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Visit the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Archives Page
For more information, please call 614-466-2785 or 888-278-7101.
The Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame was created in 2009 through the collaborative efforts of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Honda of America Mfg., Inc., Wright State University, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and PNC.* The Civil Rights Hall of Fame seeks to acknowledge outstanding Ohioans who are recognized as pioneers in human and civil rights and who have advanced the goals of equality and inclusion. Inductees of the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame are individuals who have made significant contributions in support of civil rights, cultural awareness and understanding in furtherance of a more just society.
Please help us welcome the following 2018 inductees at the 10th Annual Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame induction ceremony on October 4, 2018 at 10:00am at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are encouraged. Please visit 2018ocrhof.eventbrite.com to RSVP.
The 2018 Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame ceremony will also feature a new Commissioners' Community Spirit Award, presented to Larry and Donna James. For more information about Mr. and Mrs. James and the Award, visit the Community Spirit Award page.
Dr. Errol D. Alexander was born in 1941 in Sandusky, Ohio and committed his life and career to serving and empowering individuals, as well as fighting for civil rights. As a young man, Dr. Alexander became active in civil rights at age 14, writing letters to his local newspaper expressing rage about discrimination that resulted in the murder of Emmet Till and segregation that led to the Brown vs. Board of Education trial.
In his early career, Dr. Alexander served as a local NAACP president and used his position as a union representative to advocate for greater diversity and inclusion at local Sandusky workplaces. He pushed for local companies to hire and treat all employees and customers fairly, regardless of race, and his efforts led to the desegregation of employees’ shower and lunch areas at several major companies. As local NAACP president, Dr. Alexander was chosen to be the regional coordinator for the 1963 March on Washington. In that role, he helped bring Ohioans to see Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. Alexander’s work in Ohio factories also led him to work as a technician for Bendix Aerospace System as the only African American on a team working on the NASA “Moon Shot” program. Later in life, Dr. Alexander discovered a passion for business and operations. He travelled to Scotland to attend the University of Strathclyde for his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and eventually completed a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Glasgow in 1990. Shortly after, he became Dean of the MBA program at the prestigious University of Stirling. As a professor, he inspired and encouraged many young individuals to fight for the betterment of others and due to his accomplishments in the United Kingdom, Dr. Alexander was elected a member of the renowned Royal Society for the Arts.
Throughout his life and extraordinary achievements, Dr. Alexander remained focused on the African American community. He has devoted his time to supporting, counseling, and mentoring young African American men and has engaged in civic and philanthropic work, serving on boards for organizations like United Way, Rotary International, Hospice, and others. In his more recent pursuits, Dr. Alexander has concentrated on painting and writing, including four books.
Dr. Joseph Carter Corbin was born March 26, 1833 in Chillicothe, Ohio and was the son of former slaves, William and Susan Corbin, from Virginia. In 1850, he entered Ohio University at Athens as a sophomore and graduated in 1853, the third African American to attend Ohio University and the second to complete a bachelor’s degree. He would use his college degree to empower and establish a pathway for other African Americans to achieve higher education.
In the years following his graduation from Ohio University, he served two terms as an elected trustee of the Cincinnati Colored School Board. Dr. Corbin was editor and co-publisher of the Colored Citizen Newspaper of Cincinnati from 1863-1869, when exercise of free speech by African Americans was difficult and dangerous.
During Reconstruction of the South following the Civil War, Dr. Corbin migrated to Little Rock, Arkansas to make his mark and spread higher education. Shortly after arriving in Arkansas, he was elected State Superintendent of Public Education. As Superintendent, he served as President of the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville). In this role, he helped lay the foundation for a branch of the University at Pine Bluff for the education of African American teachers.
Dr. Corbin opened Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) on September 27, 1875 and served the next 27 years as its President. Under Dr. Corbin’s leadership, Branch Normal College produced the first college educated African American in Arkansas. The school has since operated for more than 140 years and is a land grant Historically Black College or University. Dr. Corbin died January 9, 1911 in Pine Bluff and was buried in Forest Park, Illinois.
