Carl Stokes: Reflections of a veteran political observer by Brent Larkin 11/4/2007

Carl Stokes: Reflections of a veteran political observer

By Brent Larkin, The Plain Dealer November 04, 2007 at 5:52 AM, updated November 04, 2007 at 6:06 AM

The pdf is here

By midnight, all seemed lost. And the mood inside Carl B. Stokes’ downtown headquarters had turned decidedly gloomy.

Destiny was about to deny Stokes what he wanted most — to be the first black elected mayor of a major American city. With 70 percent of the vote counted, Republican Seth Taft had built what seemed an insurmountable lead. As Election Day turned to Wednesday, Taft had pulled in front by 20,000 votes.

It seemed that Stokes, a 40-year-old state representative who had handily defeated incumbent Mayor Ralph Locher in the Democratic primary, would lose the general election to a Republican — in a city with a minuscule Republican population.

Cleveland Press reporter Dick Feagler would write that women wept during this “tense, trying period” when defeat seemed certain.

“A Dixieland band played ‘S’Wonderful,’ but it wasn’t,” described Feagler, adding that for “four hours it appeared Seth Taft had won.”

“There was really a sense of despair,” recalled Anne Bloomberg, at the time a 26-year-old civil rights activist and campaign volunteer. “Our hopes were so high going in, and it looked like it would all be for naught.”

But then it all began to change. Votes from predominantly black, East Side neighborhoods were the last to be counted. Slowly, but inexorably, Taft’s lead began to shrink.

“We had ward-watchers in the neighborhoods and we knew Carl would come back,” recalled Ann Felber Kiggen, Stokes’ campaign scheduler. “When it began to happen, I remember this incredible feeling that swept through the headquarters. People were dancing and holding hands. It was uncontained joy.”

It was 3 a.m. when, with nearly 900 of the city’s 903 precincts reporting, Stokes took the lead for the first time. Out of 250,000 votes cast, he won by 2,500.

Then, as the mayor-elect appeared before about 400 jubilant supports, the room grew quiet when he declared, “I can say to all of you that never before have I known the full meaning of the words, ‘God Bless America.’ ”

In his autobiography, “Promises of Power,” Stokes would later marvel at the magnitude of what happened that night.

In a race for high office, the grandson of a slave had defeated the grandson of a president.

That had never happened before. And it hasn’t happened since.

The Cleveland that elected Carl B. Stokes mayor was a far cry from than the one that chose Michael R. White as the city’s second black mayor 22 years later — and light years removed from the one that elected Frank Jackson in 2005.

In 1967, Cleveland was still a top-10 city, with a population north of 750,000 — nearly 300,000 more than today. Because race was as much a factor in city politics then as it is now, Stokes’ election was all the more remarkable; the city’s black population was only about 35 percent then. Today, that figure surpasses 53 percent.

To defeat Seth Taft, a decent man with a magic name who would later serve with distinction as a Cuyahoga County commissioner, Stokes needed white votes — lots of them.

“We knew we had to broaden our base on the west and south sides,” recalled Charlie Butts, Stokes’ brainy, 25-year-old campaign manager fresh out of Oberlin College. “But we had to be careful not to give the appearance of running different campaigns in different parts of town.”

To give his campaign legitimacy, Stokes desperately needed support from whites in corporate boardrooms and city neighborhoods. He got it from this newspaper, which endorsed him on the front page.

He got it from people like Bob Bry, a vice president of Otis Elevator who organized a group of business leaders to take out newspaper ads on Stokes’ behalf.

“I was a registered Republican, but my sympathies were with what Carl was trying to do,” said Bry, now 84 and living in Florida. “Some business leaders were bothered by it. But no one ever said anything to my face.”

He got it from people like Ann and Joe McManamon — and hundreds of others like them — who paid a price for welcoming Stokes into their living rooms and churches.

“There were recriminations,” remembered Ann McManamon. “We got some very hateful phone calls. It got a quite nasty. But our friends stuck with us and were supportive.”

