CWRU Links

MALVIN, JOHN

MALVIN, JOHN (1795-30 July 1880), leader of Cleveland's black community who worked at various times as a cook, sawmill operator, carpenter and joiner, and canal-boat captain, and was a licensed and ordained Baptist preacher, was born in Dumfries, Prince William County, Va. to a slave father and free mother, making him free under the Slave Code. He was apprenticed as a carpenter, secretly taught to read, and arrived in Cleveland in 1831 after a short stay in Cincinnati.

Malvin organized a black school committee in Cleveland (1832) and a statewide committee (1835) to finance black education; the resulting School Fund Society opened schools for black children in Cleveland, Columbus, Springfield, and Cincinnati. The committees also worked to change Ohio laws prohibiting municipalities from even establishing segregated schools for blacks. Efforts of black citizens in Cleveland resulted in a limited subsidy from city council for the privately supported black school and abolishment of the state law clause limiting public-school access to white children in 1848.

Malvin and his wife, Harriet (married 8 March 1829), were charter members of FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF GREATER CLEVELAND in 1833 and prevented the church from segregating its members. At the onset of the CIVIL WAR, Malvin organized a black military company that joined the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. Malvin lectured for the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society and was reportedly active in the Underground Railroad. Malvin vigorously opposed Ohio's BLACK LAWS.

Known to many as "Father John," Malvin died at his Cleveland home and was buried in ERIE ST. CEMETERY.


Peskin, Allen, ed. North Into Freedom: The Autobiography of John Malvin, Free Negro, 1795-1880 (1966).