As Black History Month ends, it's important to remember some of the African-American people who helped make Columbus the city it is today.
African-Americans have been living in central Ohio for more than 200 years. Some early residents were slaves captured during Native American raids along the frontier and brought to the Ohio Country. These people stayed and became relatives by blood and marriage to their captors.
But there were only a small number of people who fit this description. Many more African-Americans came north into Ohio when the Virginia Military District was laid out after the Revolution. This land between the Scioto and Miami rivers had been set aside for Virginia veterans of the Revolution. Virginia was a slave state, as was Kentucky nearby.
Slavery forever was prohibited north and west of the Ohio River. But many new landowners came to Ohio with their slaves, freed them, then paid them in food, clothing, shelter and money for their work.
There were many more African-Americans in the military district than elsewhere in the state. When Columbus was founded across the Scioto from frontier Franklinton, the new capital city began to attract African-Americans to work in inns, taverns and local rooming houses.
Columbus is not a massive industrial city. It is, and always has been, a service city. Those services -- employing many people then and now -- include finance and insurance, education -- primary, secondary and collegiate -- and health care. In addition, government spending on projects -- federal, state and local -- contributes to the economic mix. Jobs in those service industries have attracted the attention of people of all races.
The percentage of the population that is African-American in Columbus -- about 28 percent, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau -- always has been somewhat higher than the national average of about 13 percent. It is likely to stay that way.
We do not know a lot about the society and culture of many of the early African-American settlers in central Ohio. This is not surprising since we still know little about the working lives of most early settlers in the area.
But a few people stand out. An early account of the area recognized some of them:
"In 1855, James Poindexter ... bought the freedom of his mother-in-law, then a slave of sixty years in Christian County, Kentucky. Mr. Poindexter paid for his aged relative the sum of $375, and brought her to Columbus."
James Poindexter was a towering figure in this period. A minister, tradesman and educator, he was the first African-American to serve on Columbus City Council and the first to serve on the school board.
"In this connection," the account noted, "mention may be made of a colored lady commonly known as 'Aunt Lucy,' who died on East Cherry Street in May 1887, at the age of 102. Prior to the Civil War, Aunt Lucy was a slave to the Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson. She was never married and died of natural decay.
"Hanson Johnson, a colored citizen who died October 15, 1877, had been at that time a continuous resident of Columbus for fifty-four years. For thirty-nine years, he kept a barbershop in the basement of the American House (at the northwest corner of High and State streets).
"He was a native of Petersburg, Virginia, came to Columbus in 1823, was one of the original projectors and a liberal helper of the Bethel Church on East Long Street, was a generous and zealous benefactor of his race and at the time of his death was the oldest colored Mason in Ohio ... Hanson Johnson was a man of unblemished character and died universally known and respected in the city. Another colored citizen well known and greatly respected in Columbus was David Jenkins, who died in 1876, in Canton, Mississippi."
The brief mention of Jenkins does not adequately recognize his significance and his contribution to Columbus.
Born in Virginia in 1811, Jenkins came to Columbus in 1837 when the capital city was a village of about 5,000 people. It also was a major transfer point on the Underground Railroad -- a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada.
Jenkins was active in the Underground Railroad and in 1843 founded a newspaper, the Palladium of Liberty. The paper vigorously opposed the state's Black Laws, designed to discourage African-American migration to Ohio, and was a protest voice in Columbus for a few years.
Jenkins also was instrumental in creating the first schools for African-American children in Columbus. He helped recruit volunteers to the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, an African-American regiment, in the American Civil War and moved to Mississippi after the war to work with the Freedman's Bureau. He died there in 1876.
Had he the opportunity to see Columbus in that year, he would have been surprised and pleased to see that a new retail and commercial corridor for the African-American community was emerging at Long and High streets. A diverse and diffuse population was becoming a community.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.