I ran away from home on Saturday. It was a gorgeous day to be out so I hiked before heading north into an area called the Little Cities of Black Diamonds.
This region is a collection of small mining communities in Appalachian Ohio. Well, they used to be mining communities where laborers did the back breaking work to extract abundant deposits of coal, oil, iron ore and clay from the land. They were once prosperous but are now shadows of their former selves
The history of this region is rich and far too complicated to do justice in a single blog post. I won’t claim to give you the whole picture. But I’m going to tell you one of those stories today and then share some more pictures another day.
Mining caused towns to pop up quickly, attracting people of a variety of ancestry and races. The people here took on important roles in national social and labor issues including mine safety and racial equality.
Today, the towns are in the heart of Wayne National Forest and it’s astounding to think of the important impact they had. Robinson’s Cave at New Straitsville is commonly known as the birthplace of the United Mine Workers. Ohio’s worst mine disaster occurred years later in nearby Millfield.
Just up the road in Rendville, African Americans broke the color barrier and played an important role in racial integration in Ohio.
Businessman William P. Rend founded the town in 1879 to create a community for the miners who worked in his nearby coal mine. He brought in workers from other countries and from the American south, instilling in these people the idea that they were all there for the betterment of the mine. They all served the same purpose and people got along relatively well despite living with people of other races and backgrounds.
Sadly, labor issues were already boiling over in the nearby town of Corning. Folks there were threatened by the presence of blacks in the industry and fearful they would drive down the value of wages.
Miners in that town and surrounding communities formed a small mob that descended on Rendville. Fortunately, there were just a few injuries but the event garnered attention from the Governor and the Ohio National Guard. Today it’s known as the Corning War.
Despite these racial concerns, Rendville prospered and produced some important Ohioans. Dr. Isiah Tuppins was the first African American to graduate from Ohio State’s Medical School and went on to be Ohio’s first black mayor when he was elected Rendville mayor.
Roberta Preston, who lived in Rendville, was the first African American Post Mistress in our nation’s history. An important Ohio University basketball player came from this town as well as some national labor movement leaders.
Today, the town has just a few dozen residents and doesn’t look like much. However, there are people working hard to preserve their history and the very thought made me happy.