By: Nate McGee, CHRC Intern and UC PhD candidate
Amid a renewed discussion regarding the relationship between minority urban residents and local police, it’s important to think about how our own community dealt with similar issues in the not too distant past. The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission (CHRC) Collection currently being processed in the Archives and Rare Books Library shows the myriad ways the city and various organizations affiliated with city hall attempted to deal with issues not unlike those currently experienced in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, and in the national news discussion.
CHRC began as the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Commission in 1943 as only the second group of its type in the country. It was later renamed CHRC in 1965. The group’s goal, in both incarnations, has been to cultivate better relationships between the city and among various minority, ethnic, and religious groups within Cincinnati. It faced many difficulties and questions about its necessity nearly from its inception, but the unrest of the past decade highlighted the utility of an organization built to respond to crises like April of 2001. CHRC fostered community outreach through various programs aimed at educating the general public, reaching out to youth, and integrating ex-offenders back into society. The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) involved itself directly in communities and tried to foster better relations through positive programming and events. Youth Ambassadors reached into Cincinnati neighborhoods to attempt to resolve situations before they arose and to provide positive experiences for young people. In the fall of 2001 CHRC instituted the Study Circles program, a nationally recognized project that attempted to bring diverse community members together in discussion to talk about issues facing their communities. CHRC operated under the idea, indeed perhaps from its very inception, that dialogue was the key to solving problems.
Angela Leisure, mother of Timothy Thomas whose shooting set off the unrest in 2001, wrote a passionate plea to the city amid another round of possible budget cuts to CHRC. She reflected on the importance of the organization in helping to start the healing process in the city. The letter is also a reflection of the tenuous relationship the organization has had with the city overall.
CHRC by no means solved the problems of racial and civil unrest in the city and country as the national tragedies of the past few months continue to remind us. The organization is a reflection on a unique local level, however, of ways cities have responded to crises and the importance of continuing the conversation regarding unrest and racial divisiveness across the country.
For those interested in learning more about the organization, CHRC has multiple collections currently housed in the Urban Studies holdings in the Archives and Rare Books Library. Two available online finding aids can be found here and here and the current collection being processed is expected to be completed in early 2015. To learn more about the Urban Studies collection at the Archives and Rare Books Library, visit ARB’s website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 513-556-1959