Getting by Together: African American-Jewish Interactions in Cleveland 1900-1938 by John Baden

These articles are based on this 2011 Master’s Degree Thesis written by John Baden. The thesis is here (4.3mg pdf download)

RESIDUAL NEIGHBORS JEWISH-AFRICAN AMERICAN INTERACTIONS IN CLEVELAND FROM 1900 to 1970

Part 1

(part 2 is here)

Getting by Together: African American-Jewish Interactions in Cleveland 1900-1938

by John Baden

Although there are many excellent works of Cleveland history, they tend to portray its ethnic groups in isolation from one another; as do Cleveland’s numerous ethnic events and landmarks. Despite widespread racism and segregation, though, ethnic groups often interacted with and relied on each other. This essay examines some of the once widespread interactions between African Americans and Jews in Cleveland proper between 1900 and 1938. While some interactions between African Americans and Jews were deliberate (especially partnerships created to combat racism), most were unintentional products of daily life. Yet, as we will see, historical forces profoundly shaped even the most mundane interactions like going to the store.

Large-scale African American – Jewish interactions began in the early nineteenth century. Prior to this time, African Americans and Jews had miniscule populations in the city. Jews, on the other hand entered Cleveland in large numbers during the late eighteenth century and twentieth century.  By 1910, there were 60,000 Jews in Cleveland and only 8,448 African Americans.[1] On the eve of World War I (1910-14), most of the city’s African Americans and Jews congregated around Central Avenue, which is located just east of downtown. The neighborhood that bears this avenue’s name, Central, was a diverse and integrated urban community. Apart from being home to the largest number of Jews and African Americans, it was also home to Big Italy and other ethnic groups as well.[2] Thus, residents needed to interact with each other at neighborhood institutions like grocery stores for sustenance.

baden-fig-1

Figure 1 A mapquest.com map of Cleveland’s Central neighborhood.

Each migrant brought with them the talents and trades they acquired in their previous home. The capital and social status each person brought with them to the neighborhood often influenced their interactions with others. Some of these trades like small-scale store managing transferred well to life in urban Cleveland. Others, like agriculture or mining were much harder to convert into a viable trade in such a dense urban environment. Anti-Semitic laws made it rare for Jews to engage in agricultural work in Europe, while African Americans had been forced to perform it for several centuries. Although most Jews were not wealthy, a few brought significant wealth with them to the country, and invested in community programs like the Hebrew Free Loan Association. These all gave Jews a number of assets that allowed many of them to transition into life in Cleveland more successfully than many other groups. Before long, many Jews had found success in the retail and the garment industry. African Americans, on the other hand, had few of these advantages, and faced even more discrimination, which shackled social mobility for most.  Despite these differences, African Americans and Jews often lived in the same neighborhoods for much of the early twentieth century.

 

 Because of the aforementioned advantages many Jews had, African American – Jewish relations often unfolded as client-patron relationships. African Americans often relied on Jewish leaders for commercial goods, credit, jobs, political patronage, and “protection” in the underground economy. Many Jews in Cleveland, in turn, relied on African American customers and employees at their establishments for their livelihoods.  

World War I was a turning point for African American-Jewish interactions. The war caused great labor shortages, and factory owners began employing African Americans. After this, thousands of Southern African Americans left their homes for new ones in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. Consequently for African American – Jewish relations, African Americans entered Central in large numbers at the very time (roughly 1914-1925) most Jews were leaving.[3] Most Jews had lived there for some time, and were now able to move on to better neighborhoods by the 1920s. Their residences were then occupied by African American migrants from the South who became the area’s new residents, and customers.[4] Many Jews who left Central, however, held on to assets and businesses that they operated in their old neighborhood. This included many grocery stores, shops, and property. For example, 62-73 percent of grocers on Central Avenue were still Jewish in 1920, and 45.5 to 58 percent in 1930, after most Jews had left the neighborhood.[5] Prejudice from white society in general made it very difficult for African Americans to open competitive institutions. As a result, African Americans continued to use Jewish-owned services in the neighborhood, ensuring such businesses would be profitable for decades after most Jews had moved out.

Selling conditions in segregated communities were not consumer friendly. Unfortunately, prices were often high for the quality of goods or property rendered. For instance housing prices were high, largely because non-Jewish whites had shut African Americans out of most of the city’s housing market, and refused loans to African Americans. Therefore, supply was short for commodities and services in high demand. Like nearly everyone who owned property or stores, most people in Central probably sold for the highest price they could.  It was a coincidence of history and socioeconomic factors, that Jews owned much of Central’s businesses and property, and were disproportionately selling to African Americans.  In effect, Jewish business and property owners often became middlemen between African Americans and white Christian society.[6]

Patron-client relationships between Jews and African Americans also developed in the spheres of politics and organized crime. Until African Americans had enough voters to elect their own councilmen, Republican political boss Maurice Maschke (who was Jewish) developed a patronage partnership with several notable African Americans.  Maschke allied with vice-king Albert “Starlight” Boyd, an African American, to deliver black votes to the Republican Party in exchange for modest patronage and other favors. Maschke also supported African American Thomas W. Fleming’s successful bids for city council and allowed Fleming to dispense a modest amount of patronage into the black community. In turn, Maschke played a role as an advocate for the Republican Party to take a stronger civil rights stand, and played a role in the appointment of Fleming’s wife, Lethia to the Republican National Executive Committee and Colored Women’s Bureau of the Republican National Committee.[7] 

The client-patron relationship between African Americans and Jews also extended to organized crime. Aspiring criminals in Central had to either push out existing crime networks or become their clients. One of the most contested under-ground niches during the 1930s was the “numbers “racket in Central’s African American economy. Somewhat mirroring the Maschke-Boyd relationship mentioned above, Jewish American crime boss Shondor Birns helped bring African American numbers runners and prostitution workers under his patronage. At this time, Birns represented the Cleveland mafia which was a product of a merger between the local Jewish criminal syndicate and local Italian mafia.  Around 1932, Birns helped secure an agreement where the Cleveland mafia would no longer harass African American numbers runners and secure police protection for them in exchange for a forty percent take in gambling operations and three dollars a week from each prostitute.[8][9] This arrangement appears to have lasted until the 1950s. 

These examples in the underworld demonstrate that many African Americans who interacted with one another often did so for self-interest. Most were likely making the most of a situation that prejudice had dealt them. Shondor Birns, for example, grew up as an impoverished orphan, and in many ways was a victim of the generations of anti-Semitism that wrecked devastating poverty on many Jews. In the United States, though, lighter skin tone and a measure of social acceptance allowed many Jewish-Americans to earn a living by rendering services to an ethnic group more marginalized than themselves. Similarly, African American gangsters did not necessarily “choose” to be Birns’s clients. The existing mafia, however, had too many weapons, political alliances, and connections with drug suppliers for African Americans to compete. Therefore, African Americans gangsters became clients of “off-white” patrons in order to scratch out a living in a racist society. As had been the case in commercial and political spheres, Jews often served as “middlemen” between white society and the marginalized African American community.[10] 

Although the patron-client relationship that developed in Cleveland and other cities throughout the North helped many African Americans with services, some grew resentful of their predicament. Racism continued to severely limit most African Americans’ opportunity, and most likely believed they would no longer need “middlemen” if racism ended. Evidence suggests that most of these critics acknowledged Jews had not created the situation, but resented that the profits made from such arrangements.[11]  

            Cleveland’s African American newspaper, The Call & Post, offered complaints about relying on non-African American businesses throughout the 1930s. One article for example complained that the lack of African American businesses in Cleveland meant that African Americans would receive little benefit from the upcoming nation Elks Lodge convention. The columnist stated, “the Jew…in his typical way will foresee the coming of the Elk money and start planning for them…while the colored man will sit by watching him.” Thus, African Americans needed to “open up a decent colored night club where we and the Elks can go so we can stop patronizing the Jew who in reality want us but only our money so that he can build himself a fine home on the heights and then not permit you to live next to him but only work in the kitchen.”[12]

            Despite these anti-Semitic comments, the article resulted in more ambiguity than hostility. The following week, the columnist apologized. He wrote that many people were “rightly” offended by his column and that he should have used the word “white” rather than “Jew” which “singled out the race that is closer and more able to understand the Negro.”[13] A columnist had expressed anti-Semitic remarks out of frustration, but presumably African Americans readers had demanded a retraction. Despite calls like this to patronize “their own” establishments, Jewish-owned establishments proved just as popular among African American customers, even when they directly competed.[14] Some African Americans who worked in Jewish-owned establishments also gained valuable skills. Future Congressman Louis Stokes, an African American, was among those grateful for his experience at one such store during the early 1940s. In an interview with Teaching Cleveland, he even recalled his employer escorting a potential customer out of the store who refused service from Stokes.[15]

            During the 1930s, activists formed campaigns throughout the Northern United States urging African Americans, “don’t shop where you can’t work.” These campaigns encouraged African Americans to not shop in establishments that did not hire African American employees. Since Jewish Americans owned many of the businesses in African Americans communities, they were often the targets of these protests and boycotts.

