Racism in Columbus, Ohio

Last updated

Racism is a prevailing issue in the city of Columbus, Ohio, United States. Minority groups may face some societal, health, and legal challenges not experienced by non-minority residents.


Racism was recognized as a public health crisis in Columbus and its surrounding county, Franklin County, in 2020.


The 1936 redlining map of the city (interactive version) 1936 Columbus redlining map.jpg
The 1936 redlining map of the city (interactive version)

Columbus was established with a significant white population. The Civil War prompted some Black families moved from the South to northern cities, including Columbus, where they lived relatively integrated. A notable change took place with the Great Migration, where the city's racial makeup was significantly affected, and white attitudes soured toward other races. [1]

The city was one of six in Ohio featured in the 1913 book The Color Line in Ohio: A History of Race Prejudice in a Typical Northern State. The author wrote "Columbus, the capital of Ohio, has a feeling toward the negroes all its own. In all my travels in the state, I found nothing just like it. It is not so much a rabid feeling of prejudice against the negroes simply because their skin is black as it is a bitter hatred for them." [1]

Throughout much of the 20th century, African Americans were barred from lodging in many popular hotels, and from visiting many popular restaurants and entertainment venues. The Negro Motorist Green Book , published from 1936 to 1966, documented sites across the United States that were safe for African Americans to visit, and about 22 were listed in Columbus. Of these buildings, only four survive: the Macon Hotel, the Hotel St. Clair, the Cooper Tourist Home (at 259 N. 17th St.) and the Hawkins Tourist Home (at 70 N. Monroe Ave.). [2]

In the early 20th century, racial discrimination was added into deeds, with 67 percent of all Central Ohio subdivisions found to have exclusionary covenants against people of color during a period from 1921 to 1935. [3] [1] A 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Shelley v. Kraemer , found these clauses to be unconstitutional. The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, further outlawed them. The practice continued on in Upper Arlington into the 1970s, [1] and some of the racist language has remained, albeit unenforceable, in Ohio deeds into 2021; a law passed that year allowed for easy removal during property transfers. [4]

In 1936, the Home Owners' Loan Corporation created a "residential security" map of Columbus. The federal agency was tasked with creating maps for every major U.S. city to define areas that are safe to give out loans to, as well as areas of higher risk. The maps used a practice known as redlining discriminating on personal and business loans in neighborhoods on the basis of race and income. Areas with immigrants and African Americans were redlined in Columbus, despite several being middle-class or wealthy areas. A 2018 study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that the redlined areas continue to suffer, more than the national average for historically redlined neighborhoods. [1]

In the 1960s, the Interstate Highway System was built, including through Columbus. Interstates 670, 70, and 71 were built in and around Columbus. Redlined areas were targeted minority and poor neighborhoods. These included the Near East Side, Milo-Grogan, Linden, and Flytown, the latter of which was completely demolished. White and affluent areas such as Bexley were left untouched. Interstate 70 split apart Hanford Village, a formerly independent Black neighborhood. The highway's construction involved the demolition of 60 houses in the middle-class neighborhood. [5]

Also during the 1960s and onward, urban renewal became popular in Columbus. Minority and poor neighborhoods were targeted for "slum clearance", removal of dilapidated structures. The demolitions rarely involved replacement with affordable housing, and further increased the decline of these areas. [5]

In the 1970s, Columbus City Schools challenged an aspect of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. A U.S. district judge ruled in 1977 that the school was intentionally creating school boundaries to separate white and Black students. The school district challenged the segregation ruling, bringing it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court supported the judge's decision, forcing new busing routes in the school district. The new integration led some white students to say it was the first time they had seen a Black person. City school enrollment subsequently dropped as white families moved out of the Columbus district into the suburbs. [6]

Gentrification has been an issue in the 21st century in minority neighborhoods. Poindexter Village was an affordable housing community in Bronzeville that was demolished in 2013 despite the residents wanting to remain, and advocating for its preservation. [5]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of institutional racism became evident. People of color were disproportionately affected, including with greater rates of contracting and being hospitalized with COVID-19 and greater economic losses during the pandemic. The city and county health departments set up mobile vaccination units for low-income areas and worked with community organizations to ensure culturally sensitive COVID messaging. Columbus Public Health reserved 20 percent of its vaccines for vulnerable populations. [7]

