Honoring black history

By Colin Foster

February 22, 2014

By Colin Foster

From public figures to civil rights activists to star athletes, the city of Troy has a long list of African Americans who have went on to do big things not only for the city, but also nationally.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate some of those individuals and honor the past.

Black people, primarily from North Carolina and Maryland, began coming to Ohio in the early 1800s because it was considered a free state. At the time, most white people in NC and Maryland didn’t believe in slavery and had a strong belief in their Quaker church. When the Quakers migrated to Troy, the black population lived on the outside of the city limits next to the Great Miami River.

For the most part, black women and children worked for white homes, cleaning, cooking and doing yard and garden work. They worked for little money as means to provide the essentials for their families. Employment for black men was offered in several mills located in Troy.

Ex-slaves came to Miami County in 1846, when John Randolph, a former politician and slave owner, passed away and granted his 400 plus slaves freedom in his will. The former slaves began their long trek to Ohio, a free state, from Charlotte County, Va., after courts declared them free and handed them their freedom papers. A total of 381 decedents of Randolph traveled over the mountains to the Ohio River.

Once reaching Cincinnati, they boarded canal boats to travel to the New Bremen area. Once arriving, black families were told that ex-slaves weren’t welcome, so the families packed up and reboarded the canal boats and stopped outside of Piqua. A few families would get off at that stop and form an area known as Rossville, while others traveled down south a little further to Troy.

There were a total of 87 blacks that came to Troy, but they wouldn’t stay for long, as they chose to go to Union Township, where the Quakers had settled. Some of those ex-slaves would settle in the area on small farms. Over time, however, many of the ex-slaves of John Randolph headed back to Troy to settle — and some of those people would pave the way for many African Americans in the area to break barriers in the years ahead.

Here’s a look at some of the most influential black people in Troy history.

• Charles Ross — the first African-American councilman in Troy. Ross was a longtime leader of the black community. He served as Troy City Council member-at-large from 1968-75 and as president of TCC from 1976-77. In 1982, Ross was the recipient of the Troy Community Service Award.

• Charles Sharett — Troy’s first ever recreation director and widely regarded as “the father of recreation” in the city. Sharett worked for more than 30 years as recreation director for the city of Troy and was the first ever city employee to oversee activities at Hobart Arena. His duties included overseeing more than 100 recreational programs for the city, including activities at Hobart Arena, summer classes, the city swimming pool and after-school programs. Prior to that, Sharett worked as director at the Lincoln Community Center. He passed away in January 2003 at the age of 64.

• Trenton Bell — a major leader in Troy’s black community and the Miami County Democratic Party. He enjoyed a long career working at Hobart Brothers. Additionally, he served as Democratic Party chairman for many years and was a member of the Miami County Board of Elections. Bell also enjoyed a fine athletic career. In 1940, he became the first All-Ohio football player in Troy High School history. He was the father of Gordon Bell, a Troy High School graduate who went on to become an All-American football player at the University of Michigan. Trenton Bell passed away in January 1993 at the age of 68.

• Robert Ferguson — a 1958 Troy High School grad who went on to play football at The Ohio State University. During his senior season in 1961, Ferguson was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Ferguson went on to play in the National Football League for a two-year span. Following his retirement, he was inducted into the Ohio State Hall of Fame, the Big Ten Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame and the Troy Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2004.

• Thomas Vaughn — graduated from Troy in 1961 and attended Iowa State University, where he played football for four years. Vaughn earned All-American honors in his final year at ISU and would go on to play with the Detroit Lions for seven years. Upon his retirement, he coached college football and was the president of the Unity Bank of Chicago. Vaughn is a member of the Big Eight Hall of Fame, the Iowa State University Hall of Fame and the Troy Hall of Fame.

• Dick Carnes — the first African-American 1,000 yard rusher in Troy High School history and an All-Ohio football player. He served as assistant director of Lincoln Community Center in the 1960s.

• John Vernon Nesbitt — became the first black person to graduate from Troy High School in 1891.

• James Jones — attended the Lincoln School in the 1860s. Jones became the first black to attend a public school in Troy when he enrolled at Forest School in 1875.

— Some information provided by the Troy Historical Library and the Lincoln Community Center.

Colin Foster may be reached at 937-440-5208 or followed on Twitter @colinfosterbg or @Troydailynews