It was 40 years ago this month that I first met one of the most memorable people I have known in Columbus.

It was 40 years ago this month that I first met one of the most memorable people I have known in Columbus.

At that time, I was enrolled in a course of study in history at Ohio State University. I was interested in learning something of the founding and early years of the Columbus Urban League, with the idea that I might be able to get a research paper out of the subject. I had seen the name of Nimrod Allen in an annual report as a former leader of the group and hoped he might be able to tell me something of the early days of the organization.

As it turned out, my hopes were realized.

In 1969, the country was going through a difficult and turbulent time. The war in Vietnam had been under way for a number of years and opposition to it was growing -- especially on America's college campuses. The civil rights revolution had achieved remarkable results in the South after World War II. But the impediments to racial equality in the North were not so much legal -- as was the case in the Jim Crow South -- as they were social and economic, making them more difficult to address.

The clash of cultures between old and young, liberal and conservative and black and white became more violent in the 1960s with protest marches, civil disorders and the assassinations of national leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

It was against that background that I met with Dr. Nimrod Booker Allen in the late winter and early spring of 1969. Allen was 83 years old and suffering from a variety of ailments that often afflict the elderly. But he still regularly came to the small storefront office of Allen Enterprises on East Long Street in Columbus. It was there that I met him and where I would return on numerous occasions over the course of the next several months.

Although he moved rather slowly, Allen at 83 was a man with extraordinary memories. He also was able and articulate enough to turn many of them into very good stories. In short, he captured my attention and interest and led me eventually to write about part of the history of the Columbus Urban League he had helped to bring into being.

It was simply a great story that I felt needed to be told.

Nimrod Allen was born in Girard, Ala., in 1886. His father was a minister, teacher and journalist. One of 12 children, Allen grew up in modest circumstances, but with a far better education than many of children of his age and race in the South at that time. After working for a time on a newspaper owned by his father, he attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and graduated in 1910. He followed his undergraduate work with a bachelor's degree in sacred theology from the Yale Divinity School.

But rather than become a minister, Allen became interested in trying to improve the economic and social condition of America's black communities.

The years shortly after the turn of the 20th century were a time of great change in America. Often called the Progressive Period, the era was characterized by a belief in progress in general and American progress in particular.

When Allen arrived in Columbus in 1915 to head the Spring Street branch of the YMCA, Ohio's capital city was on the verge of great change. The small Midwestern capital city of the 19th century was rapidly becoming an industrial, commercial and transportation center with more than 200,000 residents.

While always having a larger African-American population than many cities in the North of comparable size, Ohio's capital city had not seen the development of a real center of the black community until the years around the turn of the century along a corridor between Mount Vernon Avenue and Long Street in the downtown and extending into the near east side.

The Spring Street YMCA was located in this area and served as a cultural and social center, especially for the young people of this inner city neighborhood. In 1916, Allen married Clara Elberta Wilson and the couple later had a daughter named Phoebe Jeanette.

In 1917, after having settled into his work with the YMCA, Allen found Columbus faced with a challenge. The coming of World War I to America in 1917 had led to a rapid growth in wartime industries. Large numbers of people, black and white, from rural Ohio and the upper South migrated to northern cities in search of work. Between 1917 and 1919 the black population of Columbus doubled. To meet the needs of this new population, Allen and others became convinced new organizations were needed as well.

Following the example of a few other cities, an interracial organization pledged to the educational, economic and social uplift of the black community was founded. It eventually came to be called the Columbus Urban League, and Allen was its first executive secretary.

Allen led the Columbus Urban League until his retirement in 1954. He contended against the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in Ohio in the 1920s and the stark despair posed by economic collapse in the Great Depression of the 1930s. He saw the black population grow substantially again during World War II and face new challenges during the civil rights movement of the 1950s.

Through all of these years, Allen always advocated a non-confrontational approach to race relations. Some people thought him too assertive. Others thought him not assertive enough. But through it all he held the Columbus Urban League together and advocated improvement of the black community in housing, education and employment.

Allen died in 1977. But the Columbus Urban League and its legacy of positive change are with us still.