Project Narrative

  • Background, Project Goals, and Significance
    • Organizational Background
    • Project Goals
    • Significance of the Collection
  • Project Products and Evaluation
    • Project Products
    • Evaluation


Background, Project Goals, and Significance

Organizational Background

The University of Cincinnati (UC) traces its origin to the Cincinnati College founded in 1819, and was formally founded as a municipal university in 1870. Throughout its long history, UC has always had at its core the establishment of ties with its local and state communities, and the provision of service to the nation through its educational and research programs. As part of its mission to acquire, care for, and make available for study and research its original documents and materials that have national importance, the University of Cincinnati Libraries propose to fully process its holdings of the papers of Theodore Moody Berry (1905-2000), a prominent civil rights activist, politician, and attorney, and a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Theodore M. Berry Papers are located in the Archives & Rare Books Library (ARB). They are part of ARB’s Urban Studies Collection, a diverse body of collections that documents the cultural and political life of the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries. This collection holds the records of arts organizations, neighborhood governance groups, cultural institutions, civic betterment organizations, politicians, and civic activists. There are 10,000 linear feet in the Urban Studies Collection, part of ARB’s 38,000 overall linear feet of archival holdings. A full description of the Urban Studies Collection’s contents and scope is published at The Urban Studies collection development policy is in Appendix A. Also included in ARB’s archival holdings are the University of Cincinnati Archives; the German-Americana Collection, one of the largest such collections in the world; the Ohio Network Collection of Local Government Records; and the rare books collection of UC, totaling 34,000 volumes.

All holdings in the Archives & Rare Books Library are completely open for research and study for students, faculty, scholars beyond the university, and the general public. All collections are maintained in environmentally controlled, secured stacks; ARB staff members retrieve and re-shelve all materials. Users are required to complete a registration form and present photo identification to be held for the duration of the research visit. Users conduct their research on site in a well-lighted and secured reading room. Internet access through a dedicated computer is available, as is wireless access for users with laptop computers. Microfilm and microfiche readers are provided, as well as video-viewing facilities. Scanning services are available, subject to the ARB’s policies and procedures regarding condition of material and copyright restrictions.

Each new acquisition of archival material is accessioned, receives basic processing to the folder level, and Encoded Archival Description (EAD) cataloging. EAD cataloging, along with MARC catalog records, is also being applied retrospectively to all of ARB’s collections. There is no backlog of collections that have not at least been basically processed. A master list of all archival collections held by ARB, representing more than 1,500 accessions, is available on ARB’s website ( Researchers are able to query ARB for copies of the basic inventories.

Project Goals

The primary goal of this project is to fully process in detail the papers of Theodore M. Berry, making them available for intensive research. This project will re-box the materials; preserve them with proper archival containers and fasteners; organize them according to series and folder level; provide a detailed EAD-based finding aid and a collection level MARC catalog record; and create dedicated web pages for the collection that will include but will not be limited to: links to the detailed finding aid and collection level catalog record, scanned images of selected documents and photographs, a brief biography of Theodore M. Berry, and appropriate links to similar collections in Cincinnati, in Ohio, in other university repositories, and in national repositories. A secondary project goal is to use the knowledge gained from the detailed processing of the collection to identify portions of the collection for future digitization projects.

This project supports the UC Libraries’ current strategic plan (, which among its directions includes “improving collection access for library users by identifying and assessing uncataloged materials in order to determine cataloging priorities and optimal allocations of cataloging resources.” The collection development policies of UC Libraries may be found at, and their preservation policy in included in Appendix A.

Specifically, processing the Berry Papers will contribute to the strategic plan’s goals of creating an increased number of paths to knowledge, expanding use of library holdings, and providing information in an easily used and quickly accessible format. Recognizing that information available electronically will only continue to expand in the coming years and decades, the UC Libraries actively position their staff to take an active role in stimulating awareness and use of their holdings. The letter of commitment to this project from the University of Cincinnati’s Dean and University Librarian, Victoria A. Montavon, Ph.D., is in Appendix C.

The Theodore M. Berry collection consists of 225 standard business storage boxes, or, 281.25 linear feet, about half of which are archive-safe containers. Within the boxes is a wide variety of formats and material: folders, both legal-size and letter-sized; legal documents for litigation and political action; federal, state, and local government reports; professional journals; reports of organizations; correspondence, both personal and professional; printed material such as newspaper clippings, magazines, brochures, and programs; photographs; notes for personal writings and for meetings; speeches and lectures; and minutes of meetings.

