Example of an Eastgate home at 320 Sherborne Drive.
Almost a century ago, OSU student Andrew Barta detailed the segregated East Long Street District in a sociological survey. Barta takes the reader on an imaginary walk starting in the adjacent white neighborhood. Once crossing Greenway Avenue, which apparently functioned as the barrier between the white and African American sections, the houses were less stately and closer together. Some needed paint, although the lawns and homes were still well-tended. South of Greenway was a wealthy, white-only district (known as Eastgate), where the property owners had an agreement not to sell any homes to non-Caucasian people.
From the Bad Lands to East Long Street, African-Americans Were Mobile
Barta mentions that typically, all-Black districts were transitional areas with whites moving out as Black people moved in, resulting in a lowering of property values and the subsequent “neglect of premises.” In this case, however, the East Long Street district was newly built, partially due to the migration of African Americans from the South who possessed trade skills. The former all-black district, which stretched from “Naughten to Third and to Fourth Streets,” became mostly industrial, with “few, if any, residents” left after previously being labeled “the bad lands.” Going east of this area on the imaginary walk takes the reader to an area with dilapidated old brick and frame rowhouses with sagging porches and badly maintained sidewalks that is–surprisingly–a white area, full of Irish and Italian residents who moved there to be near industry.
This area is in present-day Milo-Grogan. Barta explained that Black residents were forced to spread north and west due to a lack of space elsewhere, which caused a large demographic shift north of Grove Avenue and east of Cleveland Avenue, which is the area now known as Milo-Grogan. According to the author, five or six years prior (1927/28) there were no African-Americans in that area.
Barta also included a list of the types of businesses that were owned and operated by African Americans in the East Long Street district. Despite their oppression, African Americans owned a diverse range of businesses, from insurance companies to photographers to beer gardens, among many others:
Coal and ice dealers
Fish and poultry shops
Other characteristics of African American neighborhoods at the time included an abundance of churches, with small ones in store fronts or private residences in addition to larger ones. The author also mentions how lively and active the neighborhood was, with residents regularly interacting from their porches and creating strong social bonds with neighbors.
More broadly, he names three distinguishing factors of African American neighborhoods:
Historically determined status, and
Cultural baggage of the southern migrants, “now in the process of blending with the social milieu”
The History of Columbus Race Relations (pre-1933)
Barta also provides a description of the conditions in Columbus for black residents throughout the city’s history. Many slaves fled to northern states like Ohio in the early to mid 1800s. And while there were instances of them being protected, racism was still extremely prevalent throughout Columbus and the North.
“Negroes are no longer able to elect their own representatives to the municipal offices since the ward system has been abandoned and elections are held at large.“
As Barta explains, there were only five African Americans employed as city and county officials in 1930, less than in previous years. Because the black community in Columbus was “torn with political factionalism,” meaning they couldn’t unite around a single black candidate, it was deemed unnecessary to award them some of the “plums” of political representation. Barta also mentions that by switching from a council ward system to an at-large city-wide electoral system where African Americans were greatly outnumbered by whites, they could no longer elect Black representatives to council.
Map of Columbus wards in 1901. Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library, My History.
In 1849 there was a convention of black men protesting against “Black Laws” and petitioning for their right to vote, the “feeling against Negroes was so strong” in Columbus that black residents “dared not appear around the election booths on election day” (page 29). White women would even go as far to parade around in blackface, in order to stir “race antipathy.”
Ultimately, minor political patronage was only given to black residents to “keep them in line” (page 40). To accompany all this racism and prejudice, neighborhoods were strictly segregated and African Americans were forbidden from the majority of businesses and establishments owned by whites.