On this day in Ohio history [April 1, 1841], John Randall Blackburn, a former slave who served as principal of the black schools of Xenia and became the first black trustee of Ohio University in Athens, was born in Virginia. Blackburn's mother was Fanny Randall, a slave who bore eight children to William Blackburn, the owner of a plantation in Essex County, Virginia. During the 1840s, the senior Blackburn moved the entire family to Cincinnati, where John received private instruction to prepare for college.
John Blackburn graduated from Dartmouth in 1863. Twenty years later, he received a master's degree from the New Hampshire college. Blackburn served as an OU trustee 1885-92. (The second African-American trustee of OU was John Frederick Moreland of Cincinnati, a Methodist-Episcopal minister who served 1892-96.) Blackburn was also a trustee of Wilberforce University in Greene County.
Principal of the black schools of Xenia until 1871, Blackburn then taught mathematics at Alcorn State University in Rodney, Mississippi. After about three years at Alcorn, he returned to Ohio to again lead the Xenia schools. He served until the repeal of school segregation laws.
Blackburn died in Cincinnati at age 96 on May 31, 1937.