Significance of the Collection

Theodore M. Berry was a pioneering civil rights activist and politician from Cincinnati, Ohio, who from the 1930s to the 1990s was instrumental in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) litigation, federal civil rights administration, and civic participation. Although he was greatly influential at local, state, and national levels, particularly from the 1950s through the 1970s, his life and career have been largely un-researched and undocumented. His papers constitute a rich body of information about the Civil Rights Era, and about Cincinnati and Ohio politics. However, because they have not been fully processed, the Berry papers remain a hidden treasure that can lend a great deal of understanding about our nation’s history. Berry was born in Maysville, Kentucky, in 1905, moving with his mother to Cincinnati as a young child. He was educated in the public school system, most notably in the Harriet Beecher Stowe School that was administered by Jennie Davis Porter, a pioneer in African-American education in the early 20th century. Porter was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. Both her master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation focused on her work in segregated Cincinnati public schools, leading her to promulgate the value of educating African-American children in a setting of cultural support and understanding. Though her ideas fell out of favor during the 1950s and 1960s, with the growth of African-American-centric charter schools in recent years, educators and journalists frequently consult her doctoral findings. Theodore Berry was greatly influenced by Jennie Davis Porter, and her ideals informed his own work in civil rights and civic responsibility.

After completing elementary school under Porter’s tutelage, Berry graduated from Woodward High School in 1924, the first African-American valedictorian in the school’s history, and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati. He graduated in 1928 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then earned his law degree from UC in 1931. During his university days, he formed the University’s first African-American student interest group. Following his law school graduation, he accepted a job as a Hamilton County prosecutor, a position obtained with the assistance of Charter Party politician Charles Taft, son of President William Howard Taft. From 1932 to 1946, Berry served as counsel for the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP, and was admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar in 1937.

One of his earliest efforts in civil rights activism occurred in Washington, D.C., in 1942 while he was working in the Office of War Information. His duties lay in helping African-American soldiers who were suffering from poor morale in the segregated armed forces. There he came to the attention of Thurgood Marshall, who was at that time the national legal counsel for the NAACP, and later became the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court. In 1945, Marshall asked Berry to act as attorney for three Army Air Force officers who were part of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen unit. The officers were facing a court martial for their protests against segregation in the Army. Berry won acquittals for two of the men, and eventually, in 1995, all three won vindication from the Air Force. It is generally acknowledged that Berry’s defense of the men was a key reason for the desegregation of the United States armed forces.

After the war, from 1947 to 1961, Theodore Berry also served on the NAACP Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation. Back home in Cincinnati, Berry was elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1949, becoming vice mayor in 1955. During his terms, he created the city’s first Community Action Commission. This commission was the first one in City of Cincinnati administrative history to be headed by an African-American, and it continued several decades of Cincinnati City Council efforts to be responsive to a multi-ethnic community in a diverse economy. Of particular note in the first years of the commission was its attention to Appalachian migrants and Cincinnati’s African-American citizens, both populations of which increased as a result of Cincinnati’s industrial and economic needs.

In 1964, Berry was asked by President Lyndon Johnson to serve in his war on poverty. Berry moved to Washington and was appointed head of the Community Action Programs (CAC) in the Office of Economic Opportunity, overseeing the initiation of Johnson’s programs in the Job Corps, Legal Services, and Head Start. As Harold Strickland, the field director the Ohio NAACP remarked in a letter to Berry in 1965 upon Berry’s appointment to the CAC, “You’re being selected for this most important post of responsibility is a tribute to you, for the long years of service that you have devoted to the basic problems of welfare, in Ohio, throughout the years. …your appointment will be an inspiration, and that under your leadership, the agency will develop the kind of program that is needed for these times.” And, from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in 1963, Berry’s expertise was already noted by the John F. Kennedy administration: “All of us appreciate very much your having taken the time to come to the meeting at the White House on June 21…We sincerely believe that great good can come from your taking affirmative action now along the lines the President indicated.”

In 1969, Berry ended his service in the Office of Economic Opportunity, receiving a letter from Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Special Assistant to the President, “Without your help, this [the Administration’s civil rights legislative program] would not have been possible and I am very grateful for all the assistance which you have given the President…” These accolades demonstrate that full processing of the collection will reveal important aspects of Berry’s civil rights work.

Following this national position, Berry returned to Cincinnati and in 1972 became the first elected African-American mayor in the city. His platform had a particular focus on fair housing and race relations.

Theodore Berry was a key figure in American civil rights in the 20th century, but his role is generally little recognized. The complete and detailed processing of his papers will make available key documents and perspectives in local, state, and national civil rights activism for the latter part of the 20th century. The contents of these papers include, but are not limited to his position on the Cincinnati City Council that covers the time period of 1949 to 1975, with minutes of meetings, annotations, reports, correspondence, studies, and news clippings; NAACP records from 1932 to 1993, including correspondence, reports, studies, and minutes; Federal Office of Economic Opportunity materials from 1965 to 1969 that include correspondence, reports, and studies; civic activism records from 1930 to 1995, with materials on equal housing and opportunity for African-Americans in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio; and personal papers from 1930 to 1995 that include correspondence, news clippings, and photographs.

