Sepia toned map of Southeast Ohio
Claiming an Education: Early Black American Humanists

Leaders and Pioneers: Places, People and Voices


Places: Black American Communities in the Ohio River Valley

The Northwest Ordinance’s prohibition on enslavement did not prevent Black Americans who lived in Ohio from encountering significant racism. Both the 1802 Ohio Constitution and subsequent state laws prevented Black Ohioans from voting, serving on juries, and, until 1848, accessing public schools. Despite such restrictions, which included paying a $500 bond to enter the state, freedom from bondage and personal connections led to the creation of Black American and mixed-raced communities throughout the Ohio River Valley. 

People: Tablertown and the Persons of Color Museum

One of the earliest Black American communities was Tablertown (also known as Kilvert), founded by a Virginian slave holder, Michael Tabler (1774-1843), who fathered six children with Hannah, one of his father’s enslaved women. In the early 1830s, after purchasing Hannah’s freedom and emancipating his six children, Tabler moved to Athens County, a move that better ensured their freedom and enabled them to inherit his property. After acquiring additional properties, Tablertown grew into a thriving multi-racial community, a story told in David Butcher’s Persons of Color' museum. 

David Butcher talks about Michael Tabler, his eighth-great grandfather and founder of Tablertown, in an Invisible Ground video and in the Athens News.

The 1828 commencement program notes John Newton Templeton's talk.
The 1828 Ohio University commencement program notes John Newton Templeton's talk. The talk, reprinted in the Scioto Gazette in July 22, 1829, was presented as a challenge to the White racism that was so prevalent at the time. Courtesy of Ohio University Archives.

Voices: John Newton Templeton, First Black American to Earn an Advanced Degree in Ohio

John Newton Templeton was the first Black American to earn an advanced degree in Ohio and is believed to be the fourth Black college graduate in the country. Templeton was born into enslavement in South Carolina but was freed by his owner and moved to Adams County, Ohio. In 1824, with the encouragement of President Reverend Robert Wilson, Templeton enrolled at Ohio University, where he worked, studied and participated in the Athenian Literary Society. Templeton went on to teach Black students in Virginia and in Pittsburgh, where he also helped support an abolitionist paper, The Mystery. Templeton’s time at Ohio University was the subject of Distinguished Professor Charles Smith’s play Free Man of Color.