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The Hough Uprisings of 1966

On July 5, 1966, Mayor Ralph S. Locher unveiled an eight-point peace program meant to alleviate racial tensions in Cleveland. Prepared by Locher’s administration, businessmen, politicians, community activists, and religious leaders, the pact forged a symbolic peace between the city government and Cleveland’s African American community in response to an eruption of violence in the Hough and Glenville neighborhoods. For four nights beginning June 23rd, bands of youths roamed the East Side. Rocks, bottles and fire bombs were thrown from moving vehicles, a handful of pedestrians were assaulted, and vandals targeted businesses near Superior Avenue and East 79th Street. Upwards of 200 policemen patrolled the area. A helicopter loomed overhead, directing police battalions towards congregating youths. Showcasing recently acquired white helmets, riot sticks and tear gas guns, the uniformed squads evoked imagery reminiscent of civil rights unrest in the American South. While some community members considered it a “violent demonstration,” others attributed the outbreak to teenagers blindly striking against society. In reality, racial inequality and the economic disparities endemic in segregated neighborhoods lay at the root of the violence. As reported by Cleveland’s African American newspaper, the Call and Post, the local government was “dealing with dynamite, and ”…a crash program of reform” was necessary to avoid further racial violence.”

In large part, the unrest grew from distrust of Cleveland’s government, particularly the police force. Longstanding racial tensions with neighboring white communities set the stage; two white men fired a gun from their vehicle into a group of African American boys that had been throwing rocks at passing cars. A ten-year-old child was hit in the groin and admitted to the hospital. Rumors quickly spread that attending police officers refused to take descriptions of the young witness’s assailants. A crowd gathered and began pelting the police with rocks. The ensuing peace pact recommended a full investigation of the shooting, impartial handling by police of all persons involved in the disorder, full integration of the police force, the holding of a mass community meeting, the creation of a committee to investigate the needs of inner-city areas, an investigation into incendiary race hate literature recently circulated on the East Side by white supremacists, and the employment of specially trained police officers in the affected neighborhoods until tensions abated. The efforts proved ineffective in quelling the unrest. By month’s end, Cleveland joined a growing number of U.S. cities that became grounds for violent social uprisings during the 1960s.

During the week-long uprising, four African Americans died and an incalculable amount of property damage was incurred due to widespread fires and looting. This second revolt, also a response to the inequalities faced by the Black community living on Cleveland’s east side, became known as the Hough Riots. Similar incidents had become increasingly common – and feared – in northern cities. Civil disorder in the form of “race riots” had become a costly bargaining unit for marginalized communities abandoned by governing institutions. Each of these aging industrial centers had previously been remolded in the face of segregation and suburbanization.

Hough first developed as a product of suburbanization. The area took its name from Oliver and Eliza Hough, who settled there in 1799. Before the Civil War, the area was primarily farmland. Hough became an exclusive community following incorporation into the City of Cleveland in 1873, and housed some of the city’s most prominent residents and private schools. Spanning about two square miles, the Hough neighborhood was bordered by Euclid and Superior avenues and East 55th and 105th streets. As Cleveland industrialized and expanded outward through World War I, wealthy residents of Hough increasingly moved further east to newer suburbs. Many homes were split into apartments, and Hough became densely populated with white working and middle class residents by mid century.

Much of Cleveland’s African American community concentrated in the Cedar-Central neighborhood to the south of Hough during this time. Previously displaced by downtown housing clearance projects meant to guide business district growth in the early 20th century, the Black community was upended again in the 1940s as city officials pursued highway development and so-called urban renewal in Cedar-Central. Restrictive banking and real estate practices, in combination with segregated public housing placement, steered displaced African Americans towards the Hough and Glenville neighborhoods. With an influx of Black migrants from the South during the Second Great Migration, Hough transitioned from a white to a Black community by 1960. White residents left en masse, moving to Cleveland’s west side and newly developed suburbs. These neighborhoods forged their identities in contrast to emerging communities of color, and systemically excluded African Americans. Even as whites fled Hough, the neighborhood’s population peaked at over 83,000 in 1957 before dropping to about 72,000 in 1966. At the time of the uprisings, 90% of Cleveland’s Black community lived in Black neighborhoods on the city’s east side. Cleveland had become one of the nation’s most segregated cities. As Black residents crowded into Hough, the proximity to available jobs diminished with a concurrent exodus of industry to the suburbs, leaving African Americans in mostly low-paying, unskilled jobs. Inadequate schools and the resistance of local trade unions to integrate only exacerbated the impact of high Black unemployment.

