T. M. Berry Project: Keeping Busy

By Laura Laugle

I don’t know about you, but when I think of retirement I think of time spent relaxing with cool drinks in a warm climate (at least, I think that’d be the ideal for many of us.) Apparently, Theodore M. Berry didn’t think so. If what I’ve lately found in the collection which he donated to the University of Cincinnati is any indication, I think I can safely say that Berry’s retirement, though most assuredly rewarding, was no walk in the park – not even when he took the neighbor’s dog out for a walk.

After his 1969 retirement from the Office of Economic Opportunity at the age of 63 Berry returned home to Cincinnati and, after having already served several terms, was once again persuaded by his peers to join Cincinnati City Council in 1971 – this time as a consequence of the untimely death of Berry’s fellow Charterite, Councilman Myron Bush.  On December 1, 1972 Berry officially accepted the mayoralty – making history for the city of Cincinnati as the first African American to hold that position. In his acceptance speech Berry remarked “Today marks the symbolic recognition of the Afro-American community as a full and responsible partner in the governance of our City. Thus the City has grown in maturity and civic spirit.”

Berry’s mayoralty, continued by his reappointment in 1973, was marked by a great sense of togetherness within the city. Unlike far too many politicians today, members of Cincinnati City Council, Charterite, Democrat and Republican alike, sought not to discredit political opponents and engender discord among the citizenry but to make Cincinnati great.  This fellowship spread through the city helping to ease the tension which ruled the 1960s. “The progress, the prosperity, and the future of the Cincinnati community, both its central city and its suburbs are tied together. We will succeed as we bind our citizens not by the bond of money or of profit alone, but by the ties of neighborly concern and good will.” In December of 1975 Berry stepped down from office. “It has truly been a pleasure and an honor to serve the people of Cincinnati. I am thankful that I am leaving voluntarily, as it should be. This may be my last day of serving the people, but it is not my last day of concern…”

After his retirement from public life Berry continued to participate in city affairs in an advisory role, as evidenced by the vast amounts of material on Cincinnati policy and correspondence with council members and returned to his private law practice participating in the final desegregation case for Cincinnati Public Schools in 1984. Luckily, with the removal of the pressures of high office Berry managed to find time for less serious activities – like strutting the runway as a fashion model!

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $61,287 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the Archives and Records Administration to fully process the Theodore M. Berry Collection in the Archives & Rare Books Library.  All information and opinions published on the Berry project website and in the blog entries are those of the individuals involved in the grant project and do not reflect those of the National Archives and Records Administration.  We gratefully acknowledge the support of NARA.