Filed Under Race and Ethnicity

The Glenville Shootout

Racial Conflict and Conspiracy in Cleveland

Following the end of the hour-long gunfight that took place in Glenville on July 23, 1968, 3 white policemen, 3 black nationalists, and 1 black civilian lay dead in the streets of east Cleveland. Why did it happen and who was to blame?

On the evening of July 23, 1968, shots rang out in Cleveland’s predominantly black east side neighborhood of Glenville. Though it is unknown who fired the first shot, it is known that the Cleveland Police Department and the Black Nationalists of New Libya, a militant black nationalist group led by Fred (Ahmed) Evans, played a part in the fierce, hour-long gun battle now commonly referred to as the 'Glenville shootout'. Once gunfire died down, 3 white policemen, 3 black nationalists, and 1 black civilian lay dead in the streets of Glenville. After, rioting ensued for 3 straight days and resulted in the damaging or destruction of 62 buildings. Both during and after the riots, black Glenville residents were brutalized by white policemen fueled by racism and resentment from the deaths of fellow officers. Glenville would never be the same again.

Many black Clevelanders during the early-to-mid 1960s viewed white city authorities (as well as members of the Cleveland police department) as antagonistic white supremacists who did nothing to stop the urban decay, racism, discrimination, and violence that plagued their communities. Civil rights and black nationalist groups in Cleveland aimed to improve social and economic conditions for black Clevelanders but were often met with violent opposition from white residents, policemen, and city authorities. Racial tensions often culminated in episodes of intense racial violence, as was seen in neighboring communities, like Hough, throughout the 1960s. In 1967, the election of Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major city, helped calm racial tensions in Cleveland - but only temporarily.

Fred (Ahmed) Evans, leader of a militant black nationalist group known as the Black Nationalists of New Libya, faced constant conflict with white authorities and police throughout his life. To authorities, Evans’ black nationalist ideology and militant tendencies represented a threat to the perpetuation of white supremacy which their authority relied upon. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Evans became increasingly concerned about what he saw as a white police state and began amassing a cache of weapons for the purpose of defending himself and his community. Tensions between Evans and the Cleveland Police Department reached a peak in the summer of 1968 when police surveillance was ordered on Evans’ 12312 Auburndale Avenue apartment following reports to city hall that Evans was planning to stage an attack against the police department. Though this report was unverified, police patrol cars (manned by white policemen) were stationed outside Evans’ apartment for several days prior to the shootout - despite black officials’ warnings to do precisely the opposite.

Neither the Cleveland police department nor members of New Libya agree to this day on exactly how or why the ensuing confrontation ended in violence. According to police, Evans orchestrated the shootout and was thus the one to blame; according to Evans and other black nationalists, police aggression and violence had instigated the shootout. Ultimately, the version of events told by city hall and the police department swayed the white public and media; blame for the bloodshed and destruction was placed solely on Evans while police racism, aggression, and violence went ignored. Evans’ trial jury was composed of 7 white Clevelanders who were all, throughout the course of the trial, exposed to various forms of media, despite rules forbidding it. White members of the prosecution used racial slurs against Evans’ black defense team but were never disciplined. While it was proven that Evans had hidden in an attic during the gunfight and had never personally fired a single shot, this did not matter to the white judge and jury - Evans was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder. Evans originally received the death penalty, but was later re-sentenced to life in prison where he died of cancer in 1978.

Though it remains unknown exactly who initiated the shootout, it is known that the Cleveland police department had a history of largely antagonistic relations with Evans and black residents of Glenville which ultimately culminated in the events of July 23, 1968. Stokes’ decision to temporarily enact black community policing as a means of preventing additional deaths after rioting began lost him favor with many white Clevelanders, the police department, and city hall. Stokes was succeeded by Ralph Perk, a white ‘law-and-order’ mayor who stamped out any chance that black nationalist groups in Cleveland had of improving their social and economic situations. Glenville has still not fully recovered from the events of that night; the continued existence of vacant lots, burned-out buildings, and violent interactions with white police in the following years served to remind its residents that the conditions which had ultimately led to the shootout and riots had continued to endure. It has been suggested by both sides that the Glenville shootout was a conspiracy on some level - but whether the events that took place that July night were a conspiracy by the Black Nationalists of New Libya to ambush the police force or a conspiracy by the Cleveland police department to disrupt and destroy black nationalism in Cleveland is matter that also remains contested to this day.

