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James P. Humphrey
First Black Mayor of Sidney

On March 1, 1834, the state of Ohio passed legislation incorporating Sidney as a city and provided for the election of the new city’s first mayor.

James P. Humphrey, a proud descendant of Randolph slaves, No. 421 Carter (Lee) and his wife No. 422 Pheobe, was born in New Bern, just outside Sidney, in 1921. As a lifelong resident he has striven diligently, giving time and money, to preserve the gallant and tragic saga of the Randolph slaves. While the slaves’ heritage is alive today in many of Sidney’s black citizens, Humphrey’s countless lectures and presentations to community groups has brought this remarkable story to the attention of many people throughout the area, reinforcing its importance as an integral part of Shelby County’s local history.

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A native of Sidney, Jim attended Morris Brown College, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and received a degree from Central State College in Physiatrics. A W.W.II veteran, Jim served in city government for 12 years — as councilman-at large, vice mayor and finally retiring as (Sidney’s first black) Mayor in December, 1987. Employed at Amos Press as Community Relations Director, he retired in August, 1987, with nearly 30 years of service.

A deacon of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church for over 40 years, Jim has been involved in countless community organizations such as the Salvation Army, NAACP and the Sunset Kiwanis. He was selected for inclusion in "Who’s Who Among Black Americans" and was honored in 1987 with the establishment of a scholarship fund in his name. The James P. Humphrey Scholarships are awarded each year to black Shelby County students as incentives for achievement. He has earned countless honors and awards, including Black Mayor of the Year for Ohio, Sidney’s Black Achiever of the Year, Man of the Year, Outstanding Senior Citizen in Shelby County, etc.

Jim is married to Louise (Strickland Lloyd) and is the father of six children and six step-children. From slave descendant to city councilman in 1976, and from councilman to Sidney’s mayor in 1981, Humphrey speaks proudly of his accomplishments from 1981 to 1987 as Sidney’s first black mayor.

He talks passionately of the many indignities, struggles, inhumanities, and derogatory terms, that his ancestors and, in time, himself, along with fellow blacks, suffered over the years. He relates the following memories. "We were all in the band," Humphrey said. "I played the E flat Sousa horn and Tom Swander the trumpet. But I didn't ride the band bus, because of that racial business. Clarence Nofsinger (Band Director), Arnold Henke or Dr. Ralph Kerr who were on the school board gave me a lift in their cars to any band event. But then at some point they decided I would have to ride the bus. I'll never forget that it was Tom Swander, Bill Ross, and Roscoe Dodds who came to me and said, "If anyone starts anything on the bus, we're going to help you out." And they did. My buddies were all lined up around me and they had influence over the rest of them. I never had a problem after that. Tom, Bill, and Roscoe came to my rescue. They looked out for people who couldn't help themselves.

I was also a member of the national conference of black mayors when I was mayor of Sidney. I knew Coleman Young, Tom Bradley, Andy Young.

I met Jesse Jackson in Washington, D.C. We had invited him to talk and he started soliciting funds for his organization. I told him I wouldn't give anything because that was bad manners for him to be a guest and ask for money like that. Well, that appeared in the Washington Post the next day about what this mayor from Sidney, Ohio, told Jesse Jackson. And of course Oliver Amos (Amos Press owner) heard about it. I worked at Amos Press. After that, when I went to a meeting like that, Oliver always cut me a big check, one was for $1,500. He told me he didn't want me to be the low man on the totem pole anymore.

Why, I introduced President Reagan when he was on that whistle-stop trip through Sidney." The date of the Sidney visit was October 12, 1984.

Unable to eat comfortably inside a restaurant (he was denied access to The Spot restaurant in Sidney as a child), separate entrances to buildings for blacks, job discrimination, refusal to rent or sell property to blacks, separate water fountains, unequal education, these were just some of the obstacles faced by blacks throughout the nation from the end of the Civil War into the 1960s.

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge

 

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