African American History in Cleveland from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

A series of articles from The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here

AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY –

ABOLITIONISM 
AFRICAN AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAMS 
AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM 
AFRICAN AMERICANS 
ALBRITTON, DAVID 
ALEXANDER, WILLIAM HARRY 
ALI-BEY, OMAR 
ALIENED AMERICAN 
ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETIES, BLACK 
ANTIOCH BAPTIST CHURCH 
BAGBY FUGITIVE SLAVE CASE 
BAILEY, REV. DR. HORACE CHARLES 
BAPTISTS 
BEARD, CHARLES AUGUSTINE 
BELL, MYRTLE JOHNSON 
BELL, NOLAN D. 
BEN 
BENN, REV. LUTHER 
BIGHAM, STELLA GODFREY WHITE 
BLACK LAWS 
BLACK MILITARY UNITS 
BLACK TRADES COUNCIL 
BLACK WOMEN’S POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE 
BLUE, WELCOME T. , SR. 
BODDIE RECORDING CO. 
BOYD, ALBERT DUNCAN 
BOYD, ELMER F. 
BRASCHER, NAHUM DANIEL 
BROWN, ANNA V. 
BROWN, JERE A. 
BROWN, JOHN 
BROWN, LLOYD ODOM 
BROWN, RUSSELL S. 
BRYANT, ELIZA 
BUNDY, LEROY N. 
BURTEN, LONNIE L. JR 
BUSINESSMEN’S INTERRACIAL COMMITTEE 
CARR, CHARLES VELMON 
CARTER, WILFRED CARLYLE 
CENTRAL (NEIGHBORHOOD) 
CHAUNCEY, HERBERT S. 
CHESNUTT, CHARLES WADDELL 
CLARKE, MELCHISEDECH CLARENCE 
CLEMENT, KENNETH W. 
CLEVELAND ADVOCATE 
CLEVELAND ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY 
CLEVELAND ASSOCIATION OF COLORED MEN 
CLEVELAND BEARS 
CLEVELAND BROWNS (BASEBALL) 
CLEVELAND BUCKEYES 
CLEVELAND BUSINESS LEAGUE 
CLEVELAND CALL & POST 
CLEVELAND COMMUNITY RELATIONS BOARD 
CLEVELAND CUBS 
CLEVELAND ELITES 
CLEVELAND FREE SCHOOL 
CLEVELAND FREEDMEN’S AID SOCIETY 
CLEVELAND GAZETTE 
CLEVELAND GIANTS 
CLEVELAND HERALD 
CLEVELAND HORNETS 
CLEVELAND HOSPITAL ASSN. 
CLEVELAND JOURNAL 
CLEVELAND LIFE 
CLEVELAND MEDICAL READING CLUB 
CLEVELAND RED SOX 
CLEVELAND STARS 
CLEVELAND TATE STARS 
CLEVELAND TIGERS (BASEBALL) 
CLEVELAND TRAINING SCHOOL FOR COLORED NURSES 
CLIFFORD, CARRIE WILLIAMS 
CLIFFORD, WILLIAM H. 
COALITION OF BLACK TRADE UNIONISTS 
COLE, ALLEN E. 
CONNERS, WILLIAM RANDALL 
COOK, THOMAS A. 
CORY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH 
CUYAHOGA COUNTY ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY 
CUYAHOGA COUNTY COLONIZATION SOCIETY 
DANDRIDGE, DOROTHY 
DAVIS, ALAN 
DAVIS, HARRY EDWARD 
DAVIS, RUSSELL HOWARD 
DAVIS, SYLVESTER SANFORD, JR. 
DAY, WILLIAM HOWARD 
DEARING, ULYSSES S. 
DIXON, ARDELIA BRADLEY 
DOBY, LAWRENCE “LARRY” E. 
DORR, DAVID 
DRIMMER, MELVIN 
DUNBAR LIFE 
DURDEN, EDWARD 
E. F. BOYD & SON FUNERAL HOME, INC. 
EAST CLEVELAND THEATER 
EAST END NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE 
EAST MOUNT ZION BAPTIST CHURCH 
EASTER, LUSCIOUS “LUKE” 
ELIZA BRYANT VILLAGE 
EMPIRE SAVINGS & LOAN 
EUCLID BEACH PARK RIOT 
FAIR HOUSING PROGRAMS 
FAIRFAX, FLORENCE BUNDY 
FELTON, MONROE H. 
FERRELL, FREDERIC LEONARD 
FIRST BANK NATIONAL ASSN. 
FLEMING, LETHIA COUSINS 
FLEMING, THOMAS W. 
FLEWELLEN, ICABOD 
FORD, LEONARD “LENNY” 
FOREST CITY HOSPITAL 
FORTE, ORMOND ADOLPHUS 
FOX, BEATRICE WRIGHT 
FREDERICK DOUGLASS’S VISITS 
FREEDMEN’S FESTIVAL 
FREEMAN, ERNEST (ERNIE) 
FREEMAN, HARRY LAWRENCE 
FUTURE OUTLOOK LEAGUE 
GARVIN, CHARLES H. 
GASSAWAY, HAROLD T. 
GAYLE, JAMES FRANKLIN 
GENTRY, MINNIE LEE WATSON 
GEORGE, CLAYBORNE 
GEORGE, ZELMA WATSON 
GETHSEMANE BAPTIST CHURCH 
GILLESPIE, CHESTER K. 
GREATER CLEVELAND ROUNDTABLE 
GREEN, JOHN PATTERSON 
GREEN, SAMUEL CLAYTON 
HARAMBEE: SERVICES TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES 
HARGRAVE, MASON ALEXANDER 
HARNEY, HARRISON HANNIBAL 
HARRIET TUBMAN MUSEUM AND CULTURAL ASSN. 
HEGGS, OWEN L. 
HEIGHTS AREA PROJECT 
HEMINGWAY, ROBERT N. 
HIMES, CHESTER B. 
