Students design Black History of Ohio University Tour for Black Alumni Reunion
Alumni are invited to a Black History of Ohio University Tour on Friday, Sept. 16, during the Black Alumni Reunion. The tour starts at 3:30 p.m. at the Alumni Gate at the corner of Court and Union streets on the College Green.
The Black experience in Athens began over 200 years ago and through this tour, Ohio University history students will provide some windows into this history, from early settlers and Ohio University’s first Black students to ongoing efforts at recognition and anti-racism, with many stops in between.
How the Tour Came Together
The impetus for the tour started with Sarah Ladipo, a senior majoring in philosophy from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Cutler Scholar who also interned with the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens.
"This project started with a research apprenticeship with the Harvard gender sci lab, and over time it morphed into me looking into research about Black history and Athens, Ohio," Ladipo said. "I am grateful for Dr. Myrna Sheldon, who led me through the research, and also Dr. Brian Schoen. As the Student Trustee of OHIO, I realized how students, specifically Black students, needed to have an understanding about the Black history in Athens for them to have a desire to come to OHIO because their history is here in Athens."
"A lot of people seem to be unaware of the rich history of Black life on campus and Athens in general, so when Sarah Ladipo proposed this project of creating a Black history tour to educate the larger public, I was more than willing to help out and bring this history to the light," Jordan Zdinak, a history doctoral student, said. "Also, my dissertation research focuses on racial violence in the Midwest, and my master's thesis was on the lynching of Christopher Davis that happened here in Athens, Ohio, in 1881. I also was a member of the Christopher Davis Remembrance Project, which collaborated with the Equal Justice Initiative to get a marker installed to acknowledge this dark part of Athens history and commemorate Mr. Davis. Having been involved with public history projects in the past, creating the Black History Tour was right up my alley."
A Black Wall Street documentary and panel discussion at the Athena Cinema, hosted by the Mount Zion Baptist Church, inspired Sheyenne Grainger to join the team.
"As a young Black woman passionate about African American history and culture, it was eye-opening to hear of all the historical landmarks that we pass by every day. My first thought was, 'Why am I just now hearing about this?' That was the first spark that fueled my burning desire to search for every missing piece. To learn the wisdom and stories behind them. It's fascinating, it's beautiful, and I want everyone, especially my multicultural peers, to have the same experience and connection," said Grainger, a sociology major and African American Studies minor in the College of Arts and Sciences, who also is pursuing a Diversity Studies Certificate.
Grainger is also an ambassador with the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, an admissions representative for Ohio University Recruiting Society, and an OMSAR LINKS Mentor.
Nora Haycook joined the team after learning about the project from history Chair Schoen, "I just knew it was something that I had to be a part of. The movement to censor and erase minority history is not a new one, but anything that we can do to reverse that we should. That is part of the reason why this tour is so important—to truly highlight the perseverance of Black education and opportunities to form a beautiful community here in Athens" said Haycook, a junior majoring in history and pursuing a Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Certificate and a minor in art history.
The Story of Black Perseverance, Education and Opportunity
"All of us brought different aspects of Athens' Black history to the table," Zdinak said describing the team.
Ladipo had previously worked as a intern for the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society. Haycook interned through the History Department to research Black life in Ohio. They had gathered information on the Berry Hotel, Andrew Jackson Davison, and Tablertown. Zdinak was able to contribute information on the lynching of Christopher Davis, Black speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Marian Anderson who spoke at OHIO, and information on Milton Holland, who was a mixed-race Civil War Soldier. Grainger addressed current issues of race relations as well as the history of Black organizations on campus. Zdinak used many newspaper articles from the Athens Messenger, the Post, the Meigs County Republican, and many more.
"Aside from the information and notes that were gathered from the documentary hosted by the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, I used the very detailed and resourceful information already gathered by Sarah Ladipo, Jordan Zdinak, and Nora Haycook as a foundation. Having that blueprint was crucial in helping me find OHIO-related articles, Ohio University Libraries digital archives, as well as cultural context from the Post and other resources," Grainger said.
Zdinak said the students wanted to highlight the story of Black perseverance, Black Education, and Black opportunity.
"Some major stopping points are the Alumni Gateway Plaque, the Civil War Monument, and Cutler Hall. We really want to dive into indigenous history, and how many Black pioneers and even student organizations overcame extreme difficulties to pave the way for the future Black educators, lawyers, and business owners of today. Discussing the connections between the roots of their experiences, their cultural impact, and our actions moving forward is also essential," Grainger said.
"The topic I am most excited to talk about is the lynching of Christopher Davis. Many people are still unaware that this happened on what is now OHIO's campus. The general public tends to believe that racial violence such as this only occurred in the South. It is important to note that ideas of white supremacy were widespread throughout the U.S. It's important to acknowledge and reconcile with past instances of racial violence if we ever want to create a better future for race relations. This project is also just near and dear to my heart because of the effort I put in researching for my thesis and collaborating with the Equal Justice Initiative," Zdinak added.
"One particularly interesting research discovery was about Albany Enterprise Academy, a school founded by Black people for Black people," Grainger said. "As an important stop on the underground railroad, it also acted as a safe space for runaway slaves. Not surprisingly, much of the building's structure was burned in a fire, keeping in mind that Black schools were often targets of white terrorism at the time."
About the Tour
This 30-to-45-minute tour will take participants around the college green, providing an overview of important ways that Black residents, students, educators, and organizations have confronted systemic challenges and contributed much to the campus and broader area.
For more information, contact Brian Schoen, associate professor, history chair, and the James Richard Hamilton/Baker and Hostetler Professor of the Charles J. Ping Institute for Teaching of the Humanities.
More Opportunities to Experience Local Black History
Visit the Claiming an Education: Early Black Humanists exhibit at Richland Avenue Park across from the Ohio University Inn. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Charles J. Ping Institute for the Teaching of the Humanities, the Athens County Public Libraries, and the Athens Department of Arts, Parks and Recreation, with funding from Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Take the self-guided mAppAthens, Black History of Athens Tour, developed by the Southeast Ohio History Center and OHIO Museum Complex.