In 2021, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University reported that Black and poor areas have had homes overvalued between 2010 and 2019. The overvaluing increased property taxes, sometimes with valuations 50 percent higher than their actual worth. Majority white neighborhoods were consistently undervalued. A 2017 audit of the county's last full reappraisal suggested improvements, leading the new county auditor to commission the study. [8]

In 2021, the place of critical race theory in schools became a topic of debate nationwide. Several Central Ohio school districts began to discuss how to lecture on racism in schools. In July of that year, the Olentangy and Hilliard school district meetings were reportedly meeting parent opposition to anti-racist education. [9]

In policing

The Columbus Division of Police (CPD) has faced numerous charges of racism. One prominent event took place at the Kahiki Supper Club in 1975, called the "Kahiki Incident", when two African American couples disputed charges on their restaurant bill. Amid a talk with management, police became involved and a physical altercation took place. Three of the four were arrested and jailed. The Black community pushed for the officers to be tried, and for a civilian review board. Two officers were fired, though reinstated two months later. A local radio DJ, Les Brown, took to the issue at WVKO. He took over extra airtime to talk about race issues and telling people to vote for John Rosemond (the first Black mayoral candidate on Columbus), which caused him to be fired. The radio station did not inform him, though they changed the locks in September 1975. Brown was let into the studio by a colleague, and he barricaded himself into the studio until WVKO staff removed the door hinges. Police prepared to arrest him, though about 3,000 Blacks were gathered outside, cheering in support of Brown. He went on to serve as a state legislator for two terms. [10]

In 2020, three race-related lawsuits were being brought against the department, where Black officers alleged discrimination in hiring, staffing events, and promotions. The plaintiffs in one suit described a culture of discrimination against minorities in the force. [11] [12] The CPD has faced numerous allegations of racial injustice regarding Black Columbus residents who were injured or killed, and how it handled the George Floyd protests in the city. [12]

In 2021, it was reported that the county sees unusually high rates of fatal police shootings: the highest rate for any urban county in Ohio, and 18th highest for urban counties nationally, from 2015 to 2020. Franklin County's fatal police shootings disproportionately affect African Americans, where the county has 20 percent of Ohio's Black population yet accounts for 33 percent of Ohio's records of African Americans fatally shot by law enforcement. [13] [14] In 2018, the Columbus Division of Police's use of force was also disproportionate, with 55 percent of use-of-force incidents targeting Black people, who only make up 29 percent of Columbus's population. [12]


Street art reading "End Racism" during the George Floyd protests End Racism writing.jpg
Street art reading "End Racism" during the George Floyd protests

The city is working to reduce racism as it affects public health. In 2014, it launched CelebrateOne, a program to reduce infant mortality in Columbus, an issue especially present in minority neighborhoods. In 2020, the city launched the Center for Public Health Innovation, an entity with programs to promote physical activity, health screenings, and weight loss, to improve health and quality of life for residents. [7]

Area hospitals are working to address racism, including the Wexner Medical Center. The Ohio State medical center has had anti-racism programs for years, though it increased efforts following the George Floyd protests in the city. UHCAN Ohio is an activist organization operating across the state to help set up similar anti-racism initiatives. [7]

In 2020, the governments of Columbus and Franklin County each declared racism a public health crisis in their jurisdictions. The Franklin County Health Commissioner described a 15-20-year life expectancy gap between races, along with institutional policies and practices that affect people of color. Franklin County Public Health committed to 17 different actions to improve racial equality in the county. [15] [16]

Also in 2020, during the George Floyd protests, the city council voted to remove symbolism of Christopher Columbus due to his oppression of Native Americans. This included removing a 22-ft.-tall statue of Christopher Columbus and forming a study to redesign the city's seal and flag. Columbus State Community College had removed its statue of Columbus over the same issue earlier that year, [17] and the city ceased celebrating Columbus Day in 2018. [18]


Racial distribution in Columbus in 2010: red dots indicate white Americans, blue dots for African Americans, green for Asian Americans, orange for Hispanic Americans, yellow for other races. Each dot represents 25 residents. Race and ethnicity 2010- Columbus (5559898027).png
Racial distribution in Columbus in 2010: red dots indicate white Americans, blue dots for African Americans, green for Asian Americans, orange for Hispanic Americans, yellow for other races. Each dot represents 25 residents.