Nearly one in five whites voted for Stokes — which meant he needed nearly nine out of every 10 black votes.

To win those votes, Stokes built a political organization that, to this day, serves as a model for black candidates across the country. It was a base that relied heavily on churches, ward leaders and a grass-roots field operation that extensively schooled street captains on how to maximize turnout.

That same base later enabled Stokes’ brother, Lou, to become an institution in Congress. It helped make former City Council President George Forbes powerful and wealthy. And it twice brought Arnold Pinkney to the brink of becoming Cleveland’s second black mayor.

It was a base built to last — and last it did.

“All around the country — in places like Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago — black candidates copied what Carl was able to achieve in Cleveland,” said his brother. “What made it special was that it was done so well and had never been done before.”

There was no blueprint for electing a black mayor of a major American city. So Stokes drew his own.

“He had a plan on how to win, and he never strayed from it,” said Forbes. “In his prime, there was none better — none.”

Stokes won re-election in 1969, but did not seek a third term in 1971, leaving soon after for New York, where he was a television anchor and later a reporter for NBC. Over the years, Stokes gave various reasons for his decision not to seek a third term, but he was clearly tired of the constant struggles involved in leading a big city with mounting problems.

Stokes record as mayor was decidedly mixed. He brought a sense of fairness to the city’s hiring practices, helped raise the level of social services, and aggressively fought to improve housing conditions. But Stokes fought repeatedly with City Council, and revelations that some funds from a poverty-fighting program he founded went to nationalists involved in the killing of police in the Glenville riots significantly eroded his popularity.

Upon his return to Cleveland in 1980, Stokes found that the new political stars were his brother and Forbes. In 1983, he became a Municipal Court judge — an important position that lacked the high profile of a powerful congressman and council president. There were also some troubling and embarrassing moments. Stokes engaged in some high-profile political fights with onetime allies and was twice accused of shoplifting — he paid restitution on one charge and was acquited of another.

But none of what happened later detracts from the significance of what Stokes achieved in 1967.

Many black leaders in the ’60s aspired to be Cleveland’s mayor, but only one ever stood a chance.

“Only one person could have built that base,” said Pinkney. “Only one person had the charisma, the experience and the drive to win. Back then, it took a special talent for a black to be elected mayor. And only Carl had that talent. ”

Stokes was not a civil rights leader. He was a politician. And four decades later, Pinkney and others still speak with a sense of awe of Stokes’ political gifts. Charles Butts thinks Stokes was born with “an intellect, understanding and chemistry that allowed him to connect to voters” in ways almost unprecedented. Forbes volunteers that Stokes “had the whole package — looks, the charm and one of the sharpest political minds I’ve ever seen.” Ann Felber Kiggen says he was “the most charismatic man anyone could hope to ever meet.”

In his book, Stokes wrote that he considered the 1965 campaign for mayor, in which he narrowly lost to Locher in the Democratic primary, “the high point of my career.”

He was mistaken. The 1965 campaign energized Stokes’ base. And it set the table for what would follow. But it paled, compared to what would happen two years later.

For all his winning ways, Stokes was also the most complex politician I ever dealt with. He could be warm and witty one day, your enemy the next.

On Jan. 30, 1996, we visited over lunch at an East Side restaurant. He knew by then that his fight with cancer of the esophagus was one he couldn’t win.

As Stokes picked at food he could barely swallow, he spoke with no rancor as he reminisced about those days of glory that landed him on the cover of Time magazine. He wasn’t finished looking ahead, either: He eagerly agreed to meet with a group of young journalists at this newspaper to talk about how the political process affects minorities, and we chose a date in February.

But when the day came, he was too ill. By early April, he was gone.

He had long before kept the date that mattered most, though. That was the one back in 1967 that made him, in the sense of history, immortal.

Brent Larkin is director of The Plain Dealer’s editorial pages

“The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever” by Michael D. Roberts


Seth Taft Congratulates Carl Stokes in 1967 (Cleveland Memory)

The pdf is here

The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever

By Michael D. Roberts

That autumn in Cleveland was crisp and colorful with low clouds, high expectations and an anxious electorate.  With the season, came the wonder whether the city could look beyond race and elect a black man as its mayor. It had never been done in a major American city. The world wondered whether it could be done.

