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William Bowen grew up in the West End of Cincinnati and graduated from Woodward High School. He also attended Xavier University before dropping out to become a force in the Cincinnati political scene.  

As the president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1958 – 1964)Bowen led a march to call for the desegregation of Coney Island’s Sunlite Pool. Bowen was well known for his gentle way with people and relied on diplomatic skills rather than confrontation to encourage racial integration. 


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Bowen led a march to call for the desegregation of Coney Island’s Sunlite Pool – Photo from

Bowen won election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1966, and four years later, he was appointed to, and then won on his own, the Ohio Senate seat for the 9th district. He held the office until his retirement in 1994.   

During his tenure in the Senate, Bowen made his reputation as a champion of civil rights, fair housing and affirmative action. He was the driving force behind the legislation that established state set-asides, resulting in the awarding of state contracts to minority contractors. He was also recognized for outstanding leadership during the race riots in Cincinnati in the late 1960s. 

Bowen was a Mason, a member of the Zion Baptist Church and an organizer of the Citizens Coalition Against Crime. He was also a family man. He and his wife Sharon had five children, William, Kevin, Terry, Nikol, and Linda. 


Related Article: The History of African Americans in Cincinnati


William Bowen
William Bowen, First African American to serve in the Ohio Senate  – Photo from

After he retired from the Senate, Bowen worked as a government consultant and continued in the insurance business he started decades earlier. He died on April 22, 1999. 

Three other African Americans have been elected to represent Hamilton County in the Ohio Senate – Mark Mallory (1999-2005)Eric Kearney (2005-2014) and Cecil Thomas (2015- present). 



William F. Bowen | Ohio Statehouse


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.


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