Filed Under Education

Stephen E. Howe Elementary

The Fight for Equal Schools

The fight to desegregate schools in Cleveland in the post-World War II era led to a contentious and complicated debate in the city over the issues of race, freedom, and equality. Glenville's Stephen E. Howe Elementary School is central to the tale. On this site, in 1964, one man gave his life for his belief that all children should have equal access to a quality education.

Between 1950 and 1965, Cleveland's black population grew dramatically while the population of Cleveland as a whole decreased. This resulted in overcrowded schools on the city's predominantly black east side and under-enrollment in the predominantly white west side. By the early 1960s, black students were placed on waiting lists for kindergarten and subjected to half-day classes as white schools remained under-enrolled in full-day kindergarten. In response, parents formed the Relay Parents March to Fill Empty Classrooms and organized protests to challenge the inequities perpetuated by the School Board's policies.

School Board President Ralph McCallister agreed to bus some black children to under-enrolled schools in white areas, but to appease white voters his plan included stipulations that black students could not attend physical education classes, eat in the cafeteria, and could only use the bathroom once per day. As a result, African Americans looked to the Cleveland Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the United Freedom Movement (UFM) to take action and stand up to the school board.

When whites rioted in Little Italy in January 1964 to protest against black children being bused to schools in their neighborhood, it became clear that McCallister either would not or could not honor his September 1963 agreement to integrate the schools. The construction of new schools was seen as a less volatile alternative, especially as these schools would be built in black neighborhoods in order to maintain segregation in the district. The UFM demanded a stop to the construction of these new schools, arguing that any new schools should be built in racially mixed areas on the east side.

On April 6th, 1964, around 50 UFM protestors arrived at the construction site for the new Stephen E. Howe Elementary school, set to be built in a predominantly black area of the east side's Glenville neighborhood. On the following day, 27-year old Reverend Bruce Klunder - a founding member of the Cleveland CORE, father of two, and white - laid down behind a bulldozer as four protestors laid in front to prevent the construction from taking place. The operator, in his attempt to avoid the protestors in front, backed up the bulldozer without seeing Klunder, instantly crushing the reverend to death.

The following evening, over 2,000 people attended the memorial service for Klunder. Although these attempts to desegregate the schools were considered a failure and the new segregated schools were eventually built, Klunder's death helped to unify the black community to fight against injustice. The fight for equal schools continued, resulting in a 1978 federal court order to desegregate Cleveland's schools through the implementation of a comprehensive busing program.

Audio

We Were Getting Their Seconds Leo Martin recalls his discovery that the largely African American Glenville High School's textbooks were often hand-me-downs from West and Lincoln High Schools on Cleveland's largely white West Side. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
They Contained the Children in the Classroom Emily Peck, retired school principal, describes early busing in 1964, including how black children were removed from crowded schools and sent to white schools such as one in Little Italy, where they were segregated from white students. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Accident at Stephen E. Howe Construction Site Nina Domingue, a local actresss, provides a dramatic narration of Mary Ostendorf's experience on the construction site of the Bruce Klunder tradegy. Mary was a member of CORE at the time of the incident. Source: Presentation at the Maltz Museum, April, 2017: “Beyond the Call: Bruce Klunder and the Fight to Save Cleveland’s Schools,” Date: April 12, 2017

Images

Rev. Bruce W. Klunder Reverend Bruce W. Klunder protests against the construction of Stephen Howe Elementary school on April 7, 1964. Klunder, a 27-year-old father of two, was a Presbyterian minister active in the civil rights movement in Cleveland. He headed the local chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). Reverend Klunder, along with other protestors of the United Freedom Movement, was opposed to the construction of a new school that would have reinforced patterns of segregation in the Cleveland Public Schools. He laid down behind this bulldozer as several other activists positioned themselves in front. The driver, unaware that Klunder was behind him, backed up to avoid hitting the protestors who were laying in front of him. This photograph was taken moments before Klunder's death. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Klunder Memorial Over 1,500 people attended the memorial service for Reverend Klunder after he was killed by a bulldozer while protesting the construction of Stephen Howe Elementary School. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Howe Protestors, April 7 This photograph was taken at the Howe Elementary construction site shortly after the death of Reverend Bruce Klunder, as protestors organized by the United Freedom Movement attempted to stop the work. Construction continued at the site despite Klunder's death, resuming just a few hours after he was crushed by a bulldozer. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Court Injunction After a bulldozer crushed and killed Reverend Bruce Klunder at the Howe School construction site on Lakeview Avenue, Mayor Ralph Locher requested a court injunction preventing any demonstrators from further disrupting construction at this or any of the other sites where new schools were being built. This court injunction, being read here in front of a construction site by two unidentified youngsters, was granted. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Little Italy Riot, Jan. '64 A riot broke out in Little Italy on the morning of January 30, 1964 when United Freedom Movement members showed up to picket Memorial Elementary School. The picketers were upset over the treatment of blacks students who had been sent to the school as a part of Superintendent Ralph McCallister's integration program. The black youths at Memorial and other receiving schools in white neighborhoods could not attend physical education classes or eat in the cafeteria and could only use the bathroom once per day. White residents, who had planned a counter-protest against integration, became incensed when they saw the picketers and attacked them. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured during the riot. This incident and others like it eventually spelled the end of McCallister's integration program, leading to the School Board's decision to build several new schools in all-black neighborhoods instead of sending black students to under-enrolled schools in white neighborhoods. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Anti-Integration Picketers in Little Italy Picketers protest against the integration of African-American schoolchildren into white schools in front of Little Italy's Memorial Elementary on January 30, 1964. Tensions were especially high in Little Italy, and this protest eventually turned violent as African-Americans were attacked in the street. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Protestor Attacks Car On January 30, 1964, tension surrounding the issue of school integration exploded as white mobs in Little Italy attacked African-Americans. Here, a white anti-integration protestor is shown throwing a piece of stove pipe at a car carrying two African-Americans. Despite the violence, no white rioters were arrested. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Man Attacked by Whites A black man is attacked by a group of whites in Little Italy on January 30, 1964 after dueling protests by groups for and against school integration turned violent. It is believed that this man escaped serious injury. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

1000 Lakeview Rd, Cleveland, OH 44108 | Demolished

Metadata

“Stephen E. Howe Elementary,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/254.