Welcome! This is a walking tour of public art in Downtown Cincinnati centered around African American history with stops at restaurants, museums, and interesting spots along the way. It could take a couple of hours, depending on your speed and how long you spend at each place. Have fun!
Cincinnati has many ways to honor the abolitionist and civil rights leaders who have called the Queen City home.
Begin your journey through history at Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park. Named for Cincinnati’s first African-American mayor, the park honors his legacy and inspires international understanding and friendship through the exploration of nature and public art.
The Crystalline Tower, standing at 90 feet, is designed to interact with nature. Its titanium panels move in the wind while the thin sheets of mica reflect sunlight and appear to glow. The tower is topped by a rotating north star, in recognition of the importance of that star to slaves navigating their way across the Ohio River along the Underground Railroad to freedom.
Continue east walking along the river, then turn onto US 52, until you reach Eggleston Avenue. Take Eggleston east to Third Street, and continue to Pike Street. Turn right onto Pike Street to the Taft Museum of Art.
The Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St., is open Wednesday through Sunday. Enjoy lunch in the Taft’s Lindner Family Café, sitting outside in the gardens once tended by Cincinnati’s first millionaire, Nicholas Longworth (weather permitting).
Though named for founders Anna and Charles Taft, this historic house was home to Longworth during the 1800s. In the 1850s he hired African American artist Robert S. Duncanson to paint landscape murals in the home’s foyer.
You can view hese remarkable paintings, considered one of the finest suites of domestic murals dating from before the Civil War, in the galleries. Both Longworth and Duncanson supported the growing abolitionist movement in Cincinnati, with Duncanson donating paintings to help abolitionist societies raise funds.
The Taft also has special exhibition galleries which regularly feature works by contemporary African American artists including Kehinde Wiley, David Driskell, Faith Ringgold, and Kara Walker.
After enjoying the hospitality of the Taft, continue your tour through downtown. Stroll through Lytle Park, which was the original site of the Lytle family homestead, built in 1809 by General William Henry Lytle. His son, Brigadier Gen. William Haines Lytle, was a lawyer and a poet who wrote of courage, loss, and tales of gallantry. When he was killed at the Battle at Chickamauga in the Civil War both Southern and Northern soldiers escorted his body to Louisville so he could be buried in Cincinnati, a rare honor for solider killed in battle during the War.
The park is also home to a statue of Abraham Lincoln by George Grey Bernard. Lincoln’s views on slavery were influenced by Cincinnati native and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Continue along Fourth Street to Walnut Street, then turn left heading toward the Ohio River. When you reach Freedom Way, turn right and enter the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 East Freedom Way. Walnut Street between Theodore Berry Way and Second Street at The Banks is known as Marian Spencer Way, in honor of the 95-year-old civil rights icon. Among her many accomplishments, Spencer was the first black woman to be elected to Cincinnati City Council.
Opened in 2004, this history museum inspires modern abolition by connecting the lessons of the Underground Railroad with today’s freedom fighters. Through permanent and traveling exhibits including The Solomon Northup Tour and special programs, the Freedom Center reveals stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today. The Museum has also created the International Freedom Conductor Award to recognize the contributions of contemporary individuals who, by their actions and personal examples, reflect the spirit and courageous actions of conductors on the historic Underground Railroad.
After dinner, walk toward Joe Nuxhall Way and head down toward the river to visit Smale Riverfront Park. Heading west through the park along Mehring Way, you will soon see the Black Brigade Monument in the park's East Tree Grove.
This monument was the first piece of public art commissioned for Smale. The Black Brigade was formed in 1862 to construct barricades to defend Cincinnati from Confederate attack. Initially, members of the Black Brigade were forced into service. Then, after a public outcry, 718 African-American men volunteered for the service and formed The Black Brigade—which, alongside many other local soldiers, successfully built the critical fortifications in Northern Kentucky. It consists of bronze statues and plaques, interpretive signs, and carved stones which include the names of all 718 members of the brigade.
As you stroll through the park you will find an interactive fountain, a meditative labyrinth, and large swings, built for up to four people. You can end your journey swinging and taking in the view of the majestic Roebling Bridge and the beautiful Ohio River.