African Americans built Columbus, while working for the full rights of citizenship.
Located in the rich agricultural region known as the Black Belt, urban slavery thrived in this antebellum, industrialized river town (established in 1827). Trained as skilled artisans and industrial workers, by 1860 37% of the city’s population was enslaved. During Reconstruction (the post-Civil War period between 1865 and 1871), the federally appointed Freedmen’s Bureau negotiated wages and provided legal assistance to challenge violence against former slaves across the South. African Americans built institutions to worship, educate, develop political leadership and empower their community. However, by 1908 African Americans were again completely disenfranchised, having lost their voting rights. Racial segregation in public facilities established through a series of “Jim Crow” laws and customs, enshrined the region’s ideology of white supremacy.
From the 1870s to the 1950s, thousands of rural African Americans migrated to Columbus to built a better life. After World War II, black soldiers returned from fighting fascism abroad to demand freedom at home. In the post-war era, the city’s first African American suburb of Carver Heights was built. Men and women led the fight for civil rights in the city and across the state. By the 1970s, African Americans held elected local offices and enjoyed desegregated public facilities.