Home » Ohio » Waverly

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.



Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Don’t Know
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Perhaps, Some Oral Evidence
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Probably Not, Although Still Very Few Black People

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1930 1603 0
1940 1757 0
1950 1679 0
1960 3830 7
1970 4858 15 5
1980 4523 17
1990 4477 37
2000 4433 51
2010 4408 46 15 19

Method of Exclusion

  • Violent Expulsion
  • Threat of Violence
  • Violence Towards Newcomers
  • Private Bad Behavior
  • Reputation

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


One Ohio professor notes:
“Waverly is a much better bet, since I have read that the land for the court house was donated and was to revert to the owner if an African American was ever allowed to settle within the town.
…the WPA guide to the county archives, and that is where it was in a footnote no less. The Downings had written into the agreement that the land on the public square would revert to them if a Negro was ever allowed to live in the town…Incidentally, the footnote does cite the History of the Lower S.V. section on the Ku Klux Klan. It also states that “to this day” which I think was 1943, no Negroes live in Waverly.”

“‘Waverly, having a population of 2,000, does not harbor a single Negro within her borders. When Waverly was still in its swaddling clothes, there was a “yellow nigger” named Love living on the outskirts of the town…. A lot of the better class of citizens got together one night, made a descent upon his cabin, drove him out, and stoned him a long way in his flight toward Sharonville. He never dared to come back. There was a splendid fellow, a darkey named Dennis Hill, who settled at Piketon and established a tanning business, who was almost harassed to death by the Negro-haters. He finally left this section and went to Michigan…'” Howe discusses at length the fights “‘Under such circumstances as these that the bitter anti-Negro feeling at Waverly had its origin. This race hatred was fostered and extended until even moderate-thinking people, on any other subject, came to believe that they couldn’t stand the presence of a Negro in Waverly.'” “This place to this day, 1912, prides itself on the fact that no Negro is permitted to live in the town.”
[Frank U. Quillen, The Color Line in OH (Ann Arbor: Wahr, 1913), 112, quoting Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Ohio, 89.]

Testimony of a former resident:
“All my family still lives in Piketon and Waverly, and my older aunt and uncle hold a wealth of information about the stories of Waverly and Pike County. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything these two have forgotten.
My uncle has told me many times about the sign at the city corporation limits and in fact, showed me the exact place the sign stood on old State Route 23.
He has also told me a story about the daughter of James Emmett (one of Waverly’s founding fathers) who became pregnant by a black man in the late 1800’s. This was a terrible scandal and of course, the girl was disowned by her family. The story goes that the black man was hung beside the courthouse in Waverly, but no blacks were allowed to be buried in the Waverly cemetery. The story continues that they finally buried the black man over the hill from the cemetery and I think his grave is still there. There is a great story about the Emmett girl and her family. Her father was so determined to have her forever erased fron creation that he had her birth records at the courthouse destroyed. In fact, on her grave marker in the Waverly cemetery, there is a statute of a girl pointing a gun directly at her father’s (James Emmett) grave. I only know bits and pieces of the Emmett family story, but it’s very fascinating.
As far as the taxi story goes, my grandfather, Ray E. Pettit, started and maintained the Liberty Cab Company in Waverly until his death in the 1960s. I can remember my mother telling me stories about how my grandfather would transport blacks out of the city limits, should they be in town too late to make it on their own, so they would not be punished. I think many of them knew they could depend on him should they be caught short on time.”

According to a local librarian:
“I don’t believe there was a county in OH where the anti-abolition sentiment was stronger than in Pike County…. I can remember the time when it was not safe for a man to even whisper abolition sentiments in Pike County…Strange as it may seem, the bitter anti-Negro feeling, that reached its climax in the expulsion of Thompson, the [abolitionist] lecturer, has never been eradicated in this community, and today there is not a Negro resident within the corporate limits of Waverly; and what is more, a Negro has never been allowed to live in Waverly. The fact that a Negro cannot live here seems to be so thoroughly understood that no one of that race longer attempts to take up a residence here. Negro house servants are not even tolerated, and a Negro barber would not be allowed to do business here for a day. Even Negro hackmen from surrounding cities who are called here on business are not allowed to linger around any longer than is absolutely necessary… This peculiarity is all the more remarkable, when it is known that many of the hills surrounding Waverly are fairly infested with Negroes,” esp. Jackson Township.