            By 1967, race had been the dominant issue in Cleveland since the beginning of the decade, first with demonstrations against what minorities considered a segregated school system, and then with a riot that left four dead and required the Ohio National Guard to quell four days of looting and violence. 

In the wake of the Hough riot in the summer of 1966, an ominous apprehension settled over the city. Those venturing to the eastern parts of the town did so warily for sporadic gunfire was a common occurrence. A policeman had been ambushed in his zone car and killed. A black student was murdered near Murray Hill.

Downtown, the business community grew apprehensive. For years, the city had ignored the quality of life among the growing black population, which had migrated here from the south to work at jobs created by three wars. The housing was dilapidated, the schools inadequate, and the future bleak.

The anger created by these conditions was manifested in the demonstrations and finally in the riot.  

In the midst of the turmoil, the emerging black political figure was Carl B. Stokes, a lawyer who had grown up in poverty, and had worked as a liquor agent and then was elected to the Ohio state legislature. Stokes ran for mayor in 1965 and met narrow defeat at the hand of incumbent Mayor Ralph Locher.

Locher was one of a long line of mayors who rose from the neighborhoods and represented the ethnic politics that had bound the city for two decades.  The hallmark of ethnic politics was a numbing status quo that rendered the city somnambulate.  

All was not well as the city prepared for the 1967 mayor’s race in which Locher would try to retain his office and once again face the charismatic Stokes and his growing number of East Side followers who registered to vote in multitudes.

The last minute appearance of Stokes in the 1967 Democratic primary was a change from the strategy that saw him run as an independent in the 1965 election.  Several other veteran politicians measured their chances in the primary and opted out with the exception of Frank Celeste, who had made a name for himself as the mayor of Lakewood.

The Locher administration found itself embattled following the 1965 election.  A failing urban renewal program and the riot had attracted the attention of a national media that had become so critical that Locher refused to speak with out of town reporters.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called Cleveland the Vietnam of urban renewal and ceased funding the city’s program.  The local media piled on to criticize the Locher administration with acid regularity, bemoaning a city hall that had seemingly lost its course

Conversely, the appearance of Stokes in the primary attracted the attention of not only the national media, but the international as well. As the primary campaign shifted into gear, it was clear that Stokes was becoming a political persona of some dimension.

And finally, when The Plain Dealer endorsed his candidacy in a surprising editorial, Stokes in his own words was legitimized. That attention magnified when he defeated Locher in the primary by 18,231 votes.

Now the stage was set for one of the most dramatic and interesting mayoral races in Cleveland history. It would feature Stokes against Republican Seth Taft whose political heritage included a U.S. president, William Howard Taft, and a U.S. Senator, Robert Taft.

Seth Taft was a lawyer in a prominent Cleveland law firm, and was an ardent supporter of regional government. He did not match up well with Stokes when it came to personality or oratory skills. No one questioned his honesty, competency and dedication, but he was a suburban interloper from Pepper Pike.

What Taft needed most was name recognition in the city. He had to position himself as close to Stokes as he could in order to challenge his opponent’s knowledge of the Cleveland and the government that ran it. Taft was a student of government process.

He also was a decided underdog as an early poll showed him getting only 16.4% of the vote in a race with Stokes who could expect 49.2%. Of those polled, the rest were undecided or said they would not vote.

At the heart of both campaigns was a series of debates that would showcase the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.  Taft wanted debates on specific issues, but Stokes wanted a more free-wheeling approach, which would emphasize his oratory skills.

But lurking behind any topic that a debate might feature, was the factor of race. Robert Bennett, who was Taft’s campaign manager, remembers a meeting in which the candidate told the staff that he would not tolerate the use of race in any aspect of his campaign.

The Stokes campaign made the same vow, but the circumstances involved, and the historic nature of the event, made the approach different.  It had to make white voters think beyond the color of the candidate’s skin—to the man himself.