            Cleveland’s “don’t buy where you can’t work” campaign was organized by the Future Outlook League, and headed by activist John Holly and The Cleveland Call & Post (Cleveland’s black newspaper) editor William O. Walker. The Future Outlook League’s leadership appears to have recognized many of the businesses they targeted were Jewish owned, and did not want their organization engaging anti-Semitism. For instance, a 1938 article of the league’s newspaper, The Voice of the League stated, “Don’t spend your money where you can’t work. And don’t let your boycott against local merchants lead you into an anti-Semitic campaign. Do not curry favor with anyone by showing them how much you hate the Jews or anyone else.”[16] 

            The Future Outlook League also sought to encourage African Americans to patron stores that hired black employees. Many of these businesses appear to have been Jewish-owned.  For instance, an article from the The Voice of the League urged people to “pay Stall No. 32 [at the Woodland E. 5th St. Market] a visit when you do your shopping this Saturday,” because its owners, Mr. Baumeister and Mr. Schmiedl, “kept a black butcher on the job with full pay after he broke an arm.[17] Businesses such as Rosenberg’s Drug Store, Hoicowitz Dept. Store, Cohen’s Southern Food Store, and Kritzer Bros Bakery also advertised their business’ hiring practices in the Voice of the League as an inducement to patronize their business.[18] Thus, African Americans were able to engage in criticism of some local establishments that may have happened to be Jewish, but appear to have restricted such criticism to these businesses, and not Jewish store owners in general. 

baden-fig-2

Figure 7 Some advertisements found in the Voice of the League telling readers that they hire African Americans.  These advertisements appeared on the same pages, but were spliced together for the benefit of the reader[19]

The 1930s and 1940s, of course, was a tumultuous time period for African Americans and Jews. Anti-Semitism was growing to new levels in Hitler’s Germany, and Jewish immigration to the United States had virtually been shut off since 1921. Paradoxically, however, many Jewish Americans were finding some measure of success in the United States, despite the hardships of the Great Depression. This made it difficult for many African Americans to understand why many Americans were so condemning of Hitler’s anti-Semitism during the Nuremberg Law era, when African Americans faced similar restrictions in the United States.

 

Many Call & Post articles mentioned this irony. For instance, a 1935 article reported that Hitler had deflected criticism of his persecution of the Jews by telling Americans to “tend to your own lynchings of Negroes.”[20]  The article ended by reminding readers that the United States had still failed to pass an anti-lynching bill, and that “America has a lot of housecleaning to do before she can start finding fault with other nations.”[21] Thus, it appears that many African Americans felt a degree of racism at play when white Americans decried the situation in Germany, but made little effort to improve African Americans lives in their own country.

 Another Call & Post column in 1938 took some Cleveland Jewish business owners to task for discriminating against African Americans, while Jews faced similar persecution in the Europe. In this article, a fictional street-talking African American stated that “Mose could feel sorrier and could cry louder and longer [for German Jews] if’n he hadn’t experienced der same treatment from der same Jewish race.”[22]

            Despite this column, most articles about Jewish persecution appear to have ceased to note alleged hypocrisy by late 1938. That November, German authorities had forced some 25 to 30,000 Jews into concentration camps, destroyed thousands of businesses, and burned over two-hundred synagogues during Kristallnacht. These events appear to have convinced many Call & Post writers that something unique was happening to Jews in Germany. After these events, nearly every article appears to have portrayed Jews as allies against racism, and perhaps sought an opportunity to link American sympathy for German Jews with African Americans’ freedom struggle in the United States.[23] For example, Call & Post articles entitled, “Anti-Semitism, A Weapon of the Lynch Lords,” “Racial Persecution is Contagious,” “Negroes are Not Opposing Haven for German Jews,” “The Plight of the Jews,” expressed both sympathy for persecuted Jews, and the hopes that the two communities could unite against racism.[24] As a Call and Post article entitled, “The Negro and the Jew, Partners in Distress” saw it, “This partnership [Jews and blacks] in distress inevitably brings about a fellow feeling between these two persecuted races. The writer continued, “The Negro is in a large measure the beneficiary of Hebrew persecution,” and that “the vial of wrath which was poured out upon the head of the Negro alone, is now spread out so as to cover the Jews as well.”[25] The article concluded by saying that their partnership will triumph over evil, and Christianity and democracy over irreligion and dictatorship. A somewhat awkward if not ambiguous hope, given that an article calling for increased cooperation between African Americans and Jews concluded by heralding the inevitable triumph of Christianity. 

            Similar conclusions were reached by African Americans and Jewish leaders throughout the country. Indeed, after World War II, Jews and African American leaders would form a civil rights alliance that would go on to dismantle most the nation’s de jure racism, and transform the nation. Yet, ironically, relations between most African Americans and Jews changed little through the 1930s and 40s. Gentile white prejudice against African Americans continued to cripple most African Americans’ ambitions to enter the middle class. As a result, Jews in cities like Cleveland would continue to serve as patrons or middle-men of sorts to African Americans for decades to come. As we will see in the next segment, though, this relationship would be heavily altered if not jettisoned altogether during the civil rights era. 

 

 


[1] Judah Rubinstein and Jane Avner, Merging traditions: Jewish life in Cleveland (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2004), 29. Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (University of Illinois Press, 1978), 10.

[2] Gene P. Veronesi, Italian Americans and their communities of Cleveland (Cleveland State University, 1977).http://www.clevelandmemory.org/italians/Partiii.html

[3] Levy, Donald, A Report on the Location of Ethnic Groups in Greater Cleveland, (The Institute of Urban Studies, 1972), 24.

[4] For the purposes of this essay, Jews will be referred to as whites, as this was their legal classification. Although a case has been made by many scholars that Jews were not perceived as entirely white, or white at all, this issue is beyond the scope of this paper.

[5] John Baden, “Residual Neighbors: Jewish-African American Interaction in Cleveland  from 1900 to 1970” (master’s thesis, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 2010), 23

[6] The term “middlemen” is taken from the Middleman minority theory.  For an overview of this, see Pyong Gap Min, Caught in the Middle: Korean Merchants in America’s Multiethnic Cities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 21-22.

[7] Randolph C. Downes, “Negro Rights and White Backlash in the Campaign of 1920,” ” Ohio History, 88, vol. 75 (Winter 1966) , http://publications.ohiohistory.org/ohstemplate.cfm?action=detail&Page=007588.html&StartPage=85&EndPage=107&volume=75&newtitle=Volume%2075%20Page%2085.

[8] Daniel R Kerr, “’The Reign of Wickedness’: The Changing Structures of Prostitution, Gambling and Political Protection in Cleveland from the Progressive Era to the Great Depression,” 1998, (M.A. Thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 1998), 45.

[9] (Kerr 1998, 45-47) Services were paid for “protection” from authorities, but often meant protection from their gang attacking the numbers operators.

[10] For a discussion of “middle man theory,” see Pyong Gap Min, Caught in the Middle: Korean Communities in the New York and Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). A more in depth discussion of Jewish-African American relations in the underground economy can be found in Baden, “Residual Neighbors: Jewish-African American Interaction in Cleveland from 1900 to 1970.”

[11] For a fuller discussion of this, see Baden, 29-45. Once notable essay expressing these views is James Baldwin, “Negroes are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White (1967).” in Paul Berman, Blacks and Jews: Alliances and Arguments (New York: Delacorte Press, 1994), 31-41.

[12] T.D.S., “ON THE AVENUE:DAMON TURNS SPEED DEMON,” Cleveland Call and Post,  April 8, 1937,  http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009).

[13] T.D.S., “ON THE AVENUE: MY APOLOGIES,” Cleveland Call and Post, April 15, 1937, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009).

[14] “ON THE AVENUE:WITH TDS NITECLUB LULLABY,” Cleveland Call and Post,  April 30, 1936,  http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009). A good discussion on African American customers and Jewish businesses in Chicago can be found in St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, “The Growth of a ‘Negro Market,’” in Strangers & Neighbors: Relations Between Blacks & Jews in the United States, ed. Maurianne Adams and John H. Bracey (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 358-60.

[15]Part 2: Interview with Louis Stokes Former Congressman (1969-1999),” Teaching Cleveland Digital at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage video, 15:31, March 24, 2014https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7MYAocKZM8.

[16] J.M. Dowden, “Boycotts,” The Voice of the League, July 16, 1938.

[17] “untitled article,” The Voice of the League, July 16, 1938.

[18] The Voice of the League, March 2, 1936 and January 27, 1940.

[19] The Voice of the League, date unknown.

[20] “THE NAZIS POKE FUN AT AMERICA,” Cleveland Call and Post, August 22, 1935, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009).

[21] (Ibid.)

[22] “MOSE of the ROARING THIRD: MOSE WEEPS.” Cleveland Call and Post, December 8, 1938, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed March 15, 2010).

[23] Kelly Miller, “The Negro And The Jew, Partners in Distress,” Cleveland Call and Post,  November 17, 1938,  http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed March 21, 2010). 

[24]Proquest searches of historical Call & Post articles, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed March 21, 2010)

[25] Kelly Miller, “The Negro And The Jew, Partners in Distress,” Cleveland Call and Post,  November 17, 1938,  http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed March 21, 2010). 

