19th Century Black Cincinnatians You Should Know

by | Jun 21, 2024 | African American, History | 0 comments

19th Century Black Cincinnatians you should know

Written by Krystie Salyers, Reference Librarian, Downtown Main Library

Did you know Marie Selika Williams, or “Madame Selika” as she was known, was the most recognized and lauded African American woman singer of the late 19th century? She received her musical training in Cincinnati after she moved to the city as a young girl. She was the first African American individual to perform at the White House on November 13, 1878, when she performed for an audience that included Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife. Her captivating performance included Verdi’s “Ernani, involami,” Thomas Moore’s “The Last Rose of Summer,” Harrison Millard’s “Ave Maria,” and Richard Mulder’s “Staccato Polka.”   

Madame Selika is just one example of a lesser-known African American Cincinnatian of the 19th century. Here are just a few examples of 19th century Black Cincinnatians we should all know: 

Reverend Benjamin W. Arnett is most noted for his achievements in the Ohio state legislature where he was instrumental in repealing Ohio’s Black Laws in 1887, which led to the desegregation of schools in Ohio. He lived in Cincinnati in the 1870s and 1880s and was pastor of the Allen Temple AME Church. He published a history of the Allen Temple in 1874 for their 50th Anniversary. 

Peter H. Clark was a well-known abolitionist, author, orator, and educator. He is the author of the first account of the Black Brigade. In 1849, largely due to the efforts of Clark’s uncle John I. Gaines, “colored” schools were authorized by the Ohio state legislature. Peter H. Clark became the first teacher of this school in Cincinnati. Later, he became the principal of Gaines High School and trained numerous other African American teachers. After his career in education, Clark had a storied political career which saw him recognized as the first African American socialist to run for Congress in the United States. He is the namesake of the Clark Montessori school in Hyde Park.   

Daniel A. Rudd was a prominent African American journalist who published the American Catholic Tribune, one of the few African American newspapers that survived for any length of time in the late 19th century in Cincinnati. He organized the first national conference for African American Catholics in Washington D.C in 1889.  

James Presley Ball was a prominent photographer, businessmen, and activist known internationally for his Daguerreotype photography. At one time, J.P. Ball’s studio “Ball’s Great Daguerreian Gallery of the West,” was one of the most well-known and respected galleries in the United States. He was reported to have taken portraits of some of the most known figures of his time including Frederick Douglass, Queen Victoria, and Charles Dickens.  

Peter and Sarah Fossett were well-known abolitionists who assisted hundreds of enslaved people in escaping to freedom by way of Cincinnati on the Underground Railroad. They were also co-founders of the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville. Peter Farley Fossett was a formerly enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. After his family was able to buy his freedom, Fossett became an entrepreneur, pastor and was part of the Black Brigade. Sarah Mayrant Fossett was known as a hairdresser to the rich. In May of 1859, Sarah boarded a streetcar, but the conductor refused to allow her to ride. After she was forcibly removed from the streetcar, Sarah Fossett sued the streetcar company and won. Because of her case, African American women were permitted to ride the streetcar.    

Recent Blog Post


In 1960, Wilma Rudolph, of Clarksville, TN, won with the new Olympic record time of 11.3 seconds in Rome with the new record time of 11.3 seconds in in the women’s 100-meter dash in Rome, 1960. In 1908, after winning the 4 x 400 meter relay, John Taylor became the...


Madam C.J. Walker created a line of haircare products for African American women, leading her to later become the first female African American self-made millionaire. There is now a Netflix series based upon her journey, titled Self Made. Computer scientist Lisa...

Music and Television

Dubbed “Hip-Hop’s First Godmother” by Billboard, singer and music producer Sylvia Robinson produced the first-ever commercially successful rap record: “Rapper’s Delight,” by the Sugar Hill Gang. And along with her husband, she co-owned the first hip-hop label, Sugar...

Important Figures

In case you didn’t already know, the creator of Black History Month was historian Carter G. Woodson. Often referred to as the “Father of Black History,” he was notably the second African American to graduate from Harvard University with a doctorate degree, and is...

Blacks and Literature

Phillis Wheatley was the first African American to publish a book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. Born in the Gambia and sold to the Wheatley family in Boston when she was 7 years old, Wheatley was emancipated shortly after her book...

Cincinnati- City of Immigrants

African-American 1830’s – 1930’s  Soon after Cincinnati was founded in 1788, blacks came across the Ohio River to live and work in the city. Many had been born free, some were freed slaves, and others were enslaved fugitives who had escaped their masters and...

Hamilton Ave Freedom

Hall of Free Discussion site (current site near the Mill Creek Bike Trail across from Dane Avenue in Northside) – James C. Ludlow, an abolitionist and son of Colonel Israel Ludlow (Israel was one of three surveyors sent to survey the Miami Purchase responsible for...


Typically replies within a day

Hello, Welcome to Six Acres Bed and Breakfast. Please click the below button for sending me an email.