Nimrod B. Allen (1886 - 1977) founded the Urban League in Columbus to serve black migrants from the rural South that came north and were met by racism, cultural differences, and few job opportunities when they arrived in Ohio. His “Columbus Plan” for better interracial relations through a collaboration of people from all walks of life succeeded in improving race relations, leading 1950’s Columbus to be named as one of the top 10 cities in the nation for positive interracial relations. Allen also created the Friendly Service Bureau to combat crime and improve relations between citizens and police. The Friendly Service Bureau was successful in Columbus and was studied and adopted by more than 90 cities across the country. Thanks to this prolific work, in 1953 Allen was selected to meet with President Eisenhower in Washington D.C. to discuss the burgeoning civil rights movement.
Nirmal K. Sinha (Columbus) has been a dedicated advocate for the Asian Indian community and for the equality of all Ohioans. He was invaluable in alleviating the fears and improving relations during that time of uncertainty and unrest among the Muslim and Sikh communities following the attacks of September 11, 2001. In order to promote trade and Ohio’s international relations, Sinha regularly hosts business leaders and diplomatic delegates visiting from various countries like South Africa and China. As Commissioner on the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for 15 years, Sinha developed programs to welcome new immigrants to the United States and created outreach programs for various ethnic groups, including the Asian and Hispanic Communities.
Merri Gaither Smith & Schuyler Smith (Cincinnati) were trailblazers as African Americans in a time when Jim Crow still thwarted the way for many. Schuyler founded Acme Wrecking Co. in 1955 and ran it for more than 50 years, providing employment to African Americans and creating the largest minority-owned wrecking company in the Midwest. In the 1950’s, Schuyler was asked to join in picketing to integrate Coney Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati. His involvement was instrumental in opening Coney Island to all citizens. During the riots and unrest of 1960’s Cincinnati, Merri Gaither Smith was actively involved as a catalyst for peace and to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth in the Cincinnati community by founding organizations to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth. She spent 31 years as an educator in the Cincinnati Public School system, but she also impacted many young people outside of the classroom. She co‑founded Women’s Alliance in 1966 and Advocates for Youth Education in 1988, both of which provide cultural enrichment and education opportunities to young Ohioans.
Louis Stokes (1925-2015) rose from poverty to become a civil rights attorney and eventually the first African American Congressman from Ohio. Stokes served 15 terms in Congress, including appointments on the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees. In Congress, he fought to secure federal funding for Ohio employers and local projects that would improve the quality of life for African Americans and the poor. After leaving Congress, Stokes continued to practice law and became a college professor. In the months preceding his death, he served on a panel to explore problems in the relationship between police and citizens.