Ohio Humanities, the state-based partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is working to shed more light on an often overlooked part of American history that transpired in Hillsboro in the 1950s.
Staff members of the organization and other project participants were in Hillsboro during the last weekend in June to gather material to add context to a 2015 film about the segregation of the era’s Lincoln School. The film was used as part of an exhibit at the Highland County Historical Society, and the updated version will debut in Columbus on Thursday, Sept. 8 for a group of people from Hillsboro and other supporters and community members.
All of Hillsboro’s Black elementary students in 1954 attended the substandard Lincoln School near the all-white elementary schools, Washington and Webster. Despite the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that established separate public schools for students of different races to be unconstitutional, the segregation continued in Hillsboro.
A group of concerned mothers of Lincoln School children walked miles with their children from their Black neighborhoods to Webster Elementary every school morning from 1954 to 1956. They became known as the “Marching Mothers.”
The protest culminated in Clemons vs. Board of Education of Hillsboro, Ohio, the first federal court case in Ohio challenging integration in Ohio schools under the direction of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The mothers prevailed, and the case was the first successful integration case in Ohio history.
“The Lincoln School story is really important because it’s one of those really early components of what a lot of people think of as that traditional civil rights movement that, depending on who you talk to, begins with Brown versus the Board of Education or the Montgomery bus boycott, but what we see in the Lincoln School story is people really at the forefront of that interpretation of the movement,” said Melvin Barnes Jr., Ph.D., a program officer with Ohio Humanities who participated in the film project. “The mothers and their movement in 1954 are really sort of blazing the trail, not only for Ohio, but also for the country.”
Ohio Humanities Executive Director Rebeca Brown Asmo said the organization is also working with a children’s book publisher and working on a discussion guide for the film. “We’re doing a discussion guide so that we can send the movie out to community groups if they want to view it and discuss the movie,” she said.
Ohio Humanities plans to make the film available online. “Another benefit to our work on this is that we will be able to give people free and digital access to the movie,” said Asmo. Ohio Humanities also plans to publish an article about the Lincoln School story in Smithsonian Magazine.
Asmo said there are a number of factors that add to the significance of the Lincoln School story. “One other important part is that it was led by women, and you don’t see a lot of stories like this, not that they don’t exist, but they are sometimes a little more lost history of these really sustained initiatives that are led by women.”
She said the updated film will highlight the significance of the history of the Lincoln School story beyond Hillsboro. “We’re adding a couple of scholars who can put this story into more of a national historical context,” she said.
As one of those scholars, Barnes said, “It’s really a story about the love that mothers display for their children and the things that they are willing to do to make sure that they have a better education, and not even just for their own kids, but for kids that are coming down the line.”
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.