By the Honorable Dwight Tillery
Cincinnati is a unique city in its relationship to the Black community. The majority population is Black, and it suffers some of the worst social determinants in the nation. Unlike many cities in this country with significant Black populations, Cincinnati's Blacks have little political and economic power as well as few institutions to reflect its history. The history of this city doesn't chronicle the contributions Blacks have made in any meaningful way. Because of the systematic efforts over time to deny Blacks a significant opportunity, the progress of Black Cincinnatians is nothing to brag about.
Yes, Cincinnati is the quintessential good old boys' town where White men decide who gets what even if much of the money belongs to taxpayers. In many ways, this city is 50 years behind similarly situated cities in this country. One need only to look at the social determinants here, and you may be surprised or even astonished how poorly Blacks are doing here where some of the nation's most renowned corporations exist.
In the United States, the minority population has increased since 1980 while the White poplation has seen a decrease. The Black population increased by nearly 11% from 1980 to 2010, while the percentages of whites has declined by approximately 17%. In Cincinnati, the percentage of people of color jumped from 35.3% to 51.9%.
Immigrants who came to this country recognized they could use the government as a ladder to lift them from the bottom of society. Government jobs were decent in pay and steady work that gave generations opportunity to go to college and beyond. In the 1950s, Cincinnati Mayor Ted Berry who ran well under the proportional representation system became a threat to the White community as many Blacks thought he should be mayor. As the Black population started to grow, the White power structure decided to go to an at-large system which clearly disadvantaged the elections of Blacks let alone a Black mayor.
In other cities with sizable Black populations and a political ward system that gave jobs to Blacks never existed in Cincinnati. Cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia at least has a ward system which ensures Black representation and employment for Blacks living in those precincts. There was never a serious effort to have a ward system in Cincinnati nor any other system that would increase the numbers of Blacks on the local city council. Many researchers cited Cincinnati as a city that changed the political system to keep White Power structure.
As we fast forward, the power structure saw that Blacks would soon be the dominant population and of course, came up with various ideas to make sure the eventual White minority will continue to control the wealth of this city. The business community in particular and others came up with ideas of a The Port Authority, DCI, 3CDC, and a direct election of the mayor. These organizations are pretty much run the economic development of this city, unlike other cities that would never give up that power to private entities. After all, it was the government that allowed Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson to give opportunities to Black businesses to acquire wealth and changed the face of an old southern city that now has thousands of Blacks flocking there. Mayor Jackson understood how to use the political power to create real and sustainable opportunities for Blacks to live better lives.
Unless we demand that the Cincinnati mayor and city council, have the courage to be fair to all of its citizens, the playing field won't be level, and Blacks will continue to bear the burden of inequities. Political power is the power that Blacks now have to use to change the injustice in this city.
First published in The Cincinnati Herald.
The Black agenda cincinnati
The Black Agenda is a Movement of individuals and organizations working cooperatively to improve the lives of Black Cincinnatians. The purpose is to bring the Black Community of Cincinnati together to prioritize our challenges as a race.