A Look at What Led to the Riots
The 1960s ushered in an era of multiple narratives across the U.S. One striking story of the decade was President John F. Kennedy’s election and a promise to land a man on the moon.
Another, covered a racial divide across the country that was also felt in Cleveland.
In the City’s Hough neighborhood tension built over the 2 decades leading to the 60s as the racial make-up in that part of town changed.
Ideastream’s Darrielle Snipes continues our series “Hough: Before and Beyond ‘66” with a look at the issues that surrounded a series of violent nights in July of that year.
During World War two, the Hough neighborhood was transitioning as more blacks migrated from the south to the north looking for better jobs, housing and education. Whites were moving to affluent suburbs.
Urban renewal, a federal program to clear and redevelop low-income areas with more affordable housing, and freeway construction forced more blacks to move to the Hough area in the 1950’s.
Cleveland State University History professor Mark Souther says in the 1950's blacks made up less than 5% of the population in Hough. Ten years later more than 70% of the 2-point-2 square mile neighborhood was black. He says white property owners ended up renting, often at inflated prices, their houses to these new residents.
Souther: “They are subdiving the house into many little parcels basically so that you have what amounts to efficient apartmentsand rooming houses,” Souther said. “So, the conditions get more and more overcrowded.”
Souther says the city, under Mayor Ralph Locher, didn’t provide services, like regular trash pick-up; attracting rodents and landlords neglected their properties further deteriorating the quality of life.
“One of the most insidious things the Locher administration allowed to happen is for the housing department to give an order not to enforce the housing code in the Hough area,” he said.
The NAACP and leaders of the black community tried to get the city to make changes.
“Mayor Locher, he had deaf ears to what was going in the city,” Said Rev. Charles Lucas. “We tried to have meetings and it was a shake hands type affair.“
Rev. Charles Lucas, was a pastor at Greater Avery AME Church, located in Hough, and a member of the NAACP working to resolve issues including unemployment, a segregated school system and tension between African- Americans and a majority white police department.
“That was trouble right there so the police were not trusted. There was a lot of police brutality,” he said.
In the early 1960’s both Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X visited Cleveland and gave civil rights speeches.
Malcom X gave his famous “The Ballot or The Bullet” speech first in Cleveland on April 3, 1964. In this clip recorded a few days later in Detroit, Malcom X urged blacks to head to the polls. “You are in a position to vote who goes to the white house who stays in the dog house. You have that power.”
The United States Commission on Civil Rights, created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to investigate issues around discrimination, held a hearing in Cleveland in April of 1966.
Then State Representative Carl Stokes testified about the injustices happening in the city saying “The testimony you have elicited and the evidence of civil rights abuses collected by your staff, leave this city with a regrettably deserved indictment of failures to a large segment of its peoples. Failures on the part of the city officials.”
Then Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher testified “We have made notable gains in some of our urban renewal programs, in others we have not fared as well as we would like. But we are not discouraged. We are working hard to provide decent housing. We know that there will not be any overnight miracles.”
The commission released its initial findings on June 30th, 1966 recommended the city bring homes up to code and improvements to the school system.
That was three weeks before the Hough Riots began.