Jesse Locker

Six-Term Cincinnati City Council Member and Ambassador to Liberia

Jesse Dwight Locker was born in 1891. Rev. Laban S. Locker, his father, was the first black minister in Ohio to be ordained in the Christian Church, and was the pastor of the Christian Church of College Hill at the corner of Cedar and Piqua Aves. After his father’s passing in 1900, his mother, Elizabeth, moved the family to College Hill from their home on Perry St. in Mt. Healthy, so the children could attend College Hill schools.

Jesse Locker worked for area families after school to help support the family. He was the valedictorian of his class at College Hill High School. After graduation, he worked for a year before the could afford to attend Howard University. At Howard, he met and married Anna (née French), and received his law degree in 1915.

After graduation, Anna and Jesse moved to Cincinnati and lived at 1210 Cedar Ave. in College Hill, in a home that was demolished in 1987. Jesse started his law practice in 1919, working by night as a janitor while establishing his business.

In all, Locker practiced law in Cincinnati for about 35 years. He also became a leader in the local Republican Party. In 1941, he became only the third Black candidate elected to the Cincinnati City Council, going on to serve six terms (1942-1953). He was elected President of the Council in 1951.

He was also active in the community in other ways, volunteering his time with the YMCA, Catherine Booth Homes and Hospital, Harriet Beecher Stowe Memorial Home, Fifth Christian Church of Cincinnati, and as a member of St. John’s Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons, Frontiers Club and Negro Chamber of Commerce. He was a leader in the Ninth Ward Progressive Republican Club and the Lincoln-Douglass Republican Club. Locker also served as President of the Hamilton County Bar Association for Negro Lawyers.

Locker cofounded the Negro Sightless Society of Ohio,along with George A. Martin, who was blind. The organization provided services, including braille publications, to blind members of the Black community.

At this time, the couple had four children, all daughters: Mary E., Vivian H., Bunny Cleo, and Junanita Alice. The Lockers were living on Cleveland Ave. in Avondale, and also had a country home near Blanchester, OH.

He was planning to retire from Council and return to his law practice when in 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Locker to the US Ambassadorship to Liberia. Locker resigned from Cincinnati City Council in order to accept this appointment, and he and Anna moved to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.

Ambassador Locker led the negotiations between the governments of the United States and Liberia and the private sector (Pan American and US Airlines), concerning operations of the Roberts Field airport, the first international airport in Liberia. His work received high approval from Liberian President William V. S. Tubman.

Locker’s appointment was cut short in 1955 when, at 63 years old, he suffered a fatal stroke. A memorial service was held in Monrovia before his body was returned to the US on a military plane. Ambassador Locker was the only person to lie in state at Cincinnati City Hall, with the Liberian government providing guard. A public funeral, the largest in the city’s history up until this point, was held in Cincinnati.

Locker is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Mt. Healthy. His gravestone claims that “his greatest desire was to have been a friend to the common man.”

Location

Metadata

Maya Drozdz, “Jesse Locker,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed November 30, 2022, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/95.