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Ronald Sanders of Cincinnati helped improve racial relations at Ohio State

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Ronald Sanders, who was involved in protests 50 years ago on the campus of The Ohio State University, practices on his keyboard in the rear of his barber and beauty salon on Elm Street. Photo by Dan Yount

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

As a student at The Ohio State University in Columbus in 1968, Cincinnatian Ronald Sanders was among a group of 34 students and alumni who helped change the racial climate at the university.

Sanders and six other African American students from Cincinnati – Willie Rodgers, Ronald Flagg, Sherrod Irvin, Eric Early, James Barksdale and Irbie Flowers – were involved in protests for better treatment of students of color that were carried from the street into the OSU dean’s office, a move that resulted in the 34 students being arrested, indicted or expelled from the university, including the involved Cincinnati students. All the Cincinnati seven were 1967 graduates of Taft High School and close friends living in Park Hall on campus.

The Ohio State University will mark 50 years of change and progress on April 26-28, when it salutes this body of former students and alumni who sowed seeds for change that still blooms today.

The three-day program of events will commence at the Longaberger Alumni House, where a campus bus will take honored guests — including Sanders and other former students who protested racial intolerance on campus and beyond in 1968 — on a tour of Ohio State. That evening, President Michael V. Drake will lead an observation of this historic time for the nation and the university that will include remarks from members of the 1968 Ohio State Black Student Union.

Fifty years ago, that union began meeting regularly with administrative officials to address growing concerns of racial bias and lack of representation at Ohio State. On April 26, 1968, students took over the Ohio State administration building to express their grievances, which were exacerbated after four female students reported they were forced to leave a campus bus because the driver did not like their discussion about discrimination and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Acts of nonviolent resistance continued at Ohio State as students, faculty and staff ensured their voices were heard. In the following years. Change at the university was marked by the addition of academic courses and programs related to people of color and the establishment of centers of ethnic and racial diversity.

Events April 26-28 will include receptions hosted by The Ohio State University Alumni Association, the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Undergraduate Student Government, the African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, and the noted off-campus King Arts Complex. Special speakers for the April 27 reception and dinner include the Honorable Ray Miller and Congress-woman Joyce Beatty.

Sanders dropped out of Ohio State a year after the incident, later graduating from Cincinnati Barber College and PORO Beauty College on Linn Street, in 1980. He opened Carrington’s Hair Salon in South Cumminsville in 1985 with Marilyn White, and they were married in 1989. She died in 2016, The business was relocated in the 300 block of W. Fourth Street in 1994, but after a robbery in 2010, it was relocated to the present address at Fifteenth and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine.

It was the time of the Vietnam War. Sanders said he attended Ohio State to avoid being drafted. He was enrolled in general studies.

His sister, Geneva Lewis, a dancer at The Cotton Club, got him interested in music, resulting in him playing in a jazz band at Taft. He wanted a drum set, and in a deal with his parents, Willie B. and Minnie Belle Sanders, he promised to attend college if they purchased him a drum set.

“At the time, Black students were being treated unfairly at Ohio State,’’ he said. “The administration and White students were disrespecting us, and the White students were especially disrespectful of Black women on campus. The university was integrated, but there was a sense that they did not want us there.’’

So, he and other students went to the campus police station to protest, but without any results, he said. Then they moved on to the vice provost’s office, working their way into the office to confront him.

Along with other protesters, Sanders, Flagg, Flowers, Early and Irvin were arrested and indicted shortly after the protest and charged with unlawful detention, conspiracy to abduct, kidnapping and destruction of private property. If convicted, the charges could have landed them in prison for more than 300 years, he said.

The arrests of the 34 protesters made national news. “My Dad had a fit,’’ Sanders said.

Sanders did not plead guilty to the charges, and he was released from custody. Eventually, charges against all 34 protesters were dropped, but those who did plead guilty were placed on probation for two years.

“However, an FBI agent came to our house every two months for some time after the incident to ask me to infiltrate the Black organizations at the University of Cincinnati. No, I’m not a snitch,’’ he said he told them.

Sanders said his days of protesting ended with the Ohio State incident.

“I hold a grudge a longtime. So, I am not a Buckeye fan,’’ he said.

Music is still an important part of Sander’s life. He plays in the Jazz Renaissance Band and takes drum lessons one day a week from Jacob Dike at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music at UC. He started taking piano lessons six years ago from Jeannie Phillips, a teacher on Race Street.

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