Columbus’ Bronzeville neighborhood honored for its history and legacy

On March 3, 1937, a mayor was elected in this commune.

But it wasn’t for the mayor of Columbus. It was for the mayor of Bronzeville, the historical Middle East district and the beating heart of Columbus’ black community.

This first mayor was the Reverend NL Scarborough, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and resident of North Garfield Avenue.

A March 20, 1937 edition of The Ohio State News reported that 1,000 people attended Scarborough’s dedication at the church, including Columbus Mayor Myron B. Gessaman.

“As your representative, I want here and now to make it clear to everyone that the conditions don’t respect people,” Scarbrough said. “Hunger, disease, want and need are common to all mankind.

“As citizens of Columbus, if we are successful in meeting these conditions, we must think, plan, act as one family,” he said.

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Bronzeville Neighborhood Association President Willis Brown speaks Thursday at a celebration marking the 85th anniversary of the election of its own mayor in the Columbus Bronzeville neighborhood.

The Lincoln Theater

On Thursday, to commemorate the 85th anniversary of that election, the Bronzeville Neighborhood Association held an event in the ballroom of the Lincoln Theater, capped off with proclamations from the Ohio House and Senate.

The Lincoln Theater was known as the Ogden Theater when Scarborough was elected mayor of Bronzeville. And it was in Ogden that he was elected at a community assembly like the one held on Thursday.

Scarborough created an all-black cabinet to meet the social, political, and economic needs of Bronzeville.

“This neighborhood has a special place for so many people,” said Dana Moessner, vice president of the Bronzeville Neighborhood Association and longtime resident, at the event Thursday.

Willis Brown, who serves as president of the neighborhood association, has long lobbied for the recognition and place of the Bronzeville neighborhood in Columbus.

“Now we are in the midst of an economic recovery,” he said.

State Rep. Dontavius ​​Jarrells, a Democrat from Columbus, mentioned Bronzeville’s history as a center for the arts. Years ago, clubs attracted national jazz bands, and hotels such as the Macon Hotel and Hotel St. Clair housed black travelers. Mount Vernon Avenue and East Long Street were teeming with businesses.

“Bronzeville thrived,” Jarrells said.

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The exterior of the Lincoln Theater, 769 E. Long St., Thursday, where a special celebration was held to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Bronzeville borough residents' election of their own mayor.  The Lincoln was known as the Ogden Theater when the first historic black community mayor, the Reverend NL Scarborough, was elected to this building on March 3, 1937.

Brown said Bronzeville’s original boundaries were the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks to the north (now just north of Interstate 670), Woodland Avenue to the east, Broad Street to the south, and Cleveland Avenue to the west.

But in the early 1960s, crews dug a trench to make way for Interstate 71, separating the neighborhood from downtown.

Years of divestment followed and the population declined.

Today, the neighborhood of Columbus, known as King-Lincoln Bronzeville, is undergoing a transformation. Some residents welcome the explosion of new investment, while others worry that development and rising house prices and rents could push some long-time residents out – and with them, some of the neighborhood history.

According to the most recent census figures, the population of a census tract east of Interstate 71 and north of East Broad Street has increased by almost 20%. The population of white residents there more than doubled, from 307 to 746, and those of two or more races doubled from 81 to 172, while the number of black residents fell from 1,307 to 1,035, a drop by 21%.

But the signs of redevelopment are everywhere, from new apartment buildings on East Long Street to renovated homes to new businesses.

And one A black-owned bank has been proposed for the region.

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“It’s hard to believe the area came back after the freeway tore it apart,” said Ann B. Walker, who now lives in Franklin Park but grew up near the Lincoln Theater in Bronzeville. Walker, 98, a black broadcasting pioneer and lifelong community leader, is the namesake of the Ann B. Walker Plaza, part of the new Adelphi Quarter apartment complex on East Long Street near the Lincoln Theatre.

Ohio State Senator Hearcel F. Craig, left, and State Rep. Dontavius ​​L Jarrells, right, read the proclamations during the Ohio State re-inauguration of the Columbus Bronzeville neighborhood Thursday at the Lincoln Theater, 769 E. Long St.. The event marked the 85th anniversary of black residents' election of their own mayor for Bronzeville in 1937 during a similar community gathering at the theater , then known as the Ogden Theatre.

Local historian Reita Smith lived in the former Poindexter Village public housing complex, which was demolished except for two buildings, which Smith worked to preserve for a museum.

Smith said she remembered the clubs and restaurants that dotted the neighborhood, including Club Regal, which was at the Empress Theater on East Long Street, and the big bands.

“It’s an important story,” she said of Bronzeville’s story. “He tells the story of the resilience of his people.”

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Former Mayor Michael B. Coleman lends his support

Former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman was there Thursday. In years past, Brown and Moessner have criticized certain decisions of the Coleman administration regarding development and other issues in the region.

But on Thursday, Coleman praised them for their efforts in the neighborhood.

“If it wasn’t for those two, I don’t know if this generation would know Bronzeville,” Coleman said of Brown and Moessner.

“It’s a good thing for the community.”

Towards the end of the ceremony, Moessner presented this idea to the Lincoln Theater Board of Trustees: to rename the second floor ballroom where they were located to the Scarborough-Ogden Ballroom.

“We’re here to stay,” Brown said. “We have a lot of construction to do.”

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