The Berry Papers are a mixture of disseminated material and unique, originally-created material. In the latter category are the voluminous correspondence, notes and memoranda, lectures and speeches, and photographs. The former category contains minutes, studies, reports, articles, ordinances, and the like. Locating other extant copies of these materials by researchers is problematic and difficult in most cases. Having this material available and processed within the Berry collection will not only make it easily accessible, but will also place it in the context of its original use and purpose. All the material in this collection adds to its value for research and study. Because of the nature of Theodore Berry’s life and career, detailed processing will greatly expand access to the collection and the use of it in class work and historiography.

The Theodore M. Berry Papers are significant in that they represent the major personal materials of a nationally-known civil rights activist and government official. In his letter of support, historian Daniel Hurley, who as a director of the Cincinnati History Museum and Leadership Cincinnati USA has explored Theodore Berry’s career, states: “The significance of Mr. Berry’s work extends far beyond Cincinnati…his papers at the University of Cincinnati Archives revealed his role as an emissary to Africa during the Kennedy Administration and as a leader in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society…They [the papers] have the potential to …be important to historians everywhere studying race relations, civil rights, twentieth century urban life, public service and the relationship of national and international movements in a local community.” Further, Dr. Eric R. Jackson, Director of the Institute for Freedom Studies at Northern Kentucky University, remarks: “…there is no question that this collection will provide much needed access to material about Mr. Berry, a prominent civil rights activist, politician, and attorney who played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, on various levels, during the 1950s and 1960s …it is my great belief that all parties involved in this process have constructed and articulated a solid, powerful, and precise plan of action.” Mr. Hurley’s and Dr. Jackson’s letters of support are in Appendix D.

Current research use of the collection is primarily through academic courses that focus on the civil rights movement or on African-Americans and national politics. However, in addition to considerable community interest and use of the Berry papers for local history and political analysis, the holdings have also attracted the interest of researchers nationwide who are interested in understanding federal responses to civil rights policies, and, to the role local and state NAACP organizations have played with the national body. Increasingly, there is a need for complete and detailed information about the collection’s contents, something that is not available in their current state.

The physical condition of the papers ranges from poor to good, with a variety of paper size, the use of metal paperclips, staples, and rubber bands, and deteriorating non-archival folders. Most of the boxes in which the papers are held are non-archival as well, with deteriorated lids and sagging sides and bottoms.

With full processing, the collection will not only be better cared for in a physical sense, but it is expected that use of the collection by researchers as well as university undergraduates, graduate students, and secondary school students, will triple. This objective, based upon our familiarity with the use of the collection in recent years, will result in more than two dozen in-depth uses annually at all levels of inquiry. There is a considerable amount of Berry material that would be beneficial to high school history and government courses where hands-on use of primary source material is important, while at the collegiate level under the guidance of archivists and faculty, students will be able to use and interpret materials essential to their development as critical thinkers. Scholars will have access to material that can change current understanding of the civil rights era, and expand an understanding of its place in American life.

Project Products and Evaluation

Project Products

The products from this project will be an effectively organized and preserved collection; the detailed EAD-based record and published finding aid described above, housed in the OhioLINK Finding Aid repository, with links to it from multiple sites; a MARC catalog record on WorldCat, OhioLINK, and the UC Libraries catalog; a Theodore M. Berry website that is part of ARB’s Urban Studies Collection site; a publicity program generating materials including press releases and articles published in the media outlets and professional publications described in the previous section; and presentations in appropriate professional and community venues. The last will include a presentation sponsored by UC Libraries and an exhibit in the Archives & Rare Books Library for the general public, will be offered to make the collection known to local citizens.

A basic EAD-based record for the Berry papers is available here. It includes the fundamental elements of such a record, providing a foundation upon which to develop the detailed finding aid this project will enable.

The papers of Bobbie Stern, Cincinnati’s first woman mayor, have been processed by ARB staff in detail. This collection’s extensive finding aid may be seen here.


This project will be continuously evaluated throughout the proposed work schedule and a final evaluation to measure the project’s results and impact will be conducted.

To ensure that the project is completed within the proposed timeline the project director and the UC Libraries grants officer will monitor progress on all activities, resolve problems, and ensure that project staff members have the resources required to perform their duties. The project director will develop specific objectives for each project staff person for each phase of the project plan, and hold weekly meetings with project staff to facilitate communication and to resolve questions in a timely manner. The project director will also perform random quality control checks on the work of all project staff.

To measure the project’s results and impact, ARB staff will keep statistics on inquiries about the collection, in-person users, email and other virtual queries, and visits to the Berry web site and the Berry collection finding aid. These staff will also conduct follow-up questioning with users to survey the efficacy of the finding aids, and specifically with students to assess their experience with primary source material, namely on the ease of access, the utility of description in the finding aids, and the learning derived from the materials themselves. In this way, the impact of the project on use and interpretation can be measured. This part of the project evaluation will be conducted during the final phase of the project plan.