The Black Man Who Broke the Racial Faculty Barrier in Ohio

Kent State University in Ohio recently completed a $10.4 million renovation of Oscar Ritchie Hall, which houses offices and classrooms for the department of Pan-African studies, offices of the black student organizations, the performance space for the African Community Theatre, and the Uumbaji Art Gallery.

Built in 1947, the building was renamed in 1977 to honor Oscar Ritchie, the first African American to serve as a faculty member at a predominantly white state university in Ohio.

Ritchie was a native of Hallandale, Florida. In 1926 he enrolled at Florida A&M University but had to drop out of college during the Great Depression. For more than a decade he worked as a musician, porter, and steelworker. Finally, in 1942, he enrolled at Kent State University while continuing to work full-time at a steel mill in Massillon.

After graduating in 1946 Ritchie entered the graduate school and became a graduate teaching assistant at Kent State. His master’s thesis was published in the Yale Quarterly Journal of Alcoholic Studies.

In 1947 Ritchie became the first black faculty member at Kent State and the first African American to teach at any of Ohio’s public universities. This was the same year that Allison Davis of the University of Chicago became the first African American to be hired to a tenured faculty position at any of the nation’s leading universities.

Despite his faculty appointment, Ritchie could not secure housing near the university and was obliged to live in a segregated black community. He would endure this indignity for the next 16 years.

Dr. Ritchie earned his Ph.D. in sociology at New York University. Ritchie remained on the sociology department faculty at Kent State University for 29 years serving as a full professor and department chair. He died from cancer in 1967 at the age of 58.