 

Neighbors Then Strangers: African American-Jewish Postwar Interactions by John Baden

These articles are based on this 2011 Master’s Degree Thesis written by John Baden. The thesis is here (4.3mg pdf download)

RESIDUAL NEIGHBORS JEWISH-AFRICAN AMERICAN INTERACTIONS IN CLEVELAND FROM 1900 to 1970

Part 2

(part 1 is here)

Neighbors Then Strangers: African American-Jewish Postwar Interactions 1950-1970

by John Baden

 Various forces shaped where African Americans were able to reside in northern industrial cities like Cleveland during the first half of the twentieth century. Racist housing deeds, real estate practices, and violent intimidation forced most African Americans in Cleveland to live in only a handful of neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, however, were not particularly segregated prior to the 1950s. Residents attended the same schools, shopped in the same stores, and lived in a remarkably diverse community. Ironically, historically African American neighborhoods in Cleveland became homogenous, and more segregated during the civil rights era, a time associated with progress towards integration. Despite efforts to empower African Americans to reside in a neighborhood of their choice, inner city African Americans found themselves more segregated than ever. To understand why inner-city neighborhoods like Cleveland’s Central became increasingly segregated during the civil rights era, it is important to investigate why whites stopped living and working near African Americans, as many had done in the past.

This essay will address these issues by discussing the decline of community interactions between African Americans and Jews from 1945 to 1970 in the city of Cleveland, Ohio. These interactions give us some understanding of the process of neighborhood transformation because Jews and Africans often lived in the same areas throughout the early twentieth century. Moreover, Jews who retained business in the neighborhood continued to play important roles in the community for several decades.  As time passed, though, fewer Jews had a presence in these neighborhoods, and these spaces became more homogenously African American. As a result, African American Jewish interactions waned in Cleveland proper (although some significant interactions continue in the suburbs).

One should not dismiss the civil rights movement or wax nostalgic about earlier ethnic relations; opportunity has risen for most African Americans, and about half now live in suburbs.[1] Still, inner-city African Americans that made up what sociologist William Julius Wilson called “the truly disadvantaged” in industrial cities like Cleveland, however, often lived more isolated lives than ever between 1950 and 1970.[2]

One of the most important communities examined for this study is Central, a neighborhood located just east of downtown Cleveland. As discussed in the first segment, from roughly 1900 to 1920, the neighborhood was the heart of the city’s African American and Jewish community. But these communities only comprised part of the neighborhood’s diversity. It was also home to Big Italy and other ethnic groups as well.[3] African Americans and Jews interacted with one of another in many different spheres, and by no means lived isolated lives. Even after most Jews moved out, many Jews held onto businesses in the area. For example, in 1930, 46.5 to 58.1 percent of grocers on Central Avenue were Jewish even though nearly all Jews had moved out of the area.[4] Thus African Americans often worked and shopped in Jewish-owned businesses. 

After Congress passed immigration restrictions in the 1920s, hardly any new European immigrants moved into Central. Instead, their places were filled by African American migrants from the South. Cleveland’s African American population increased from 8,448 in 1910 to 34,451 in 1920, and then 71,899 in 1930.[5] As whites’ views hardened about the desirability of segregation after World War I, it became nearly impossible for African Americans to live outside of Central or a select few small communities, which were usually also located near Jewish populations.[6] As a result, the Central neighborhood became increasingly African American and segregated. 

This, however, did not need to be permanent. World War II provided an opportunity to re-integrate Cleveland neighborhoods. Americans frequently invoked the wartime rhetoric of democracy and a battle against racial supremacy during World War II, which could have spurred changes in attitudes and laws. Cities like Cleveland could have been an asylum for the refugees of World War II and the Holocaust. Instead, segregation remained as harsh as ever, and immigration restrictions largely prevented Jews and other Europeans immigrants from fleeing to the United States during the Nazi and Stalin eras. These refugees and displaced people could have helped maintain a racial balance in old immigrant neighborhoods. Instead, white ethnics and African Americans would live further apart in areas more isolated from each other.

By 1950, most of Cleveland’s 148,000 African Americans in 1950 still had little ability to live anywhere but Central. Most African Americans were relegated to the lowest paying jobs in a given industry, and often had the lowest seniority. White home owners often refused to sell to African Americans, and African Americans who managed to find a home in a new neighborhood were often violently harassed by whites.[7]

It was extremely rare, however, for Jewish Americans to violently resist African Americans moving in, and Jews even gained a reputation for selling or renting property to African Americans.[8] As the Association for Jewish Communal Relations’ president, Sidney Vincent, commented in 1962, a “substantial share of housing in the Negro area-with all the attendant irritation-is owned by Jews, partly because the neighborhoods are largely formerly Jewish,” and observed that when blacks did move to suburbs, “in almost every case, it has been a leap into a Jewish neighborhood.”[9]  One disgruntled white opponent of integration complained, “the Negro follows the Jews in housing; no Jews, no Negroes to follow.”[10]  This ensured that African Americans and Jews would have a measure of interactions with one another in these newly opened up neighborhoods for decades to come. Yet, prejudice would continue to affect the scope and form of these interactions. 

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Figure 3 Previously Jewish neighborhoods are shaded in blue, and compared to African American neighborhoods in 1950.[11]

Unfortunately, after African Americans moved into their neighborhood in substantial numbers, many Jewish residents (like other European ethnic groups) moved out almost immediately. For example, Glenville, a neighborhood just north of University Circle, went from being predominately Jewish (over 70 percent in 1936) and over 90 percent white in 1940 to nearly 50 percent African American in 1950, and predominantly African American by 1960.[12] Unfortunately, after a neighborhood transitioned to a predominately African American one, few whites wanted to live in it. Thus, demand for that housing decreased after most whites no longer wanted to live there. As a result, African Americans often saw little or no equity gains once they bought a house in a previously white neighborhood because area-wide demand for housing in the neighborhood would plummet. Indeed, the falling value of a house in an integrating neighborhood convinced many whites to leave.[13] Without equity, banks were hesitant to extend credit to property owners, thus exacerbating the wealth gap between African Americans and whites. Reporting in fall of 1950, a Call & Post team headed by Marty Richardson wrote that in the area between Ashbury and Parkwood to St. Clair and East 99th   in Glenville, over twenty churches along with five synagogues “have either recently been sold to Negro congregations, are reportedly or actually for sale,” and a building on Kimberly Avenue “that would cost more than a half-million dollars to build…is reportedly on sale for $75,000.”[14]

It should be noted that not everyone who moved to a suburb did so because of racial anxieties. There were many advantages of moving to a suburb like better funded school districts and more space to live in. Moreover, the federal government’s support of highways and segregated suburban neighborhoods at the time, made suburbs a feasible, if not more economical option.[15] Furthermore, many people enjoyed higher incomes in the post-war economy and were able to buy a nicer home in a new neighborhood. White departure from the largely working-class Jewish sections of the Kinsman neighborhood was much slower, and harder to classify as “white flight.”[16] Indeed many more affluent African Americans have moved to the suburbs as well. 

Regardless of motivation, though, white departure contributed to a more segregated city. Before long, African Americans in Glenville, and eventually Kinsman, found themselves in neighborhoods as segregated and deprived of capital as their previous residences. As a result, African American–Jewish interactions in places like Glenville would largely be between residents and business owners, rather than as neighbors.

Since many of the neighborhoods’ African Americans lived in had once been Jewish communities, there were a disproportionate number of Jewish-operated businesses there. Determining the number of Jewish-owned businesses in African American neighborhoods during the 1950s and 60s is difficult. According to a 1968 government study of “ghetto” businesses in fifteen non-Southern cities, 39 percent of “ghetto merchants” (52 percent of white merchants) were Jewish, although the number in Cleveland was probably higher due to the intense overlapping of African American and previously Jewish neighborhoods. Since the study was taken after most of the nation’s urban unrest, the percentage of Jewish owned stores was probably higher in the years immediately preceding these events.[17]

The presence of so many white and often Jewish-owned businesses in now predominately African American neighborhoods caused consternation among some of its African American residents.[18] New York-based African American intellectual James Baldwin voiced these concerns by writing,

“It is bitter to watch the Jewish storekeeper locking up his store for the night…with your money in his pocket, to a clean neighborhood, miles from you, which you will not be allowed to enter.”[19]

Such occurrences were reminders of how racism picked who could succeed and who could live where. The point is particularly poignant, because where one lives in the United States has often increased one’s chances of succeeding. Yet, Baldwin’s latter point seems a bit reductionist given that many Jews, at least in Cleveland, did sell their homes to African Americans, and participated in suburban integration efforts in places like Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights.[20]

On top of being perceived as “outsiders,” non-African American store owners faced criticism for high prices. According to a supplemental study for the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, prices were in fact higher in African American neighborhoods in the North than other neighborhoods. This was because it was risky to operate a business that relied on impoverished residents who had to purchase goods through installment plans or on credit.[21] As a result, prices had to be high to account for the losses incurred by customers who were unable to finish their payment plans. Moreover, it was much more difficult for small independent stores to buy at discounted bulk volumes from suppliers. Nevertheless, these high prices were a source of frustration for customers who were often hard-pressed for cash.

