania), Cory Crawford (Ohio University), and Joseph Gingerich (Ohio University): Archaeological Activity at Payne’s Crossing Farmstead and Cemetery
  • Andrew Tremayne (U.S. Forest Service and Ohio University): The Underground Railroad on the Wayne National Forest

5:30-5:45 p.m.

Closing Comments
  • Katherine Jellison (Ohio University)
  • Jack Marchbanks (Ohio Department of Transportation)