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Finding Racial Balance In Madisonville

Addie Hunter moved to Madisonville about 47 years ago and her family was the first African American one on the block.
Addie Hunter moved to Madisonville about 47 years ago and her family was the first African American one on the block.

People who live in Madisonville like to say their neighborhood is one of the most welcoming in Greater Cincinnati and also one of the most racially balanced. The community has had population shifts in the past, and appears to be undergoing another change.

When Addie Hunter moved to Madisonville almost 47 years ago her family was the first black one on the block. Neighbors welcomed them. That was 1969, when integration wasn't common in America.

"We had a lot of good people. Most of them worked for Procter and Gamble on our street. And they taught my boys how to cut grass and gave us stuff and told them how to keep the house up. And they taught them. And it was good. So we had good friends then."

Recently, she's noticed more whites moving in and blacks moving out.

"It bothers me a little bit because I wish they would hold on and try to do better. But the younger people don't want to stay it seems like. The parents leave the homes and they're gone."

Hunter says three of her own children moved to Atlanta about a decade ago. 

Bill Collins has lived in Madisonville for 23 years. He also sees black middle class people moving out and as a white man it worries him.

"I don't really like living in all white communities. I find them kind of dull."

But beyond that, Collins says the neighborhood is losing leaders.

"It's the fact that so many of the young, working class and middle class African-Americans who grew up there in the 80s and 90s and 2000s who would be really good leaders in the community, potentially, that they're leaving. That’s what concerns me the most."

Collins says he's looked at the census data and found out why people leave the neighborhoods. It's jobs. Or a lack of them.

Community leaders say there are developments underway that will create jobs., that will take care of maintaining income diversity for Madisonville.  But keeping up racial diversity will take some more thought.

Luke Brockmeyer says as the president of the community council, he can't just make plans that will appeal to 30-something white guys like himself. He says if an event or a neighborhood is to succeed he has to think about the wants and needs of his neighbors, who may or may not look like him.

"And life is way better when you do that. I mean you're happier. You spend more time thinking. You have more friends. You're better informed. I think there are a lot of people who have never lived in a neighborhood like this who would hear that and say 'that sounds like a lot of work.' But it isn't. It's part of being human and it makes you more human."

That's not to say Madisonville is a racial utopia. Community Council Vice President Prentis Wilson says when she came to the community in 1965, there was integration, but not much mingling. She says there are still barriers today.

"There are some people two or three doors up from me, they don't have a clue as to how black people feel. And a lot of black people don't have a clue as to how white people feel."

Wilson says Madisonville is more diverse than ever before. She says her street right now is pretty much 50-50, white and black.

You can't make a community diverse. You can nudge it in that direction but in the end it comes down to individuals.

That's what 32-year-old Brant Walker seems to think.

"Some people know how to live around each other and other people don't. It all depends on who you are and what you believe in."

That's how a lot of people in Madisonville apparently see it too.  It may not always be easy to discuss race, but as Bill Collins and Luke Brockmeyer put it, you have to be willing to talk and to listen.

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