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Theodore M. (Theodore Moody) Berry papers

Identifier: US-93-03, US-00-01

Scope and Content

The papers of Theodore M. Berry span both his entire personal life and career and include photographs, mementos, film reels, yearbooks, correspondence, reports and speeches. The collection is divided into 13 series and several sub-series under each series.

Series 1: Photographs - This series contains photographs from both Berry's professional career and personal life and spans the years 1866 through 2000. Included are portrait photographs of Berry, family photographs, photographs from Berry's school years including photos of his University of Cincinnati graduating class in 1928 and the College of Law class in 1931, photos of Berry as Mayor at various events, photos from Community Action Program speaking engagements, and various other photographs.

Series 2: Other Media - This series encompasses slides, film reels and cassette tapes from Berry's professional career; magazines featuring Theodore Berry and Faith Berry; books inscribed to Theodore Berry; personal mementos kept by Berry and his family; and plaques etc, awarded to Theodore and Johnnie Mae Berry; and newspaper clippings.

Series 3: Biographical Information and Personal Life - This series includes biographical information collected throughout Berry's career, information on his family members and friends, religious information and tributes to Berry. This series contains Berry's resume, newspaper and magazine clippings, and sheet music.

Series 4: Personal Interest Correspondence - Includes correspondence marked "personal interest" on a variety of topics ranging from familial issues to elections to civil rights.

Series 5: School and Early Career - Includes materials from elementary school at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School through graduate school at the Cincinnati College of Law.

Series 6: Greek Letter Associations - This series contains materials documenting Berry's involvement with Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi, including copies of The Boule Journal, event programs, and correspondence.

Series 7: Attorney - Includes some materials from graduate school and on Berry's law practice from 1932 through the 1980s. Topics include discrimination, fair housing in Cincinnati, legal services to the poor and the founding of West End Health Center.

Series 8: NAACP and Other Civil Rights Organizations - This series contains materials from Cincinnati NAACP and national NAACP offices from 1932 through the 1990s. Berry was President of the Cincinnati branch 1932 - 1938 and 1943 - 1946. Materials also include documents from his time as Interim General Counsel and Cincinnati public school desegregation cases Deal v. Board of Education of Cincinnati, Ohio and Bronson v. Board of Education of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Series 9: Advisor to John F. Kennedy - In 1960, Theodore M. Berry acted as JFK's personal representative in Nigeria as the country gained independence. On the resulting trip to Africa, Berry visited Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Abidjan and Accra. Materials also include a letter from JFK asking for advice on the speech announcing his candidacy for the presidency and magazines and articles on JFK's assassination.

Series 10: Office of Economic Opportunity and Community Action Programs - Materials include managerial correspondence and reports on the running of Community Action Programs, studies on poverty in all sectors of the population and materials on the programs themselves.

Series 11: Cincinnati Politics - This series contains campaign and elections materials, proclamations by Mayor Berry, mayoral correspondence, and information on activities and events that occurred while Berry was mayor. Topics include Cincinnati neighborhoods, urban renewal, public utilities, environment, health care, legal series, human services, youth programs, and education.

Series 12: Retirement - Includes materials from all aspects of Berry's life aside from his work with the NAACP after he retired from public service in 1975. These materials reflect his continued interest in Cincinnati politics, race relations and fair employment and housing opportunities.

Series 13: Miscellaneous


  • 1866-2001


Language of Materials

The records are in English

Biography of Theodore M. Berry

Theodore M. Berry was a pioneering civil rights activist and politician from Cincinnati, Ohio, who from the 1930s to the 1990s was instrumental in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) litigation, federal civil rights administration, and civic participation. Berry was born in Maysville, Kentucky on November 8, 1905. His mother was a laundress and was deaf and mute. Although she did not know any official form of sign language, she was able to communicate with others via an improvised system of signals of her own making. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when Berry was a young child.

Berry was educated in Cincinnati's public schools including the Harriet Beecher Stowe School for underprivileged migrant African American children. His principal at the school was Jennie D. Porter, the first African American woman to earn a PhD. at the University of Cincinnati. Both Porter's master's thesis and doctoral dissertation focused on her work in segregated Cincinnati public schools, leading her to promulgate the value of educating African-American children in a setting of cultural support and understanding. Berry was greatly influenced by Jennie Davis Porter, and her ideals informed his own work in civil rights and civic responsibility.

In 1924, Berry became the first African American valedictorian at Woodward High School with his winning essay "The Chaos Beyond" under the pseudonym "Thomas Fairplay." Berry entered the University of Cincinnati immediately upon graduating from Woodward High School and worked his way through college as an iron worker at Newport Rolling Mill, a waiter for a railroad company, a kitchen hand at Fort Scott Camp for Boys, and as a page at the Public Library of Cincinnati. While earning his BA, Berry won first place in a national examination of Black History given by Omega Psi Phi and the Jones Oratorical Prize. Although Berry was the only African American contestant for the Jones Prize, he won by unanimous decision with his speech "The Significance of the Minority." Berry attended the University of Cincinnati College of Law and earned his Bachelor of Laws in 1931.