HODGE, JOSEPH 
HOLLAND, JUSTIN 
HOLLY, JOHN OLIVER, JR. 
HOLTZCLAW, ROBERT FULTON 
HOLY TRINITY PARISH 
HOUGH AREA DEVELOPMENT CORP. 
HOUSE OF WILLS 
HUGHES, (JAMES) LANGSTON 
HUNTER, JANE EDNA (HARRIS) 
JACKSON, PERRY B. 
JANUARY CLUB 
JELLIFFE, ROWENA WOODHAM 
JELLIFFE, RUSSELL W. 
JETHROE, SAM 
JOHNSON, REV. CLARA LUCIL 
KARAMU HOUSE 
KILGORE, JAMES C. 
LAMBRIGHT, MIDDLETON H. JR. 
LAMBRIGHT, MIDDLETON HUGHER SR. 
LAWRENCE, WILHEMINA PRICE 
LEACH, ROBERT BOYD 
LEO’S CASINO 
LEWIS, FANNIE 
LINKS, INC. 
LITERARY SOCIETIES (BLACK) 
LOEB, CHARLES HAROLD 
LOMOND ASSN. 
LUCAS, CHARLES P. , SR. 
LUDLOW COMMUNITY ASSN. 
MALVIN, JOHN 
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., VISITS TO CLEVELAND 
MARTIN, ALEXANDER H. 
MARTIN, MARY BROWN 
MARY B. TALBERT HOME AND HOSPITAL 
MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF CARL B. STOKES 
MCCOY, SETH THEODORE 
MCGHEE, NORMAN L. SR. 
MCKENNEY, RUTH 
MCKINNEY, WADE HAMPTON AND RUTH BERRY 
MINOR, NORMAN SELBY 
MITCHELL, L. PEARL 
MONTGOMERY REV. ANZO 
MOORE, GEORGE ANTHONY 
MORGAN, GARRETT A. 
MOUNT HERMON BAPTIST CHURCH 
MT. ZION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH 
MYERS, GEORGE A. 
NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF POSTAL AND FEDERAL EMPLOYEES 
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE 
NATIONAL CONVENTION OF BLACK FREEMEN 
NATIONAL EMIGRATION CONVENTION OF COLORED PEOPLE 
NEARON, JOSEPH R. 
NEW DAY PRESS 
OBERLIN-WELLINGTON RESCUE 
OLIVET INSTITUTIONAL BAPTIST CHURCH 
OUR LADY OF FATIMA PARISH 
OUR LADY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT PARISH 
OWEN, JAMES ALEXANDER, M.D. 
OWENS, JESSE 
PAIGE, LEROY ROBERT 
PAYNE, LAWRENCE O. 
PEAKE, GEORGE 
PERRY, HILBERT W. 
PERRY, SAMUEL V. 
PHILLIPS, (BISHOP) CHARLES HENRY 
PHILLIS WHEATLEY ASSOCIATION 
PRICE, GRACE FINLEY 
PRIDGEON, LOUISE JOHNSON 
RAINEY, SHERLIE HEREFORD 
REASON, PATRICK HENRY 
REED, J. ELMER 
REED, JACOB E. 
REED, VIVIAN BROWN 
ROBERT P. MADISON INTERNATIONAL 
ROBERTS, NARLIE 
ROGERS, MARGARET MARIE HARDEN 
RUFFIN, BERNIECE WORTHINGTON 
SCHOENFELD, MAX 
SCHOOL FUND SOCIETY 
SETTLE, REV. DR. GLENN THOMAS 
SHAUTER DRUG CO. 
SHAUTER, ROBERT HARRIS 
SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH 
SISSLE, NOBLE 
SLAUGHTER, HOWARD SILAS, SR. 
SMITH, FRANK A. 
SMITH, HARRY CLAY 
SMITH, HERALD LEONYDUS 
SMITH, WILLIAM T. (WEE WILLIE) 
SOUTHGATE, ROBERT L. 
ST. ADALBERT PARISH 
ST. AGATHA PARISH 
ST. AGNES PARISH 
ST. ANDREW’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH 
ST. CATHERINE PARISH 
ST. CECILIA PARISH 
ST. EDWARD PARISH 
ST. HENRY PARISH 
ST. JAMES AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH 
ST. JOHN COLLEGE 
ST. JOHN’S AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH 
ST. PAUL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH 
ST. PAUL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) ZION CHURCH 
ST. TIMOTHY PARISH 
STANTON (DAY SESSIONS), LUCY ANN 
STOKES, CARL B. 
SUTLER, ELEANORE MARGUERITE YOUNG 
SUTLER, MARTIN RANDOPLH DELANEY, JR., M.D. 
TALL, BOOKER T. 
TILLEY, MADISON 
TUBBS JONES, STEPHANIE 
TURNER, RACHEL WALKER 
TYLER, RALPH C. 
UNITED BLACK FUND OF GREATER CLEVELAND 
UNITED FREEDOM MOVEMENT (UFM) 
UNIVERSAL NEGRO IMPROVEMENT ASSN. (UNIA) 
URBAN LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND 
WALKER, WILLIAM OTIS 
WARE, WILLIAM J. 
WEEDEN, JOHN T. 
WHITE, CHARLES W. 
WHITE, PAUL DUNBAR 
WHITE, STELLA GODFREY 
WHITEHEAD, REV. EATON 
WHITLEY AND WHITLEY, INC. 
WHITLEY, R.(ROUSARA) JOYCE 
WICKER, AMANDA 
WILLIAMS, EDWARD CHRISTOPHER 
WILLIAMS, GERALDINE 
WILLS, J. WALTER, SR. 
WILSON, CURTIS 
WINGS OVER JORDAN CHOIR (WOJC) 
WJMO 
WRESTLING 
WRIGHT, ALONZO G. 
WRIGHT, WALTER BENJAMIN 
WZAK 
YOUNG MEN’S SOCIETY 

