Glenn Howerton in AP Bio talking about California but it's covered by an image of Ohio.

A Few Redeeming Qualities About One of the Most Dunked-on States

Some people dunk on Ohio for legitimate reasons, while others join in because that’s the thing to do. However, there are actually quite a few reasons the state deserves a little respect.

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Last year, I sought out to find why people don’t like Ohio. I never really thought twice about this derision until I came across people from around the world asking earnestly what was up with the state. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pinpoint a single answer, but I did find many memes under the premise that Ohio was not a great place for some unexplainable reason. While this was a lot of fun, that meme research quickly dissipated two weeks later following a massive train derailment in Palestine, Ohio. This preventable disaster may have taken place in that particular state, but railway, worker, and environmental safety is a nationwide problem.

But in the wake of that devastating event, things have not gotten less weird in the Buckeye State. A few days after the derailment, an Ohio mayor went on a rant connecting the recreational activity of ice fishing to sex work.

Still, I feel like I owe something to the state whose chili I despise. So, here’s a few cool things about Ohio.

The Greatest Of All Time found her start there

Toni Morrison from the 2019 documentary 'Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.'
(Magnolia Pictures)

While I’d thought about putting this list together for almost a year, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ 2019 documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am was what finally brought me here. I learned many things about the prolific author from the doc but the most surprising was finding out that she was from Ohio. She spent time in the state from childhood through college.

It was through Morrison’s story that I learned about Ohio’s integrated communities in the 1930s and ’40s. Also, Oberlin College—Morrison’s alma mater and the home of Toni Morrison Society—is located in Ohio. American history enthusiasts will have seen the college pop up a lot. Like any older school, it’s got its ghosts and present issues. However, in the 1830s, it became the first college in the U.S. (second in the world) to accept women and one of the first in the U.S. to accept Black students. It was also home to one of the most important abolitionist newspapers, The Liberator. (Their work now lives on in The Nation.) Not all Ohio colleges popped off like this one, but Oberlin is worth a shout-out.

As for Morrison herself, there’s so much to say. From the editor’s side of publishing to writing, she remains a force even after death. Not only was she the first Black woman in many of her endeavors but she flexed her creative skills in so many mediums, from short story writing to literary criticism. Morrison centered Blackness in her writing, but also in her work as an editor, where she sought out important Black voices like Angela Davis at a time the activist was becoming blacklisted and targeted by the federal government. Whether or not you’ve ever read Morrison’s work, I really recommend watching Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary on Netflix or YouTube.

More art!

Yes, I’m following up one artist’s entry with another artist. After trying desperately to see if the Ohio State Band turned itself around after a large sexual assault and hazing report in the mid-2010s and learning they didn’t, I felt the need to share something positive about the state’s music scene. And y’all, there are so many, with icons across many genres! Considering its cultural diversity, it should come as no surprise that the music hits, too.

In Country and Americana, we have Tracy Chapman. She was barely recognized recently by the Country Music Awards for her songwriting, but has been writing hits since the ’80s. Before her, Ohio gave us jazz legend Anita Baker and I-couldn’t-imagine-limiting-him-to-even-three-genres Bobby Womack. The last 25 years have been filled with the talent of Dave Grohl, Macy Gray, and John Legend.

It’s not just about individual musicians though. Cleveland is also home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There’s a plethora of valid criticism of the organization especially in regards to race and the voting process. Its co-founder (and also the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine), Jann Wenner, is also a racist misogynist. While he’s since been removed from the board, the museum still faces issues.

However, there are elements of the hall still worthy of praise, like their education programs and extensive library and archives collection. Much of that material is available to browse anytime online, but for full access to physical materials and audio material, you’ll need to schedule a session.

Protecting reproductive health against the odds

COLUMBUS, OHIO - NOVEMBER 07: Supporters of Ohio Issue 1 cheer at a watch party hosted by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights on November 7, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. 2023 Ohio Issue 1, officially titled "The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety," would codify reproductive rights in the Ohio Constitution, including contraception, fertility treatment and the right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability while permitting restrictions after.
(Photo by Andrew Spear/Getty Images)

Content warning for this section: miscarriage

To acknowledge that Ohioans are putting up a good fight against reproductive healthcare rollbacks is to also acknowledge that there are forces in the state putting up these barriers. For example, last week a grand jury declined to indict Brittany Watts over her miscarriage. Still, she should never have been charged to begin with. After experiencing a miscarriage in her bathroom at home, Watts attempted to flush the fetal tissue. Instead of helping her navigate the trauma of losing her child in a distressing manner, the state went after her. The police arrested Watts and charged her with abuse of a corpse.

Despite the nation’s shifting mood towards protecting reproductive health, after learning about Marsha Colbey’s story in Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, I did not have high hopes for Watts. In the late-2000s Colbey also suffered through a stillborn birth and buried her child in the yard. She was arrested and sentenced to life. (Thankfully Alabama didn’t get the death penalty sentencing they aimed for.) Following Stevenson’s and his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative, involvement, they got her out after ten years.

Still, Ohio pulled through for Watts and others. While Watt’s case was certainly a test with deadly consequences for all, the most wide-reaching reproductive rights win in the state came a few months earlier.

In December 2022, Ohio banned August elections except via municipal emergencies with House Bill 458. This was because voter turnout was so low as people spent the month traveling and out of town. However, immediately following this ban, the state’s GOP held a special election to raise the threshold for adding citizen-sponsored ballot measures in elections. Among many other requirements, it would require a 60% approval rating versus a simple majority for the measure to pass. The Secretary of State (the person who runs the elections) admitted this special election was intended to prevent a November vote to enshrine abortion access into the state’s constitution.

Enough people showed up in August 2023 and thwarted that tactic. After that failed, the Ohio GOP didn’t give up and turned their eyes to the vote itself. They changed the summary language on the ballot (not the resolution itself) to be less scientifically accurate and sound more scary to people in favor of reproductive freedom, but squeamish on the details (moderates). Again, Ohioans showed up for one another and passed the resolution enshrining the right to an abortion into the state’s constitution.

(featured image: NBC)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.