Ride The Civil Rights Trail
In October 2019, the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) announced they received a $50,000 grant from the US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, to begin planning its project to develop an African American Civil Rights Trail in Cleveland. The CRS has identified the first three of ultimately ten historical markers for the trail: Cory United Methodist Church, Glenville High School and a yet unidentified Hough location linked to the 1966 protests. A simple route has been created from Public Square to link these locations, and a detailed description follows (an alternate start point is noted on the map if you want to shorten the distance). We’ll update this page as more locations are identified and made public.
African American Civil Rights Trail (First three of ten sites)
1960s Violence and Racial Unrest in the Hough Neighborhood (stop at Hough Avenue and East 79 St.)
Short: During July 18-24, 1966, protests about a merchant escalated. Police were called, but were unable to disburse the crowd, as rock throwing escalated into vandalism and looting. The National Guard was deployed in the morning of July 20th. During the riots, four people were killed, all African American and approximately 30 were injured, close to 300 were arrested and approximately 240 fires were set, resulting in an estimated $1-2 million in property damage. As stability returned, the Guard moved out on July 25th. A Grand Jury exonerated the City and police, conclusions disputed by the community and federal government.
The 1960s included both peaceful protest and sporadic violent outbursts in response to racism, poor housing and discrimination in economic opportunities in many American cities. During the week of July, 18-24 1966, Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood experienced outbursts, ranging from angry protest to vandalism, looting, and arson. Spanning about two square miles, the Hough neighborhood was bordered by Euclid and Superior Avenues and East 55th and 105th streets. The area was named for Oliver and Eliza Hough, settlers in 1799. The Hough neighborhood was changing dramatically, with “white flight” in the 1950s, leaving the overwhelmingly Black residents with substandard and overcrowded housing, assertion of merchant price gouging and police harassment. At the time of the uprisings, 90% of Cleveland’s Black community lived in Black neighborhoods on the city’s east side. Restrictive banking and real estate practices, in combination with segregated public housing placement, steered African Americans to the Hough and Glenville neighborhoods. With an influx of Black migrants from the South during the Second Great Migration, Hough transitioned from a white to a Black community by 1960. Cleveland had become one of the nation’s most segregated cities.
The riots were sparked when the white bar owner of the Seventy-Niners Cafe (Hough Ave. and E. 79th St.) ejected a woman soliciting donations for burial costs for a friend’s child, a common practice, and, later that evening, denied a Black take-out customer a glass of water, later posting a door sign of “no water for niggers.” The protests grew and police were called, but were unable to disburse the angry crowd, as rock throwing escalated into vandalism and looting. Mayor Ralph Locher requested the National Guard, which were deployed in the morning of July 20th. During the riots, four people were killed, all African American and approximately 30 were injured, close to 300 were arrested and approximately 240 fires were set, resulting in an estimated $1-2 million in property damage. As stability returned, the Guard moved out on July 25th.
A grand jury proceeding was initiated to identify the source of the uprising. While acknowledging Hough residents faced social and economic inequalities in their daily life, the grand jury did not cite them as the cause of unrest. Instead, the grand jury asserted that radicals had exploited these conditions. The report exonerated the city and police from responsibility for the disorder and for creating conditions that led to disorder, concluding the “Negro community may be moving too fast for the total community to bear.” The report’s findings were challenged by both federal and community sponsored investigations. No evidence was found to corroborate the jury’s findings that Communist agitators were responsible. Instead, a citizen committee organized by the Urban League of Cleveland determined that the city’s disregard of social conditions in Hough “led to frustration and desperation that…finally burst forth in a destructive way,” citing examples of the police use of derogatory slurs and excessive force. With still more protest, a community response called for the full investigation of a police shooting, impartial handling by police of all persons involved, full integration of the police force, the holding of a mass community meeting, the creation of a committee to investigate the needs of inner-city areas, an investigation into incendiary race hate literature circulated by white supremacists, and the employment of specially trained police officers in the affected neighborhoods, but the proposed reforms were never addressed. Despite federal funds, the economic and physical condition of Hough did not dramatically improve in the wake of the 1966 uprisings. Two years later, in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, more extensive uprising occurred.
Glenville High School (stop at 650 East 113th St., south of St. Clair Ave.)
Short: Glenville High School is noted for an important April 26, 1967 visit from Martin Luther King Jr. Cleveland was facing a mayoral election, with candidate Carl Stokes inspiring the city’s Black community. King commented: “Cleveland, Ohio, is a city that can be the first city of major size in the United States to have a Black mayor and you should participate in making that a possibility … this is an opportunity for you … We must never again be ashamed of ourselves. We must never be ashamed of our heritage. We must not be ashamed of the color of our skins.”