African Americans did not universally condemn Jewish businesspeople that had a large African American clientele. As mentioned in first segment, some African Americans had positive experiences working in Jewish-ran stores. Moreover, figures like the disc jockey Alan Freed won a large devoted African American audience. Former Cleveland resident, W. Allen Taylor, who worked at both an Italian and Jewish-owned grocery store in the mainly middle-class Lee-Harvard area, recalled that

“There was some tension, especially during the mid to late sixties as black folks became more vocal about their demands for respect. For the most part, however, the Jewish retailers who maintained a presence in my mostly black neighborhood, understood how to relate to black folks with a minimum of tension, so it was fairly peaceful.”[22] 

Conversely many notable African Americans found significant Jewish support. The most notable of these was Mayor Carl B. Stokes, who became the first African American elected mayor of a major city in 1967. Since most Jews no longer lived in Cleveland, they were not a significant part of his voting coalition. However, a number of Jewish Americans supported his campaign.[23] Marvin Chernoff, for example, was a key volunteer organizer on the campaign who helped put together Stokes’ impressive grassroots network. In the preface of his 1968 book, Black Victory, Jewish-American Kenneth G. Weinberg (who was from the Cleveland area) expressed the hope that many white intellectuals and businessmen held for a Stokes mayoralty. 

“The significance of the election of a Carl Stokes lies elsewhere. He has, for the time being at least, demonstrated that black political activity can provide a viable alternative to violence in our cities… ‘The Fire Next Time’ has become a prophecy fulfilled, and the mind reels under shrill cries of separatism, nationalism, Malcom Xism, and a sad prediction by the President of the United States that our cities will almost surely experience several more summers of violence.”[24]

Thus, to Weinberg and others, encouraging African American municipal leadership was both good policy, and good for business. 

 The same could be said for many of the attempts to integrate Cleveland’s businesses. It was the right thing to do, but also expanded one’s customer base. Cleveland’s nightclub scene provided one of the most dramatic attempts at integration. A number of the key nightclubs in these integration efforts were owned by Jewish businessmen. One club, the Jewish-owned nightclub, Leo’s Casino, so thoroughly integrated that comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, called it, “the most fully integrated nightclub in America.”[25] This club, however, was located in heavily African American or transitioning sections of town.[26] Nightclubs that welcomed African Americans in the traditionally exclusive University Circle area met far more resistance.[27] In March of 1952, a bomb exploded at the Towne Casino, an integrated nightclub located near University Circle. Although a perpetrator was never found, it was widely believed that opponents of integration were responsible.[28] The club closed after two additional bombings.[29]  Another nearby Jewish-owned nightclub, Playbar, was also forced to close after liquor board harassment and a bombing.[30] These events and other racially motivated bombings across the city helped bifurcate the city’s neighborhoods and commercial districts into either predominately African American or white. 

Jewish owned business in African American neighborhoods faced an increasingly difficult climate for doing business in the 1960s. Business owners faced competition from chain stores, and crime rose during the decade in nearly every category.[31] Moreover, urban unrest broke out in Hough in 1966 and 1968 in the Glenville neighborhood which damaged 63 businesses and left surviving white-owned business in a precarious state.[32] After the unrest in Glenville, the neighborhood’s main commercial artery of Glenville went from having twenty-two grocery stores in 1966, to fourteen in 1971, a 37 percent loss.[33]   

baden-table-2

Table 2 This graph shows the decline of inner-city grocery stores on selected roads. It should be noted, though, that the 2010 Yellow Book does not appear to include most convenience stores as grocers. Also, Lorain is a longer street than the other mentioned streets, and a portion of Hough Avenue changed its name. Still, one can see an overall pattern.[34]

Crime, white flight, unrest, and racism, however, are only some of the reasons for the disappearance of white-owned businesses. Many businesses closed because Jewish families were able to enter different professions and work in different locations. Many Jewish grocers who grew up in Glenville during the 1930s and 40s retired in the post war years. Their children were often raised in more affluent households than their parents, and preferred to enter into other vocations or to work in other neighborhoods.[35] Furthermore, one large chain store could encompass the services of many small independent grocery stores for lower prices. Even before the fore-mentioned social turmoil of the 1960s and 70s, the number of grocery stores on Central Avenue, the historical center of Cleveland’s African American community declined from forty-three in 1930, to twenty-four in 1960.[36] Thus, we can say that the era of Jewish-owned small businesses in African American neighborhoods was already coming to an end, but that urban unrest, chain-stores, and higher crime rates during this time period expedited this process.

            Examining the rise and fall of Jewish interactions with African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods gives perspective into how African American neighborhoods like Central and Glenville have become so predominantly African American and devoid of many white-owned businesses. Any number of events could have prevented the segregation, or re-segregation of Cleveland neighborhoods. Had the United States been a safe-haven for migrants during the World War II era, had there not been so many bombings to enforce the color line, had crime not been so high during the 60s and 70s, or had African Americans been able to live where they could afford and wished to live, Cleveland’s neighborhoods would have looked very different. Despite recent progress in integrating Cleveland’s West Side and East Side suburbs, many of Cleveland’s historically African American neighborhoods remain highly segregated, and devoid of much capital, businesses, and opportunity.

 


[1] “Black Flight,” The Economist, March 31, 2011, http://www.economist.com/node/18486343.

[2] William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, Second Edition (University of Chicago Press, 2012). See also Douglas S. Massey, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1993)

[3] The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “Big Italy,” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland Historyhttp://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=BI2.

[4] This estimation is based off entering the names of grocers listed on Central Avenue in the 1930 Cleveland City Directory into a necrology search on the Cleveland Public Library to determine where they were buried.  

Cleveland Directory Co., Cleveland City Directory [microfilm], (Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications). Cleveland Public Library, “Cleveland Necrology File,” Cleveland Public Library, http://www.cpl.org/necrology.

[5] Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (University of Illinois Press, 1978), 10.

[6] For a discussion on hardened attitudes on segregation, see ibid..

[7] Sidney Z. Vicent, “MEMORANDUM ON HOUSING SITUATION, LEE-HARVARD AREA,” in Remembering: Cleveland’s Jewish Voices, ed. Sally Wertheim & Alan Bennett  (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2011 (citation taken from manuscript copy). Probably the best source of examining bombings against African Americans is a proquest search for “bomb” in the ProQuest Historical Newspaper: Cleveland Call and Post (1934-1991), accessed 2010, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy2.cpl.org/hnpclevelandcallpost/index?accountid=1810 and Cleveland Call & Post, and “Bombs,” Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. Discussions of this issue in other cities can be found in Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960 (University of Chicago Press, 2009). David M. P Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Douglas S. Massey, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1993).

[8] Sidney Z. Vicent, “MEMORANDUM ON HOUSING SITUATION, LEE-HARVARD AREA.” Sidney Z. Vincent in Eugene J Lipman, A Tale of Ten Cities; the Triple Ghetto in American Religious Life. (Union of American Hebrew Congregations.) ,1962 John Baden, “Residual Neighbors: Jewish-African American Interaction in Cleveland  from 1900 to 1970” (master’s thesis, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 2010). This issue in Boston is discussed in Gerald Gamm, Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed (Harvard University Press, 2001).

[9] Vincent, A Tale of Ten Cities; the Triple Ghetto in American Religious Life, 58.

[10] Ibid., 72.

[11] Donald Levy, 24., Howard Whipple Green, Jewish Families in Greater Cleveland (Cleveland: Cleveland Health Council, 1939) and Socialexplorer, “1950 County and Census Tract,” Socialexplorer, http://www.socialexplorer.com/pub/maps/map3.aspx?&g=0. “Google Maps,” Google Maps, accessed October 16, 2010, https://www.google.com/maps/.

[12]  Rubinstein and Avner, 111. Marty Richardson, “Sweeping Population Shift Hits Glenville Churches Hard: Falling Congregations Close Up Many Institutions; Values Drop,” Cleveland Call and Post, September 2, 1950, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009), Socialexplorer, “1960 County and Census Tract,” Socialexplorer.

[13] This issue in Detroit is discussed in David M. P Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America.

[14] Marty Richardson, “Sweeping Population Shift Hits Glenville Churches Hard: Falling Congregations Close Up Many Institutions; Values Drop,” Cleveland Call and Post, September 2, 1950, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009).

[15] Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (Oxford University Press, 1985); Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 (Random House LLC, 2009); Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton University Press, 2010).

[16] For a discussion of neighborhood transition in this area, see Michney, Todd Michael, “Changing Neighborhoods: Race and Upward Mobility in Southeast Cleveland, 1930-1980,” (PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2004).

[17] The percentage of Jewish-owned businesses in these neighborhoods was probably higher because most African American businesses were not targeted during the riots; meaning that their percentage probably went up, while the percentage of non-African American businesses went down.

[18] Determined by entering names of grocers in Central from 1930 into a search of Ancestry.com, 1910-1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]  (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009).

[19] Baldwin, 34. 

[20] Charles Bromley, Interview by author, Cleveland, OH, July 2009.

[21] National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, New York Times ed. (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), 275-276.

[22] W. Allen Taylor interview, interview by author, email, March 2010.

[23] Robert Gries, interview by author, phone, November 2014.

[24] Kenneth G Weinberg, Black Victory; Carl Stokes and the Winning of Cleveland (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968), 8.

[25] The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “Leo’s Casino,” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History http://ech.cwru.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=LSC.

