What This Resource Is (and Why It Matters)
Westerville prides itself on its rich Underground Railroad history. The courageous actions of people who defied the law to help others achieve their quest for freedom live on in our memories.
But that’s not the whole story. That’s just the part that’s easy to remember.
It’s easy to fall into the nostalgia trap – we’ve done it too. For too long, we have centered the actions of white Westerville residents who whisked people to safety, but the names of the individuals who risked their lives to escape have largely been lost to the historical record. And despite its heroic Underground Railroad efforts, Westerville has not been immune to the injustices and inequities that have afflicted communities across the nation.
For over 200 years, racism and anti-racism have co-existed in Westerville. At a collective level, we have failed to acknowledge just how virulent racism has been in the community’s past – and in so doing, we have also failed to recognize the full extent to which Westerville residents, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) residents, have fought against it.
We invite you to join us in this ongoing journey as we seek to have more honest conversations about the role of racism in Westerville’s past. We want to say the names of the people who have suffered under white supremacy. We want to acknowledge their specific struggles and empathize with their pain, their joys, their losses, and their victories.
This toolkit highlights specific historic examples of racism and anti-racism in Westerville. It is for researchers, people working on local anti-racism projects, and anyone who is interested in learning more. We want to empower you to go beyond the basics covered here, so throughout the toolkit we’ve provided links to primary and secondary sources that help place Westerville’s stories into broader historical context. Footnotes point to additional sources. This resource is not a comprehensive history of racism or Black experiences in Westerville – it is just a starting point. Our hope is that it will inspire conversations, spark initiatives, and provide resources that will lead to justice, social equity, and healing in the Westerville community.
Please note: This toolkit describes racial traumas and references primary sources that contain offensive racial language. These records are important evidence of the historical presence of racism in Westerville, and their language does not reflect the views of the Westerville Public Library or the Westerville History Museum.
What can I do next?
How to Cite This Source
Please cite this toolkit (Chicago Manual of Style) as 'Westerville History Museum, "Racism in Westerville History," Westerville Public Library, last modified January 23, 2023, https://westervillelibrary.org/racism-history.
Need a citation in a different style (such as MLA or APA)? Try this citation generator.
Many thanks to Cynthia DeVese (Westerville City Schools), Jayme Hughes-Gartin (Westerville Public Library), Ashley Kennard (WeRISE for Greater Westerville/Ohio Wesleyan University), Becky O’Neil (Westerville Public Library), Aneeza Pasha Stamm (Westerville Public Library), Latresa Rieves (Westerville City Schools), and Siona Webster (Westerville Public Library) for taking the time to review this toolkit and offer insightful suggestions.