Glenville High School opened in 1892 in the independent village of Glenville, but growth necessitated a new Glenville High School building opened in 1904. Cleveland annexed Glenville in 1906, with the school joining the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. A new Glenville High School opened at the current site in 1966. Glenville High School has had notable alumni, athletes from Glenville’s successful football team, politicians such as former Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White and Senator Howard Metzenbaum, actors Steve Harvey and Ron O’Neal and the creators of Superman.
Glenville High School is noted for an important visit from Martin Luther King Jr. on April 26,1967, one of three schools visited that day. Cleveland was in the midst of a mayoral election, with candidate Carl Stokes inspiring the city’s Black community. Speaking in a full gymnasium, King said: “Cleveland, Ohio, is a city that can be the first city of major size in the United States to have a Black mayor and you should participate in making that a possibility.” “This is an opportunity for you.” While some Stokes supporters were concerned that Dr. King could drive needed white voters away, King persisted, saying “We must never again be ashamed of ourselves. We must never be ashamed of our heritage. We must not be ashamed of the color of our skins,” King said. “Black is as beautiful as any color and we must believe it.” King also called: “let me say to you, my friends, that in spite of the difficult days ahead, the so-called white backlash — which is nothing but a new name for an old phenomenon — I’m still convinced that we’re going to achieve freedom right here in America. And I believe this because however much America has strayed away from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned as we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.” Despite the concern for the white vote, Stokes won the election with support from King and was reelected in 1969. King continued to speak nationwide until he was assassinated in April 1968, just six days before another scheduled visit to Cleveland.
Here is a link to Dr. King’s comments to the students: Martin Luther King Speaks! “Rise Up and Say, I am Somebody!” Message to Students – YouTube
Cory United Methodist Church (stop: 1117 E 105th St., north of Superior Avenue)
Short: Cory is the site of many Cleveland appearances of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as an important speech by Malcolm X, “the ballot or the bullet,” both addressing elections and the struggle for African American equality.
Initially a synagogue for Cleveland’s large Jewish population, dedicated in 1922. The synagogue was the largest Jewish center west of the Allegheny Mountains with an auditorium capable of seating 2,400 worshipers. As Cleveland’s Jewish population migrated east, the facility was sold to a Black congregation and served the African American community thereafter. Renamed Cory United Methodist Church, Cory has been the site of many Cleveland appearances of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as an important speech by Malcolm X, both addressing the struggle for African American equality. The Church sanctuary could hold 5,000 people, but one 1968 speech shortly before King’s death drew thousands more. In 1963, King spoke at Cory, days after a Birmingham, Alabama peaceful protest was met by Sherriff Bull Conner and police dogs. King’s presence inspired thousands, with crowds blocking traffic long before the evening speech. King spoke against segregation, stressing non-violence, saying, “We will meet physical force with soul force.”
Malcolm X also spoke at Cory, giving one of the most famous civil rights speeches, the “ballot or the bullet” speech on April 3, 1964, in which he told Black voters to use their power at the ballot box to bring about change, but that violence might be necessary. “The question tonight, as I understand it, is ‘The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here?’ or ‘What Next?’ … it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.” Later, he added: “I myself am a minister, not a Christian minister, but a Muslim minister; and I believe in action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.” The larger parts of the Malcom X speech addressed politics and elections and that change would come, either by ballots or bullets, and white Americans would determine that choice. “Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American. Why, if birth made you American, you wouldn’t need any legislation; you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution; you wouldn’t be faced with civil rights filibustering in Washington, D.C., right now. They don’t have to pass civil-rights legislation to make a Polack an American … No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism … Black people are fed up with the dillydallying, pussyfooting, compromising approach that we’ve been using toward getting our freedom. We want freedom now, but we’re not going to get it saying “We Shall Overcome.” We’ve got to fight until we overcome.” Malcolm X would be assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York in 1965, three years before King was killed in Memphis.
Author is Kevin Cronin, all rights reserved.
Kevin Cronin is a Cleveland attorney in private practice, largely working with kids and at-risk families in Cuyahoga Juvenile Court He was a founding member of Bike Cleveland, as well as the predecessor organization Cleveland Bikes and served as a board member of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op. Prior to returning home to Cleveland, he worked for a decade for the United States Congress for House and Senate members, as a Counsel for an auditing/budget reform committee and as Associate Staff of the House Budget Committee. Twice honored for volunteerism by non-profit Green Energy Ohio, he is currently the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Vice Chair of the Environment/Energy Subcommittee. In 2010, he filed the first federal lawsuit on behalf of cyclists against the Ohio Department of Transportation and the US Federal Highway Administration, a lawsuit that contributed to $6 million in cycling infrastructure, including the creation of the Multi-use Path on the north end of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge and bike lanes on Abbey Avenue.