This site maintained by Case Western Reserve University

Bertha Josephine Blue By Debbi Snook

The pdf is here

Bertha Josephine Blue

By Debbi Snook

 

On a spring day in the early 1900s, a confident-looking woman ushers a group of schoolchildren along the hilly sidewalk in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood. She wears a crisp, blue dress and the scent of lavender soap.

 

The children, many of them sons and daughters of Sicilian immigrants, are walking to First Communion practice at Holy Rosary Church. The woman, their first-grade teacher, is African-American.

 

This snapshot in the rich and remarkable life of Bertha Josephine Blue, a member of Cleveland’s early black middle class, also reaches across many generations of race relations in Cleveland.

 

By today’s perceptions, Blue had quite the nerve. From 1903 to 1947 – a total of 44 years – this granddaughter of a slave taught at Murray Hill Elementary School. 

 

Yes, in Little Italy, the tightly knit East Side Italian neighborhood of checkered tablecloth restaurants – and a checkered history dealing with outsiders.

 

But Blue used her determination, talent and heart to pierce this insulated community in such a way that it flooded her with love. It wasn’t a strategy, but a calling.

 

You won’t find Blue in most of Cleveland’s history books, but more than a half- century after her retirement and death, the mention of her name still brought tender, childlike responses from older residents of Little Italy. Some of them, plus a new group of admirers, are dusting off the memory of this respectful interracial relationship and passing it to future generations. Maybe, just maybe, they hope, it will help erase a multitude of old wounds.

