The First Black City in America: Lincoln Heights, OH

Carlton Robert Collins
7 min readJun 5, 2021


When we talk about Black Wall Street, we are often only referring to the town of Greenwood, Oklahoma that was destroyed in the 1921. But the reality is that we have a municipality still standing that Black America can look to for answers.

Photo of the Lincoln Heights Volunteer Fire Brigade in the early 1950s.

Off Interstate 75, a mere 13 miles north of the city center of Cincinnati, lies one of the most undervalued treasures in Black American History. Let’s get straight to it with some facts about Lincoln Heights that the masses have never known and should care about:

  1. Lincoln Heights is the eldest Black-run municipality north of the Mason Dixon line.
  2. First all-Black K-12 school district in America after Reconstruction. The district was in operation until the merger with Princeton City Schools after the 1969-1970 academic year. That year Lincoln Heights High School won state championships in baseball, basketball, football, and track.
  3. First Black-run municipality in America with its own EMS, Fire, Police Departments.
  4. The original incorporation for LH was in 1938. Not until 1946 was the incorporation accepted after Hamilton County and Wright Aeronautical Plant (now GE Aviation) fought it. Neighboring Evendale was incorporated in response to our push to become a state-recognized municipality to monopolize the industrial tax base.
  5. Lincoln Heights Health Center (now The Healthcare Connection) was the first community health center in Ohio when founded in 1967 by Dolores Lindsey.
  6. Lincoln Heights was the second wealthiest Black community in the country during the 1960s and early 70s. Governor Thomas Dewey (R-NY) brought LH leadership to Macy’s Day Parade to show proof of all-Black sustainable communities.
  7. Birthplace of the Isley Brothers to which Jimi Hendrix started playing guitar behind the group from ‘60-’62. Nikki Giovanni, Dr. Charles Fold, Hari Rhodes, and Carl Westmoreland were all raised here to name a few.
  8. Two Olympians with ties to Lincoln Heights — William Hubbard (1st Black man to win Olympic gold in 1924) and Mae Faggs Star (1952 4x100 Gold Medalist with Wilma Rudolph).
  9. LH Tigers have produced multiple NFL, NBA, and MLB players. LH has produced more D1 players then most communities 2–3x its size including active professional players and multiple Super Bowl champions.

Fun Fact: All of this was accomplished while we dealt with gunfire as the soundtrack to our daily lives for six generations.

Cincinnati Police Department Gun Range is the longest standing open-air firing range in operation in a residential area in America. There has been no environmental or health impact studies on the land after 74 years (1947). Gunfire could/can be heard 300 days per year, six days per week, sun-up to sun-down for 72/74 years of its existence. Read more about the fight to remove it.

The goal was to set the stage and contend that we hold conversations around Black Wall Street as if it was an erased utopia and that the institutional knowledge acquired in their ascendency has been lost forever. This drums up notions to create new paradigms and not capitalize from what still stands. Lincoln Heights is 75 years old this year and we are celebrating our history with incredible passion, but it cannot remain in an echo chamber.

The only major difference between the concentrated majority Black communities across America and Lincoln Heights is that we stand as a sovereign municipality. The primary reason our place in history has not faded like so many of the other cultural, economic, and political strongholds that have existed is that we control our own zoning. Thus, we are immune to the involuntary embrace of developers with a penchant for white urban renewal. We have survived the economic starvation that comes before gentrification and still remain whole. We are now trending positively.

Highlighting the carved out industrial land surrounding Lincoln Heights.

Our resilience is our greatest strength as a community and our most prolific export is talent. Those who were reared in our small Black oasis in suburban Cincinnati will inform you that we have had hundreds (if not thousands) of people go on to achieve great things — none greater than the Isley Brothers or Nikki Giovanni. But if you ask residents, past and present, the best part of the growing up in Lincoln Heights, they will bring up one consistent word: family.

From its early beginnings post-World War I, Lincoln Heights has always been a haven for Black families seeking refuge from white terrorism in the South and those seeking economic opportunity through home and land ownership. Strong and interdependent families is the result of those ingenious and pioneering early settlers to the land. Early Black residents thrived given our proximity to Wright Aeronautical Plant, the first major factory for the Wright Brothers to build their plane engines, our settlement of its surrounding land, and our uphill climb to incorporate as a municipality in 1938. Our first public housing, the Valley Homes, came courtesy of a Department of Defense contract during World War II that lead to decades of gainful employment at the plant just a few yards (and across the interstate) from our borders.

