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.
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.
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 recordRequest slip
M. Berry Papers, 1939-1965
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
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
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 recordRequest slip
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
Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
"A Civic Giant Passes," Cincinnati
Enquirer, October 16, 2000.
Obituary, New York Times, October 17,
Collins, Bill. "Theodore Berry and Full
Representation: Cincinnati's 1994 Champion of Democracy," Voting
and Democracy Report, 1995. Center for Voting and Democracy,