Civil Rights Movement in Portsmouth, Ohio

Explore the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Portsmouth, Ohio, where the city’s black residents resisted the development of racial segregation and other discriminatory practices that followed the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s.

Learn about the decades long struggle to end segregation in the city’s schools and how in the 1960s non-violent, civil disobedience worked to integrate the Booker T. Washington School and the Terrace Club, a private, whites-only swimming pool and youth center. Complete the tour in person or virtually using the Scioto Historical mobile app and website.

Begin at the former location of Allen Chapel (AME) on 7th Street (now the location of Kroger’s delivery docks), where the city’s leading black and white champions of civil rights celebrated the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870.

Learn about local efforts to resist the segregation of public spaces, when Wurster Brothers on Chillicothe Street refused service to the Rev. W. B. Derrick, an influential Bishop in the AME Church. Visit the site of the Westland Theater (now the location of the Portsmouth STEM Academy playground), where the NAACP successfully organized black enrollees in the nearby Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps to boycott special, black-only movie screenings. Visit the grave of Bessie Tomlin who is remembered as the only person to drown in the Flood of 1937 and learn how residential segregation shaped the city’s evacuation plans and ultimately contributed to the tragedy that is memorialized by her marker in Greenlawn Cemetery.

Learn about the origins of the Fourteenth Street Community Center, when the North End Luncheon Club opened a “Community House” in 1932. Then, with the establishment of multiple, segregated CCC camps on the outskirts of the city, Portsmouth civic organizations backed the National Youth Administration’s construction of a segregated “Community Center” on 14th Street, one that could serve the needs of black CCC enrollees, as well as the city’s black youth.

Finish the tour at the Eugene McKinley Memorial Pool, which supporters of integration originally promoted as “A Place in the Sun for Everyone,” and then contemplate the history of Dreamland Pool, which before its integration in 1965 was known as the Terrace Club.

Booker T. Washington School on Eleventh Street

Portsmouth City Schools opened their first segregated facility for African American students in 1859, marking the first time that black residents were able to receive a public education. The school and teaching was run by a "Mrs. Weaver," a member of…

Portsmouth NAACP Protests Jim Crow at the Westland Theater

Capitalizing on Joe Louis's new won fame, Hollywood movie director Harry L. Fraser would cast Louis to star in "The Spirit of Youth," which told the story of the boxer's rise from poverty and obscurity to world champion and Jazz Age celebrity life.…

Bessie Tomlin and the Ohio River Flood of 1937

All the public schools in Portsmouth, Ohio, closed at the end of the school day on January 21, which, as luck would have it, was the last day of the semester anyway. Schools located in the flood zone were opened up for storing furniture (on the upper…

Integrating Portsmouth, Ohio’s Dreamland Pool

Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was now banned by federal law.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically outlawed racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.  Private clubs, however,…
Special Thanks to the Fourteenth Street Community Center and Sean Boldman's American Family Insurance Agency for their support of the development of this tour.