The influx of new residents moving into Hough taxed available resources. Schools were overcrowded, garbage amassed on side streets and open lots, and the community lacked recreation spaces. Virtually no new homes had been built in Hough since World War II. To accommodate the growing population, aging residences were further broken into units. The city did little to enforce existing housing codes that governed occupancy and living standards. Vacant homes deteriorated, becoming hazards to the community and breeding grounds for vermin. Even as Hough’s physical condition declined, residents were regularly charged high rents due to the limited housing options available to the Black community in Cleveland and the refusal of suburbs to accept Black residents.

City officials publicly recognized the deteriorating state of Hough, but did little more than offer well-intentioned proposals and plans. The University - Euclid urban renewal project was one of two major redevelopment plans unveiled in 1960. The scope of this massive project included much of the Hough neighborhood. In a move away from the “slum clearance” approach to urban development, the plan emphasized housing rehabilitation and the development of recreation spaces. The project rolled out with fanfare, but soon faced delays and funding setbacks.

Despite resource inventories and grand promises, only a handful of scattered rehabilitation efforts in Hough came to fruition by 1966. While delays were often tied to federal and local oversight of the massive endeavor, completed work was typically over budget and behind schedule. The city administration appeared to be diverting its resources towards the Erieview renewal area in downtown rather than aiding struggling east side neighborhoods. Speculation also grew that the local authorities were allowing Hough to become blighted in order to lower the cost of acquiring land for a proposed Heights Freeway project. Marred by general disorganization and administrative mismanagement, the federal government eventually froze funding for Cleveland urban renewal projects. Vacant lots littered with dirt and rubbish quickly became the most common evidence of renewal efforts in Hough.

While city officials did little to stem the impact of suburbanization and segregation on Hough, the administration’s law enforcement branch physically embodied and actively reinforced discriminatory policies and practices that promoted social inequality. A longstanding tradition of hostile relations existed between Black residents and the police. Charges of police brutality and a dual system of law enforcement persisted throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but were dismissed by a predominantly white city administration. An independent report in 1965 found that only 175 of the force’s 2,100 employees were Black. Only two held rank above patrolman, and few were assigned duty to west side neighborhoods.

Cleveland’s segregated police department was racially unrepresentative of the community it served, and offered no recourse for civilian grievances to be heard. While many residents of Hough advocated for a stronger, integrated police presence in order to deter crime, complaints regularly surfaced concerning the department’s use of excessive force and practice of turning a blind eye toward racial violence against the Black community. Throughout the 1960s, instances of violence perpetrated by African Americans against white victims resulted in public outrage and swift arrests, often with little evidence. In cases of racially motivated attacks against persons of color, police often blamed the victims for inciting violence. In the years leading to the unrest in Hough, Locher’s administration refused to meet with community groups concerning mounting claims of physical and verbal abuse against Cleveland’s Black community. As racial tensions grew, Cleveland’s police department became a symbol of the city administration's alignment with white interests. Beginning on July 18, 1966, and lasting approximately one week, residents clashed with police as discontent over living conditions and systemic racial injustice surfaced in Hough.

Sparked by a minor racially charged dispute at a neighborhood bar, the July uprising in Hough brought widespread looting, arson and destruction. While impacting the entire community, primary targets were white-owned stores, abandoned buildings, and residences owned by absentee landlords. As symbols of civic authority, police officers and firemen were met with violence; no white civilians were attacked. Conversely, an African American was fatally shot by a patrol of white vigilantes while driving to work. Three additional Black residents of Hough were also killed by unknown assailants during the week.

