Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 6

Handout 2 - Biography of John Malvin


John Malvin was an important leader of the African-American community during the 19th Century. He was born in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia in 1795. His mother was free and his father was a slave, therefore, according to the Slave Codes, Malvin was considered free because his mother was free. In 1827, Malvin decided to leave Virginia and travel to Ohio. He first settled in Cincinnati, where he became part of the anti-slavery movement. In 1831, Malvin came to Cleveland.

Throughout his life, Malvin worked in a variety of jobs. As a youth, he apprenticed as a carpenter, later he worked as a cook, sawmill operator, a hand on a Great Lakes steamer ship, captained a canal boat and was an ordained minister.

John Malvin was a citizen who believed in the equality of African-Americans and was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. In 1833, Malvin and his wife were charter members of the first Baptist Church and fought against the building of a "colored gallery" as a mean of segregating church members. Malvin was also an active abolitionist, supported public education and worked hard against Ohio's Black Laws. He helped organize a Black School Committee in Cleveland in 1932, and the School Fund Society that financed schools for African-American children in several cities in Ohio. He was a lecturer for the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society and is believed to have been active in the Underground Railroad. He fought for citizenship rights for African-Americans and opposed laws that would limit the rights of Ohio's African-Americans.

John Malvin became a prominent member of the African-American community in Cleveland and was encouraged to write his autobiography. It was published in 1879. He died on July 30, 1880 at the age of 85.

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