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Black History Month: Honoring the Ward Family’s Legacy

What started as a local horse and wagon moving service and stop on the Underground Railroad has since grown and flourished into a cross-country moving company and the oldest Black-owned business in the country that’s still operating today–and it’s located right here in central Ohio.

E.E. Ward Moving & Storage was founded in the late 1880s by John T. Ward, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Born in 1820 in Richmond, Virginia, John and his family settled in Ohio, where he later used his business to offer refuge to freedom seekers passing through what is now present-day Whitehall on their way north.

At the time the company, originally named the Ward Transfer Line, was founded, it was one of the first Black-owned businesses in the country. Its longevity reflects the company’s deep commitment to its customers and long-standing service to the community.  

Generations of the Ward family have carried on John’s legacy, including his great-grandson Eldon Ward, who joined the company in 1945. The late Eldon became President of the company in 1951, where he remained until his retirement in the mid-1990s. E.E. Ward Moving & Storage remained in the Ward family until 2001, when Brian Brooks, Eldon’s godson, and Brian’s business partner, Otto Beatty III, purchased the business. Brian and his wife, Dominique, now co-own the company.


Pictured (l-r): Eldon and Elsie Ward, and the Eldon and Elsie Ward Family YMCA.

Well known for his service to the community, Eldon was a true philanthropist and community leader. Throughout his lifetime, Eldon served on more than 40 boards, including the American Red Cross, the United Way, YMCA of Central Ohio, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, and The Columbus Foundation. In 1990, Eldon was named the first Black Chairperson of The Columbus Foundation. Eldon and his wife, Elsie, established the Eldon W. and Elsie S. Ward Fund at The Columbus Foundation to help pay for memberships at the YMCA for young people. In honor of the contributions Eldon and Elsie made to their community, the East Side YMCA was officially renamed the Eldon and Elsie Ward Family YMCA in 1991.

The impressive history and lasting legacy of E.E. Ward Moving & Storage and the Ward family are honored at the King Arts Complex, where three one-of-a-kind murals tell the story of the company and family. The murals were created by Aminah Robinson, a renowned artist and Columbus native known for depicting African American history through art.

Pictured: Murals depicting the life and times of the Ward Family by Aminah Robinson on display at the King Arts Complex. 

“From a historical perspective, the Ward family’s contributions to Columbus are many and the story of Columbus is inextricably connected to the Ward family. The King Arts Complex is proud to archive the history of this remarkable family displayed in the art of Aminah Robinson,” said Demetries Neely, Executive Director of the King Arts Complex.

Community members can view the murals at the King Arts Complex, located at 835 Mount Vernon Avenue in Columbus, Tuesdays through Fridays between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

“Columbus does not gain it’s place in American history without the contributions of Black artists, Black leaders, and Black businesses such as Smoot Construction, Moody Nolan, James Poindexter, John T. Ward, Jerry Hammond, Otto Beatty, Ben Espy, Isabelle Ridgway, Mayme Moore, Nancy Wilson, Aminah Robinson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Gene Walker, Kojo Kamau, Marion Richardson, Elijah Pierce, Roman Johnson, and many others.”
Demetries Neely, Executive Director of the King Arts Complex

This Black History Month, as the community pays homage to the legacy and entrepreneurial spirit of Black leaders like John T. and Eldon Ward, The Columbus Foundation remains committed to advancing racial equity, including by supporting Black entrepreneurship. In December, The Columbus Foundation announced it had awarded a total $2.6 million in Program Related Investments, or PRIs, to five Black-owned and Black-led businesses serving central Ohio through the Equitable Small Business Fund. Launched in May 2022, the Equitable Small Business Fund is an effort to help close the racial wealth gap in the region by increasing access to capital and services for entrepreneurs of color—in particular, Black-owned and Black-led businesses.

In December, The Columbus Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council (OMSDC) during its second round of competitive grantmaking focused on advancing racial equity. The Columbus Foundation commits to working with community partners to expand economic opportunities that help close the racial and gender wealth gaps, expand community knowledge by supporting racial equity and awareness trainings, work with community partners to reduce disparities across the equity stratum, and more deeply engage in the work of creating more just and equitable systems. The grant to OMSDC will support increased investment and capacity building of minority business enerpristes (MBEs) in central Ohio through the OMSDC University, a comprehensive development program with a curriculum focused on building and strengthening business acumen, financial management, and operational excellence.

James Price, Corporate Relations Director at OMSDC, says that the grant will bolster OMSDC’s pivotal role in harnessing and gathering the resources needed to cultivate the minority business ecosystem in central Ohio and beyond.

“The Racial Equity Grant will allow OMSDC to further its work and impact on MBE development through OMSDC University with the implementation of a Comprehensive Development Program that enables MBEs to enhance their abilities for strategic capacity and business growth,” Price explained. “OMSDC has historically focused and been committed to MBE development. However, the intent of this program is to integrate all aspects of MBE development into one program and deliver the OMSDC Value Proposition: Delivering Better Business Results Through Inclusion and Innovation.”


Feb 7, 2023


Mural depicting the life and times of the Ward Family by Aminah Robinson on display at the King Arts Complex. 




Chelsea Kiene

Director, Communications and Marketing, The Columbus Foundation