Warren County treasure: Ohio’s first school for Black children

Harveysburg, Ohio, has a hidden treasure: The state’s first school for free Black children. WCPO-TV
Harveysburg, Ohio, has a hidden treasure: The state’s first school for free Black children. WCPO-TV

Credit: WCPO-TV

Credit: WCPO-TV

Historical society fundraising to build educational cultural center

Harveysburg, Ohio, has a hidden treasure: The state’s first school for free Black children, built by white abolitionist Elizabeth Harvey in 1831 and maintained by the Harveysburg Community Historical Society for almost 200 years.

“People are amazed that this little village has housed this, didn’t know that it existed,” historical society treasurer Lucy McCarren on Thursday told WCPO-TV.

McCarren doesn’t want it hidden anymore. She and other members of the historical society hope to build an educational cultural center nearby to showcase the schoolhouse’s history, display artifacts used by its original students and provide a more comfortable experience for visitors. (The original building was constructed to meet 1831 standards of comfort, which means no running water or bathrooms.)

They need help to make it happen. The historical society has set up a GoFundMe to raise $161,000 and match an Ohio Facilities Grant that would enable them to build the education center.

Donors will receive special acknowledgment in the finished project, a historical society representative said; generous donors will be highlighted even more.

“It’s important to me because I want other people to know about this and get involved so they can help us preserve the building and everything,” said Kenneth Moore, the historical society’s youth ambassador. “That way we can educate them more about the history of the building.”

Elizabeth Harvey, the school’s founder, also founded Harveysburg along with her husband and was a passionate abolitionist guided by her Quaker faith. Quakers were among the white religious groups most openly opposed to slavery in early American history, and their tradition of social activism continued into the 20th century with movements focusing on Black enfranchisement, women’s suffrage, prison reform and mental health care.

The Harveysburg Free Black School educated students from its opening in 1831 until the early 1900s, when other schools in the community began to accept Black children alongside white.

McCarren said she is proud to have the schoolhouse in her community, and hopes other Ohioans will recognize its value for students across the state.

“I think it’s important for us to remember that so everybody will know that there were some folks who were interested in freedom for everyone,” McCarren said.

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