Outbreaks of violence diminished in severity beginning July 22nd. Local ministers, civic leaders and community activists met the following morning in an effort to establish peace and address the problems that incited the tragic events. Mayor Locher refused to attend, but was presented with the underlying causes of the uprising on July 25th in City Council by Hough area councilman M. Morris Jackson.

(I)t was not without warning. The warnings were in the broken promises of urban renewal, Mr. Mayor. The warnings were seen in the continued existence of rat-infested buildings that should have been renewed long ago. The warnings, Mr. Mayor, were in the inadequate recreation facilities, insufficient city services, lack of employment, and the failure to integrate the police force. These were the seeds of discontent that exploded last Monday night…where do we go from here, Mr. Mayor?

A special session of the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury convened that same day to explore the causes of the riot. Headed by former Cleveland Press editor Louis B. Seltzer, an all-white jury of non-Hough residents presided. Following a bus tour of Hough and interviews with residents, law enforcement, civic leaders and government officials, the fifteen-member committee released their conclusion in a report on August 2, 1966. They determined that the uprising was instigated by a small, organized group of extremist agitators with communist leanings. The police force was exonerated of all wrong-doing and abuses, and stricter sentences for crimes committed during riots were recommended. While acknowledging Hough residents faced social and economic inequalities in their daily life, the committee did not considered these to be causes of unrest. Instead, the jury asserted that radicals had exploited these conditions to provoke teenagers into rioting. The report not only dismissed the possibility that Hough residents had agency in their decision to participate in or support the uprising, but exonerated the city government from culpability in creating conditions that fostered civil disorder. Exemplifying their misreading of the situation, the committee concluded that the “Negro community may be moving too fast for the total community to bear”; Cleveland was not ready to accept African Americans as equal members of society.

The report, lauded by Mayor Locher, sparked outrage in Cleveland’s Black community. Its findings were quickly refuted by both federal and community sponsored investigations into the unrest. No evidence was found to corroborate the jury’s findings that Communist agitators were responsible for inciting or propelling violence. Instead, a citizen committee organized by the Urban League of Cleveland determined that the city’s disregard of social conditions in Hough “led to frustration and desperation that…finally burst forth in a destructive way.” The committee documented numerous examples of the police exacerbating unrest through use of derogatory slurs and excessive force. These different readings of the uprising in Hough were an ominous predictor of a long and difficult road ahead for efforts to rebuild the neighborhood.

Despite an influx of federal funds for rehabilitation, the economic and physical condition of Hough did not dramatically improve in the wake of the 1966 uprisings. Social unrest, accompanied by widespread looting and arson, would revisit the area during the summer of 1968 following a shootout between police and Black nationalists. The population of Hough rapidly declined as more suburbs slowly began to open up to Black residency. Even as overcrowding subsided, the inability of local government to address issues of segregation, racial discrimination, economic and social inequality, neighborhood deterioration, and poor police-community relations continued to impact Cleveland’s communities of color. Institutionalized policies and practices that reinforced the underlying causes of the 1966 Hough uprisings had been inscribed into the landscape, and would continue to guide the trajectory of Cleveland’s development over the proceeding decades.

Video

Hough Riots, Pt. 1: "We knew something was going on..." Bennie Jean Johnson recalls her memories of the Hough Riots. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Hough Riots, Pt. 2: "Was it Good?" Larry Rivers recalls his memories of the Hough Riots. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Audio

Living Through The Riots Carmel Whiting shares her memories of the Hough neighborhood and the general racial climate of Cleveland after the 1966 riots Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Hearing About Hough In Vietnam Newscaster Leon Bibb recalls the turbulent racial and political landscape of 1960s America as viewed from Vietnam Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Changes in the Neighborhood Jacob Rosenheim describes the changes that occurred in the Hough Neighborhood beginning in the mid-fifties. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