 

Blue’s photograph graced the wall of the one-room Little Italy Historical Museum, the neighborhood’s former showcase. The same shrine housed a hand-cranked pasta machine from the old country and samples of lace tatted by many ancestors. An ornately painted donkey cart from Italy rolled out the door for many annual Feast of the Assumption parades.

 

Also on the walls were images of people from Campobasso and Abruzzi in the central part of Italy, and Sicily in the south – people who escaped the economic limitations of their homeland. Many worked as stonemasons in a quarry nearby, or as gifted carvers for the ornate Lake View Cemetery bordering the neighborhood.

 

Blue taught their children. Then she stayed after school to teach English to their parents. In turn, they taught her Italian.

 

Jane Darr, Blue’s daughter, said in a 2001 interview that her mother could relate to the immigrants as outsiders.

 

“She’d say, ‘Janie, they’re so young and so far from home. I have to do this.’ ”

 

“She was beautiful. We all loved her,” recalled Eva Maesta, a volunteer at the former museum and one of Blue’s former students. “Every birthday, she got a little cupcake for you with a candle in it. And this is when you couldn’t afford a cupcake.”

 

“She believed everybody should get a passing grade,” added Lauretta Nardolillo, another volunteer. “If you were a slow learner, she’d help you more. She never scolded you for getting things wrong.”

 

“When my mother baked bread, she’d give her a loaf of it,” remembered Frances LaRiche. Blue was allowed to park for free in the LaRiche family garage on Random Road. It was no small donation. The LaRiches couldn’t afford a car of their own.

 

On the cold, sunny afternoon of her interview, Darr circled the old school by foot and recalled the annual inspection tour she and her mom did each year. Most summers, the neighborhood kids would break classroom windows. Darr and Blue would drive around the building before school started to see which windows got hit.

 

“Never hers,” Darr said proudly.

 

Given the area’s racially tense past, people might expect the opposite. Darr said the late Carl Stokes, Cleveland’s first black mayor and the first black mayor of a major U.S. city, was astonished to hear about Blue for the first time at a Western Reserve Historical Society event in the early 1990s.

 

“He asked me if we tried to find out who ‘sent her up the hill’ and why – that it might not have been a joyful thing.”

 

But it was.

 

Kenneth L. Kusmer’s 1978 book, “A Ghetto Takes Shape, Black Cleveland, 1870- 1930” shows there were four black Cleveland teachers in 1908 – a healthy representation compared to other cities of the time. By 1915, there were 30.

 

Cleveland had been part of the Western Reserve, claimed by Connecticut and settled by New Englanders. Many of them were evangelic and reform-minded Christians who made most of what is now Northeast Ohio a center of the abolitionist or anti- slavery movement.

 

Remarkably, their 18th-century traditions of equality, Kusmer wrote, “remained intact to a remarkable degree” through the turn of the 20th century. Some of Cleveland’s first blacks found a more level playing field here than in many other cities.

 

The Great Migration changed things. The massive movement of Southern blacks heading north, escaping crop failures and old racism, magnified racial tension up north. Many were rural and uneducated, or seen as competition for jobs.

 

By the time Blue came of age, that tradition of equality did not include all professions. Because of her color, she probably would have been turned away from a medical school. But she was welcomed at a teacher’s college. With a teaching certificate in hand, the city school system would be open to her, including schools in white neighborhoods.

 

All she had to do was get that certificate. Those who knew her never doubted she would.

 

Blue lived for many years in the Central neighborhood, one of several sections of the city where blacks settled. During World War I, as southern blacks moved in by the tens of thousands, it became Cleveland’s version of New York’s Harlem. Blacks went there because other areas, especially growing suburbs, were closed to them.

 

When Darr visited the old homestead on E. 90th Street, the sweet memories flowed. There were the blue hydrangeas that her grandmother, Cornelia Cunningham Blue, planted in the yard. There were neighbors who showed up just to see Blue’s Asian décor, or her wall-sized bookcase.

 

It was a household of achievement.

 

“I grew up in a home where people always had a pencil and a legal pad,” said Darr. “They wanted to open doors that had never been opened. They would say, ‘This is the problem. How are we going to convince the community of such and such?’

 

“We were never allowed to use the terms ‘white people’ and ‘colored people.’ Grandma said it reinforced the battle. And you didn’t sit around the table at night and talk about the race problem. Dinner was a time to be happy and relaxed. If you wanted to do something, you went out and joined an organization that worked toward a goal.”

 

Darr recalled her mother and grandmother as serene personalities, and credits some of their talent for diplomacy from Quaker influence. She said Blue’s grandparents traveled the Underground Railroad to a Quaker settlement of ex-slaves near Cadiz, three hours south of Cleveland near the Ohio River.