According to the memoirs of one of the town’s founders:
“This antipathy to the Negro at Waverly dates back to the earliest settlement of the town. When Waverly was still in its swaddling clothes, there was a ‘yellow nigger’ named Love, living on the outskirts of the town. He was a low-minded, impudent, vicious fellow, with the cheek of a mule. He was very insulting, and made enemies on every hand. His conduct finally became so objectionable, that a lot of the better class of citizens got together one night, made a descent upon his cabin, drove him out, and stoned him a long way in his flight back to Sharonville. He never dared to come back. Our first acquaintance with Negroes about Waverly, was with rather rough, objectionable members of that race, and many things occurred to intensify the prejudice which many of our people always held against the Negroes. Dr. William Blackstone was a strong exception to the general rule. He was a friend of the Negro, their champion, and the prejudiced whites accused the doctor of ‘encouraging the d—d niggers to be impudent and sassy to us.’ Opposed to Blackstone was a strong family of Burkes, and a number of the Downings, who thought that the only correct was to treat a Negro was to kill him…. There was a splendid fellow, a darkey, named Dennis Hill, who settled at Piketon and established a tanning business, who was almost harassed to death by the Negro-haters. He finally left this section and went to MI, where he grew rich.
“A lot of VA Negroes settled up on Pee-Pee Creek, in the neighborhood of the Burkes and the Downings. Some of them prospered nicely, and this enraged their white neighbors. Tim Downing … was the leader of the gang that made almost constant war on these Negroes. Downing’s crowd got to burning the hay and wheat of the colored farmers, harassing their stock, interfering in their private business, and doing everything possible to make life absolutely miserable to the colored people. They concentrated the brunt of their hatred against the most prosperous of these colored farmers… One night they organized a big raid into the colored settlement with the avowed purpose of ‘clearing out the whole nest of d—d niggers.’ They went fully armed, and didn’t propose to stop short of doing a little killing and burning, if necessary to accomplish their purpose…” They attacked the rich black, fired upon his cabin, and he fired back, hit Tim Downing’s brother in his right leg, cutting an artery; Downing bled to death. The jury refused to find a specific Negro guilty, and the Downings “afterward had the Nero arrested and tried for murder, but he was acquitted.” Tim Downing lay in wait for the black farmer’s son to come out of his cabin, opened fire on him, “struck him in the head, fracturing his skull and allowing a portion of his brain to ooze out.” Downing ran. The young man finally recovered. Then the Negro moved away.
Then he tells how Downing’s brother found a black man chopping fence rails. “He told the darkey to make his peace with God, as he was going to kill him right there. The darkey knew that Downing meant what he said, and … made a dash at Downing with his ax, striking him full on the side of the face and shattering his jaw…. The Negro was arrested and tried, but was acquitted. This only enraged the white gang more, and they made life in this neighborhood entirely too hot for the Negro. It was under such circumstances as these that the bitter anti-Negro feeling at Waverly had its origin. After this, the feeling against the Negro was fostered and extended so effectually that even moderate-thinking people on any other subject came to believe that they couldn’t stand the presence of a Negro in Waverly.”
[James Emmitt, Life and Reminiscences (Chillicothe, OH: Peerless, 1888), 287-92.]

“In about 1830 5 or 6 Negro families from VA came to OH and settled in Pike County, about 4 miles NE of Waverly. They were generally peaceable and industrious, one of them owning and running a mill, and all making a living and dealing fairly with those about them. But the prejudice of some of the early settlers was too strong against their color to allow them civil protection … A raid was led against this black colony one night in about 1835, Timothy Downing and William Burke being the leaders.” [Then repeats the above story about the ax.]
“In 1875 a local census showed Waverly to have 1,279 inhabitants … It will be seen that the fact of Waverly’s not having a single colored resident is a rare mark of distinction for a town of its size. And what makes the fact more remarkable, there never has been a Negro or mulatto resident of the place. In the fall of 1829, the year in which the town was laid out, a free Negro settled here, with the intention of making it his home, but the prejudice against his race was so strong among the other people that he concluded not to remain.” “Although the traditions of hostility toward his race keeps alive the fears of the black man, yet with the new order of things the people here, as elsewhere, have changed in their prejudices and it is altogether probable that now a Negro could take up his residence here in perfect freedom.” [—, History of Lower Scioto Valley (Chicago: Interstate, 1884), 713-14 and 736-37.]

An interested reader writes in: “Another correspondent suggested Waverly, OH (complete with sign).”

A resident of Waverly shares some insights about the designated black neighborhood once black folks were allowed to settle in Waverly, and the current circumstances of the town:
“The area [around] Nipgen where there was a black settlement, their church still stands on Nipgen road between Pike and Ross counties. According to legend, Peter Patric was chased from this area along pee pee creek, carving his initials into trees (to mark location?) and that is how the creek got its name.
There is still a good ammount of racism here in Pike County, several rebel flags displayed in front of homes even flying from poles in the back of pickups. But for the most part black familes are left alone now, although I have seen and heard retaliation against blacks in the area.
Being from this area, I was raised around so many racist people, that when I went to college in Columbus I was uncertain on how to talk to the black students. So many racist comments are still used daily here (in 2013 believe it or not) that we sometimes don’t realize how racist they are, i.e. “nigger rig” and “theres a nigger in the wood pile” …”

This Pike county State of the Re:Union story confirms Waverly’s sundown town status (in particular around the 9th inute):