Images

Policemen duck for cover during the Glenville Shootout During the shootout, black nationalists and Cleveland policemen exchanged gunfire for roughly an hour. It is unknown who shot first and the exchange of fire has largely been characterized as a disorganized, chaotic event that neither side seemed to be prepared for. By the end of the hour-long shootout 3 white policemen, 3 black nationalists, and one black civilian were dead. Numerous others were injured. The true number of Glenville residents killed remains unknown as additional deaths may have gone unreported due to community fears of the police. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Bill Nehez Date: 1968
Fred (Ahmed) Evans Fred (Ahmed) Evans grew up in Cleveland and became involved in black nationalism after witnessing racial violence against members of his community. As the militant leader of The Black Nationalists of New Libya, Evans faced nearly constant harassment by the Cleveland police department and city officials. Following the shootout, Evans maintained that the shootout was a result of police violence and escalation and that he had had no role in either planning or orchestrating the events of July 23, 1968. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Jerry Horton Date: 1967
Evans' Glenville home Evans' home, located at 12312 Auburndale avenue, was at the epicenter of violence in Glenville. Prior to the shootout and riot, Glenville residents viewed their community as safe but were constantly aware of the threat of racial conflict and violence, as well as the racism and oppression that they faced. Later, damage from rioting accelerated the rate of urban decay in the neighborhood. Evans’ home was later demolished. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Van Dillard Date: 1969
Evans and Carl Stokes In this photo, Evans and mayor Carl Stokes were seen attending a civil rights march in Cleveland. Previously, Evans and other black leaders in Cleveland had worked with Stokes to “keep it cool for Carl” and prevent urban unrest in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. As many major cities across the nation erupted in protests and riots in response to King's death, Evans and other black community leaders worked to keep Cleveland relatively calm. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Clayton Knipper Date: 1968
Evans’ Afro culture shop and bookstore Prior to the shootout, Evans ran an 'Afro culture' bookstore in Glenville where he communicated a message of black power, black nationalism, spiritualism, and militancy to the neighborhood's residents. Evans’ bookstore was a meeting place for members of the Black Nationalists of New Libya and was the target of police harassment on numerous occasions throughout the late 1960s as a result police fears of Evans’ black nationalist affiliation. The building was destroyed during the course of the Glenville riots. Following the shootout and Evans' imprisonment, New Libya was without leadership and disbanded. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Van Dillard Date: 1967
Destruction in Glenville Around 62 buildings were damaged and/or destroyed during the Glenville riots (totaling approximately $2.6 million in damages) as instances of looting, arson, and violence occurred as a result of community outrage, frustration, and rebellion against the negative socioeconomic conditions, lack of opportunity, racism, segregation, violence, and police brutality they faced. In this image, a former black nationalist headquarters burns as fires raged in damaged buildings throughout the Glenville area. Though Glenville suffered from urban decay, police violence, and neglect by city government prior to the shootout, the neighborhood rapidly declined afterward as many damaged buildings were not repaired or rebuilt, policing in the area increased, and many began to associate the Glenville area with violence. Source: The Cleveland Memory Collection Date: 1968
Community policing Mayor Stokes pulled white policemen out of Glenville following the outbreak of violence and instead enacted black community policing in an effort to prevent any further deaths. In this image, black civilians patrol the neighborhood in an effort to promote peace. Community policing was successful in preventing any further deaths from occurring, but was unsuccessful in the eyes of city hall in full ending instances of looting, arson, and violence. While many black Clevelanders commended Stokes for his decision to enact community policing, many white Clevelanders (most notably members of the Cleveland Police Department and various white officials) were angered by the decision and revoked their support for Stokes' mayorship as a result. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Joseph E. Cole Date: 1968
Map of Glenville area The image above depicts a map of the Glenville area cordoned off by the Cleveland Police Department following instances of rioting in the days following the shootout. Following the riots, the area cordoned off by police became associated with the violence that took place during the shootout. Due to this negative association, many residents that could afford to move out of the area did so while countless others who had formerly patronized Glenville's businesses began avoid the area, worsening the already present effects of urban decay. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Date: 1968
Policing after the Glenville riots Community policing was unsuccessful in ending instances of rioting and members of the National Guard, as well as white Cleveland police officers, were sent in to Glenville to put and end to the riot. Upon their return to Glenville, white policemen became increasingly hostile towards black Glenville residents out of a sense of resentment for the deaths of their fellow officers. Though many black Glenville residents were arrested and prosecuted for their actions during the Glenville shootout, white members of the Cleveland police department and National Guard were never faced any negative repercussions for the racism, violence, and brutality they enacted towards the residents of Glenville before, during, and/or after the shootout. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Bill Nehez Date: 1968
'Masotti Report' Cartoon The Masotti Report, written mostly by Louis H. Masotti and Jerome R. Corsi under commission by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, placed blame for the Glenville shootout on black nationalists without placing equal attention to or blame on the Cleveland police department for their role in events leading up to, during, or after the shootout. While the report initially concluded that the matter of blame could not be found, it was revised to conclude that blame was to be placed on black nationalists regardless of which side had initiated the gunfight. In this way, the Masotti report aided police and government officials in their efforts to persecute black nationalist groups and their leaders while stifling black activism on a local and national scale. Masotti, a faculty member of Case Western Reserve University, was later the target of protest by CWRU students on the grounds that his report was essentially an ungrounded piece of propaganda against black nationalism. Following the report's publication, white media outlets presented it as fact and white opposition further mounted against Evans and black nationalist groups. This cartoon, by Bill Roberts, depicts conflict over the report with both sides placing blame for the shootout on each other in the increasingly tense and racially-charged atmosphere that followed the shootout. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Bill Roberts
Black nationalists protest Evans' conviction Following Evans’ trial, members of the Black Nationalists of New Libya and other black nationalist groups in Cleveland protested the injustice Evans’ murder conviction, police brutality, and injustices they faced at the hands of white authorities and the Cleveland Police Department. Though Evans’ death penalty conviction was later changed to a life sentence, many continued to feel that justice had not been served. Following Stokes' loss of public support, successor Ralph Locher was elected mayor of Cleveland for much of the 1970s. Locher's administration cracked down on black nationalism in the city while increasing instances of police aggression and brutality towards black Clevelanders, coinciding with larger national trends towards 'law and order' administration and heavy policing that primarily targeted nonwhite communities. Source: The Cleveland Memory Project Creator: Ted R. Schneider Date: 1968

Location

Evans' apartment building was torn down following the Glenville shootout. Modern houses stand in its place today.

Metadata

Riley Habyl, “The Glenville Shootout,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 24, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/858.