 

Darr remembered using the words “thee” and “thou” at home, another possible Quaker connection.

 

Blue was born in Cleveland into a supportive atmosphere. Her cousin, Welcome T. Blue, was one of the city’s top black real estate salesmen with a big house one block away on E. 89th St. Welcome taught Blue to drive – when other male cousins wouldn’t, Darr said – and may have been a financial help.

 

As a young woman, Blue couldn’t afford four years of college in a row. She did one year at Hiram College, 1899-1900, and took other classes at Miami University in Oxford. It was not until 1932 that she received a bachelor’s degree from Western Reserve University. Darr said the graduation procession in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art was joyful.

 

“It was important to other people, too,” she said, “this one brown face walking around the lagoon.”

Blue’s life was full. There were high teas every afternoon at home, football games at Central High (starring her famous place-kicking brother, Joe Blue), the Minerva Book Club, classes in calligraphy and folk-dancing.

 

Blue once took her daughter to a party where bandleader Noble Sissle (best man at Joe Blue’s wedding) and pianist Eubie Blake played. There were annual trips to Oberlin to celebrate the end of slavery, and summer vacations at a tony black resort in Idlewild, Mich.

 

It was no spinster life. Blue once went to a show by fan dancer Sally Rand, “just to see how she got away with it.” And although Blue was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she brewed up ginger beer that her relatives called potent.

 

The frivolity did not obscure the humble bones of her life. In addition to teaching, she organized a Sunday school at St. John AME Church on E. 40th Street. Churches were essential to black lives, with one historian calling them “the only institutions the negro could call his own.”

 

Blue also helped her friend, activist Jane Edna Hunter, manage the Phillis Wheatley Association, a groundbreaking community house for black women. It’s possible that Blue joined Hunter in battling the raging controversy surrounding the formation of the house.

 

Some upper class blacks felt integration was achievable if they worked hard and worked smart within the white community. On the other side, Hunter, a trained nurse, and others, couldn’t just watch as young black women were turned away from the whites-only YWCA. They knew help had to come from somewhere, even if it meant in a segregated institution. The settlement house emerged to change minds and lives.

 

Blue helped deliver babies in her family, and many friends and relatives came by the house just to unburden their hearts.

 

But Blue’s mother did not think her daughter’s life was full in all ways. Two romances ended when one man died of pneumonia, another from tuberculosis. Cornelia felt Blue needed a child, and set out to find her one.

 

She did with Jane Lee Darr, a 2-year-old with pecan skin and blue eyes. Darr’s mother, a friend of a friend, had just gotten divorced. She had no money and no future, and she looked white, which she was, mostly. She knew Blue could give the child a better life.

 

When the adoption was finalized, the parental rights went to Blue’s mother. Then, when she died, the rights went to Blue, a rarity for a single working parent at the time.

 

Darr remembers feeling immediately comfortable with Blue, how Blue touched her small head to calm her, how the house felt immediately like a home. When Darr’s birth mother came back to take her to Cumberland, Md., to see her dying birth grandmother, Blue gave the girl a small, blue bowl to take with her. “She said, ‘You can rub it and you won’t be far away from us.’ “

 

Blue was never angry or out of control with her daughter.

 

“I was mischievous,” said Darr. “I had to leave the table a couple times because you don’t say ‘ain’t’ or ‘honeychile.’ And I loved [saying] that.

 

“But my worst punishment was to go to my room and not eat family dinner. So then it would get late and maybe I’d get some soup and we’d have a talk. Nobody ever went to bed [hurt or angry].”

 

Hints of Blue’s tenderness and her understanding of young people can be found among the items in her manuscript file at the Western Reserve Historical Society. There are references to her favorite books on teaching, which stress the individualism of children. And there are dozens of thank-you notes from former students, filling the file with greeting cards of violets and lilies of the valley.

 

Schools were changing when Blue retired in 1947. At that time, Kusmer noted in his book, “A Ghetto Takes Shape,” there was a trend toward segregating black teachers with black students.

 

The Civil Rights movement confronted that issue and many others in the 1960s. Blacks not only had the vote, they used it to right longstanding wrongs. In 1963, the year Blue died, city schools were overcrowded. Black students were sent to Murray Hill, but kept in classrooms apart from white Little Italy students.

 

A sidewalk protest against the in-school segregation was readied one day in 1964, but never launched. Still, a white mob of 1,500 gathered and, according to news accounts, attacked photographers and black citizens who happened to be driving through the neighborhood.

