Editor’s note: Students in Sara Olding’s Senior English classes at Sidney High School partnered with the Shelby County Historical Society to explore the stories of early residents and visionaries of Sidney, Ohio. Turning their research into writing, they spent time “Learning About Legacy.”
SIDNEY — From a descendent of slaves to Sidney’s mayor, James P. Humphrey is an icon for the black community in Sidney. A lifelong resident of Sidney, he surely left his mark on this city. Humphrey attended Morris Brown College, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and received a degree from Central State College. He was also a WorldWare II veteran and served in city government for 12 years — as councilman-at large, vice mayor, and finally retiring as mayor in December 1987. Employed at Amos Press as Community Relations director, Humphrey retired in August 1987, with nearly 30 years of service.
Aside from Humphrey’s professional accomplishments, he was involved in countless community organizations. He helped with Salvation Army, Sunset Kiwanis, and participated in the NAACP. He was heavily involved in the Mount Vernon Baptist Church, serving as a deacon for 40 years. This church carries a good amount of history. Started in 1846, Vernon Baptist Church was established by two Randolph Slaves who opened their houses as a place of worship for black believers. About 383 freed Randolph Slaves walked 500 miles and arrived in Ohio in 1846. John Randolph of Roanoke was a member of the most powerful family in the south from the late 1700s until the Civil War. He owned slaves and spent a lot of time teaching them to read and write. Through these interactions he develop a moral aversion to slavery and in his will he freed all of his slaves.
In fact, he set aside $30,000 for the purchase of land in Ohio and supplies for their journey to freedom. Among those who arrived in Ohio was Carter (no. 421). The Shelby County Historical Society notes that Humphrey worked “diligently, giving time and money, to preserve the gallant and tragic saga of the Randolph Slaves.” Perhaps one of the many reasons Humphrey worked so hard at his is because he was a descendent of Carter (no. 421).
Humphrey was married to Louise (Strickland Lloyd) and had six children and six stepchildren. He was a man that talked what he believed so when it came time to speak truth about how he was treated in the community, he recalled some of his experiences with discrimination and humiliation. One memory shared was not being able to ride the band bus even though he was part of the marching band. He was made to ride separately with school board members to band performances. Eventually his friends Tom Swander, Bill Ross, and Roscoe Dodds came to Humphrey’s aid and told him that he was going to ride the bus with the rest of the band and if anybody messed with him that they would take care of it. Humphrey also shared stories of being denied service in local restaurants as a child and recalls when there were even separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks.
On the west side of Sidney there is Humphrey Park. Named after James P. Humphrey, it honors his service to Sidney and his accomplishment of becoming the first black mayor in the city’s history. Despite his experience with discrimination, Humphrey set high goals for himself, dedicated himself to being educated, delivered years of service to his community, and remained true to his history.
If I could speak with Mr. Humphrey I would tell him that he is a hero for our black community. I would tell him that his story is truly inspiring and thank him for his example. James P. Humphrey is one of the greatest people to ever live in Sidney. He set an example of excellence. He proved to people that no matter the color of your skin, if you push for something you believe in, you can make it happen.
The writer is the son of Jimmy and Betsy Vondenhuevel. A 2018 graduate of Sidney High School, he plans to attend Wright State University to study business.