Black History Documentary Highlights ‘Prejudice and Progress’
By Anne Yeager | February 25, 2021
The Ohio Supreme Court releases the first of a series of videos in observation of Black History Month.
In observance of Black History Month, the Ohio Supreme Court is launching the first video of a documentary series exploring racial injustice and the legal journeys of African Americans in our state.
The premiere video features the work of pioneering state Rep. Benjamin Arnett and his battle against the “Black Laws,” a Northern version of the South’s Jim Crow statutes that denied free Black Americans their full rights in society.
As the series, “Prejudice and Progress: A History of Racial Justice in Ohio,” develops, materials will be created by the Supreme Court’s Civic Education Section to adapt the short documentaries for classroom instruction.
The first video – nine minutes long – is entitled “Knock the Monster in the Head: Benjamin Arnett versus The Ohio Black Laws.” The title is taken from Arnett’s reference to the discriminatory laws in an impassioned speech to the Ohio General Assembly in 1886.
The series will take a look at people and issues from the past, some chapters well-known and others lesser-known.
“Our aim is to ensure that the next chapters unfold intelligently and fairly, with a keen knowledge – and acknowledgement – of our past,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said of the documentary series.
“The story of African American rights and equality in Ohio is a story without a closing chapter,” said Justice Melody Stewart, who appears with Chief Justice O’Connor to unveil the series.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Justice Stewart said. “This series of short documentaries is intended to educate all citizens of our state about the battles for racial justice that have marked our shared history.”
The Arnett installment is narrated by retired Judge Ronald Adrine, who served on the bench of the Cleveland Municipal Court for 36 years and chaired the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, among many other law-related endeavors. In 2018, he became the first jurist-in-residence at his alma mater, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
The voice of Arnett is portrayed by Columbus-based actor and artist Rory Rennick.