Joseph Carter Corbin is known as the "father of higher education for African Americans in Arkansas,” but his work had national impact. During the 2013 dedication of the Corbin Memorial Headstone, Senator Sherrod Brown said of Dr. Corbin, "[a]s the founder and president of the first African American institution of higher education in Arkansas, Dr. Corbin broke barriers and laid the foundation for future educational and racial reforms." His advancement of education as a civil right for freed slaves and their descendants was not without personal sacrifice, political opposition, discrimination, and racism.
Dr. Corbin has been honored in his native Ohio with a historical marker at Ohio University - Chillicothe. Nominator Dr. Gladys Turner Finney said, "Professor Corbin used his education to change the world by making higher education available to former slaves and their descendants. His unselfish devotion to educating others still remains, is immortal, and magnifies his birthplace, native state and alma mater."
Jo Ann Davidson was born in Findlay, Ohio in 1927 and later moved to Reynoldsburg where she would start her political career. Her first foray into politics was a run for the office of Reynoldsburg City Council in 1965, before any woman had been elected to that position. Although she did not win her initial race, she ran again in the next election cycle and was successful. Davidson went on to serve 10 years as a member of the city council and served as Chair of its finance committee.
In 1980, Davidson was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, and in 1995 she was elected by her peers to serve as the first (and, to date, only) female Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. During her time as Speaker from 1995-2000, Davidson guided many legislative initiatives through the Ohio General Assembly and was known for bridging the gaps between the majority and minority parties. Inclusiveness was a priority for Speaker Davidson and her nominator, U.S. Representative Joyce Beatty, wrote “she was a wonderful example of bridge building and overcoming partisanship in favor of progress.” Her leadership resulted in changes to legislative rules to improve fairness, guarantee more minority party participation, allow both parties the right to offer amendments on the House floor for debate and a vote, and make it easier to report a bill out of committee.
Throughout her life, Speaker Davidson has been a tireless advocate for the advancement of gender equality in leadership. In 2000, at the end of her position as Speaker, Davidson committed to reaching back to other women by establishing The Jo Ann Davidson Ohio Leadership Institute. The Institute’s goal is to prepare more women to assume prominent roles in policy making professions and elected or appointed positions. To date, 336 women have graduated from the Institute and learned leadership skills and how to have the greatest impact in business, government and politics.
Speaker Davidson continues her work as a public servant even today. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Findlay and Franklin University and is a member of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees. She served as Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee from 2005-2009 and is currently Vice-Chair for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. She also founded JAD and Associates, a consulting firm.
Born in Sandusky, Ohio, James (Jim) Obergefell did not plan to become a well-known gay activist, but when it came to the right to marry the love of his life, John Arthur, he did everything he could for their love to be legally recognized. Arthur and Obergefell lived a successful life together in Cincinnati and surrounded themselves with supportive family and friends.
After 20 years as a couple, their lives changed when John Arthur was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Obergefell took on the role of caregiver for Arthur and during this time the couple decided to do everything they could to be legally married. With the help of friends and family, the couple raised a total of $13,000 to hire a medical plane to transport them to the tarmac of the Baltimore-Washington airport. On that tarmac on July 11, 2015, John Arthur and Jim Obergefell legally married under Maryland law.
Shortly after their marriage ceremony, Obergefell and Arthur discovered that their marriage would not be recognized on John’s death certificate. Before John Arthur’s death, they sued the State of Ohio for not recognizing their Maryland marriage. Obergefell’s personal resolve was undeterred as the case wound its way through the federal court system up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though his focus was keeping his husband comfortable in the last months of his life, after John Arthur’s death Obergefell’s energy shifted to supporting the legacy of their marriage and that of other marriages like theirs. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which changed the legal recognition of same sex marriage and the lives of millions of LGBTQ Americans.
