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Ric S. Sheffield  

Author on Gender, Race & Ethnicity; Professor of Legal Studies and Sociology at Kenyon College

Ric S. Sheffield is Professor of Legal Studies and Sociology at Kenyon College and the Peter Rutkoff Distinguished Teaching Professor of American Studies. Concurrently, he is the Director of the Law & Society Program and John Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-legal Studies. Before coming to Kenyon, he served for ten years as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Ohio. He began his legal career as a civil rights lawyer handling primarily sex and race discrimination cases. He subsequently held the position of chief attorney as head of the state’s consumer protection division.

In addition to research that has focused upon the relationship between law and issues of gender, race, and ethnicity, he has spent several years examining issues involving the African American experience in rural Ohio. He is among a select group of scholars chosen to participate in the Ohio Humanities Council’s speakers’ bureau, lecturing widely on issues of race and law as well as rural diversity. He has published articles, reviews, and book chapters on topics including legal history, the legal profession, and African American social and legal history. He is the author of We Got By: A Black Family's Journey through the Heartland (2022, Ohio State University Press - Trillium Imprint). His current project includes completion of his latest manuscript, Suffrage Chronicles: Stories of Courage in the Struggle for Black Voting Rights in the North, that examines early voting rights cases and the brave men who brought them in the state of Ohio in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Currently serving as chair of the American Studies department, he is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University where he attended college, graduate school in sociology and law school. He has served upon various statewide policy-making and regulatory boards. During his career at Kenyon, he spent several years on the College’s senior staff as associate provost before his return full time to the faculty.

Speech Topics

Diversity in the Heartland: Exploring the Growth and Impact of Rural Diversity Upon Ohio’s Small-town Cultures and Character

Rural Ohio has been home to various racial and ethnic groups, albeit in small numbers, from the earliest days of settlement of the region by non-indigenous persons. This absence of a significant numerical presence resulted in the lives and experiences of these people being largely overlooked, if not outright ignored, by the mainstream press, academicians, and local historians. Among the earliest migrants to the area were African Americans, joined by Jewish settlers and immigrants from Germany, Ireland, England, and a handful of other European nations. The migration patterns in many parts of rural Ohio tended to follow the conventional paths found throughout the midwest. For example, Black folks in large numbers headed north out of the southern states during Reconstruction and again after the World Wars largely to seek work in rapidly industrializing urban areas like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago. A much smaller proportion of Black migrants chose to live in rural areas where they could take up farming or engage in other types of wage labor. European immigrants came to rural Ohio to join family and former townsmen who had settled in these areas. Regardless of their country of origin or the fact that many were non-English speakers, white migrants more easily integrated into the social fabric of small towns because of race. For most other nonwhite persons, there were few of the traditional draws to settle in this area: no specialized labor or economic attractions; no existing ethnic or cultural enclaves; and few familial ties. As a consequence, racial and cultural differences became and have remained major factors in how communities are organized and experienced. This program seeks to interrogate the ways that rural diversity has been manifested and experienced in small-town Ohio.

A Job Well… (not yet) Done: A Time to Remember Dr. King and the Nation’s Incomplete Civil Rights Legacy

After the recent commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is time to reflect upon the promises made and not yet kept in the name of civil rights and social justice. This talk is intended to remind the audience that there were, in fact, lessons learned from the hard work of many good persons who were committed to making this nation become the bastion of freedom that it claims to be. It is important to recognize in this great country of plenty that the job is not yet done and that we all have a role to play.

A History of Race and the Right to Vote in Reconstruction Ohio

The right to vote, long hailed as the embodiment, sine qua non, of liberty in American society has special historical significance for persons of African descent in the United States and Ohio, in particular. It was the quest for this quintessential right of citizenship, perhaps even more so than ethereal notions of equality generally, that undergirds some of the most significant episodes in the annals of America’s civil rights struggle. In weighing the often-dire consequences of resistance against the potential gains thought to reside in the elective franchise, Black Americans, even in Ohio, literally risked life, limb, and livelihood to claim their places at the polls.

The Community Within: Discovering African American History in Rural Ohio

Many rural areas in Ohio have long-established black communities that are often invisible to the larger white communities in which they reside. This program relates the adventure of reclaiming the lost history of African Americans in Knox County, Ohio while explaining the benefits of including minority populations within celebrations of heritage and sharing strategies for undertaking such projects in communities of various sizes and racial and ethnic makeups.

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