Born in poverty in Maysville, Kentucky on November 5, 1904, Ted Berry achieved a national reputation as Civil Rights leader and became the first black mayor of Cincinnati. He graduated from Woodward High School in 1924 and served as class valedictorian—the first African-American to hold that honor in Cincinnati. During his senior year, he won an essay contest with an entry submitted under the pseudonym Thomas Playfair, after an all-white panel rejected his initial entry.
Berry worked at steel mills in Newport, Kentucky to pay tuition at the University of Cincinnati and later, at UC law school. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1932 and he served as president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP from 1932 to 1946. In 1938, he became the first black appointed Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Hamilton County.
During World War II, Berry worked in the Office of War Information as a morale officer. The job took him to Washington, D.C. and prompted him to change his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
In 1945, Berry defended three members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who had attempted to infiltrate an all-white officer’s club in Indiana. He won acquittal for two of the men and in 1995, the Air Force pardoned the third who had been convicted. From 1947 to 1961, Berry served on the NAACP Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation where he worked on equal employment and fair housing issues. He was also involved with the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.
He began his Cincinnati political career in 1947 when he ran for City Council. He lost that year but won in 1949. He was chairman of the finance committee in 1953 and led a controversial battle to create a city income tax. In 1955 he was elected vice mayor. His 1963 political campaign to return to Cincinnati’s City Council was chaired by Rev. L. Venchael Booth and in 1972, he was elected mayor of Cincinnati.