Both candidates needed the debates to legitimize them as potential leaders and gain the support of the business community, the grassroots and perhaps most of all, the newspapers.  The debates would be the proving ground for attracting the necessary support to win.

The Stokes victory over Locher had a transcendent effect on his campaign for now the weight of the Democratic Party, which had been reluctant to embrace him, unified with a mighty rally at Public Music Hall which sent an ominous warning to the Taft camp.

In the wake of the spirited moment, the candidates agreed on four debates with the last being the traditional City Club confrontation that generally was considered the final argument in Cleveland mayoral contests.

Meanwhile, the ranks of visiting journalists were swelling with arrivals from Germany, Holland, Italy, England and elsewhere. They descended on their local counterparts, searching for insights into the race like soothsayers studying tea leaves.

The fall was electric with anticipation and excitement. There was never anything like it in recent memory and media covered every machination in the campaign, including the baby elephant that the Taft camp had hired to tout its candidate.

            The first debate was held on the black East Side at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School, which Taft selected to thrust himself into the midst of Stokes country.   The evening was unseasonably hot as the two met for their first duel.  The auditorium was full and the debate was broadcast to an estimated 100,000 television viewers.

            The media had cloaked the confrontation in drama, and the evening took on the allure of a sporting event.

            But for all the tense expectation, the night turned out to be a bust for Taft, who was no match for the elusive Stokes who dodged and weaved through the debate as the boxer he once was. Stokes painted Taft as an intruder in Cleveland, a “carpetbagger” from Pepper Pike, which he contrasted to embattled Hough. He noted repeatedly that Taft lived in a house with seven bedrooms.

            Taft responded weakly, noting that Carl Stokes had no programs designed to meet the growing urban problems. Later, Taft acknowledged to his staff that the debate had been a disaster for him.

            And then, two nights later, in the second debate on the white West Side at John Marshall High School, Carl Stokes, basking in triumph, made a mistake that would suck the momentum from his campaign.  It showed how combustible the race issue was.

            Taft did so poorly in the first debate that he had attracted a sympathetic following that viewed Stokes as being arrogant and overbearing to his opponent. That was the background on which the miscalculation played out.

            The white West Side crowd at the second debate was disposed to Taft, especially when he opened with a condemnation of Stokes, citing his arrogance, belligerence and bravado. The audience responded with cheers and applause.

            When Stokes took the podium and proceeded to ridicule Taft for living in a mansion in Pepper Pike, he was roundly taunted to the point that the crowd interrupted his prepared speech.  And then he made the mistake that made the campaign a neck and neck race.

            “I am going to be brutally frank with you—and brutally frank with Seth Taft, Stokes said. “….Seth Taft may win the November 7th election for only one reason.  That reason is that his skin happens to be white.”

            The remark had the effect of a bomb. The auditorium reverberated with noise and anger as the crowd hollered in protest. Taft sat dumbfounded, stunned that his opponent would open up himself to the race issue in such a blatant manner.

            And then, in what would be the best moment of his campaign, Taft rose and said: “It seems that the race issue is with us.  If I say something on the subject it is racism. If Carl Stokes says something it is fair play.”

            With that, Taft held up a full page newspaper ad for Carl Stokes. In huge type was the crying pronouncement:

 DON’T VOTE FOR A NEGRO, vote for a man. Let’s do Cleveland Proud! What has Cleveland done that makes us so proud? Nominated a Negro for mayor!  Do yourself proud by electing one.

            The reaction to the introduction of the race issue was so vehement that Stokes’ campaign manager, Dr. Kenneth Clement, was quoted as saying that he wished there was a third candidate that he could vote for. He predicted that if his candidate continued to dedicate his campaign to race he would lose.

            The following day results of the Stokes blunder began to flow into Taft headquarters in the form of money and pledges of support, which energized the campaign staff in a way no other event could.  The problem was that the polls still reflected poorly on the Taft effort.

