First black mayor in Ohio receives historical marker

Class project resulted in marker dedication for Springfield leader.

The work of students at the Dayton Regional STEM School resulted in the historical marker that was dedicated last month to Robert C. Henry, the first African-American mayor in Ohio.

Henry served as mayor of Springfield from 1966-1968, and was also the first black mayor of a city of its size in the United States.

That history was completely unknown to Christian Peters and Devin Wade when, as freshmen, they began researching individuals from the Miami Valley who would be deserving of an Ohio historical marker. It was an assignment given the class by their teacher, Kevin Lydy, in 2014.

“This turned out to be a lot more complicated then they realized and they could have given up,” marveled Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland. “But, they stuck with it. They deserve to be proud of themselves for getting the job done.”

Peters said the students picked Henry after another group beat them to their first selection. “It was luck that we came across such rich history with him,” he said.

It was more than luck that resulted in the marker dedication on July 16. It was a lot of hard work. After their initial research the students composed a “statement of significance that argued their case to the Ohio History Connection, formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society.

That statement, Lydy said, was critiqued by students’ peers, upperclassmen and finally experts ranging from university faculty and staff from Wittenberg and Wright State universities as well as the Kettering Police Department.

In order to establish an Ohio Historical Marker, a local sponsor must submit an application to the Ohio History Connection and go through a rigorous approval process. Sponsors are in charge of purchasing the marker and its upkeep, while the Ohio History Connection confirms the accuracy of the marker text.

The entire process took about two years.

“We had no idea our marker would be put up,” Peters said. “We wanted to get it done, but we had no idea it would turn into something material.”

The $2,500 to acquire the marker was raised through the Springfield Foundation and Turner Foundation, along with donors from the boys’ GoFundMe campaign. Sewah Studios in Marietta created the marker, which is made of cast aluminum.

The students are the first in their class to have a marker established, although others have had their projects approved.

The marker was placed in front of the funeral home that was was owned and operated by Henry and still bears his name.

“It’s really cool to see, especially at a STEM school where there’s no ordinary school project, something people will see for generations to come,” Peters said.

At the dedication Copeland described the day he and his wife visited a museum in Selma, Ala., and saw an image of Robert C. Henry on the wall.

“I was blown away by the fact he was recognized down there,” Copeland said. “People here sort of know it, but not a lot is made out of it. I hope people recognize that this was an example of Springfield really being ahead of the rest of the country in recognizing that African Americans could provide leadership.”

Henry died in 1981, but the historical marker will ensure that his accomplishments won’t be forgotten.

Said his daughter, Lisa Henry: “This is an everlasting reminder of what he did in our business, in our community, and as a father.”

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