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'He was like our own freedom fighter': Cincinnati says goodbye to Civil Rights activist Carl Westmoreland

Posted at 11:44 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 23:44:34-04

CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati legend will soon be laid to rest.

The renowned activist Carl Westmoreland spent his life’s work preserving Black history and fighting for economic empowerment.

Many of his friends and loved ones describe him as the ultimate role model, trailblazer and family man. His son, Guy, even compared him to his favorite comic book superhero, Batman.

“He was the only one who didn’t have superpowers," Guy Westmoreland said. "He was smart. He was wealthy but he used his brain most of the time to deal with whatever he was dealing with, and my dad was like that.”

Ozie Davis, a close family friend who described himself as another one of Westmoreland's sons, said the legend has always been a giant.

“Pops Westmoreland, he was like our own freedom fighter," Davis said.

Westmoreland was most widely known for being one of the key forces behind the creation of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He served as the Freedom Center’s senior historian until he died at age 85 March 10.

“He was the heart and passion of our institution,” said Chris Miller, the Freedom Center’s senior director of education and community engagement. “He often said, ‘you can't solve the problems of today if you don't know about yesterday, and have an understanding about what occurred yesterday.' And so those teachings, those lessons live on through us as a staff and as a community.”

Westmoreland was also one of the first Black trustees of the National Trust For Historic Preservation. However, he wasn’t just a historian. In the late 60s, he founded the Mount Auburn Good Housing Foundation, helping Black residents become homeowners.

He contributed to major news outlets like PBS, The Nation and C-SPAN. Westmoreland was even chosen by President Ronald Reagan to serve as a delegate to China in the 80s.

In his later years, Westmoreland was also a mentor to many of Cincinnati’s young people, especially in neighborhoods like Avondale and his original home, Lincoln Heights.

“He has done amazing, amazing work,” said his daughter-in-law Tammy Westmoreland. “He’s touched so many lives.”

But his trailblazing work didn’t come without a cost. Detractors branded Westmoreland as a troublemaker for his activism. He said he was blackballed in the city for almost 20 years.

“Somebody’s got to ruffle the feathers and he didn’t mind doing it,” said Rep. Catherine Ingram, another family friend. “It was good trouble and it wasn’t recognized at the time.”

Despite once being persecuted for their father’s political beliefs, the small but mighty Westmoreland clan say they will continue his legacy of resilience and self-determination.

“The Westmoreland men are here and we’re going to be what we were raised to be,” Guy Westmoreland said. “Our children, grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren, everybody will understand where they come from and what their purpose is.”

Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.

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