            Taft began to chide Stokes, telling voters and reporters that people were beginning to see through the guile and charm the candidate brandished to find the man had no substance. He accused Stokes of avoiding him at neighborhood meetings.

            A third debate, held downtown at St. John’s College on Thursday, October 19, proved to be so uninspiring that it received little or no news coverage.

            Carl Stokes was not only facing Taft in the race, he began to struggle against the indifference of key supporters like the Democratic Party and labor which offered lip service but in the campaign trenches did little.  Racism was at work like an unseen gas it wafted through the city.

            Taft was beginning to annoy Stokes, who had a temper that when unchecked appeared to alter his personality.  Taft’s continuous harassment, that his opponent had no real program or agenda for city hall, was beginning to bother Stokes both emotionally and politically. The once insurmountable lead that he held over Taft was eroding.

            The planned final debate was the traditional City Club meeting which took place the Saturday before the election. That was too late.  Taft another shot at the wounded Stokes.  He needed another debate.

Both candidates sensed the need for an extra debate, but for different reasons. Taft needed recognition as a legitimate candidate and Stokes had to show that he had the intellectual wherewithal to bring change and performance to city hall.  They agreed to the extra debate which turned out to be as anticlimactic as yesterday’s newspaper.

The candidates needled each other on Saturday, October 28, at the Music Hall an afternoon when most of the television audience was watching Notre Dame lose to Michigan State in an important football game for the national championship ranking.

On top of that, the debate was less than newsworthy, a tedious recitation of tired charges and overused rebuttals. But there was a noticeable change in the manner in which Stokes carried himself.

            As the race began to conclude Stokes was trying a different strategy. He was toning down his style, hoping to appear more reflective and above the brawling rhetoric that had marked his entry into the campaign. His earlier reference to race had been a calculated effort to get the issue out in the open early. Now his advisers feared that Taft supporters, outside of the official campaign, were employing whispering tactics and using race against Stokes.

            On the first of November, a Wednesday, The Plain Dealer published a poll with stunning results. It showed Stokes receiving 50.14% of the vote and Taft, 49.86%. Taft had gained substantially, and with the election just six days off, the final debate at the City Club loomed as large as any that had taken place in the citadel of free speech, as the club bills itself.   

            That Saturday, November fourth, the debate was held at the Hotel-Sheraton Cleveland (now the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel) to take advantage of its spacious ballroom. Taft came out aggressively calling his opponent an absentee Democrat, an absentee legislator and implying that he would become an absentee mayor as well.

            Stokes, his emotions in check, carefully outlined his plans as mayor and stuck to his prepared text, ignoring Taft’s barbs. The Stokes camp was tense, for every time the candidate wandered from carefully prepared remarks, he got himself in trouble.  This time he persevered and delivered the last major blow of the campaign.

            The very last question that Taft presented to Stokes was a reference to his less than stellar attendance record in the legislature.  Stokes paused for a moment and then reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter and read it.

            “The reports I hear of your performance in Columbus are excellent and I congratulate you on the job.”

It was signed by Seth Taft.

Three days later Carl Stokes was elected the mayor of the City of Cleveland by a vote of 129,396 to 127,717. The count went well into the early morning hours and only in the end was it clear that Stokes was the winner. He garnered only 15% of the white vote but it was enough to tip the election his way.

            Afterwards, the two opponents had a private meeting and cleared the air of the animosity that had accumulated during the campaign.

            Meanwhile, as that November hardened into winter, a sense of decency and pride descended like gentle snow  upon  the town. The election of Carl Stokes was one of the most triumphant moments in Cleveland history and a major national civil rights achievement. The town deserved to be proud as did the world.

Michael D. Roberts was a Plain Dealer reporter in 1967 and covered the entire Stokes-Taft campaign. At the conclusion of the race he wrote a lengthy account of the race with the reporting of William C. Barnard and James M. Naughton. The newspaper recognized the historical moment and devoted resources and an enormous amount of space in its Sunday Magazine on December 10, 1967. The original Sunday Magazine piece is here

For more on Carl Stokes click here

Hough Riots from Wikipedia

The link is here

Hough Riots

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Hough Riots were race riots in the predominantly African American community of Hough (pronounced “Huff”) in Cleveland, Ohio that took place over a six-night period from July 18 to July 23, 1966. During the riots, four African Americans were killed and 30 people were critically injured. In addition, there were 275 arrests, while more than 240 fires were reported.

