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Columbus Migration 101: How Population Shifts Shaped Our City

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During the Great Migration, African-Americans left the South to live and work in northern cities like Columbus, motivated by opportunities for economic and political advancement.


If you’ve ever taken Africa Road—which begins in Westerville and follows Alum Creek up to Alum Creek Lake in Lewis Center—and wondered how the street got its name, you’re not alone.

While not all local streets have a story, some road names provide clues to Columbus’ past, like Mound Street.

As it turns out, Africa Road is the last remaining landmark from an African-American settlement—named Africa—that was established as part of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.

In addition to landmarks, today’s neighborhoods and different areas of the city illustrate historical migrations, both to and around Columbus. Learn more about the migration of different cultures to Columbus on this week’s episode of Columbus Neighborhoods.

Here, we’ve created a Columbus migration resource guide, complete with stories, maps, videos and more to help you dig in to our melting-pot history and how it influenced Columbus neighborhoods of today.

Settlement Stories

In December 2014, Columbus Landmarks Foundation published a report chronicling historical African-American settlements in Columbus, with the goal of preserving their histories and stories of community members. “African-American Settlements and Communities in Columbus, Ohio” takes readers back in time to learn about what life in these settlements entailed, from business and institutions to education and medical care.

cover of “African-American Settlements and Communities in Columbus, Ohio" report

The cover of “African-American Settlements and Communities in Columbus, Ohio,” a report published by Columbus Landmarks Foundation in 2014


One of the settlements included in the report is Flytown, which was located just west of Goodale Park in the late 1800s. New railroads and industries during the Civil War brought an influx of people to the area that became a tight-knit community of various races and nationalities.

Learn more about Flytown in this portion of the Columbus Neighborhoods Short North documentary:

Though Flytown is long gone, a few settlements, like Franklinton, the Hilltop and American Addition, endured and transformed into neighborhoods of today’s Columbus.

WOSU’s Steve Brown spoke with a longtime resident of American Addition last fall about the obstacles the neighborhood has faced and the initiative to revive the area.

Migration Maps

Nearly a century ago, an Ohio State University professor named Roderick McKenzie created a map to illustrate the racial and ethnic geography of Columbus.

Roderick McKenzie's 1918 map of racial, national and industrial localities

Roderick McKenzie’s 1918 map of racial, national and industrial localities


Engaging Columbus—a collaboration between Ohio Wesleyan University, a group of university libraries in Ohio and the City of Columbus—recently recreated McKenzie’s work as a color-coded, interactive map. Zoom in to see concentrations of racial groups in Columbus in 1918.

Then in 1935, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (which was created by the U.S. Congress two years earlier) produced “residential security maps,” in which they ranked areas of the city based on desirability versus risk for mortgages. Each outlined area received a color-coded grade, from “A – first grade” through “D – fourth grade.” While A and B areas were considered desirable for lending purposes, C grades indicated “declining” neighborhoods, and D grades represented neighborhoods that were “risky” for mortgage support.

Home Owners’ Loan Corporation's 1935 residential security map of Columbus

Home Owners’ Loan Corporation’s 1935 residential security map of Columbus


Engaging Columbus produced an interactive version of this residential-security map as well.

This categorization of areas led to the practice of redlining. And in the mid-20th century, deed restrictions limited areas in which people of various races and ethnicities could purchase homes.

During the latter part of the 20th century, we began to see major population shifts in Central Ohio. OSU’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity generated three videos that show this population change:

This video shows the change in percentage of African-Americans in Franklin County from 1970 to 2010.

Here, you can watch the change in percentage of Asian-Americans in Franklin County from 1980 to 2010.

The third video shows the change in percentage of foreign-born people in Franklin County from 1980 to 2009.

The Kirwan Institute has done extensive research on the racial and ethnic makeup of Columbus, and much of the data is available within this interactive map that shows population trends of individual neighborhoods (click on a neighborhood to view the data).

Emily Thompson

Related Video

Columbus Migrations

On this episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, we’ll explore the migration of different cultures to Columbus, from the late 19th century through the 1970s.