James Preston Poindexter
1819 - 1907
When you think of the early to mid-1800s, most people believe that all African-Americans in the United States were slaves. Actually, there were thousands who lived freely in the North. Before the Civil War, African-Americans in Ohio had an important role in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom. During the Civil War, their search for freedom did not end. Free black men from the North, including Ohio, enlisted to fight in the Union Army. The United States could not have won the war without their valiant efforts. Although there were African-American teachers and, two-thirds of free African-Americans struggled to survive with jobs as hotel workers, servants, shopkeepers, and laborers.
James Preston Poindexter came to Ohio when he was 18 years old and moved a year later, in 1838, to Columbus (at that time, Columbus had the largest African-American population in Ohio.) He opened a barbershop on High Street across from the Statehouse. He soon became an operator on the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves move from downtown Columbus to Clintonville, 5-6 miles away. He was a preacher with the Second Baptist Church, and became its pastor in 1858. He stayed with the church for 40 years. Reverend Poindexter was known for being very honest and for helping everyone, no matter what race they were. Because he had white and American Indian ancestry, as well as African-American, he was allowed to vote and be active in politics. People of African-American heritage only were not allowed the right to vote until the passing of the 15th Amendment.
He was a big influence with the Columbus School Board and helped to improve African-American and Catholic schools. With his help, African-American teachers were able to teach side by side with whites in nine different schools in the city. In the 1880-90s, he was a trustee at the School for the Blind, Ohio University and Wilberforce University. He was also on the Ohio State Forestry Bureau for 18 years.
If that weren't enough to keep him busy, after the signing of the 15th Amendment, he got very involved with politics. He ran (but lost) elections for the Ohio Senate twice. He was a very good friend with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Rutherford Hayes.
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