Obergefell’s work is not done, however. Since the decision, he has volunteered his time to bring awareness to the plethora of issues that challenge LGBTQ people in the wake of achieving marriage equality, both in Ohio and across the nation. He inspires audiences, authors articles, advocates at the Statehouse in Ohio and elsewhere, meets with legislators in Congress, and uses his voice to shine a spotlight on the patchwork of incomplete protections that LGBTQ people have under the law. He advocates and volunteers with LGBTQ rights groups like Equality Ohio, the Human Rights Campaign, SAGE (an organization focused on the rights of LGBTQ elders), GLSEN (an organization focused on improving the lives of LGBTQ youth in schools) and others.
In 1946, Renee Powell was born in East Canton, Ohio. Renee was raised with golf as a way of life, spending her youth around Clearview Golf Club, the first African American owned golf club in the United States. Despite coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s and experiencing segregation and unequal treatment Powell persisted in her love and passion for golf.
In 1967, Powell became the second African American women to compete on the LPGA Tour, helping to pave the way for future African American golfers. During her early touring years, she was denied hotel rooms, forced to park in separate parking lots, excluded from events, forced to some enter restaurants through the kitchen, and denied service at other restaurants, all because of her race. Despite these indignities and injustices, Powell persevered and competed in over 250 tournaments and won the 1973 Kelly Springfield Open in Brisbane, Australia. She also helped break new ground by becoming one of the first female golfers to design her own clothing line.
Not satisfied to merely help break the color barrier in women’s golf, Powell committed to reaching back. Renee has said of herself that her legacy and purpose, “is to break down barriers and open doors wide enough for others to walk through.” Powell has turned her negative experiences from professional life into a positive conversation about civil rights, diversity, and equality. Her post competitive career has been dedicated to diversifying and expanding golf through many programs and public speaking events.
While African Americans face far fewer barriers than they did early in her career, Powell recognizes that other groups still don’t have equal access to golf. To remedy this, she expanded golfing programs at Clearview to bring golf to those underserved communities. She continues to spend time giving personal lessons to adult women with dementia and female military veterans.
Today, Renee Powell continues the legacy of her late and legendary father, William Powell, by owning and operating Clearview Golf Club. Powell also is a member on multiple boards including Northern Ohio PGA, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rotary International, and Pathway Caring for Children.
William J. Powell was born in 1916 in Greenville, Alabama. During his youth, Powell’s family moved to Minerva, Ohio where he played golf and football during high school. Later, Powell attended the historical Wilberforce University where he continued playing golf. Throughout his life, he believed that golf was the best way to bridge the hatred between racial classes. To this end, his personal mission became improving equality through his love of golf.
In 1946, after serving in the United States Army Air Forces in England, Powell returned home to Ohio. Powell wanted to continue his love for golf, but due to segregationist policies in most golf clubs he was denied entry because of his race. Since there were no clubs for African Americans, Powell decided take matter into his own hands and create his own. With the help of his brother and two African American doctors, he bought a 78-acre dairy farm in East Canton, Ohio. Powell and his wife Marcella did most of the landscaping by hand and without traditional maintenance equipment in order craft his ideal golf course.
After two years of hard work, Clearview Golf Club opened in 1948. Clearview became the first golf course in America to be integrated and African American owned. Soon, Clearview Golf Club became a symbol of racial equality. It stood as an example to Ohio and the United States that equal and integrated social and public life was possible, even within the historically elite and segregated world of golf.
In 2001, Clearview Golf Club earned a National Historic Site designation from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Before his death, Powell received the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Distinguished Service Award, the association's highest annual honor. He was also inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame, was named Person of the Year by the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association, and the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce presented the Powell family with its Community Salute Award. Even now, Clearview continues to be one of only a handful of courses in the United States that are owned and operated by African American individuals.
At 93, William Powell died, leaving a legacy of perseverance for civil rights through his response to the unjust policies of racial segregation in sports and his devotion to Clearview Golf Club. The Powell family continues William Powell’s legacy by helping others through the William J. Powell Scholarship and the Clearview Legacy Foundation for Education, Preservation and Research.