They shared underlying causes of social problems with other racial riots. The riots caused more people (and jobs) to leave the area, which suffered decades ofdisinvestment. Since the late 1990s, there has been some redevelopment.



The riots[edit]

A mural painted on the side of the African American Museum depicts the Hough riots, the civil rights movementand a family looking towards a bright new future for the city and the community.

On July 18, 1966, at dusk, someone posted a sign outside the 79’ers bar, situated on the southeast corner of E.79th Street and Hough Avenue. The sign read, “No Water For Niggers”. Adding to the volatility of the situation, the bar manager and a hired hand, both white, patrolled the front of the bar, armed with shotguns.[1] An African American woman described as a “prostitute” was seeking money for charity. An altercation occurred and she was told to leave.[citation needed] Later, an African American man entered the building and bought a bottle of wine. When he asked for a glass of water, he was told that blacks were not being served.[2]

Soon after, a crowd of about fifty people gathered outside. The Cleveland Police Department arrived, in force, to defuse the situation. The presence of the CPD only intensified the crowd’s anger.[1] As angry crowds gathered over a 23-block area, chants of “Black Power” were followed by the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails[citation needed], bringing more than 300 police and firemen.

Racial tension was high between Cleveland’s police and African American community. The arrival of police precipitated gunfire, as well as brick-throwing by angry residents. The police shot out some street lights and asked drivers to turn off their car lights to limit possible targets by snipers.[citation needed]

Joyce Arnett, a black 26-year-old mother of three, was shot dead when she called from a window, as she was trying to get permission to go home and check on her children.[1]

The next day, Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes activated 1,600 local members of the National Guard, but they did not arrive in Cleveland until 11:00 p.m. The Hough area became quiet after the troops were deployed. An attempt by Cleveland Mayor Ralph S. Locher to limit potential violence by closing local bars and taverns at 6:00 p.m. did not succeed. Arsonists attacked abandoned houses and commercial buildings.[citation needed]

Percy Giles, a black 38-year-old divorced father of two, became the second victim of the violence. He was shot and killed while on his way to help a friend protect his business. In all, 77 people were arrested that night. Fire alarms kept firemen busy through the night.

On the third night of violence, the heavy presence of police and guardsmen helped push the rioting to the southern and northeastern parts of the area. Five people were wounded, including a woman and her two young children.

On the fourth night, Sam Winchester, a 54-year-old black man, was killed while walking to a bus stop. While he lay dying, Winchester told police that he had been shot by whites who targeted him from a passing vehicle.

As the uprising was winding down, rumors fostered tension in the Mayfield Road-Murray Hill section, known locally as “Little Italy“. Though the section was located some 40 city blocks from the Hough epicenter and already covered by heavy National Guard patrols, Little Italy’s residents had armed themselves and organized a system of patrols. Fears were projected in rumors. There was a rumor of a “sniper” on a roof just outside the neighborhood. When two youths injured themselves by accidentally firing a shotgun, it was reported as “two white boys shot by Negroes”.

A trio of white men shot 29-year-old Benoris Toney, a black man sitting in his car in a nearby Euclid Avenue lumber yard. During the ensuing investigation and trial, triggerman Warren LaRiche claimed that Toney had pointed a gun at them. LaRiche was acquitted of murder charges by an all-white jury on the grounds of self-defense.[3]

Heavy rains on July 24 helped put an end to the violence, though it did nothing to end the animosity between area residents and police. In addition, during the most heated moments of the uprising, Cleveland Chief of Police Richard Wagner had claimed that countless bombs had been built by a Hough area group. Mayor Locher did not support the claim.