The original Isley Brothers performing with Jimi Hendrix on lead guitar.

Following incorporation coupled with solid economic mobility, we began a meteoric rise to reach our pinnacle throughout the 60s and 70s. Our independent school district was producing top academic and athletic prospects for colleges and universities nationwide (particularly HBCUs). Nearly dozens of businesses, including grocery stores, skating rinks, nightclubs, repair shops, and a pharmacy, operated with the overwhelming majority of their revenue coming from within Lincoln Heights. Simply put, the Black dollar circulated continuously and any service imaginable could be performed by a business owner with a shared hue. It was the greatest example of a self-sustaining Black ecosystem in America that also comprised the infrastructure to provide all public services. These were our glory days.

There are six key things that changed the vibrancy of Lincoln Heights between the 1980s and 2010s (as they impacted us):

  1. Economic Isolation: All of the viable industrial land for development and subsequent tax base was carved out in the 1946 re-drawing of our boundaries. Resulting in limited land for development opportunities and billions in lost revenue. Did I mention the sound of gunfire to deter new business?
  2. U.S. Trade Policy: Industrial jobs moving overseas negatively impacted all Midwestern cities, but it completely wiped out our economic engine when those positions left General Electric Aviation.
  3. War of Drugs: An incredible amount of people, particularly young males, were lost to the criminal justice system when illicit drugs tore through America.
  4. Greener Pastures: Lincoln Heights’ high performers took their strong educational roots and parlayed them into career and economic success, but few relocated back into the community. Moreover, we did not maintain the family businesses that once gave an economic boost to the tax base.
  5. Crack Epidemic: Ravaged by addiction, crime, and violence during its height in the late 80s and early 90s.
  6. Mismanagement: There are plenty of horror stories, true or otherwise, about the unfair deals entered and botched economic development plans for the Village since the beginning of our decline.

Once a beacon of economic and social progress, Lincoln Heights now sits in the bottom 0.01% of economically disadvantaged municipalities in the state of Ohio. Another phenomenon to consider is that the surrounding communities of Evendale, Glendale, Woodlawn, and Wyoming have all seen growth in property values rise while Lincoln Heights homeowners have lost up to 75% of their home value since the 2008 housing crisis. The destruction of our tax base is at the very core of our economic distress and it was something that our forebears could not curtail.

Nonetheless, Lincoln Heights still stands firm as a municipality and we celebrate 75 years of our brilliance, history, and resolve in grand fashion throughout 2021. Not only do we serve as a unique source for inspiration in this period of awakening post-George Floyd, but also as a repository of greatness. A dynamic reminder of how collective action and healthy coexistence have expedited academic, economic, and social progress. Lincoln Heights, deep in its bones, has stories of industriousness in commerce at unheralded levels as an independent Black city in the north. These need to be excavated, examined, polished, packaged, and broadcast to the masses within Black America who still believe Black Wall Street was eradicated during those two murderous days in Tulsa. We need a new narrative — a complete one.

Have we never stopped to wonder who those people inspired? Have we not considered that there could be more than one? Are we so familiar with our traumatic experiences in America that we solely focus on the tragedy and not triumph? Today, I sit and wonder about the missed opportunity to learn from our ancestral ingenuity. It was George Santayana who said, “those who cannot remember their history are condemned to repeat it.” There is one key fallacy that he assumed you knew your history to begin with. This leaves one pressing question: What happens if you have never known your history?

‘Black Excellence in the Village’ dedicated by The Heights Movement in 2020.

That is the challenge we are faced with as America charts a fresh path toward an inclusive and equitable society — one that accounts for the economic viability of its Black citizens. It is my belief that Lincoln Heights and communities like it are where we should begin looking for answers. What we will find will shock Black America, what we can do with it will change it.



Carlton Robert Collins

Carlton R. Collins is an activist with The Heights Movement, author of Resist Every Bias on Every Level, & entrepreneur focused on education/minority business.