Rendville is a town that is different than the others: It was racially integrated before its time. Established in 1879 by the Ohio Central Coal Company, the town just 50 miles north of Athens is affectionately known as one of the “Little Cities of Black Diamonds” with the central purpose being to mine coal. Now, with their population of 36, the city is on a mission to preserve the unique history of their beloved town.
The founder of Rendville, William P. Rend, was willing to hire many black Americans when no one else would. To those who know it, the town is now known for tackling the age-old issue of racism that has plagued this country for so long. But for those who lived there, integration was not a new concept.
Jerry Jackson, a resident of Rendville, is serving as the chair for the Rendville Historic Preservation Society in order to preserve the history of the town he loves. Jackson is an Ohio University alumnus who had a career in basketball and even served in a Vietnam War. When he looks back on his experience in Rendville, he realized that race was not a big part of it.
“I never heard anything about race relations growing up or staying away from white folks or anything like that,” Jackson says. “But I mean, we all grew up here together. It was probably half black and half white. Everyone was here for the same purpose: to work in the coal mine. So, we got along just fine.”
Janis Ivory, who grew up with Jackson, is also serving as a member of the Rendville Historic Preservation. She recalls a very similar experience to that of her co-chair.
“We began to see on those old, early, fuzzy TVs and get articles in the newspaper that there was all this stuff going down South with the Civil Rights Movement,” Ivory says. “I thought, ‘What is the big issue?’ … I really had to ask and look into it to understand that Rendville is a paradise socially compared to what other people were going through.”
Jackson and Ivory, now as adults, understand how significant the town is not only to the state of Ohio, but to the nation as a whole. Despite the significance of the town, community members are struggling to maintain the existence of Rendville. With the diminishing job market, residents are leaving the town at an expedited rate.
“A lot of the people aren’t here anymore … they passed away. A lot of their children … obviously, are not going to stay here,” Ivory says. “You go where the jobs are … quite a lot of them went to Columbus and different places.”
Instead of seeing this as a barrier, those who remain in the community are using the diminishing population as motivation to continue their preservation efforts in Rendville.
“My generation, we had good memories,” Ivory says. “We had a desire that if we could just reach back, I’m sure we would have been glad to preserve what had been left behind.”