[26] Leo’s Casino was located in the heavily African American Central district before moving to the Hough/Fairfax district which as transitioning into a predominantly African American area. Ibid., Socialexplorer, “1960 County and 1970 Census Tract,” Socialexplorer, http://www.socialexplorer.com/pub/maps/map3.aspx?&g=0.

[27] One such club was the Towne Casino, located near Euclid and East 105th street and owned by Jack Rogoff and Edward Helstein. Rogoff, like Leo Mintz, had grown up in a racially mixed block in Central, before moving to Glenville.

[28] Howard Drechsler, interview by author, notes, Beachwood, OH, August 2009.

[29] John Fuster, “Tips FOR THOSE INTERESTED N ENTERTAINMENT,” Cleveland Call and Post (1934-1962), August 8, 1953, sec. B, proquesr.com

[30] “RAIDED! Black and Tan Club Charges Persecution,” Cleveland Call and Post, May 16, 1953,  http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed November 18, 2009). “Tips FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN: =ENTERTAINMENT=,” Cleveland Call and Post (1934-1962), August 22, 1953, sec. B, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy2.cpl.org/hnpclevelandcallpost/docview/184249208/abstract/AC99276D1D3A422DPQ/1?accountid=1810.

[31] U.S. Census Bureau, “Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense: 1960 to 2002,” U.S. Census Bureau,  http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/HS-23.pdf.

[32] The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “Glenville Shootout,” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland Historyhttp://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=GS.

[33] Cleveland Directory Co., Cleveland City Directory [microfilm], (Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications).

[34] Ibid. For 2010, Yellowbook, Cleveland: Greater Cuyahoga County Area (Yellow Book Sales Distribution Company, Inc., 2010).  Note that Yellow Book does not appear to include most convenience stores as grocers. 

[35] Bill Rogoff, interview by author, notes, phone-call, March 2010.

[36]Cleveland Directory Co., Cleveland City Directory [microfilm], (Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications)., (Cleveland: Cleveland Public Library, Preservation Office, 1990).  

 

“Making Sense of Place” Video from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

The link is here

2006 video about Cleveland and Northeast Ohio that is at time depressing and at other times quite optimistic. At all times it asks us to consider the issues of land sprawl and its consequences.

From the video:

Making Sense of Place – Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City is a one-hour documentary film about deterioration in the urban core and older suburbs in what was once Americaˈs 5th-largest city, concurrent with growth at the suburban periphery. Through the eyes and voices of Cleveland residents, the film explores the interrelationships of individual choices, the democratic process and market forces in the region. Many factors contribute to the patterns of the last several decades, including issues of race and class, taxes and schools, and major shifts in population and jobs.

Produced by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Lincoln Foundation

Science in Cleveland from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Written by Edward J. Pershey

The link is here

SCIENCE – The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SCIENCE. In America during the 1800s science grew from the level of dilettantes to large-scale research performed by university-trained professionals. Financial support for science matured as well, outgrowing the individual’s pocketbook to tap the coffers of government, corporations, and public and private institutions. In the 20th century, science and TECHNOLOGY AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH produced a powerful combination of knowledge about the world and the ways to manipulate it for personal and public benefit. This knowledge permeated the culture and changed the way that human society thought about itself and about its relationship to the surrounding natural environment. The power of science and technology to affect society resulted in a continued and growing public interest in scientific topics. The pattern of scientific work in Cleveland in the early days of its history was largely that of amateur naturalists, actually a group of young men from the city’s well-to-do leadership, headed by WILLIAM CASE. During the 1830s, William and several friends gathered a collection of birds, fish, and botanical and geological samples, including specimens of flora and fauna from around the Cleveland area. These natural curiosities were kept in a small house named the “ARK” because of its assorted contents, which was located on PUBLIC SQUARE next to the Case residence. The “Arkites” met on a regular basis to present formal and informal papers on various scientific topics. As the members of the group grew older, however, the meetings grew less frequent and eventually stopped.

With the 1832 opening of the Ohio Canal, Cleveland became a commercial “boom town” that offered great opportunities to professionals in all fields. One of these was , a doctor trained at Yale, who had moved to Ohio at the age of 30 in 1823 to practice medicine. By 1843 he was on the faculty of the medical school of Western Reserve College located in Cleveland and took an active ry, tin stimulating the development of intellectual interests in the city. In 1845 Kirtland led a group of professional men, many of whom taught science and medicine at local colleges and medical schools, in forming the CLEVELAND ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES, which was first housed in the medical school of Western Reserve College. Kirtland’s national reputation brought the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science to the city in the summer of 1853, where the issues regarding the role of amateurs in professional scientific work were first raised. While many members of the Academy were amateur naturalists, not many papers read at the meeting were in the field of natural history, reflecting the evolution of American science toward the physical sciences. Also, several of the papers presented by local amateurs were not well received by the visiting professionals and eventually were deleted from, the published proceedings. A version of the proceedings of this meeting of the AAAS was published in Cleveland in Annals of Science, a short-lived (185354) journal edited by Hamilton Smith, a Yale graduate, astronomer, and Cleveland resident.

While the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences (renamed the Kirtland Society for its founder) focused on natural history and involved various medical school teachers in Cleveland, Elias Loomis, professor of natural philosophy at Western Reserve College in Hudson established the first permanent observatory west of the Allegheny Mountains in the late 1830s, which still exists on the grounds of the old college campus in Hudson. After the Civil War, scientific activity in Cleveland increasingly became concerned with the physical sciences of astronomy and physics. The two founders of WARNER & SWASEY CO., a new machine-tool company which moved to Cleveland from Chicago in 1881, were deeply interested in astronomical telescopes, and during the 1880s and 1890s built the largest such telescopes in the world. Cleveland became the source for the world’s finest astronomical instruments, such as those provided for the Lick Observatory of the Univ. of California, the U.S. Naval Observatory, and the Yerkes Observatory of the Univ. of Chicago, among others.

Cleveland’s first scientific and technical college, the Case School of Applied Science, opened in 1880 on Public Square. College-level technical schools such as Case were started throughout the U.S. in the years after the Civil War. The U.S. was quickly becoming a world leader in technology and MICHELSON-MORLEY EXPERIMENT, a national historic chemical landmark, only the 4th location to be so designated in the country.) Another prominent physical scientist at Case was DAYTON C. MILLER. Miller conducted many experiments in acoustics, establishing that tradition in experimental and theoretical work in the Case physics department. In 1896 he was one of the first Americans to follow up on the x-ray work of Wilhelm Roentgen in Germany. Miller took some of the first x-ray pictures in America at Case and published early accounts of his experiments.

While the faculty at Case continued to research the physical world, science in the early 20th century was finding a new home in municipal government. Cleveland’s sanitation, water, and public health departments were involved in numerous studies of the environmental changes brought on by urban growth. In the first years of the new century, Mayor TOM L. JOHNSON led an administration that aggressively sought solutions to the problems of a tainted water supply, typhoid fever outbreaks, and smoke pollution. The city’s water department, which built the first pumping station and reservoir in the 1850s, had grown into a large, technological system, supplying water to Cleveland and theSUBURBS. After studies and tests done by city workers in conjunction with, physicians showed the connection between water pollution and typhoid fever, chlorination of the water was begun in 1911 and the typhoid threat was eliminated (See WATER SYSTEM). One of the earliest scientific studies of the polluted air of a major industrial city was done by CHARLES F. MABERY, a chemist working at the Case School in 1895. Cleveland, plagued with coal-smoke pollution, joined the “smoke abatement” movement of the early 20th century by hiring smoke inspectors, who became experts on its physical and chemical properties in their attempt to combat the dirty skies of the city. The natural sciences received public attention in 1920 when the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY was founded. The museum thrived and continues to serve the Greater Cleveland area with a program of exhibits and school-group and public programming.

In the 1920s, an extensive research program in human anatomy, eugenics, and children’s-health statistics was conducted by Cleveland physicians CARL HAMANNROGER PERKINS, and THOMAS WINGATE TODD. Perkins headed the city’s Division of Health and assisted Hamann, who brought Todd to the city from England, in planning and executing a long-term investigation into public health through the study of anatomy, using cadavers obtained legally from the city’s workhouse and morgue. In the late 1920s, Todd was selected to head theBRUSH FOUNDATION, created by CHARLES FRANCIS BRUSH, electrical-industry pioneer in Cleveland and member of Cleveland’s wealthy business community. Brush had lost his only son and his son’s daughter to blood poisoning. In his sorrow, the elder Brush created the Brush Foundation to promote research to improve the overall genetic stock of the human race. This research program involved the systematic compilation and study of vast amounts of medical data on a select group of 1,000 school-age children in the Cleveland area. The data collected on these children included regular full-length x-rays of the whole body, and precise x-rays of facial and dental structure as they aged. Between 192942, over 22,000 physical exams and over 90,000 psychological exams were conducted, and more then 250,000 x-rays were made. Although the study concentrated on 1,000 of the children, the total number of subjects by the end of the project was more than 5,000. After Todd died in 1938, the study was continued on a much-reduced scale until World War II shortages brought it to a close. After the war, other researchers questioned the radiation damage to the subjects from such extensive and regular exposure to x-rays, but recent studies do not show any increase in cancer rates or other diseases among this group. The records from this study remain intact atCASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

The Case School of Applied Science, renamed Case Institute of, Technology, continued to be the focus of scientific work in the city, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s. Under the direction of Case astronomer JASON J. NASSAU, working at the Warner & Swasey Observatory, it developed techniques for obtaining spectrographic information on large numbers of stars at one time and for identifying a type of star called a “Red Giant” because of its size and spectral color.