Berry was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1932, at the height of the depression. Berry served as President of the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP from 1932 until 1938. He would serve a second term from 1943-1946. He is still the youngest President in the chapter's history. Berry also served on the National Board of Directors of the NAACP from 1946-1965.

In 1937, Berry was admitted to practice law in the United States Supreme Court. In 1939, Berry was appointed as Assistant Prosecutor of Hamilton County. He was the first African American to hold the post.

In June of 1938, he married Houston, Texas beauty, Johnnie Mae Elaine Newton. Together, they had three children.

From February through August 1942, Berry took leave from the prosecutor's office and served as Morale Officer in the Office of War Information helping to raise support for the war among the African-American populace. He resigned shortly after beginning his service when it was made clear to him that the well-being of black soldiers was not a priority to the Federal Government.

In 1945, at the urging of Thurgood Marshall, Berry acted as lead defense attorney for the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group and 447th Bombardment Group who had been court-martialed because of their actions during the Freeman Field Mutiny. Three men were accused of having shoved a white Lieutenant and were arrested along with 101 other African American officers who refused to sign a document acknowledging their acceptance of Base Regulation 85-2, an order which would officially prohibit African American officers from the club. The 101 were eventually released with administrative reprimands. Two of the men accused of shoving, Second Lieutenants Marsden A. Thompson and Shirley R. Clinton were acquitted during the 1945 trial and the third, Lieutenant Roger Terry was pardoned in 1995.

In 1947, Berry ran for Cincinnati City Council for the first time as an independent under the slogan "A People's Candidate." The campaign was unsuccessful, but Berry ran again in 1949 backed by the City Charter Committee, a group of Democrats, Independents and Republicans brought together by their common wish to uphold the city charter. After a rough campaign, Berry was victorious and was one of the first African Americans to be elected to the Cincinnati City Council. Berry was reelected in 1952 and served two more terms on City Council. In 1956, Berry was appointed Vice Mayor by Mayor Charles Taft.

In 1959, after deciding against running again, Berry was convinced to accept a nomination to the Charter ticket after the "Berry Backers," a citizens' group led by Rev. L. V. Booth, presented him with a petition signed by over 5,000 Cincinnatians urging him to run for a fifth term. This campaign was not successful. Berry was reelected to Cincinnati City Council in 1963 and created the Community Action Commission, a program which was soon expanded into a federal welfare agency. This commission was the first one in City of Cincinnati administrative history to be headed by an African-American. Of particular note in the first years of the commission was its attention to Appalachian migrants and Cincinnati's African-American citizens, both populations of which increased as a result of Cincinnati's industrial and economic needs.

In 1965, Berry left City Council when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as the Director of federal Community Action Programs and Assistant Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity under the direction of R. Sargent Shriver. Berry oversaw the initiation of Johnson's programs in the Job Corps, Legal Services, and Head Start. Berry returned to Cincinnati when Richard Nixon became president.

In 1971, Berry returned to City Council after the death of fellow Charterite, Myron Bush. On December 1, 1972, Berry was sworn in as Mayor, making Cincinnati history as the first African-American to hold the post. In 1975, Berry stepped down as Mayor of Cincinnati and retired from political life. He died on October 15, 2000, just three weeks shy of his 95th birthday.

On May 17, 2003, Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park officially opened. The park was designed by Human Nature Inc. and is a total of twenty-two acres stretching along the Ohio River in the downtown area. It features internationally themed gardens, sculpture from around the world, biking and walking paths and a "story telling circle."


208 Linear Feet (168 boxes)


The papers of Theodore M. Berry (Ted Berry) includes correspondence, photographs, news clippings, reports, studies, and minutes of meetings.

Statement of Arrangement

This collection is arranged into 13 series by format and subject matter as listed below:

  1. Photographs
  2. Other Media
  3. Biographical Information and Personal Life
  4. Personal Interest Correspondence
  5. School and Early Career
  6. Greek Letter Organizations
  7. Attorney
  8. NAACP and Other Civil Rights Organizations
  9. Advisor to John F. Kennedy
  10. Office of Econmic Opportunity and Community Action Programs
  11. Cincinnati Politics
  12. Retirement
  13. Miscellaneous

Physical Location

Archives and Rare Books Library

Finding aid for the Theodore M. (Theodore Moody) Berry papers
Finding aid prepared by Laura Laugle, Berry Project Archivist
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Rare Books Library Repository

8th Floor Blegen Library
2602 University Circle
P.O. Box 210113
Cincinnati Ohio 45221-0113