Wendell P. Dabney      

Guide to African American Resources
at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives




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Theodore M. Berry

Born in poverty in Maysville, Kentucky on November 5, 1904, Ted Berry overcame great obstacles to achieve personal success and gain a national reputation as a leader in the Civil Rights movement. He graduated from Woodward High School in 1924 and served as class valedictorian, the first African American to hold that honor in Cincinnati. In his senior year, he won an essay contest with an entry submitted under the pseudonym Thomas Playfair after an all-white panel had rejected his initial entry.

Berry worked at steel mills in Newport, Kentucky to pay tuition at the University of Cincinnati and then at its law school. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1932. He served as president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP from 1932 to 1946. In 1938 he was appointed the first black assistant prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County.

  Theodore M. Berry
Theodore M. Berry
Dan Ransohoff Photograph
Collection (Photo SC#22)
Cincinnati History Library and Archives
Cincinnati Museum Center
During WW II, Berry worked in the Office of War Information as a morale officer. The job took him to Washington, D.C. and also caused him to change his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
In 1945, Berry defended three black Army Air Force officers, members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who had protested a segregated officer's club in Indiana. He won acquittal for two of the men. In 1995, the Air Force pardoned the third who had been convicted. From 1947 to 1961, Berry served on the NAACP Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation where he worked on equal employment and fair housing issues. He was also involved with the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.
He began his Cincinnati political career in 1947 when he ran for City Council. He lost that year but won in 1949. He was chairman of the finance committee in 1953 and led a controversial battle to create a city income tax. In 1955 he was elected vice mayor. His 1963 political campaign to return to Cincinnati's City Council was chaired by Rev. L. Venchael Booth.
Broadside to West End residents from Theodore Berry
Broadside to West End residents from Theodore Berry, March 1953
Theodore M. Berry Papers, 1939-1965, Mss 782, Box 2, Folder 9
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

His creation of the Community Action Commission in Cincinnati caught the attention of Sargent Shriver. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Berry to head the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Community Action Programs that included Head Start, the Jobs Corps and Legal Services.
Berry returned to Cincinnati in 1969 and was appointed to City Council in 1971. He was elected mayor in 1972 and served for four years—Cincinnati’s first African American mayor.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Berry struggled to return proportional representation to Cincinnati because he firmly believed that it gave more power to black voters. Other prominent black Cincinnatians such as Marian Spencer and Judge Nathaniel Jones considered Ted Berry a role model. He died at the age of 94 on October 15, 2000.

Cincinnati has named both a street and a park after Ted Berry.


To learn more about Ted Berry, consult the following resources:

100 Who Made a Difference: Greater Cincinnatians Who Made a Mark on the 20th Century
By Barry M. Horstman
General f920.07714 H819 R.R.
Barry M. Horstman gives a two-page overview of Berry's life in this 1999 book.   View catalog record   Request slip
Theodore M. Berry Papers, 1939-1965
Mss 782
This collection of Ted Berry's papers pertain to his work concerning housing, race relations, politics, the NAACP and other areas. It includes information about Avondale and Kenyon-Barr. An register to his papers is available in the Library.   Request slip
Adeline Harris Collection
Mss 1 AT, Interview 2
In this 1980 interview, Ted Berry discusses the people who influenced his life and his decision to enter the law profession. His aims to reduce racism in the community and remove the remnants of reconstruction were achieved through his leadership in the NAACP and in his local and national political career.   Request slip
The Status of the Negro in Industry and Occupational Opportunities in Cincinnati: Survey Abstract
By Theodore M. Berry
Mss VF 50
This report discusses the population growth of African Americans in Cincinnati with details about their employment and housing, focusing on the period of 1890 to 1930.   View catalog record   Request slip
The William Howard Taft Americanism Award of the Anti-Defamation League
By the B'nai B'rith Anti-defamation League
Pamphlets 361.614 A629
Theodore Berry received the William Howard Taft Americanism Award on June 25, 1990. The award recognizes those who have distinguished themselves in public service and civic commitment.   View catalog record   Request slip

Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
  • "A Civic Giant Passes," Cincinnati Enquirer, October 16, 2000.
  • Obituary, New York Times, October 17, 2000.
  • Collins, Bill. "Theodore Berry and Full Representation: Cincinnati's 1994 Champion of Democracy," Voting and Democracy Report, 1995. Center for Voting and Democracy, http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=527.


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This online guide opened on February 10, 2004.