During the riots, police and city administrators believed they noticed an increasing level of organization. Police Chief Richard Wagner stated that the rioting of the third night “definitely seemed more organized than the last two nights.” In the later stages of the riot, police were ordered to record out-of-state license numbers to try to identify outside agitators.[2]

Post-riot commentary[edit]

The underlying cause of the riot, which occurred during a period of racial riots in major cities across the United States, was a failure by Cleveland city government to address a combination of local issues, resulting in the area’s nickname as “Rough Hough”. Loss of jobs due to restructuring of heavy industry had begun, undercutting the economic gains of many Blacks. The loss of jobs and businesses reduced the city’s tax base and its ability to respond to social needs.

The city had been slow to begin to integrate its police department, which had few black officers. Recently there had been incidents of alleged racially motivatedpolice brutality. As only 165 of Cleveland’s 2,200 police officers were African American, the Black community tended to distrust the police.[4]

Middle-class blacks had begun to move out of the city, as they took advantage of new freedoms in housing due to civil rights legislation. While freedom in housing was positive, the migration of middle-class blacks from the city also meant a loss of density in population, and often a loss of jobs and businesses that had formerly been an integral part of Black neighborhoods.

Persistent poverty and unemployment among those who remained in Hough, an associated high crime rate, and poor living conditions contributed to the rioting. Landlords increasingly lived outside the neighborhood and took little interest in maintaining their properties. The city had no means to enforce maintenance of properties. The area’s tax base began to erode, as did city services.[5]

Earlier in the year, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who was serving as a commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, had stated that conditions in the area were “the worst I had seen”. The commission had urged city leaders to be more understanding of the needs of the community, but Cleveland mayor Ralph Locher disputed its findings.

Alleged Communist Party involvement[edit]

On August 10, 1966, a grand jury reported its findings as to the root causes of the riots. The jury stated:

“The jury finds that the outbreak of lawlessness and disorder was both organized, precipitated and exploited by a relatively small group of trained and disciplined professionals at the business. They were aided and abetted, willingly or otherwise, by misguided people of all ages and colors, many of whom are avowed believers in violence and extremism, and some of whom are either members or officers of the Communist Party.”

Although the findings of the grand jury satisfied many in the city, the editor of the Cleveland Press wrote that its conclusions were “dangerous to believe”…”because once the community assigns the Hough looting, shooting, burning, and hell-raising to a traveling band from Havana or Peking, the door will be open for another riot.”

Another panel, however, determined that the underlying causes of the riots could be found in the social conditions that existed in the ghettos of Cleveland. Many African-American residents in this part of Cleveland believed that the city, state, and Federal government officials were not meeting their needs. It also found that the residents of Little Italy had strong feelings of territoriality and overreacted to rumors of violence, leading to their own murder of an innocent black man.[4]Contemporary historical analyses of the causes of the riot do not find evidence for claims of communist influence.[6]

Bertram Gardner stated that the conclusion of Communist influence was an attempt by city leaders to distance themselves from contributions which they may have made to the conditions precipitating the riot.[citation needed] Extensive investigation by the FBI, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and U. S. Attorney Merle McCurdy determined that no outside agitators instigated the disorder.[citation needed]

Since the early 1960s, J. Edgar Hoover had directed the FBI to pursue Communist links to the Civil Rights Movement.[7] In the FBI’s annual 1967 annual the FBI persisted in drawing general links between Communists and urban unrest:

“Exploitation of racial unrest in the United States continues to be a major program of the Communists. During the year, the party issued numerous directives through its National Negro Commission instructing members to participate in the civil rights movement and to be alert to the provocation of militant action among Negroes.”[8]

In 1967 the FBI also released a report titled “Report: W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs of America.” In the report, they stated that during the riot in the Hough area of Cleveland, four members of the Du Bois Club, a communist youth organization, were detained by the Ohio National Guard. Communist literature was found in a search of their automobile. Later, two of the four were arrested by Cleveland police and charged with obstructing police officers.[9] In 1967 Phillip Abbot Luce, a former member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA), published his book “Road to Revolution”, in which he claimed a role by the Communist Party in the Hough Riots, as well as other riots in the United States during the same time period.[10]

