Racism in Westerville History

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.

That’s nostalgia.

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.

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Learn More about How to Talk about Race

Learn more about how to talk about race with resources from the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

Support WeRISE for Greater Westerville

Support WeRISE, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating individual and structural racism in the greater Westerville area.

Share Your Own Story about Racism or Anti-Racism

Your perspective is important. Record your story from home or contact us to do an oral history at museum@westervillelibrary.org.

Make a Research Appointment

Discover more resources on racism in Westerville history. Or contact us to partner together @ museum@westervillelibrary.org.

Follow us on Facebook.

Follow us for more vignettes about Westerville’s Black history.

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Follow us for more vignettes about Westerville’s Black history.

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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.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Cynthia DeVese (Westerville City Schools), Jayme Hughes-Gartin (Westerville Public Library), Ashley Kennard (WeRISE/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.

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Your access to the past. Through historical collections and learning experiences, deepen your understanding of your community and its place in the world. From Underground Railroad activities to anti-alcohol efforts, the people who came before you have shaped the course of American history and given Westerville a unique legacy.
Your access to the past. Through historical collections and learning experiences, deepen your understanding of your community and its place in the world. From Underground Railroad activities to anti-alcohol efforts, the people who came before you have shaped the course of American history and given Westerville a unique legacy.
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