As of 2020, Black residents of Franklin County had a 11.1 percent unemployment rate, about double the overall unemployment. Home ownership rate for Black residents was 33.4 percent, 40 percent lower than the overall rate. 637 of 100,000 were in prison, a rate about three times higher than for the total population in Franklin County. Infant mortality was high, with a rate of 11 per 1,000 live births, over double the rate for non-Hispanic white residents. Life expectancy was lower, with an 18.3-year difference between the predominantly white Bexley residents (85.4 years) and the life expectancy of Near East Side residents (67.1 years), who are predominantly Black. [7]

As of 2019, Columbus is the 55th-most racially segregated city in the U.S., in a ranking of cities with populations of 200,000 or more. The UC Berkeley report described the city's level of segregation as "High Segregation". [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Columbus, Ohio</span> Capital and largest city of Ohio, United States

Columbus is the state capital and the most populous city in the U.S. state of Ohio. With a 2020 census population of 905,748, it is the 14th-most populous city in the U.S., the second-most populous city in the Midwest, after Chicago, and the third-most populous state capital. Columbus is the county seat of Franklin County; it also extends into Delaware and Fairfield counties. It is the core city of the Columbus metropolitan area, which encompasses ten counties in central Ohio. The metropolitan area had a population of 2,138,926 in 2020, making it the largest entirely in Ohio and 32nd-largest in the U.S.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Redlining</span> Systemic denial of services to some areas

In the United States, redlining is a discriminatory practice in which services are withheld from potential customers who reside in neighborhoods classified as 'hazardous' to investment; these neighborhoods have significant numbers of racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income residents. While the most well-known examples involve denial of credit and insurance, also sometimes attributed to redlining in many instances are: denial of healthcare and the development of food deserts in minority neighbourhoods. In the case of retail businesses like supermarkets, the purposeful construction of stores impractically far away from targeted residents results in a redlining effect.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bexley, Ohio</span> City in Ohio, United States

Bexley is a suburban city in Franklin County, Ohio, United States. The population was 13,928 at the 2020 census. Founded as a village, the city of Bexley is a suburb of Columbus, the Ohio state capital, situated on the banks of Alum Creek next to Driving Park and Wolfe Park, just east of the Franklin Park Conservatory. It is horizontally bisected by the National Road, serving as a reminder of Bexley's origins as a merger between the prestigious Bullitt Park neighborhood to the north, and the Lutheran college community of Pleasant Ridge to the south.

White flight or white exodus is the sudden or gradual large-scale migration of white people from areas becoming more racially or ethnoculturally diverse. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, the terms became popular in the United States. They referred to the large-scale migration of people of various European ancestries from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions. The term has more recently been applied to other migrations by whites, from older, inner suburbs to rural areas, as well as from the U.S. Northeast and Midwest to the milder climate in the Southeast and Southwest. The term 'white flight' has also been used for large-scale post-colonial emigration of whites from Africa, or parts of that continent, driven by levels of violent crime and anti-colonial state policies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blockbusting</span> Manipulation of racist attitudes for real estate profit

Blockbusting was a business practice in which real estate agents and building developers convinced white residents in a particular area to sell their property at below-market prices. This was achieved by fearmongering the homeowners, telling them that racial minorities would soon be moving into their neighborhoods. The blockbusters would then sell those same houses at inflated prices to black families seeking upward mobility. Blockbusting became prominent after post-World War II bans on explicitly segregationist real estate practices. By the 1980s it had mostly disappeared in the United States after changes to the law and real estate market.

Racism in the United States comprises negative attitudes and views on race or ethnicity which are related to each other, are held by various people and groups in the United States, and have been reflected in discriminatory laws, practices and actions at various times in the history of the United States against racial or ethnic groups. Throughout American history, white Americans have generally enjoyed legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights, which have been denied to members of various ethnic or minority groups at various times. European Americans, particularly affluent white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, are said to have enjoyed advantages in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure.

