When we talk about Appalachian people it is crucial that we keep in our minds that we are talking about a diverse population. For the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, advocacy has always been for the many and varied populations that make up greater Cincinnati and the people who define themselves as urban Appalachians. With this in mind, we would like to share that on March 9, The Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies will present three short films in a program entitled “Black Appalachians: Leadership, Legacy and Village Life in Rendville, Ohio.”
Rendville, Ohio is one of the first integrated coal mining towns in southern Ohio and remains something of a monument to living history as an example of the central place of black people in Appalachia. These short films are part of the efforts to preserve the history and legacy of Rendville, Ohio by the Rendville Historic Preservation Society (RHPS), Little Cities of the Black Diamonds, and Black in Appalachia. (Links to these organizations are below).
Rendville, Ohio is located about 25 miles north of Athens, Ohio. The village was established in 1879 by the Ohio Central Coal Company. Historically, coal companies exclusively hired white men to work the mines, but the founder of the Ohio Coal Company, William Rend, hired large numbers of African Americans from the area and from further into the Appalachian regions. This led to rising tensions between black residents and workers in Rendville and neighboring white communities. The claim was that hiring black men to work the mines would drive down wages.
In 1888, mobs from nearby Corning and other areas descended upon Rendville with the intention of driving out black coal miners and their families. While no significant violence occurred, they did bring in weapons hidden in wagons. Then Governor Charles Foster dispatched the National Guard to disperse the mob. This event is still known as “the Corning War.”
From the very beginning of Rendville, Ohio, black residents made up a sizable percentage of the population. The town flourished for a short time until over-production of coal led to a loss of jobs. At one time, Rendville was made up most of male residents. It was home to numerous bars, and a spirit of general lawlessness pervaded the town. Fights and brawls were not uncommon. Rendville experienced a resurgence during World War I, but the Great Depression put things back into decline. Since 1940, Rendville, Ohio has experienced a steady decrease in population.
Nevertheless, Rendville, Ohio remains, and the town has given us some distinguished and prominent Americans. Isaiah Tuppins was the first African American Mayor in Ohio. Sophia Mitchell was the first African American woman mayor on the State of Ohio. And Rendville native Roberta Preston was the first African American woman postmaster in the United States. Rendville, Ohio is the site of some of the most important history for black people not just in Appalachia, but also in American history. Just as importantly, this small town was one of the first places in the United States to blur the color line that divides so many people this day.
Janis Ivory, a member of the Board for the Rendville Historic Preservation Society, remembers growing up in a town that was one community. Ms. Ivory lived in Rendville from the age of ten (her mother was from Rendville) until she graduated high school in 1959. “When I first came to Rendville, I was struck by the fact that it is a place where white people and African Americans lived like one family. It is such a small town, and everyone simply lived as one community,” Ms. Ivory remembers. She recalled a time when a white minister in town became the first person to own a television. She said, “we all gathered outside her house. She would turn her tv on her porch, and everyone gathered to watch.” This was typical of the small tight-knit community of Rendville.
The crossing of the color line began in many ways with the founding of the town. William P. Rend, the founder of Rendville, hired black and white laborers to work his mines. Janis Ivory explained that “Mr. Rend paid all his workers the same no matter who they were.” Ms. Ivory also added that while Rend started a company store like many mining towns, he set it up so that it could be taken over by townspeople. Rendville is exceptional in many ways, and this appears to have begun with the town founder himself. With such a unique place in Appalachian, African American, and United States history, the presentation at Ohio State University is a rare opportunity to learn more about this little patch of Appalachian Ohio.
The Ohio State University’s Center of Folklore Studies is sponsoring the presentation at the OSU Thompson Library that will include three short, community-produced documentaries that illuminate the history and community of Rendville, Ohio. These films include “Rendville Across the Color Line,” “Stories of Decoration Day” and “Water for Life.” The films were produced in a partnership with the Rendville Historic Preservation Society (RHPS), Little Cities of the Black Diamonds, and Black in Appalachia. A Q & A and discussion will follow the screening of the films. The event is to be hosted at Thompson Library, but there is an option to participate online.
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition looks to these types of presentations and projects as part of the ongoing work of providing depth and richness to our understanding of Appalachian history and culture. These short films bring the history of Rendville, Ohio alive for all of us, and we hope everyone will take advantage of this event, either in person or online. Links for all of this are provided below.
Sponsored by the Center for Folklore Studies and The Ohio State University Libraries.
Thompson Library 150 A/B
1858 Neil Avenue Mall
Columbus, OH 43210-1286
Registration for in-person and online is at this link: https://cfs.osu.edu/events/black-appalachians-leadership-legacy-and-village-life-rendville-ohio.
The Rendville Historic Preservation Society: https://rendvillehistory.org/.
Little Cities of the Black Diamonds: https://www.lcbdohio.org/.
Black in Appalachia: https://www.blackinappalachia.org/.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.