Vast contributions by people of color to Wellington’s past and present have grabbed the attention of Marilyn Wainio, and it all started with researching her historic residence at 138 Forest St.
In 2015, Wainio, president of the Wellington Genealogy Group, began putting up displays for Black History Month at the Herrick Memorial Library.
This year, because of the village’s bicentennial celebration, she reached out to Main Street Wellington to see whether a vacant storefront could be turned into a larger display.
Main Street Director Jenny Arntz enthusiastically signed off on the idea, Wainio said.
The new display is located directly east of Dimitri’s Corner Restaurant on East Herrick Avenue. It explores past and current black residents of Wellington and the contributions they’ve made, both locally and nationally.
Wainio’s home once belonged to Edith Robinson, who served as village librarian from 1907 until her death in 1936, the longest tenure for any librarian in village history.
Her grandfather, R.J. Robinson, moved to Wellington in 1860 — working as a preacher, barber, restaurant owner, and real estate salesman.
R.J. Robinson was one of many speakers at a village memorial for Abraham Lincoln following the president’s assassination on April 14, 1865. Some claimed the Wellington resident had given Lincoln several haircuts over the years.
“This family is a personal interest of mine,” Wainio said. “It’s a phenomenal history and a phenomenal story.”
Robinson served with Frederick Douglass in the National Equal Rights League, with Douglass being invited to Wellington in 1868 to deliver a public address.
R.J.’s son, Joseph Robinson, served in the U.S. Army before being gunned down during the Civil War. His death certificate read, “Murdered by passion and prejudice,” with an official inquiry determining he had been purposely killed by a fellow officer.
“Joseph joined a white unit here in town and was then stationed in Kentucky,” Wainio said. “Those around him didn’t believe a black man could wear a uniform, so those who were supposed to be his protection just killed him.”
During Black History Month in 2016, Wainio presented her research on the Robinson family to the Wellington Genealogy Group as well as the Oberlin African-American Genealogy and History Group.
Mary Louise Robinson Meriwether, R.J.’s daughter, graduated from Wellington High School in 1866 and Oberlin College in 1870.
Following graduation, she began work as a high school teacher and later moved to Washington, D.C.
In Washington, Meriwether became the first black woman to serve on the National Home for Destitute Women and Children’s board of managers and became the organization’s president in 1884.
When Congress attempted to halt funding to the home in 1892, she successfully lobbied to keep money coming in, which led to the building’s name being changed to the Meriwether Home for Children.
“Marylin has put so much effort into this research and this display,” said Nicole Hayes of the Wellington Genealogy Group. “It’s getting bigger and bigger every year just in time for the bicentennial. What we wanted to do with this exhibit was celebrate the accomplishments of Wellington citizens who happen to be people of color.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.