 

Tension lingered for decades. Blacks complained of discrimination and other mistreatment in restaurants and on the street. Neighborhood residents chafed at visitors or student residents who were too loud, disrespectful or parked in the wrong places.

 

In the 1990s, officials of Case Western Reserve University and Little Italy started meeting to deal with the problems. Reported racial incidents became scarce.

 

While some blacks were still not comfortable in the neighborhood, many more began using it.

 

Then the Little Italy Historical Museum published a history book. It was dedicated to three people: two of the neighborhood’s founding fathers and Bertha Josephine Blue.

 

“She was the first one we thought of,” said museum volunteer Nardolillo. “She was one of us. Everybody liked her so much and she was such a lovely, dedicated teacher, we felt she should get some recognition.”

 

Nardolillo said she also hoped it served as a gesture of reconciliation.

 

Sandra Malek Vodanoff, a historical society volunteer and Lake View Cemetery docent, got a plaque installed at Blue’s gravesite there, telling how much she was loved by the Italian-American community. Teachers of English as a second language helped in the effort.

 

Thelma Pierce, who processed Blue’s file at the historical society, and whose father- in-law, David H., was the first white president of the Cleveland NAACP, said Blue was an exception in Little Italy, but exceptions can light the way to better times.

 

“It’s good if people can say, ‘I love Bertha Blue. That must mean there are other African-Americans I can love, too,’ ” said Pierce.

 

And when that feeling is returned by blacks, Darr said, her family had a name ready for it: “The Feast of Forgiveness.”

The Best Barber in America: George A. Myers

From the Ohio Historical Society Blog

The Best Barber in America: George A. Myers

by David Simmons, TIMELINE editor


Even after his death in 1865, Abraham Lincoln cast a long shadow over the Republican Party. The “party of Lincoln” held the near-universal allegiance of African Americans as the nineteenth century drew to a close and a new century dawned. George A. Myers was a black barber from Cleveland during this era whose counsel was sought by both state and national party leaders. Cleveland scholar John Vacha told his story with “The Best Barber in America” article that appeared in the January 2000 issue of TIMELINE.


Near the end of his life, George Myers drafted a set of recommendations for the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce on improving black conditions in the city. High on his list were issues related to equal pay and segregation as well as giving the race proper recognition “in all public affairs.”


Myers was a native of Baltimore, where his father worked as a shipyard caulker and became the president of the black wing of a national labor union. After finishing high school, Myers was denied entrance into the city college because of his race, and he was forced to learn the barber trade. He moved to Cleveland in 1879 and was soon the foreman of the barbershop in the Weddell House, one of the city’s most prominent hotels. Here he first became acquainted with many of the Forest City’s leading white businessmen. Impressed with his tonsorial skills, a group of these men fronted Myers the money to establish his own shop at the Hollenden Hotel when it opened on Public Square in 1885.


Decorations on the storefront of George A. Myers’s barbershop in the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland made clear his unwavering support of the Republican Party during the 1896 presidential campaign. Myers (second from right) proudly joined his staff on the sidewalk.



The Hollenden was celebrated for its modern and lavish appointments, including electric lights, and it 

quickly became a meeting place for the city’s elite. Myer’s barbershop was in an ideal location, and no fewer than eight presidents and luminaries such as Mark Twin took turns in his chair. It became a “mark of distinction” to have a personal shaving mug on Myers’s own rack. Perhaps most important among those who did was Mark Alonzo Hanna, the shipping and street railway magnate who managed the gubernatorial and presidential campaigns of William McKinley Jr. Myers affectionately dubbed him “Uncle Mark.”


Myers was soon involved in Republican politics, or “the game” as he referred to it. Named a delegate to the 1891 state Republican convention, he helped nominate McKinley to the governor’s office and later worked on his presidential bids in 1892 (failed) and 1896 and 1900 (successful). The barber’s organization of black delegates for McKinley was not limited to Ohio, and he performed similar services in Louisiana and Mississippi. Hanna installed Myers on the state executive committee for the party, where the barber worked to integrate African Americans into the Hanna political machine. In that role, he became the Ohio’s leading politician of his race and a force to be reckoned with in Ohio GOP politics.


With McKinley’s death in 1901 and then Hanna’s in 1904, Myers’s interest in politics waned, and he devoted his attention to improving his barber business. Among the innovations he instituted was telephone service at each of his chairs.


