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Learn about Theodore M. Berry

 

Born in poverty in Maysville, Kentucky, and raised in the West End, Theodore (Ted) Berry graduated from Woodward High School in 1924 as the first African American class valedictorian in Cincinnati.

 

In his senior year, he won an essay contest with an entry submitted under the pseudonym Thomas Playfair after an all-white panel had rejected his initial entry. Berry worked at steel mills in Newport to pay tuition at the University of Cincinnati and then at its law school.

 

In 1932, he was admitted to the Ohio Bar and became the youngest president of the Cincinnati NAACP. In the 14 years he led the civil rights organization, he sued Crosley Radio for not having any Black workers, and he took on the Board of Education because there were no Black members. He also acquitted a Black man sentenced to the electric chair.

 

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Ted Berry
Ted Berry began his political career in 1947

While making strides as a community leader, Ted Berry’s career began to take off. In 1938, he was appointed the first Black assistant prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County. During WWII, he worked at the Office of War Information in Washington, DC – an experience that changed his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

 

Before the war ended, Berry defended three Tuskegee Airmen who protested a segregated officer’s club in Indiana.

 

Related Article: Why So Many African Americans Have Roots in the West End of Cincinnati

 

 

Major Theodore M. Berry
Major Theodore M. Berry

Upon returning to Cincinnati, Berry served on the NAACP Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation from 1947 to 1961, where he worked on equal employment and fair housing issues. He also began his political career in 1947 when he ran for City Council. Berry lost that year but was elected 1949 to the first of three consecutive terms. As a councilor, he led a controversial battle to create a city income tax 

 

Berry was the top vote-getter in the 1955 council race and looked like a strong candidate for mayor, only to be undermined by racism when voters, at the council’s urging, abolished the proportional representation system for an at-large system. As a result, he served as the city’s first African American vice mayor. 

 

Related Article: 20 Good Books about Race, Diversity, and Inclusion

 

 

Theodore Berry 
Theodore Berry graduated from Woodward High School 1924 as the first African American class valedictorian in Cincinnati.

After serving as vice mayor, Berry became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. He and Thurgood Marshall traveled – at significant personal risk  – to file lawsuits. Berry also used his time out of public office to create Cincinnati’s first community action commission in 1964, enabling the city to participate in President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs.

 

President Johnson appointed Berry assistant director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. In this role, he oversaw the Head Start, Job Corps, and legal services programs. Afterward, Berry returned to Cincinnati and received an appointment to the City Council in 1971. In 1972, he won the election and became Cincinnati’s first African American mayor, serving four years.

 

 

Related Article: The History of African Americans in Cincinnati

 

 

International Friendship Park
T. M. Berry International Friendship Park

Mayor Berry was a Prince Hall Freemason, an  Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity member Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and involved with the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. He died in 2000 at the age of 94.

 

Cincinnati has several monuments to Berry – the Theodore M. Berry Head Start Center in the West End, Ted Berry Way at the Banks, and the Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park on the riverfront.

 

Theodore M. Berry Head Start
Theodore M. Berry Head Start in the West End

 

Sources

Ted Berry – Wikipedia
From The Vault: Ted Berry tried to bridge races as Cincinnati’s first African American mayor (wcpo.com)
Cincinnati History Library and Archives – cincymuseum.org

 

 

About The First 28

The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians, and politicians.

 

 

The Voice of Black Cincinnati is a media company designed to educate, recognize, and create opportunities for African Americans. Want to find local news, events, job postings, scholarships, and a database of local Black-owned businesses? Visit our homepage, explore other articles, subscribe to our newsletter, like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and text VOBC to 513-270-3880.

 

Images provided by Wikipedia, cincinnatiheadstart.org, University of Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Museum Center

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Written by Sophie Barsan

Sophie Barsan is a writer at The Voice of Black Cincinnati, where she covers events and client -focused content. Sophie's work is central to keeping the community informed about Cincinnati vibrant array of activities and opportunities. Her dedication to exploring and highlighting the city's cultural richness makes her stories a must-read for anyone looking to engage with the local scene. Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn for a deeper look into her articles and contributions.

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