Ohio’s Fight for School Integration

When their school district refused to desegregate after Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, 55 Black women and children in a small Ohio town fought to desegregate a local elementary school by marching to the white school, demanding admission. Upon being rejected, they woke up the next morning and marched again. And again. And again.

In the face of threats and risks to their livelihoods, the mothers persevered for almost two years as their case wound its way through the legal system—becoming experts in legalese while marching every school day, regardless of scorching heat or freezing rain.

The Lincoln School Marchers in Hillsboro, Ohio, played an important yet under-told story in the movement to desegregate America’s schools and the overall fight for civil rights for Black Americans.

Many of the Lincoln School students who marched are still alive today. As elementary school students, these brave individuals became activists—even if they didn’t realize it at the time. “Back then, I probably didn’t think I was part of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Myra Cumberland Phillips. “But now, yes, I do.”

By sharing their story, the marchers hope to inspire others to remember their mothers and continue the work they started. Their commitment to keeping the story of the march–and their mothers–alive reminds us of the importance of education and of how recent the civil rights movement is in our past.

To learn more about segregation and school integration in Ohio and across the country, explore the resources below:

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality by Tomiko Brown-Nagin

An African American Dilemma: A History of School Integration and Civil Rights in the North by Zoë Burkholder

Why Busing Failed by Matthew Delmont 

“Early Boycotts of Segregation Schools: The Case of Springfield, Ohio, 1922-23” by August Meier and Elliot Rudwick

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Sweet Land of Liberty by Thomas Sugrue 

“The Long Walk” by Sara Stankorb

“Essay B” from This American Life

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs

“Picturing Black History: Marching Mothers” by Jessica Viñas-Nelson

Self-Taught: African American African American Education in Slavery and Freedom by Heather Andrea Williams  

“Fire of Justice: The Battle for School Desegregation in Hillsboro” by Pat Williamsen