In the 1960s, important work in particle physics was done at Case Tech by Frederick Reines, who had worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb during World War II. Reines developed an extensive program of research in atomic particles, developing underground observation chambers in Cleveland’s salt mines under Lake Erie to shield experiments from cosmic rays emanating from outer space. Reines and his team also studied cosmic rays themselves from high-altitude balloons in Texas. Working with a team of researchers deep in a gold mine in South Africa, Reines and Thomas Jenkins (also of Case) were the first to detect the presence of the elementary subatomic particle, the neutrino, from a source in nature in 1965. Theoretically, the neutrino, found until that time only in manmade nuclear experiments, should be observable as part of the natural radiation streaming down onto the earth from outer space. Engineering science at Case also focused on materials research, polymer science, electronics, and systems analysis in the 1960s. With the formation of Case Western Reserve Univ. in 1967, Case’s science and engineering departments became linked to the biochemical and medical researches at Western Reserve Univ., creating a large biomedical engineering research institution. Government-operated research also has been conducted in Cleveland since World War II at the NASA JOHN H. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER AT LEWIS FIELD, which remains a national center for research into propulsion systems for space exploration.

Anthropological research received worldwide acclaim in the 1970s with the work of Donald C. Johanson at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who discovered the remarkably complete skeletal remains of a fema, tin Africa, which he dated back more than 3.5 million years. This early human, named “LUCY” by Johanson and his team of researchers, represented a major find in anthropology, pushing the beginnings of mankind back farther than formerly imagined. The announcement of Lucy’s discovery generated a great amount of public interest in Johanson’s work, demonstrating the growing public intrigue with the latest scientific findings as society becomes increasingly more dependent on research in science and engineering.


Edward J. Pershey

Western Reserve Historical Society

Last Modified: 22 Jul 1997 01:28:11 PM

History of the Cleveland Public Schools from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Written by Edward M. Miggins

The link is here

CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Cleveland’s public schools are rooted in the campaign to provide a tax-supported, compulsory system of education that began with Horace Mann in Massachusetts and Henry Barnard in Connecticut during the late 1820s. They and other reformers in the antebellum era fought to create a legal and financial basis for public education and to include secondary schooling in the system. Between the Civil War and World War I, America’s public schools expanded their role, attempting to compensate for their students’ deficiencies, instituting programs for vocational-technical students, immigrant and needy children, adult learners, and the handicapped. Between this period and World War II, public education developed extracurricular activities, psychological testing and tracking of students, and expanded adult and vocational education. After the war, America’s inner-city school systems were burdened with both a declining tax base and a growing student population as southern blacks migrated north, while also having to deal with the effects of poverty and racial discrimination. The federal government played a larger role financing and controlling public education, especially school systems under a court desegregation order. Through these periods, the schools have always expected to build good character, promote mobility and social harmony, and educate the general public. Every generation struggled and debated how best to achieve this mission amid socioeconomic change and political conflicts.

In 1836 the state legislature of Ohio incorporated Cleveland as a city and allowed it to organize a tax-supported public school system. The city council appointed a board of school managers, which took over a school located at the Protestant Bethel Union Chapel on Superior Hill. The BETHEL UNION provided free education mainly for poor children who attended its Sunday school. Most parents employed tutors or sent their children to private schools such as the CLEVELAND ACADEMY, a secondary school established in 1821. The public saw no need for schooling beyond the basics of “the 3 Rs” in a rural economy.

To accommodate 800 students, the city built separate schools for boys and girls in each city ward and purchased the Cleveland Academy in 1837. By 1842 there were 15 public schools enrolling 1,200 students. Public education had a difficult time overcoming the image of being a charity organization, since many students were housed in rented, overcrowded, and inadequate buildings. Faced with cuts from state funds, the managers reduced teachers’ wages and shortened the school year. Nevertheless, progress and reform occurred. The board prescribed a uniform system of textbooks, and teachers, required to take competency tests and evidence good moral character, divided their schools into as many classes as possible, and all students, regardless of their backgrounds, were to receive a common education. In 1844 school manager CHARLES BRADBURN led the crusade to establish the first public high school against those decrying higher taxes and the failure of the elementary schools to enroll the over 2,000 children of school age not in attendance. One critic also questioned whether a citywide high school would qualify as “a common school,” since the council had the right only to lobby for district schools in the city’s wards. Bradburn and his supporters proudly opened CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL on 13 July 1846–the first public high school west of the Alleghenies.

In 1847 the state authorized the election of a board of education to control all schools in a single district. In 1853 Ohio established school levies to eliminate student fees and authorized local school boards to organize primary and secondary schools. The newly appointed board chose ANDREW FREESE, the first principal of Central High School, as superintendent. In 1859 the state allowed each of the city’s 11 wards to elect members to the school board for a term of 1 year. Freese attempted to grade and classify the schools by dividing the elementary system into 3 divisions and introducing a course of study for each grade. The Brownell St. School, enrolling 1,386 pupils its first year (1865), was indicative of the city’s growing population, as factories expanded during the industrial era; Superintendent ANSON SMYTHE‘s 1866 statement that the public schools, with 9,270 students, could compensate for a lack of moral culture and religious instruction, indicates the schools’ perceived mission.

ANDREW RICKOFF, superintendent after the Civil War, had a great impact on public education, classifying students into 12 grades and 3 divisions (primary, grammar, and high school), a major step away from one room of mixed grades and the basis for placing students in graded curriculum according to their age and ability. Rickoff expected teachers to fit their students into a new prescribed course of study each term, semiannually promote students, and eliminate the separation of boys and girls. In 1872 German became part of a bilingual program to attract the city’s German children who were attending private schools. The superintendent and board had far greater control of the public schools after the state reduced the city council’s authority to approve new school locations and buildings. In 1874 a normal school for training teachers was founded. During Rickoff’s 15-year tenure, the schools expanded from 9,643 to 26,990 students and from 123 to 473 teachers. National acclaim came to the educational exhibits of the Cleveland public schools at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, but local newspapers attacked the schools’ unsanitary and overcrowded conditions and the political manipulations of the school board. BURKE HINSDALE, president of Hiram College, criticized the mechanical nature of the educational environment. A newly elected, school board appointed him as the next superintendent. He encouraged teachers to return to grounding each student in the essentials of a good education. Like his predecessor, though, Hinsdale and his Republican friends on the school board were defeated by a new political coalition.

In 1884 an after-school program called the Manual Training School opened, including classes in carpentry, woodturning, mechanical drawing, machine shop, and cooking. The school board opened West Manual Training School and added a 2-year business course to the secondary curriculum. Evening schools increasingly focused on helping immigrants learn English and civics to pass naturalization exams as a heavy influx of people from Europe arrived in the city. In 1889 the school board hired its first truant officer to enforce the new compulsory-attendance law requiring children of school age to attend 20 weeks a year.

In 1891 reformers secured the passage of the Federal Plan, allowing the public to elect a school board of 7 members as a legislative branch and a school director as an executive branch. Andrew Draper, appointed superintendent, tried improving the teaching staff, and opened a manual training room in Central High School and a school for deaf children. Louis H. Jones, his successor, opened the first kindergartens in 1896 and began a medical inspection program. In 1904 the state abolished the Federal Plan and allowed 5 members to be elected at large and 2 by wards for the school board, which appointed WILLIAM H. ELSON superintendent in 1905. He pioneered vocational education by opening a technical high school in 1908; fashioned general education courses to the demands of the business world and established a commercial high school in 1909; and assigned each teacher a group of students to counsel in a homeroom. In 1909 an industrial school opened for nonacademically talented children who dropped out of school after the 7th or 8th grade, which devoted a half-day to academic work and the remainder to industrial work, home economics, and physical education. This program became the basis for the junior high program.

As part of the progressive movement at the turn of the century, America’s public schools expanded their role in society. In 1903 Cleveland’s public schools opened playgrounds and summer vacation schools. It also expanded the physical education program and instituted a school gardening program. In 1908 the first medical dispensary in public education opened at Murray Hill School. In 1910 the Cleveland Dental Society began inspecting children’s teeth in the public schools. Elson instituted luncheon rooms in the high schools, classes for the blind, social centers, and a normal school at UNIVERSITY CIRCLE. Despite his innovative reforms, Elson and his supporters were defeated at the polls amid charges of fraudulent school contracts awarded after the COLLINWOOD SCHOOL FIRE killed 172 students in 1908, and complaints about school, overcrowding, with 64,409 students in 1912.

In 1915 the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION conducted a comprehensive survey of the public schools, criticizing the system’s inefficiency and lack of programs to deal with the children’s needs, with two-thirds of the student population leaving school before the legally required age. In 1917 a new school board chose FRANK E. SPAULDING to implement the survey. He centralized decision making and expanded the junior highs to retain more children in the middle grades. Guidance counselors, testing, and grouping students by ability were also introduced to reduce the failure rate. The public schools increased their efforts to Americanize immigrants and their children, dropped teaching German, and required a loyalty oath of teachers. The Smith Hughes Act of 1917 provided federal funds to expand vocational education. By 1918 the school population numbered 106,862, with 4,715, almost half the secondary enrollment, in the commercial-technical high schools.

