Filed Under Suburbs

Miles Heights Village

An Early Integrated Suburb

Carl B. Stokes is widely known as the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Yet, Stokes, elected to office in 1967, was neither the first black mayor in Ohio nor even in the Cleveland area. Nearly four decades earlier, a small community now inside the Cleveland city limits elected a Jamaican immigrant to its highest office.

Miles Heights Village existed as a suburb of Cleveland between 1927 and 1932. The center of Miles Heights was located at the intersection of Lee and Miles roads in what is today the extreme southeast corner of Cleveland. During its brief history, Miles Heights was one of the few suburbs where African Americans lived, as most blacks in the metropolitan area were confined to Cleveland's Central neighborhood at that time. Indeed, Miles Heights counted about 500 African Americans alongside about 1,000 whites, including immigrants from Italy and other European nations. Although the black population was largely residentially segregated within the village, race relations were remarkably amicable. The village even had an interracial police force from its inception.

In 1929, following the death of Miles Heights's mayor, 35-year-old Arthur R. Johnston was appointed mayor of the suburb, making him the first black mayor in Ohio. He won election to a full two-year term that fall, no small feat at that time in a majority-white community. Johnston continued to work as a sewer foreman for Cuyahoga County during his tenure as village mayor, which stirred considerable controversy.

In the early 1930s a majority of the residents of Miles Heights voted to have their community become a part of Cleveland. Corruption scandals and substandard village services stretched the patience of many residents who believed they would be better served by joining Cleveland. Many in Miles Heights, including a number of village officials, were not pleased with this prospect. After numerous court injunctions and meetings with Cuyahoga County commissioners, however, they lost their battle to remain a separate integrated suburb. In a last ditch effort, a number of Miles Heights officials blockaded themselves inside their town hall and were prepared to shoot it out to prevent annexation. Fortunately, serious violence was avoided, and Miles Heights Village officially became a part of Cleveland on March 30, 1932. Today at the corner of Lee and Miles roads where the Miles Heights Town Hall once stood is a vacant lot.

Images

Miles Heights Town Hall, 1932 The Miles Heights Town Hall was located at the intersection of Lee and Miles Roads. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Lee and Miles, 1932 Lee and Miles Road, looking east in 1932 Image Courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Siege at Town Hall Posing (left to right) are Miles Heights officials Tom Glassburner, Mark Anthony, M.T. Miklaus, Ruth Boltz, Sam Provatears, and Al W. Eidam. While guarding Miles Heights City Hall in 1932 to prevent the suburb's annexation by Cleveland, councilwoman Ruth Boltz had hot coffee and sandwiches brought in, "So it looks like an all night session." The "siege" ended peacefully and Miles Heights eventually became a part of Cleveland. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Cleveland Street, 1932 Cleveland Street was located in the section of Miles Heights that was affectionately named "Belle Villa" by Italian immigrants who settled in the area in the early 1900s. Located in the southwest section of Miles Heights, many of the houses were substandard and many of the streets were unpaved. This made the case for annexation by Cleveland stronger. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Florence Road, 1932 Florence Road was also located in "Belle Villa" (also known as The Village). Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Beehive School Beehive School was established in 1917 in the area that was known as Miles Heights. It would later become the Miles Heights Village Elementary and Secondary Schools when the area incorporated in 1927. The school was nicknamed "Beehive" because of a nearby resident who harvested honey from bees. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
2nd Grade Class, Beehive School If you look closely at this second-grade classroom, you will see two African American students sitting in the class. This is a testament both to Ohio's heritage as a safe haven for African Americans, as well as to Miles Heights's existence as an integrated community. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Returning to School Because of Miles Heights Village's struggles with funding and a concurrent battle to ward off annexation to the city of Cleveland, the Beehive school failed to open in the Fall of 1931. After receiving a short term loan from the state teacher's retirement board, the school reopened on Dec. 21, 1931. Here, mothers are seen lining up with their children as the school reopens. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

“Miles Heights Village,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 25, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/297.