Afro Set involvement[edit]

Following the arrest in 1968 of several of its leaders on suspicion of instigating a Cleveland-area riot, the Nationalist Party for Self Defense of New Libya was forced to disband. A Cleveland-based Black nationalist organization, Afro Set was considered extremist and violent by the FBI. The FBI was of the opinion that Afro Set “advocated hatred of white people and ‘outside’ authority and had as its main goal the complete takeover and control of Cleveland’s black community.” The FBI therefore considered Afro Set a “threat to the internal security of this country.” [11]

In December 1970, the FBI initiated a formal investigation of Afro Set based on information that the organization was “making plans to foment[ ] or stimulate[ ] racial disturbances.” Second Superneau Decl. WW 9, 12. In particular, the FBI suspected Afro Set of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 2383 (rebellion or insurrection), 2384 (seditious conspiracy), and 2385 (advocating overthrow of the government).[12] Contemporary commentators do not attribute Afro Set with a role in sparking the Hough Riots, although it is documented that Afro Set was active in Cleveland at the time.[13]

Ahmed Evans, one of the Afro Set leaders gained publicity in a Wall Street Journal report on racial tensions in Cleveland, published in spring after the Hough riots. The article started “To Ahmed, the high priest of Negro militancy here, the white man is the ‘beast’ to be overcome.” The article continued “He predicts May 9th will be the ‘terrible day’ that the anger of the city’s black ghetto erupts into violence.” Carl Stokes described Evans as a petty hustler who spouted revolutionary nonsense in order to build a following.[14]


The Hough Riots left the community with physical and emotional scars that would take a long time to begin to heal. The stigma of the riots depressed property values for decades below those found in surrounding black neighborhoods.[15] The attempts of residents who remained to redevelop their neighborhood were stymied by public and economic policies that led to further disinvestment.[16]

As in many American inner-cities, both black and white residents fled the area, causing depopulation through the 1970s, 80s and 90s.[5] The riot served as a wake-up call. The Hough Area Development Corporation was formed to stimulate investment in the neighborhood, but it did not survive long.[17] It would take another generation before social and economic forces played out enough for a revival to begin. Not until the late 1990s did the Community Development Corporations (CDCs) begin to play an important role in redevelopment of the neighborhood.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. a b c The Night They burned Old Hough By Walter Johnson.
  2. a b; padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; “>Hough Riots By Lakritz. Published 1968
  3. ^ Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising Todd M. Michney Journal of Urban History, Vol. 32, No. 3, 404-428 (2006)
  4. a b “Hough Riots”., Ohio History Central
  5. a b Hough Heritage
  6. ^ Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising Todd M. Michney Journal of Urban History, Vol. 32, No. 3, 404-428 (2006)
  7. ^ Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  8. ^ Congress. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). “Subversive Influences in Riots, Looting, and Burning”
  9. ^ “CIA, FBI, and Government Documents – FBI Documents, African American Involvement in the Vietnam War
  10. ^ “Road To Revolution: Communist Guerrilla Warfare in the USA” by Luce, Phillip Abbott, 1967, Viewpoint Books, San Diego, CA.
  11. ^ See Second Declaration of Regina M. Superneau 12 [hereinafter Second Superneau Decl.]
  12. ^ Williams Donald v. FBI
  13. ^ see, Julian Gladstone, Never climbed his mountain, Infinity, 2002, pg.235
  14. ^ Diana Tittle, Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban Strategy, Ohio State University Press, 1992, pg.172-173
  15. ^ A neighborhood-level view of riots, property values, and population loss: Cleveland 1950–1980 Explorations in Economic History Volume 44, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 365-386
  16. ^ Daniel Kerr, “We Know What the Problem Is”, Oral History Review, Winter/Spring 2003, Vol. 30, No. 1, Pages 27–45
  17. ^ Hough
  18. ^; padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; “>W. Dennis Keating, “The Dilemma of Old, Urban Neighborhoods”, 1999