While his influence had diminished, he continued to work behind the scenes as an advocate for equality in wages for African Americans and by denouncing all forms of segregation. He strove to prevent the establishment of a separate city hospital in the 1920s and fought to get equal access for blacks to the city’s hospital facilities and equal employment opportunities for black interns and nurses. City council finally opened the hospital to both in 1930.


When he learned that the Hollenden owner planned to replace his all-black staff with white barbers upon his retirement, Myers remained as the head of his shop even after developing serious health problems. When, on January 17, 1930, he could no longer avoid the inevitable, he worked in the morning and told his staff that he had some important things to discuss with them after lunch. While out, as he purchased a ticket for a southern rest-cure trip, he collapsed and died of heart failure. The strain of finally having to lay his staff off had been too much. George A. Myers was 70 years old.

Wings Over Jordan

from NPR. A story about Wings over Jordon, A Cleveland African-American singing group of the 1930s and 1940s started by Rev. G.T. Settle that appeared on Network Radio and according to Dave Davis of the Plain Dealer…

“traveled the nation during the Jim Crow era and played to sold out audiences everywhere. The group was popular with both blacks and whites and the Rev. Settle refused to allow audiences to be segregated.”

The link is here

The Man Once Known as the Dean. . .Charles Carr

Article written by Mansfield Frazier for the Cleveland Leader, November 11, 2009

The link is here

 

The man once known as the “Dean” … Charlie Carr

 


One summer afternoon, in must have been in 1956 or ’57, as my father was totaling up the money from the day shift waitress in the tavern he owned on Scovill Avenue, he saw my eyes grow wide at the stack of bills he was counting. Growing up, I must have seen him perform this tallying ritual many times before — the difference that time being, I was entering puberty and with a growing interest in the opposite sex, I needed to dress better … thus my growing interest in money. There was this cool pair of Stetson shoes that I wanted to be the first in my school to own. “Son,” he simply said, “those folks down in Washington print way too much of this stuff for a sucker not to have a pile of it.” That was all of the economic advice he ever gave me … and it proved to be all I ever needed.

Just as he was imparting this life lesson to me, his friend, attorney, and business associate of sorts, Charles V. “Charlie” Carr (who also was the Ward 17 city councilman at the time) was walking up to the end of the bar where we were standing, and, overhearing our conversation, took the opportunity to reinforce the message: “Listen to your father, young man, he’s telling you straight … and don’t you ever forget this: The best thing you can do for poor people is to not be one of them.” Then, as if to visually punctuate his comment, he took a large wad of cash out of his pocket and handed it to my father, saying, “From yesterday, count it.”

“No need to Charlie,” my father replied, “but what are you doing dropping off?”
Carr responded, “Lem had to take his mother to the doctor, but I had to come past here on my way down to City Hall anyway … I’ll see you at ward club meeting tonight, right?” he asked as he exited the door.

Now I can’t say for certain, but what I’d most likely had just witnessed was a payout in what insiders called the “digits” business (a euphemistic term for the illegal lottery more commonly known as the “numbers racket”). Virtually everyone in black neighborhoods “played the numbers,” and watering holes doubled as booking parlors. Operators like my father received a cut of the winnings whenever someone “hit.” And someone must have hit big, since there must have been 25 or 30 hundred dollar bills that he fanned before putting them into his safe.
* * *

At that point in his career, after serving over 10 years on Cleveland City Council, Charlie Carr was arguably the most politically powerful black man in Cleveland. He certainly was the most skillful and clever … if not always the most liked and trusted. He’d won his seat from Republican W.O. Walker, then the publisher of the Call & Post newspaper, on his third attempt by making a campaign promise to introduce legislation that would make it virtually impossible for the police to raid and arrest numbers operators. His argument was simple: If Catholic churches could host bingo games and casino nights, why then couldn’t blacks play the numbers without fear of arrest?

There’s a saying that when a smart politician sees a parade forming, he jumps in front and start leading … and that’s exactly what Charlie Carr did in 1947. The May Co. did not hire black sales clerks, but returning black soldiers were demanding change. When the picket lines formed in front of the store black folks were carrying signs that read “Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work.” Carr was one of the organizers of the demonstration, and my mother was one of the women carrying a sign.

Additionally, my father was one of the dozen or so black men — bar owners, numbers runners, and some very tough up-and-coming professional boxers — standing silently across Euclid Avenue (a few with pistols in their pockets) observing. Some of the men brought their children along; I was four years old as I watched history unfold. The white police officers glowered at the knot of black men, and the black men glowered right back. I recall Carr crossing the street to briefly huddle with the black men, and then walking over and speaking with the police officers before going back over to talk to the demonstrators. The term “shuttle diplomacy” had yet to be invented, but Charlie Carr had already mastered it. In less than a week May Co. officials agreed to hire three black sales clerks.

