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February 16, 2024

Graphic of the week: Black History Month


A new analysis by HPIO in honor of Black History Month found that it took 77 years after Ohio’s founding before an African American – George Washington Williams of Hamilton County— was elected to Ohio’s state legislature, which is known as the General Assembly. It would take a change to federal law, more than 80 years later, before the number of Black Ohioans serving in the legislature would reach double-digits.

Between 1880 and 1965, there were an average of 1.4 Black legislators in each General Assembly. After the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 required population proportioned districts, 12 Black Ohioans were elected to the 107th General Assembly (1967-1968).

Over the past two decades, the number of Black legislators has averaged 18 per General Assembly, with 14.3% of state legislative seats held by Black Ohioans in 2023. 

Many Black legislators have championed legislation to address issues important to Ohioans facing challenges to health and well-being.

Examples of key legislation sponsored by Black legislators includes:

  • Rep. Henry Clay Smith (1894-1901) sponsored the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1894, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race or color in public accommodations and provided for fines on proprietors who violated the law.
  • Rep. Ray Miller (1981 to 2010) sponsored the Community Mental Health Act of 1988, which created the state agency that is now the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. He also sponsored a budget amendment in 1987 that created the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
  • Sen. Charleta B. Tavares (1993-1998 and 2011-2018) sponsored several health-related bills, including the Clean Indoor Air Act.

As we celebrate and uplift Black history, this month and every month, we honor the significant contributions of trailblazers who have shaped our state and improved the health and well-being of Ohioans.