Ohio History Connection purchases the project's remaining two buildings.
On Thursday, Oct. 12, a jovial crowd of Near East Side residents and city officials gathered on the courtyard near the remnants of Poindexter Village. Ohio’s first public housing project hasn’t hosted many celebrations in recent years; it suffered through crime and decay in the ’80s and ’90s, and 33 of the 35 buildings in the residential complex were demolished in 2013, with the final two stuck in an uncertain limbo ever since. But longtime activists finally had a reason to celebrate—Ohio History Connection purchased those last two buildings with the intention to turn them into a museum honoring Poindexter’s history and the upward struggle of African-Americans in the Great Migration.
“Some of us are just learning about Poindexter, wanting to learn more. Some of us have lived here. Some of us have partied here,” said Reita Smith from behind an official city podium, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But I welcome everyone, because it’s been a long, long journey, and I’m not sure we knew that this day was actually going to happen.”
Smith is a former Poindexter resident and chairperson of the James Preston Poindexter Foundation, just one of the community groups and committees that have worked for preservation since 2008. The historic housing project, which opened in 1940, was once a refuge and a symbol of hope and safety for African-Americans fleeing the South in the Great Migration, and the surrounding Near East Side neighborhood flourished at a time when the city was still explicitly segregated. So when the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, which owned the buildings until the recent sale, announced plans to tear down the development as part of a revitalization effort and a shift in public housing policy, concerned citizens like Smith fought to save at least some of their history.
“Poindexter Village is the story of [the] Great Migration,” said Bob Lucas, Ohio History Connection’s board president. “This story is currently underrepresented, as midcentury public housing is demolished all over this country. These stories and buildings are increasingly at risk.”
The buildings were purchased for $300,000, according to OHC’s director of marketing and communications, Shannon Thomas. Once the museum is complete, one building will display exhibits depicting stories from the Great Migration, and the other will host community programming and apartments furnished to show life in the early days of Poindexter.
Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla Tyson, who spoke after Smith, said the mayor’s office has committed $1.1 million to the creation of the museum, and City Council has invested $100,000. Mayor Andy Ginther took the podium next and challenged local businesses to contribute.
“We oftentimes talk about the Columbus Way because we believe we do public-private partnerships better here than anywhere in America,” Ginther said. “Well, the city has stepped up, the community has stepped up, I’m calling on our private sector leadership today to step up and invest in this museum to make sure that it is first-rate and reflects the incredible contributions of the African-American community to our city.”
The ceremony was held exactly 77 years after Poindexter’s inaugural dedication by President Franklin Roosevelt, a fitting day for the start of its next chapter.
“Today is extra special because we’re re-dedicating new hope,” Smith said. “Because when we make a museum in these two buildings, it’ll tell the story of our ancestors. It’ll tell the story of our community. And our history has not always been valued or remembered.”
Ohio History Connection is planning to hold a public meeting Nov. 30 to get feedback on the properties from the community.