Libraries Receive a Grant to Make Available the Papers of Theodore Moody Berry

The University of Cincinnati Libraries have received a $61,287 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process the papers of Theodore Moody Berry (1905-2000), a civil rights pioneer, community activist, and elected official from Cincinnati.

Born in Maysville, Kentucky, and raised in Cincinnati, Theodore Moody Berry graduated from Woodward High School in 1924 and was the school’s first African-American valedictorian. After earning both a bachelor of arts and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati, he served as counsel for the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP and was admitted to the United States Federal Bar in 1937. By 1942, Berry was a civil rights activist in Washington, D.C., and was known for his efforts in defending the rights of African-American soldiers in a segregated Army. He was elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1949, served in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson during the president’s “War on Poverty,” and in 1972, was elected as Cincinnati’s first African-American mayor. A key figure in 20th-century American civil rights, Berry’s career was marked by his involvement in fair housing, race relations, and economic opportunity on local, state, and national levels.

The Theodore Moody Berry Papers provide an historical record of civil rights and community politics during the 20th century, including issues surrounding Cincinnati politics and history, housing and fair treatment for the poor, and neighborhood activism. Consisting of 225 boxes and spanning six decades, the papers cover his involvement in Cincinnati City Council (circa 1949-1975), the NAACP (circa 1932-1993), and the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity (circa 1965-1969). They also include civic activism records (circa 1930-1995), his personal papers (circa 1930-1995), and biographical material (circa 1905-2000).

“The grant-funded project will provide students and scholars with access to an excellent collection that will inform their understanding of local, state, and national civil rights and the evolution of the role of African Americans in politics in the 20th century,” said Victoria A. Montavon, dean and university librarian.

The Theodore Moody Berry Papers are located in the Archives and Rare Books Library within the Urban Studies Collection, which documents the cultural and political life of the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The project to process the papers is slated for completion in June 2012 at which time the collection will be fully available for research and study. “While we have had the papers for a number of years and they have been available for occasional research by scholars, this grant allows processing that will open the collection for university courses requiring projects that use primary resources, and, for wider community use by teachers, high school students, and historians,” said Kevin Grace, university archivist, head of the Archives and Rare Books Library, and project director.