National Guard Outside Seventy Niners’ Café The uprising in Hough was sparked by rumors of minor disputes between black patrons and white owners of the Seventy Niners’ Café on Hough Avenue and East 79th Street. While several differing accounts of the inciting events spread throughout Hough on the night of July 18th, the rapid escalation into violence speaks to pre-existing racial tensions in the neighborhood. Accounts centered on two purported incidents that occurred that day: the ejection of a black resident from the bar after soliciting charity, and the owner’s refusal to serve a glass of water to a black man purchasing take-out wine. Stories circulated that an owner used racial slurs during these interactions, and that disgruntled patrons who witnessed the events hung a sign outside declaring “this place will not serve colored” or “no water for n***ers.” As word of the events made its way through Hough, a crowd grew outside the bar. After rocks were thrown, the two owners confronted the crowd several times holding a rifle and pistol. Policemen were called to the scene, and the situation quickly spiraled out of control. Rocks and bricks were hurled at squad cars and storefronts as police attempted to disperse the crowd. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: July 25, 1966
Child in Hough Alley, 1955 Despite the shock expressed by Mayor Locher’s administration, the media and white populace over the 1966 uprisings, the social and economic disparities that accompanied segregation and racial discrimination in Hough were common knowledge. The list of grievances previously voiced by Hough residents was long, and included: poor police-community relations, antagonistic dealings with bordering white communities, a lack of reliable public services and amenities, overcrowding, absentee landlords, over-priced rents and consumer goods, low wages, deteriorating housing stock, inadequate schools and high unemployment. Strikingly similar conditions existed in all northern urban centers that experienced unrest during the era. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Street Cleaning Protest, June 17, 1965 Although eclipsed by the grand University - Euclid renewal plans, community leaders and local organizations petitioned the city administration for small, realistic projects to be undertaken in Hough. Among their many efforts to improve living conditions in Hough during the 1960s, residents and grassroots groups worked to desegregate and improve schools, provide employment opportunities, rehabilitate housing, board up vacant structures, clean neighborhood grounds, exterminate rodents, enhance public assistance programs and combat the practices of absentee landlords. Despite the patchwork of aid these community groups provided in Hough, enacting necessary systemic changes without support from both Cleveland’s governing bodies and increasingly-removed white populace proved an insurmountable task. The Hough neighborhood had effectively been abandoned to fend for itself as promises of urban renewal made by the local government crumbled. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Police Barricade Superior Avenue, June 26, 1966 Disorder in Hough confirmed the growing fears of many Cleveland residents in June, 1966. Discontent over segregation and inequality had previously surfaced across the country in the form of civic unrest, arson and looting; Cleveland would be no exception. Since 1964, racial violence flared during the summer months within urban centers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. The 1965 Watts uprisings in California presented an escalation to the scope and severity of racial turmoil. Television and print media displayed the outbreaks of social unrest throughout the nation. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Police Patrolling Hough, June 27, 1966 In response to the youth-led Hough uprising of June, 1966, a policeman noted that it was “…like sitting on a steam kettle. We’ve got it under control, but, man, you can feel the steam under you.” Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Hough Uprising Cleanup, July 28, 1966 Despite an influx of federal funds for rehabilitation, the economic and physical condition of Hough did not dramatically improve in the wake of the 1966 uprisings. Vacant lots had taken the place of burned-out buildings, but condemned structures still littered the neighborhood. Storefronts remained boarded up as many business owners chose not to reopen, or were shuttered due to increased costs of property insurance. Resigned to the fact that Mayor Locher’s administration was both incapable and unwilling to provide assistance, community organizations continued in their work towards rebuilding the neighborhood. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Fire at Intersection of Ansel Avenue and Hough Road, July 19, 1966 Following the Hough Riots, the Call and Post reported “Violence and rioting, moving like a plague from city to city last week, spread ‘black death’ among Negroes across the nation.” That same week, racially charged disturbances also occurred in Brooklyn, Chicago, South Bend and San Francisco; Each was confined to deteriorating African American neighborhoods, and black communities suffered nearly all casualties of the violence. