Filed Under Conflict

Collinwood High School Riots

On the morning of April 6, 1970, 350 to 400 whites, mostly students, gathered outside of Collinwood High School and began throwing rocks at the school, breaking 56 windows. Teachers told the 200 black students who attended school that day to go to the third-floor cafeteria for their protection. At 10:30 a.m., the white mob entered the school and went to the second floor. They damaged furniture, broke windows, and threw clubs at the school's music director. Afraid, the black students began breaking off the legs of chairs to arm themselves and blocking the stairs leading to the third floor with tables and chairs. Luckily, the white students left the school and the black students were escorted to buses to take them home. Teachers and policemen had to form a line in order to block the whites from attacking the students who were boarding. This was just one of many serious, racially motivated confrontations that took place in Collinwood over a fifteen-year period.

The first major incidents at Collinwood High School occurred in 1965, the same time the rest of the country was seeing racial clashes in schools. After the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, many schools in the South became places of protests and violence. Northern schools saw the same disturbances when they began to make efforts toward greater integration. In the case of Collinwood, industrialization not only increased its population, but also its diversity. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist, "with the passage of each year, the western fringes of the Collinwood area [were] being occupied by the Negro overflow from Glenville." This change in demographics, coupled with civil rights demonstrations, caused racial tensions to surface and intensify in Collinwood, particularly at the neighborhood's high school.

Finally, after fifteen years of violence in the country's schools, radical measures were being taken in some schools and by the federal government to stop the dangerous episodes once and for all. In a New York school, a committee was formed by the mayor to prevent future violence. Other schools suspended or expelled large groups of students for any racial confrontations and hired security force guards to keep the peace. In April 1969, Senator Robert C. Byrd asked Congress to pass a law that would make the disruption of any school that received federal aid a federal crime.

Cleveland's mayor Carl Stokes was prompted to follow these examples after the dangerous episode of April 1970. The mayor kept the school open but protected it with policemen backed by National Guard units in case a severe situation should arise. Nevertheless, Collinwood High School was still the scene of other racial clashes, the worst occurring in the fall of 1974. Three black students were stabbed in September of that year, and the next month another student was fatally shot by a sixteen-year-old white student. After these disturbing incidents, the racial violence at the Collinwood school began to dwindle.

Audio

Lawrence Mahone Describes the Demographic Changes in Collinwood Lawrence Mahone, an alumnus of and teacher at Collinwood High School, recalls his experience in his neighborhood on the western edge of Collinwood. The changing population in the 1970s reflected integrated streets. Source: Collinwood High School Oral History Project Date: October, 2013
Joseph Bruzas, 1977 Collinwood High graduate Mr. Bruzas reflects on his experiences while at Collinwood High School during the racial turmoil. His involvement in Collinwood Arts kept him safe during troubled times at school. Source: Collinwood High School Oral History Project Creator: Gail Greenberg, Michael Rotman Date: October, 2013
Joseph Bruzas, "Not my style." Mr. Bruzas describes an incident during the racial troubles at Collinwood involving non-student influences. Source: Collinwood High School Oral History Project Creator: Gail Greenberg, Michael Rotman Date: October, 2013
Lucille Jackson, Collinwood High School was already integrated. Mrs. Jackson recalls when her son enrolled in Collinwood in the mid 1970s. Since the neighborhood was already integrated, the school was omitted from the busing plan in Cleveland. Source: Collinwood High School Oral History Project Creator: Gail Greenberg, Michael Rotman Date: October, 2013

Images

Collinwood's Tower Collinwood High School was opened on St. Clair Avenue in 1926. The center tower was originally a sixteen-room school built in 1906 and was meant to serve all grades. The school and the original tower are still in use today. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Policemen Needed at High School Reoccurring incidents of threats against black students at Collinwood High School prompted the need for policemen to keep threatened students protected. Officers would have to shield black and white students from one another. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Arresting Students Police often had to resort to arresting Collinwood students when fights and demonstrations went too far. For example, according to the Plain Dealer on Thursday June 5, 1969, "11 persons were arrested after a series of incidents involving fistfights between Negroes and whites, beatings and vandalism." Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Mounted Policemen Keep Close Police kept a close eye on Collinwood High School after an intense episode that began on Tuesday 2 June 1969. A group of whites gathered at the Collinwood High School after classes had ended and began throwing rocks and bricks at cars with black passengers. Two days later, fistfights, beatings and vandalism at the high school resulted in the arrest of eleven people. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Non-isolated Incidents School violence often either started or continued at other parts of Collinwood. Police regularly had to break up fights or stop acts of vandalism caused by students after the school day or during weekends. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Generals Come to Collinwood After black students had to resort to barricading themselves in the school cafeteria for protection in the spring of 1970, Superintendent Paul W. Briggs wanted to cancel the next two days of classes. Mayor Carl Stokes, however, decided to call the National Guard. On April 9, 1970, 700 National Guardsmen stayed close to the school in case another dangerous situation was to arise. That same day, State Adj. General Sylvester Del Corso (right), commander of the Ohio National Guard, and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (left), Cleveland Safety Director, kept a close eye on the school. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Collinwood Students When the racially-motivated clashes first began at Collinwood High School, the student body was composed of 20 percent black and 80 percent white. The violence escalated as the number of black students at the school increased. By fall of 1974, the year that Harvey Short, Jr. and the Brookins brothers were stabbed and David Britton was shot while playing basketball, the school was almost equally divided between black and white students. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
At the Games Collinwood High School students were usually united by school spirit at school athletic events. However, after a Collinwood High School football game on Friday September 20, 1974, two black students were stabbed. The next Thursday, a brother of one of the stab victims - a former Collinwood student - was also stabbed while picking up his younger sister from school. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

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Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Collinwood High School Riots,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 25, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/392.