Covert racism is a form of racial discrimination that is disguised and subtle, rather than public or obvious. Concealed in the fabric of society, covert racism discriminates against individuals through often evasive or seemingly passive methods. Covert, racially-biased decisions are often hidden or rationalized with an explanation that society is more willing to accept. These racial biases cause a variety of problems that work to empower the suppressors while diminishing the rights and powers of the oppressed. Covert racism often works subliminally, and often much of the discrimination is being done subconsciously.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Racial segregation in the United States</span> Historical separation of African Americans from American white society

Racial segregation in the United States is the segregation of facilities and services such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation in the United States on racial grounds. The term is mainly used in reference to the legally or socially enforced separation of African Americans from whites, but it is also used in reference to the separation of other ethnic minorities from majority and mainstream communities. While mainly referring to the physical separation and provision of separate facilities, it can also refer to other manifestations such as prohibitions against interracial marriage, and the separation of roles within an institution. Notably, in the United States Armed Forces up until 1948, black units were typically separated from white units but were still led by white officers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Franklinton (Columbus, Ohio)</span> Neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio

Franklinton is a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, just west of its downtown. Settled in 1797, Franklinton is the first American settlement in Franklin County, and was the county seat until 1824. As the city of Columbus grew, the city annexed and incorporated the existing settlement in 1859. Franklinton is bordered by the Scioto River on the north and east, Harmon Avenue on the east, Stimmel Road and Greenlawn Avenue on the south, and Interstate 70 on the west. Its main thoroughfare is West Broad Street, one of the city's two main roads.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Linden (Columbus, Ohio)</span> Neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio

Linden is a neighborhood in northeastern Columbus, Ohio. It was established in 1908 as Linden Heights Village, and was annexed into Columbus in 1921. The neighborhood saw high levels of development in the 1920s. By the 1960s, suburban development and racial factors caused families, especially white residents, to leave the neighborhood. Since this time, Linden has struggled with poverty, crime, vacancies, and health and societal problems.

The African-American middle class consists of African-Americans who have middle-class status within the American class structure. It is a societal level within the African-American community that primarily began to develop in the early 1960s, when the ongoing Civil Rights Movement led to the outlawing of de jure racial segregation. The African American middle class exists throughout the United States, particularly in the Northeast and in the South, with the largest contiguous majority black middle class neighborhoods being in the Washington, DC suburbs in Maryland. The African American middle class is also prevalent in the Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, New York, San Antonio and Chicago areas.

Mortgage discrimination or mortgage lending discrimination is the practice of banks, governments or other lending institutions denying loans to one or more groups of people primarily on the basis of race, ethnic origin, sex or religion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Residential segregation in the United States</span>

Residential segregation in the United States is the physical separation of two or more groups into different neighborhoods—a form of segregation that "sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes the living environment at the neighborhood level". While it has traditionally been associated with racial segregation, it generally refers to the separation of populations based on some criteria.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Housing segregation in the United States</span> Denying races access to housing

Housing segregation in the United States is the practice of denying African Americans and other minority groups equal access to housing through the process of misinformation, denial of realty and financing services, and racial steering. Housing policy in the United States has influenced housing segregation trends throughout history. Key legislation include the National Housing Act of 1934, the G.I. Bill, and the Fair Housing Act. Factors such as socioeconomic status, spatial assimilation, and immigration contribute to perpetuating housing segregation. The effects of housing segregation include relocation, unequal living standards, and poverty. However, there have been initiatives to combat housing segregation, such as the Section 8 housing program.