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Police Guard Fire Trucks, July 21, 1966 Widespread vandalism, looting and arson quickly followed the outbreak of violence in Hough on July 18, 1966. All available policemen were ordered to the area. As flames engulfed buildings throughout the neighborhood, fire crews escorted by the police navigated around crowds and into showers of projectiles. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Police Stop Arson Suspect, July 25, 1966 Racial unrest was often presented by media sources as a spectacle of violence. Their outbreak was commonly attributed to lawlessness, hoodlumism, or a reductive treatment of slogans such as “black power.” Inciting events and narratives of disorder drew focus, while the underlying conditions and grievances that had grown discontent within communities garnered less attention. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sniper Activity Investigated, July 25, 1966 Police officers sent to patrol Hough during the uprising were met with sniper shots, often forcing their retreat from the streets. The police responded in turn by forcibly entering residences in search of shooters. No officers were killed by snipers during the uprising, although three Hough residents were fatally shot by unknown assailants. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Soul Brother Sign, July 21, 1966 A handful of Hough businesses remained untouched following the tumultuous week of unrest. Business owners hung signs and painted windows with "black owner" or "soul brother" in an effort to ward off attacks. Investigations by the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury viewed these passed-over structures as evidence that the July uprising was organized by outside extremist agitators. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Police and National Guard Patrol Hough, July 21, 1966 By the second day of the uprising, it was clear that the police would not be able to deescalate the ongoing conflict. Over 2000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called in to reinforce local law enforcement. Although the National Guard secured the area of Hough by July 20th, unrest continued to emerge in black communities on the outskirts of the neighborhood for five additional days. Each morning brought relative calm, but looting, vandalism and arson resumed with the setting sun. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Joyce Arnett, July 19, 1966 Joyce Arnett, a 26-year-old mother of three, was fatally shot on July 19, 1966 while standing at the window of her apartment on East 81st Street. Police attributed the death to sniper fire, while many Hough residents blamed the stray bullet on law enforcement. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Mayor Locher Visits Hough, July 19, 1966 Despite Hough’s lingering physical scars, national and local media attention garnered by the 1966 uprising effectively raised awareness of the social and economic inequalities faced by African Americans living in Cleveland’s segregated east side. A spotlight was directed onto the deterioration of community race relations under Mayor Locher’s leadership, as well as the failures of his administration’s urban renewal programs. Tarnished by his administration’s inability to address the problems of a city in transformation, Locher was unseated in the Democratic primary by Carl B. Stokes in 1967. Unifying Cleveland’s diverse black and ethnic communities with promises of stability and reform, Stokes was narrowly elected mayor of Cleveland one month later. The election witnessed the largest black voter turnout in the city’s history. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Looting at Allen Drug, July 19, 1966 Long-held community grievances over the practices of local merchants turned to looting, vandalism and arson during the Hough uprisings of 1966. While exceptions occurred, businesses with a reputation for mistreating or overcharging local residents, paying low wages to employees, and raising prices each month to profit from government assistance payments were targeted. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Apartment Building, 1967 This apartment building at 7769 Lexington Avenue stood vacant and vandalized following the Hough uprising. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Glenn Zahn Date: January 9, 1967
Carl Stokes Presents Hough Revitalization Effort, October 25, 1968 Even following a change of Cleveland's administration from Ralph Locher to Carl Stokes, the revitalization of Hough proved to be slow and painful. The Hough Area Development Corporation (HADC), one of the nation’s first community development corporations, spearheaded a number of projects intended to revive the neighborhood as early as 1968. Despite development efforts initiated by community organizations and Stoke’s administration, the impact of racial discrimination and segregation on a time-ravaged Hough resulted in an exodus of its populace. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Hough Memorial Parade, 1968 In the years following what became known as the Hough Riot, a memorial parade was held each summer to commemorate the lives lost during the uprising. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

“The Hough Uprisings of 1966,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 17, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/7.