African Americans in Cleveland

This tour offers a sampling of stories that collectively tell a broader story about African American life in Cleveland in the twentieth century. Following the Great Migration in the 1910s and 1920s, Cleveland's black population soared. Hardening racism, bolstered by discriminatory practices by landlords, real estate brokers, and banks, largely confined African Americans to the Cedar-Central neighborhood on Cleveland's near east side. In a short time Cedar-Central found itself compared to Harlem and Chicago's South Side, in no small way due to its jazz and blues clubs.

As Cedar-Central became more crowded, city leaders seized upon slum clearance and public housing as solutions in the 1930s. World War II launched the Second Great Migration, in which waves of southern blacks and Appalachian whites flocked to take up industrial work. Although black residence spread over a considerably larger swath of the east side, discrimination ensured that the spread was fairly minimal and that recognized boundaries were observed.

When much of the near east side was slated for urban renewal in the 1950s, wholesale demolition forced tens of thousands of African Americans to seek homes elsewhere. Many flooded into the Hough and Glenville neighborhoods to the north and east. As overcrowding replicated problems seen earlier in Cedar-Central, these outer neighborhoods struggled to remain vital. Some neighborhoods sought alternatives to redevelopment by pursuing conservation of homes or even adopting new names.

Until the mid-1950s African Americans seldom managed to obtain homes outside the city limits--or west of the Cuyahoga River that divides Cleveland into eastern and western halves. Glenville, Wade Park, and Mt. Pleasant offered the best available housing in these years. The first suburban breakthrough occurred in the late 1950s in Ludlow on the edge of tony Shaker Heights. Through concerted action, Ludlow became a national model for orderly integration. Unfortunately, elsewhere racial change continued induce panic, a problem greatly compounded by "blockbusters" who sowed seeds of fear of declining property values. White flight convulsed East Cleveland in the 1960s. Even though Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights citizens managed to use a variety of creative measures to integrate peacefully, even they were not immune to occasional ugly incidents.

Despite efforts in the 1960s-70s to extend fair housing opportunities so that no community would either bear the brunt of rapid turnover or remain exclusionary, until recent years a bow shape on Cleveland's racial map reflected how concentrated its black population remained. An experiment with busing from the late 1970s to mid-1990s attempted to achieve integrated schools to overcome the legacy of segregation by custom and discriminatory housing policy. Applicable only to the deeply divided city itself, busing accelerated white flight on the city's west side and allowed many suburbs to serve as white havens.

Majestic Hotel

Beginning in 1907, the Majestic Hotel served as Cleveland's primary African American hotel, a role it played until integration eased the need for hotels catering primarily to a black clientele. Before it was widely known as the Majestic Hotel,…

Gleason's Musical Bar

In its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the corner of Woodland and East 55th was, in the words of bluesman George Hendricks, "like another city--it was like New York." Before Leo's Casino had its storied run as a Motown…

Chatterbox Musical Bar and Grill

From 1949 to 1959, the Chatterbox Musical Bar and Grill, located at 5123 Woodland Avenue, was a place to be and be seen. Owned by John (Chin) Ballard, the colorful spot featured soft lighting, swank decorations, and a glowing atmosphere. Ballard and…

Shiloh Baptist Church

In 1975, Shiloh Baptist Church held its 10th annual International Tea. Dressed in costumes representative of different nations, congregation members had arranged a buffet of ethnic food in the building's basement; upstairs, Reverend Jesse Louis…

Outhwaite Homes

The Outhwaite Homes Estates, along with the Cedar Apartments and Lakeview Terrace, were the first three public housing projects to be completed in Cleveland. The three projects were also among the first in the nation to receive approval and funding…

Pla-Mor

For a generation in the 1940s-60s, Pla-Mor Roller Rink provided a much-needed recreational venue for all ages on the eastern end of the Cedar-Central (Fairfax) neighborhood. Through the mid-1960s, Pla-Mor was the only black-owned skating rink in…

Hough

Cleveland's Hough neighborhood takes its name from Oliver and Eliza Hough, who settled there in 1799. Before the Civil War, the area was mainly used as farmland. After being incorporated into the City of Cleveland in 1873, Hough became home to…

Cleveland's Second Downtown

In the early 1800s the present-day intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street (then Doan Street) was known as Doan's Corners. Named after Nathaniel Doan, who owned a tavern, a hotel, and other businesses there, Doan's Corners was a…

Miles Heights Village

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…

Antioch Baptist Church

"Antioch Church In Area Where Evictions Ordered: The Federal Court last Tuesday issued orders for the nearly 300 families living in the area bounded by E. 22nd St., Central and Cedar Ave. and E. 30th, to move by the 15th of October. While the…

Fairfax Neighborhood

Fairfax neighborhood's namesake, Florence Bundy Fairfax, was a decorated civil servant with a remarkable story. A graduate of Mather College for Women at Western Reserve University with a degree in chemistry, Fairfax excelled as a swimmer for…

Glenville's Racial Transition

The Jewish Community Federation collaborated with the Cleveland Board of Education to organize the Glenville Summer Tutoring Program in the summer of 1970. This program was designed to assist Glenville High School students, as the Call and Post…

Cory United Methodist Church

From about 1915 to 1935, Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood became a major area of settlement for second-generation Jewish immigrants. By 1936, more than 70 percent of the total neighborhood population was Jewish. New immigrants and relocated…

Stephen E. Howe Elementary

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…

The Glenville Plan

"Urban renewal is black removal." So said 24th Ward Councilman Leo Jackson, a fiery African American politician who advocated for the advancement of his ward. This short but poignant quote summarized his feelings about urban renewal…

Euclid Beach Park Riot

On August 4, 1946, almost one year after the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the end of World War ll, a picket line appeared in front of Cleveland's Euclid Beach amusement park for the first time in its history. Protesting the park's…

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…

Ludlow Community Association

In 1956, an explosion disturbed the usually quiet suburban neighborhood of Ludlow. Someone had planted a bomb in the garage of John G. Pegg, an African American lawyer who was building a new house on Corby Road. The racial attack sparked a biracial…

Robert P. Madison

Robert P. Madison was a young and eager man who returned from the Second World War in 1946 looking forward to a new beginning. Passionate about architecture since childhood, Madison knocked on the door of the Western Reserve University's School…

Haggins Realty Bombing

Shiny windows, clean floors and new furniture. All are part of a new office and a new opportunity. This is what African American entrepreneur Isaac Haggins imagined for his realty business. Haggins, whose new office in Cleveland Heights in 1968…

Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church

In the summer of 1981, the choirs of St. John's and St. James A.M.E. churches, two historic African American congregations on Cleveland's east side, joined together in the octagonal sanctuary at the inaugural service of Christ Our Redeemer…

Heights Community Congress

The Heights Community Congress was a fair housing organization which formed in Cleveland Heights in 1972 in response to racial discrimination practices in the Cleveland real estate and lending markets. After East Cleveland endured a dramatic upheaval…

The Cuyahoga Plan

The integration of Cleveland suburbs was a long and controversial process. However, with the influence of the Cuyahoga Plan, many African American families were welcomed into predominantly white neighborhoods. In Bay Village, a black family was…