Housing discrimination in the United States refers to the historical and current barriers, policies, and biases that prevent equitable access to housing. Housing discrimination became more pronounced after the abolition of slavery in 1865, typically as part of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation. The federal government began to take action against these laws in 1917, when the Supreme Court struck down ordinances prohibiting blacks from occupying or owning buildings in majority-white neighborhoods in Buchanan v. Warley. However, the federal government as well as local governments continued to be directly responsible for housing discrimination through redlining and race-restricted covenants until the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Racial inequality in the United States identifies the social inequality and advantages and disparities that affect different races within the United States. These can also be seen as a result of historic oppression, inequality of inheritance, or racism and prejudice, especially against minority groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of African Americans in Detroit</span> History of African Americans in Detroit

Black Detroiters are black or African American residents of Detroit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black or African Americans living in Detroit accounted for 79.1% of the total population, or approximately 532,425 people as of 2017 estimates. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, of all U.S. cities with 100,000 or more people, Detroit had the second-highest percentage of Black people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">COVID-19 pandemic in Columbus, Ohio</span> Ongoing COVID-19 viral pandemic in Columbus, Ohio

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing viral pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a novel infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The pandemic has affected the city of Columbus, Ohio, as Ohio's stay-at-home order shuttered all nonessential businesses, and is causing event cancellations into 2021. The shutdown led to protests at the Ohio Statehouse, the state capitol building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Floyd protests in Columbus, Ohio</span> 2020 civil unrest in Columbus, Ohio after the murder of George Floyd

The George Floyd protests are an ongoing series of protests and civil disturbances that initially started in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota, United States, before spreading nationwide. In Columbus, Ohio, unrest began on May 28, 2020, two days after incidents began in Minneapolis. The events are a reaction to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for over nine minutes, asphyxiating him.

Gentrification in the United States is commonly associated with an influx of higher-income movers into historically divested neighborhoods with existing, working-class residents, often resulting in increases in property prices and investment into new developments. Displacement and gentrification are also linked, with consequences of gentrification including displacement of pre-existing residents and cultural erasure of the historic community. In the United States, discussions surrounding gentrification require critical analysis of race and other demographic data in examining the inequalities and disparities between existing residents, the community, new buyers, and developers caused by gentrification.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Oliphint, Joel. "Cover: The roots of Columbus' ongoing color divide". Columbus Alive.
  2. "King-Lincoln Bronzeville Landmark, 'Green Book' Site Macon Hotel Finds New Life". Columbus Monthly. September 28, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  3. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-History-of-Race-Real-Estate-Cuyahoga-County-Final-Report-February-2015.pdf [ bare URL PDF ]
  4. "Discriminatory property restrictions, long illegal, can now be removed from Ohio deeds".
  5. 1 2 3 https://www.dispatch.efcom/in-depth/lifestyle/2020/12/03/black-columbus-ohio-homes-impact-highways-east-side/3629685001/ [ dead link ]
  6. Wagner, Mike. "Stories of desegregation in Columbus schools, as told by Black residents who were there". The Columbus Dispatch.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Gray, Kathy Lynn. "Warning: Racism is Hazardous to Your Health in Columbus". Columbus Monthly.
  8. Weiker, Jim. "Poor and Black Franklin County neighborhoods were overvalued for real estate taxes for years, new report finds". The Columbus Dispatch.
  9. "Critical Race Theory Roils Central Ohio School Board Meetings". WOSU News. July 15, 2021.
  10. Marshall, Aaron. "Remembering the Kahiki Incident". Columbus Monthly.
  11. "Racism within Columbus Police: Black Officers Call for Internal Reforms". 8 September 2020.
  12. 1 2 3 "Black officers say Columbus, Ohio, police prejudice isn't limited to civilians: They're battling it, too". CNN .
  13. "Franklin County has one of highest rates of fatal police shootings in Ohio and the U.S."
  14. https://878570bd-c4fe-4dfe-8107-669a96dd214b.filesusr.com/ugd/89e8f1_e01ca0930e72490999d3e42c2b8e2f38.pdf [ bare URL PDF ]
  15. "Racism Deemed Public Health Crisis in Columbus". spectrumnews1.com.
  16. "City of Columbus declares racism a public health crisis". 10tv.com. June 2020.
  17. Pfleger, Paige (April 17, 2015). "NPR Articles". Houston Public Media.
  18. Chappell, Bill (July 2020). "Columbus, Ohio, Takes Down Statue Of Christopher Columbus". NPR.
  19. "Most to Least Segregated Cities". Othering & Belonging Institute. May 3, 2021.