The next month I was among the first group of black kids to ride on the merry-go-round at the previously segregated Euclid Beach Amusement Park, located on Lakeshore Boulevard at E.160th. In 1946 Carr had introduced an ordinance that would make it illegal for amusement park operators to discriminate, and by the summer of ’47, after some protests that turned violent, that battle was also won.

Just as Birmingham, Alabama is rightfully known as the birthplace of the black Civil Rights Movement in America, Cleveland, due in large part to Charlie Carr, can make the claim of being the birthplace of the black political rights movement in this country — the proof being the election of Carl B. Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city in 1967.

Arnold Pinkney, who was Stokes’ campaign manger, states that the victory would not have been possible without Charlie Carr. “After we won, black politicians from all over the country came to Cleveland to learn how we’d pulled it off. We’d take them to talk to Carl, and then to talk to Charlie. They’d sit at his feet, and they’d listen, and they’d learn how to win,” said Pinkney.

Carr worked his magic by building on the tactics developed by Clevelander John O. Holly, a pioneering black organizer of the 30’s and 40’s, and mixing those with the tactics of the civil rights crusaders in the South beginning in the 50’s. He became a master builder of political machinery and learned how to leverage the strength of the small number of black elected officials by making strategic alliances with white politicians … when it suited his purpose. He understood the balance of power. Carr learned early-on that it took money to make the political machinery work, and he was shrewd enough to raise enough of it. The backbone of all political organizations is the precinct committee members — my father was proud to be one — and Carr kept a firm grip on them via money and patronage.

Carr, however, was not without his detractors. As Fred Crosby, a businessman who was a contemporary and close friend of boxing promoter Don King relates, Carr was always the smartest man in the room, and if anyone forgot that fact Carr didn’t mind reminding them. Although he only stood about 5’7” and was slight of build, he tended to dominate any gathering that he was part of.

“I got along with him fine, but not everybody did. One time Charlie was defending D.K. [Don King] and Virgil Ogletree after they got arrested for running a numbers operation,” said Crosby, “and he said in open Court that his clients were ‘just a couple of poor boys from the ghetto who were trying to better themselves in the only way they knew how, and they really are too dumb to be held accountable for their actions, your Honor.’ Both of these guys were probably millionaires by then, and they were mad as hell with Charlie for a long time, but he got them off. The thing was, if you got into a business deal with Charlie, you just might come out OK, but it was guaranteed that Charlie was going to come out OK. Whatever it took to win, he’d do it — I never recall him losing.”

However, in 1975 Carr finally did lose — to the young firebrand Lonnie Burten. Hough councilman David Collier (who was himself fighting off another firebrand in Fannie M. Lewis) recalls: “By then Charlie was 72 years old and wasn’t in the best of health, and he kind of took Burten for granted.” Additionally, while Carr was the master of finesse, Burten was riding the crest of the Black Power movement that was sweeping the nation. He was a brash, loud-talker who organized students at Cleveland State and Tri-C and then trounced Carr 2,521 votes to 1,678.

“Charlie was more than just a great role model and mentor, he was a great man,” said George Forbes. “He truly loved to help up-and-coming black politicians, as well as help the little guy. He believed in the power of the dollar, that’s why he engineered the takeover of Quincy Savings and Loan and turned it into the first black-owned bank in Cleveland … it was part of his life-long effort to make blacks more financially independent.”

Even though he was out of politics, after one of Forbes legendary displays of temper Carr called him and said, “George, quit pissing on every goddamn fireplug you come to.” Forbes says that one comment taught him how to judiciously pick his battles.
About a year after Carr was defeated his wife called Forbes and told him that Charlie was driving her crazy hanging around the house. So Forbes, as City Council president, arranged for Carr to be the first black appointed to the RTA board. “Charlie wasn’t there six months and he was running everything, the whole show,” said Forbes. “They used to get paid by the meeting, and they would meet a couple of times a month. As soon as those white guys put Charlie in charge they began holding all kinds of committee meetings … three, and sometimes four, meetings a week,” Forbes laughed.

Upon Carr’s death in 1987 Carl Stokes paid him the ultimate tribute: “Whatever the problem was, he would try to make the opposing parties see there was something in the solution that each could benefit from. That is the basic fundamental science of politics: compromise. He was the master of it, and I learned so much from him.”