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Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers:  African Americans and Newly Arriving European Immigrants

African Americans and immigrants from central, southern and eastern Europe were often crowded on labor trains and unknowingly brought to new jobs in the Hocking Valley mines either to break strikes or flood the labor market to bring down prices.  Their working and living conditions were often deplorable.  Company towns such as Congo were strictly segregated by nationality and race with Hungarians living on one hillside and African Americans on another.  A short lived Ku Klux KlanWP rend movement in the 1920’s targeted Catholics, Germans and African Americans. In 1875 the first report of African Americans being brought to the region by mine owners said that “unknowing colored miners were met by an angry mob of Irishmen” at the train station in Nelsonville where stones were hurled at them.  Local legend in New Straitsville says that eight African American strikebreakers were shot and buried in a coal slag pile during the 1880’s, though this event was never reported in the press.  In the end only a few Little Cities communities were home to African Americans, the most notable being Rendville. 
Rendville, established in 1880, served as a shining beacon in an otherwise dismal story for African Americans in the Hocking Valley.  Here, immediately to the north of the larger mining community of Corning, mine owner Colonel William P. Rend took a different attitude toward African Americans, paying equal wages and experimenting with integration of the mines he owned, though not with full success.  Approximately 50% of the population of Rendville was African American during the mining boom.   Another site of interest is the Payne Cemetery near New Straitsville. Residents of the small community of African Americans released by their plantation owners in the South prior to the Civil War are buried here.  These citizens fought for the Union in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War and later played professional (druggist and barber) and service roles in the nearby boom town of New Straitsville once it was established in 1870.  At both Rendville and Payne’s Crossing, early valued leadership roles were played by African Americans well ahead of the nation’s Civil Rights movement.   
People associated with Rendville include:

  • The previously mentioned Colonel William P. Rend is also remembered for his refusal to cut the wages of miners as voted by “the syndicate” on the eve of the Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884, which put him at odds with mine owners but gained him respect from the miners.  His mines not only stayed open during the strike but he arranged for the deduction of 10 cents per ton from the pay of his miners which was sent to other striking miners of the region who were starving and being shut out of their homes. His role in joining with union leader Chris Evans of the Hocking Valley to create the Joint Conference of Miners and Mine Owners is thus predictable and not only makes the community of Rendville a place of tribute to African Americans but of this Chicago businessman.
  • Rend’s company doctor, Dr. Isaiah Tuppins, the first African American in Ohio to receive his medical degree.  Tuppins was elected mayor of Rendville in 1888 making him the first African American mayor in the North Central United States.
  • Adam Clayton Powell Jr.Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Powell came to work in Rend’s mines and wandered into a week long revival at the Rendville Baptist Church (still standing) in 1890, and was filled with religious spirit that influenced him to change his profligate ways.  He later attended the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and went on to become a key religious and civil rights leader during the Harlem Renaissance as pastor of the nation’s largest congregation at Harlem’s Abbysinian Baptist Church.  His son Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who reportedly spent summers in Rendville during his childhood, became a national figure as a Congressman from Harlem, expelled from Congress during the turbulent 1960’s.
  • African American miner Richard L. Davis. Davis joined the Knights of Labor “colored assembly” at Rendville and became active in the organization’s affairs due to his excellent oratory skills and passion for the cause of labor.  He gave speeches in neighboring mining communities to Caucasian audiences urging miners to join the Knights.  He is believed to be the only, if not one of few, African Americans present at the historic organizing convention of the United Mine Workers in Columbus in 1890.  From this meeting he rose to be elected to the state and national executive committees of the United Mine Workers during the 1890’s.  When the national officers and executive committees of the UMWA came to the Hocking Valley mining town of Corning during this period, Davis Richard Davisgreeted them at the train, where he took them to a historic meeting at the Mercer Hotel.  There, miners from West Virginia refused to be served lunch along side an African American, so the hotel owner asked Davis to leave.  The entire Ohio UMWA assembly, and the national officers walked out in protest of the hotel’s decision and the hotel became the first business fined under Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws. Davis traveled the eastern United States recruiting African Americans and often-shunned eastern Europeans into the union, risking his life in many contentious situations.  His writings to the Mine Workers Journal during the 1890’s provide an excellent documentation of the plight of African Americans miners and their struggle to be integrated into the mines, particularly in West Virginia.  He is credited by the UMWA for recruiting over 20,000 African Americans into the union.  He is buried in Rendville Cemetery.
  • Miss Sophia Mitchell made Ohio history in 1976 by becoming the first African American women to serve as mayor in the state.
  • Roberta Preston was the first African American women to ever serve as a postmaster in the United States when she took over that position at the Rendville Post Office.