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Hough Riots

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

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



The riots[edit]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-riot commentary[edit]

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

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

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

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

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

Alleged Communist Party involvement[edit]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afro Set involvement[edit]

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

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

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


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

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

See also[edit]


  1. a b c The Night They burned Old Hough By Walter Johnson.
  2. a b http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/23/Icons-mini-file_acrobat.gif); padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; “>Hough Riots By Lakritz. Published 1968
  3. ^ Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising Todd M. Michney Journal of Urban History, Vol. 32, No. 3, 404-428 (2006)
  4. a b “Hough Riots”., Ohio History Central
  5. a b Hough Heritage
  6. ^ Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising Todd M. Michney Journal of Urban History, Vol. 32, No. 3, 404-428 (2006)
  7. ^ Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  8. ^ Congress. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). “Subversive Influences in Riots, Looting, and Burning”
  9. ^ “CIA, FBI, and Government Documents – FBI Documents, African American Involvement in the Vietnam War
  10. ^ “Road To Revolution: Communist Guerrilla Warfare in the USA” by Luce, Phillip Abbott, 1967, Viewpoint Books, San Diego, CA.
  11. ^ See Second Declaration of Regina M. Superneau 12 [hereinafter Second Superneau Decl.]http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/federal/judicial/dc/opinions/94opinions/94-5373a.html
  12. ^ Williams Donald v. FBI
  13. ^ see, Julian Gladstone, Never climbed his mountain, Infinity, 2002, pg.235
  14. ^ Diana Tittle, Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban Strategy, Ohio State University Press, 1992, pg.172-173
  15. ^ A neighborhood-level view of riots, property values, and population loss: Cleveland 1950–1980 Explorations in Economic History Volume 44, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 365-386
  16. ^ Daniel Kerr, “We Know What the Problem Is”, Oral History Review, Winter/Spring 2003, Vol. 30, No. 1, Pages 27–45
  17. ^ Hough Cleveland.com
  18. ^ http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/23/Icons-mini-file_acrobat.gif); padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; “>W. Dennis Keating, “The Dilemma of Old, Urban Neighborhoods”, 1999


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