ROBINSON G. JONES, the deputy superintendent who organized 15 junior high schools during Elson’s administration, became superintendent in 1920, serving 15 years and supporting music education and services for crippled and mentally deficient students. The schools initiated extracurricular activities, such as glee clubs, school newspapers, student council, and sports programs to develop “the good character” of pupils. Nine elementary curriculum centers organized an ungraded program for the least capable students and attempted to individualize the curriculum according to each student’s abilities and needs. Responding to the decline in the neighborhood around Central High School and to the arrival of black students who had been denied access to a decent education in the South, a clinic was established to study and remedy the educational and social problems of the neighborhood’s youth. In 1922 the school board approved the creation of the Major Work Program of special classes for gifted children. Reduced fees increased adult education enrollment to over 10,000 students by 1927. Aided by the Bing Act (1921), requiring attendance until age 18 and graduation from high school, daily enrollment expanded to 144,000 students. Between 1920-30 the school system spent over $18 million to construct 32 buildings.

Greater emphasis was given to vocational and special education classes in the 1920s. In 1920 a program permitted students to work as apprentices in trades 4 hours per week. In 1924 the Girls Opportunity School was opened for students who left school because of their inability to perform traditional academic work, with a program including cooking, hygiene, home nursing, English, and math. It later became Jane Addams School, with 1,500 students by 1930. In 1927 Eagle School was converted into a trade school for male students–the basis for the 1957 Max Hayes Vocational School. In 1924 Thos. A. Edison School, the successor to a program for “incorrigible children,”, enrolled male students with disciplinary problems, offering courses in millwork, mechanical drawing, metalwork, and handwork. In 1926 Outhwaite School for Boys, and in 1929 Longwood School for Girls, began special education for students below average for their grades, who were expected to transfer back to regular classrooms after being brought up to their grade level.

The black student population grew from 9,066 in 1923 to 13,430 in 1929. The CLEVELAND CALL & POST a black newspaper, complained on 7 Jan. 1937 that too many black students were enrolled at Longwood and Outhwaite schools, claiming those schools had become a permanent dumping ground for not only average, but also for mentally deficient and slow-learning students, providing only half the subjects offered in traditional high schools, lowering their students’ morale. The black community also complained about the deterioration of programs at Central High School, and in 1936 threatened to oppose future school levies unless improvements were made. Physical repairs were made in the special-education schools, and in 1939 a cornerstone was laid for a new Central High School. Three years earlier,HAZEL MOUNTAIN WALKER became the school system’s first black principal. The Depression decreased the city’s tax duplicate and forced the schools to curtail expenses by reducing programs and staff. Yet the schools fed over 44,000 needy children daily; the medical inspection and health programs increased their efforts; and the federal government paid for adult education teachers. With World War II, the schools expanded their vocational-technical program, training over 50,000 for jobs in war industries. Superintendent Mark Schinnerer contended that that was a permanent priority, as only a minority of students went to college.

Cleveland public schools emphasized “life adjustment” classes in the 1950s to reduce the dropout rate and help young adults find appropriate vocations. The need to provide facilities for the growing student population was the dominant issue during the 1950s and 1960s. Enrollment increased from 99,686 in 1950 to 148,793 in 1963. In 1960 Cleveland ranked as one of the lowest (38) in professional staff per 1,000 pupils. In 1966 BEACHWOOD, a wealthy Cleveland suburb, had 63 staff members per 1,000 students. That same year, Cleveland ranked lowest in Cuyahoga County, with a per pupil expenditure of $480, and with 90 of its 174 schools over 50 years old. Faced with a dwindling tax base because of depopulation and industrial decline, the school system struggled to educate a growing student population, increasingly enrolling low-income and minority students as white middle-class families and jobs fled to the suburbs after World War II. Private foundations and the federal government attempted help.

In 1960 the city’s schools could not adequately house the enrollment of 134,765 students; 14,000 were put on halfdays because of the shortage of, teachers and classrooms, mainly in the city’s east side black neighborhoods. In 1960 the Ford Foundation funded a project at Addison Jr. High School in HOUGH to reduce the dropout and juvenile-delinquency rates among black adolescents. As part of its Great Cities Grey Areas Program, the federal government also supported the Hough Community Project, which included home visitation, work study, and remedial programs. In addition, in 1963 it provided more funds for vocational education. Max Hayes was open from 8 A.M. to 10:30 P.M. and enrolled 796 high school students, 1,250 apprentices, and 1,493 adult education students. To relieve overcrowding, superintendent Wm. B. Levenson proposed renting space from the Catholic Diocese. Lee Howley, vice-president of CLEVELAND ELECTRIC ILLUMINATING CO. and chairman of a citizens’ committee on school finances, campaigned for a bond issue to build more facilities. In 1962 70% of the voting public approved a bond program and levy to improve the schools, but the building plans met resistance from civil-rights groups, led by Clarence H. Holmes, president of the UNITED FREEDOM MOVEMENT (UFM). Pickets, demonstrations, public meetings, and a school boycott protested the continuing segregation of black students. Civil-rights leaders argued that it was better to bus black students to unused classrooms than to build new schools that perpetuated segregation. Violence erupted in the Murray Hill School Dist., and Rev. BRUCE W. KLUNDER, a young Presbyterian minister, was accidentally killed by a bulldozer in 1964 while participating in a protest. The head of the school board promised to bus blacks to integrate the system. The superintendent resigned, andALFRED BENESCH, a veteran of the school board, contended that the present board should resign for interfering with the superintendent.

In 1963 the Program for Action by Citizens in Education (the PACE ASSN.), organized with the support of the Cleveland Associated Foundation, and advocated a variety of school reforms: early reading assistance, libraries in elementary schools, a human-relations curriculum, black teacher recruitment, a tutor corps, interdistrict vocational training and summer schools, and the establishment of an agency to promote its recommendations, which became a foundation-supported organization developing a wide variety of programs improving public education, before its demise in 1974. ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS such as the Cleveland Urban Learning Community of St. Ignatius High School, the United Independent Schools of E. Cleveland, and the Urban League’s Street Academy, provided non-traditional options in the 1970s and demonstrated the need for reform. In 1964 PAUL BRIGGS, head of the PARMA schools, became superintendent and the board ended the “dual system” of administration that existed, since 1904 by making the Business Dept. report to him. Briggs announced that the schools would have “a new look” through federal assistance that would expand preschool education and a new center for adult education. The enrollment of adults in literacy classes almost doubled. Antipoverty programs and the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965 funded many new programs. Assisted by PACE, 105 elementary libraries opened in 1966. Briggs launched an ambitious building program in 1968 that included a downtown Supplementary Education Ctr. for students throughout the city and an extensive school-building program. The public passed another bond issue to build schools for the over 150,000 students.

After a survey demonstrated that two-thirds of high school dropouts were unemployed, the federal government established a Student Neighborhood Youth Corps, providing after-school jobs. In 1965 the government’s Manpower & Training Ctr. was established, including basic or remedial courses and vocational education. Programs in cooperative and distributive education in high schools provided students with on-the-job work experience. A vocational Occupational Program was to reduce the number of dropouts without marketable skills. In addition, the school cooperated with the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide workstudy programs for boys who qualified. An Occupational Work Experience Program, including a work laboratory with wood- and metal-working equipment, began for below-average high school students. Under contract with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the Woodland Job Training Ctr. enrolled over 1,000 in a factory school in 1968, training hard-core, unemployed city residents.

Briggs recruited black teachers and administrators, appointed Jas. B. Tanner, a black educator, as his assistant superintendent, and helping organize a Master of Arts in Teaching at JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY He declared that the federal government’s Aid to Dependent Children would provide over $1 million in the first 6 months of 1968 to finance 11 new programs for 29,289 disadvantaged learners in 81 schools. But in 1973, the NAACP filed a suit claiming that quality education was not legal or possible in a segregated environment. On 6 Feb. 1978, Federal Judge FRANK J. BATTISTI issued a remedial order as a result of his finding the previous year that the Cleveland school system and State Board of Education were guilty of de facto and de jure segregation of black students in Cleveland. Briggs and the school board, headed by Arnold Pinkney, a black businessman, defended neighborhood schools and claimed that segregation was the result of residential housing patterns they were not obligated to correct. The desegregation case demonstrated that the board’s actions, which included busing, constructing schools, and reassigning students for the purposes of segregation, had racially isolated and violated the 14th Amendment rights of the city’s black children. Briggs predicted the court order, would increase both white flight from the city and the dual system of public education that left schools in central cities with predominantly disadvantaged minority children. His problems were increased when the public rejected by an almost 2-to-1 margin a request for a school levy to remedy the school system’s deficits, and he resigned his position. In Sept. 1978 the system obtained a $20 million loan from Ohio’s Emergency School Assistance Fund. The state also found Cleveland’s public schools below minimum standards and made compliance and the appointment of a financial administrator the basis of a second loan in 1981.

The federal court established a Dept. of School Desegregation Relations to eliminate the effects of prior desegregation and to provide an integrated educational environment. The Office of School Monitoring & Community Relations was established to foster the public’s understanding of desegregation and to report on its progress. Chas. Leftwich, the court-appointed deputy superintendent, had the school department report directly to him. After Leftwich resigned, the court approved the board’s appointment of Margaret Fleming in Nov. 1978. The Monitoring Commission reported to the court that the school system had resegregated black students transported from the Addison Jr. High district and should be held in contempt for obstructing the court’s desegregation plan. The court removed Fleming from her position and appointed Donald Waldrip to head the Dept. of Desegregation in 1980. The court order led to crosstown busing, massive teacher transfers, a mandatory reading program, and other measures to equalize the schools.

Superintendent Peter Carlin, Briggs’ successor, described his efforts as “Working Together for Excellence.” He and the school board addressed the teachers’ needs after Cleveland’s United Fed. of Teachers, organized in 1933, struck in 1978 and 1979. Carlin reported that the schools made progress toward integration by daily transporting over 30,000 students in 550 vehicles. The schools now served over 12 million free or reduced meals, had a computerized scheduling program, School Community Councils and Parent Awareness Project, human-relations training for staff and teachers, improvement in elementary reading scores, compliance with the state’s minimum standards except for facilities, repayment of both state loans, and a Code of Rights, Responsibilities & Discipline for students. But conflicts among school board members, school closings and program reductions, layoffs, the continuing poor performance of students, and declining enrollment diminished the public’s confidence. In 1982 Carlin left the system, suing for its failure to evaluate him before his non-reappointment. Two years later, Waldrip departed under a dark cloud for both his inability to obtain funding for the expansion of magnet schools and his purchase of a million reading programs from a firm he had represented.

The cost per pupil, up more than 100% between 1971-80, ranked the expenditures of, the Cleveland public schools in the top 10% of districts in Ohio. The percentage of the system’s budget spent on educational programs and teachers declined, but the expense of maintenance, administration, and non-teaching personnel increased as enrollment dropped. In 1980 Judge Battisti ordered the State of Ohio as a co-defendant in the desegregation case to bear half the cost of the court order. Faced with resistance from the school board, Battisti had to issue 4,000 orders between 1976 and 1984 to implement desegregation of the public schools. Strikes by teachers and other employees further complicated matters. But the desegregation order was not met with the mob violence that had occurred in other cities. In 1983 an accounting firm’s study estimated that the board expected to spend $1.3 million for custodial employee overtime. A coalition to reform the school board budget continually criticized the board’s spending priorities.

The debate about the role and performance of the public schools revolves around the larger question of how America can live up to its commitment to human rights and equality. The court’s desegregation order reaffirmed the importance of the schools as part of the nation’s democratic heritage. But their poor performance eroded the belief that schools can cure the problems of American society. Cleveland’s public schools freed themselves of political control and the image of being a charity organization before the Civil War but were, by the 1980s, reverting to these conditions. The continued crisis of public education in Cleveland prompted proposals for its takeover by either the state or the mayor. After Carlin’s departure, Superintendent Frederick Holliday committed suicide, and his successor was forced to resign. Alfred Tutela, who came from Boston as a member of the court’s desegregation team in 1978, was appointed superintendent in 1986. He announced that the system needed over $50 million to repair facilities. With diminishing federal support and local taxes, prospects for such massive rehabilitation looked remote. Diminishing resources jeopardized the school system’s ability to survive its escalating problems.

The Cleveland voters approved a bond issue to repair the schools but refused to pass a tax levy for their operation, despite the fact that the district had to borrow money from the state on 3 occasions between 1977 and 1983. Some school leaders and citizens saw the busing program for racial integration as an unwanted financial burden that had to be removed before the passage of a new levy. Due to conflicts with the school board over the use of the newly acquired bond money, Tutela left the system after the school board bought out his contract for more than $300,000. In 1991 Superintendent Frank Huml predicted a $30 million deficit, but the board refused to put a levy on the ballot. Cleveland’s per pupil expenditures were still higher than most districts in its region. The Plain Dealer and educational summits under the sponsorship of Mayor Michael, White’s office, the business community, and community leaders pointed to the deficiencies of the educational system. The majority of students were not able to pass Ohio’s new proficiency test for 9th grade students. Many graduates couldn’t qualify for entry level jobs. Governor Voinovich called for a state take-over. The majority of Cleveland’s residents gave the school system a D or F grade in a poll taken by the Citizen League’s Research Institute.

In 1991 Mayor White successfully campaigned for a reform slate to become the majority of the school board. John Sanders, the new state superintendent, endorsed the proposal for a state take-over. Governor Voinovich also proposed a plan to appoint the state school board rather then allow the public to elect its members. Faced with the threat of a court suit to equalize school funding in Ohio, the governor advocated taking funds from wealthy school districts for redistribution to poorer areas and to allow parents to use school vouchers to attend schools of their choice.

Despite the loss of tax revenue from tax abatements for downtown projects, the Cleveland School Board refused to close schools and to make necessary financial cuts to balance the budget. The state superintendent predicted a school deficit of $55 million by 1993 and $114 million by the following year. The state controlling board approved a $75 million emergency loan without state receivership of the schools. The school board promised to ask the public for additional funds.

Supported by the new school board, Superintendent Sammie Campbell Parrish proposed “Vision 21” as a plan to renew the educational system during the summer of 1993. It made crosstown busing voluntary so parents could choose either magnet or community-based schools. Special reading and conflict resolution programs were also emphasized. Cleveland’s NAACP praised the plan and advocated greater emphasis on the educational program than on busing, since the overwhelming majority of students were African American. But fears and conflicts arose over the high cost of more than $90 million per year to finance the plan and its possible negative impact on desegregating students. Critics also argued that Superintendent Parrish was too distant from the financial and administrative operation of the school system. Parents and teachers also felt that they were not consulted about what was needed to improve the schools. After the failure of another school levy in May 1994, the school board angered parents by threatening to eliminate 300 to 400 employees to prevent a $51 million dollar deficit. Despite the threat of severe cuts, the public refused to pass another levy in Nov. 1994.

With a budget of $500 million, the district’s debt was 25% higher than other large school systems in the state. Another levy was cancelled after Parrish resigned in Feb. 1995, as a result of conflicts with Mayor White and the school board and the imminent state takeover. After the death of Judge Battisti in Oct. 1994, Judge Robert, Krupansky was appointed to oversee the desegregation case. In May 1994 Judge Battisti had announced that the schools would be self-governing by the year 2000 and accepted “Vision 21” as the blueprint for the future. Judge Krupansky initially gave the impression that the district would be gradually relieved from busing, but in Feb. 1995 he ordered a state take-over in the face of the financial woes and administrative chaos that had subverted the court’s remedial orders for desegregation of the school system. The state superintendent was empowered to seek a $29 million loan and to appoint a new superintendent of the Cleveland schools. The court cited the school district’s inability to account for the use of previous state funds as evidence of its financial mismanagement. It was ordered to close 14 schools to help remedy the deficit.

The second half of the 1990s witnessed several new initiatives aimed at helping the struggling schools. The state allocated $5.5 million to provide vouchers of up to $2,250 to allow district students to attend private independent or religious schools beginning in the fall of 1996, but the voucher program stirred heated opposition from the Cleveland Teachers Union and civil libertarian organizations, facing repeated judicial challenges ultimately leading to a Supreme Court hearing, slated for June of 2002. By April of 1999, the district had established 10 charter schools. In November 1996, voters passed a 13.5-mill operating levy, the first since 1983. In the summer of 1997, the Ohio state government approved House Bill 239, vesting the Cleveland mayor with control of the city schools, a move opposed by the teachers union and the NAACP. In March of 1998, Judge White declared that U.S. federal court oversight of the school district would end in July 2000. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a respected New York City educator, was appointed CEO of the Cleveland schools in November 1998.

But the problems of the schools were deeply rooted in the challenging social and economic conditions of the central city. More than 70% of Cleveland’s school children now receive some form of public assistance as single-headed, impoverished families became the norm for many inner-city children by the mid-1990s. Integration became more elusive as the percentage of minority enrollment increased from 58% in 1976 to 71% in 1994. Almost 50% of the system’s students were failing to graduate from high school, while employers increasingly require secondary and post-secondary degrees. For those remaining, their performance on reading-comprehension tests became poorer the longer they stayed in school. Attendance in the junior and senior divisions was the second-worst in the state. Only 37% of the city’s adults had a secondary education in 1986. Nancy Oakley, director of Project Learn, a volunteer tutorial program, estimated that 47,000 illiterate persons lived in Cleveland. Poverty and the culturally different learner had been inextricably bound with illiteracy and student failure throughout, the history of public education. The consequences of the shortcomings of the schools were a direct result of confused priorities resulting in public reluctance to bear the responsibility for providing a system of universal education that included those who have the greatest needs but the least resources. The condition of public education reveals society’s values and priorities. What supported schools in the past was the belief that they were more important than any other institution outside the family and could meet the needs of different learners; this belief/priority seemed sadly lacking in the 1990s.

Edward M. Miggins

Cuyahoga Community College


Miggins, Edward. “The Search for the One Best System: Education Reform and the Cleveland Public Schools, 1836-1920,” inCleveland: A Tradition of Reform (1986).

See also EDUCATION.

 

Last Modified: 14 Nov 2012 09:04:36 AM