Ryan and I put out a call on Twitter asking what people were looking forward to at the upcoming SACRPH conference in Cleveland, and the response was crickets. I’m concerned that urbanists are insufficiently excited for what will most certainly be a great weekend! So here are the five things I’m most looking forward to…
5. Revisiting a Favorite City
Betraying my adopted home of Pittsburgh, I will confess: I love Cleveland. I can’t really explain why, except to say that I’m easily bewitched by bookstores and believe in omens.
4. Paper Sessions
It appears that I will have to roll a die to determine which panels to attend–there are so many good ones. I do know that I will be sitting in on the presentation of one of my best friends from undergrad, who I didn’t know was attending SACRPH until I found her name in the conference program!
I’ve never been to a library I didn’t love, and I can’t wait to drink a few glasses of wine and shmooze with my fellow urbanists while surrounded by books. Take note, graduate students–afterwards there will be a reception for the field’s most junior scholars at Hodge’s.
Please come up and introduce yourself to me at SACRPH! Whether you’ve been a Member of the Week or a quietly lurking reader of The Metropole, I want to hear from you. This platform exists to bring together UHA members who might otherwise never meet, converse, share, influence, or inspire one another! As co-editors of the blog, Ryan and I do not only read and comment on writing–we also serve as a node, a point of connection within the larger network of our Association. So if you see me around, I would love to hear more about what you’re working on and what makes you passionate about urban history.
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I’m currently writing my dissertation about the development of black politics in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s by examining how members of the black political class–namely, mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young as well as people on the city council and county commissions, in the Georgia Assembly, in the Department of Public Safety, and within the the black business community–governed through issues of crime and urban development. More specifically, I investigate how these figures responded to rising crime rates, in particular what they identified as “black-on-black crime,” and escalating fear of crime, as well as deepening inequality with punitive public safety policies and market-based economic development programs based in notions of law and order, personal responsibility, and the sanctity of capital. I argue that these leaders accomplished this with the approval of much, though not all, of Atlanta’s black electorate by drawing on a black reformist liberal tradition that emerged in the late 19th century, a political moment of revanchism similar to that of the 1970s and 1980s. More broadly, I consider the ways in which shifts in black politics on the urban level provide insight into the broader rightward shift of the post-Great Society Democratic Party.
I came to this topic in the aftermath of the murder of Freddie Gray and the uprising in Baltimore. I wanted to understand how putatively liberal, Democratic black political officials could come to condone systems of policing and urban redevelopment that criminalized poor black people and exacerbated racial inequality. My research shows that black leaders not only condoned these practices, they designed them, and furthermore, they defended them by appealing to traditional ideals in black political culture.
Describe your current public history work. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?
This year, I’m working as an editorial assistant with the Washington Post’s “Made By History” blog. It’s a forum that enables historians to share insights about current events and their historical context with a broad audience. It has been really fun as a historian to learn about the work other people are doing and to read fascinating pieces outside of my field. It has also been really rewarding as a scholar committed to dismantling barriers between the academy and the wider world to help other scholars make their work accessible and cogent for a broader audience.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
When I’m not writing my dissertation or editing pieces for the blog, I’m working on an article that provides a genealogy of the concept of “black-on-black crime.” It has really surprising origins in black progressive politics that provide insight into the role of African Americans in constructing the carceral state. As for the work of other scholars, Brian Goldstein’s The Roots of the Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem has been really instructive for me as I try to untangle the messy politics of development within black politics. I also really enjoyed Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics, which is not only a well-researched historical study, but is a real page-turner. I think it would make a great movie a la The Big Short.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?
As I was struggling to write my dissertation prospectus, Nathan Connolly advised me to spend some time reading the records of city council proceedings. This really helped me to get a sense of what issues were really important to city legislators and their constituents and what they believed was at stake in how the city governed on particular issues. Issues that I thought would be really significant based on the secondary literature–affirmative action and animosity between the mayor and the business community, for example–were not nearly as inescapable or as contentious as the crime issue, which of course was inextricable from the development issue and the push to make Atlanta the “next great international city.” This realization changed the entire project. So my advice would be to start by spending a good amount of time with city council records to see what people actually cared about and how they went about addressing their concerns.
You have served as a teaching assistant and editor with the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project, in which Emory University undergraduate students are examining unsolved and unpunished racially motivated murders from the modern civil rights era. What was one of the most memorable moments–either experienced by you, or a student, or shared as a class–from the time you worked on the project?
The Cold Cases Project is an important initiative and I’m very happy to been able to contribute. There isn’t quite one particular moment that stands out because the course, and the project itself, was very much a process of discovery. We spent the semester examining one case, the murder of James Brazier in southeastern Georgia. Each week the students examined different components of the case and gradually they were able to put the pieces together. As a teacher, I enjoyed helping students do the real work of history–examining different kinds of evidence such as autopsy reports and witness statements, putting these pieces of evidence in conversation with each other and the secondary literature, and creating a narrative that provides an informed explanation of the case.
Urban historians in the United States have increasingly been adopting the kinds of transnational frameworks already central to inquiry in other disciplines. We were slower to take the transnational turn than scholars in fields like sociology, anthropology, and geography. The reasons why have a lot to do with both nation and methodology.
Outside the United States, there were clear reasons for people to think in terms that transcended the nation-state. The contributors to the new volume that I’ve co-edited with Nancy Kwak, Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History, many of whom work on South Asia, East Asia, and Latin America, readily pointed out why: in the parts of the world long controlled by colonial powers, , people understood that empires could reach from beyond the horizon and exert authority over them. Scholars trained in Europe, meanwhile, had long understood overseas empires as a taken-for-granted historical formation.The sheer extent of imperial infrastructure—both colonial districts overseas and the looted monuments to their empires that dotted so many metropolitan capitals—made it more intuitive for scholars of urbanism and architecture like Anthony King, Peter Hall, Swati Chattopadhyay, and Zeynep Çelikto place cities in an imperial context. Methodologically, urban historians have studied particular places. Indeed, the entire subfield is defined by its focus on specific categories of space. Our approach is to know a place in great detail; our purpose may be to examine larger processes on the human scale, but that requires close attention to the local instantiation. As Simon Schama once put it, historians can be divided into parachutists and truffle-hunters depending on their preferred scale of inquiry; in that framework, we were clearly more truffle-oriented. To the extent that the community study was the basic building block of the field, that often circumscribed our ability to think systematically beyond the horizon. Indeed, even in areas where U.S. urban history consistently crossed borders, as in the history of immigration to cities, until relatively recently most attention was on immigrant destinations rather than migrant networks or the process of migration. The idea that a substantial contingent of immigrants eventually or repeatedly returned home, for example, was unexplored for decades.
Making Cities Global seeks to combine the most intellectually revealing aspects of transnational studies and urban history. The ground was already well prepared, since many studies of globalization in other fields already viewed cities as the most important sites of transnationalism in actual practice. In many cases, however, globalized scholarship tended toward grand narrative or abstraction. Some approaches seemed to emplot cities into existing narratives of imperialism, while others took unmistakably useful concepts like “system” and “flow” but used them in ways that privileged capital to the exclusion of people and power on the ground, yielding accounts that didn’t have the look, sound, taste, or feel of the world’s extraordinarily diverse metropolitan areas.
In response, we emphasized aspects of urban history that would keep the analysis empirically grounded and fully global. In particular, many of us focus on specific types of metropolitan places; equally important, most of our essays deal with trans-Pacific and pan-American linkages rather than the more commonly researched Atlantic world. In this way, we encourage scholars to think about multiple transnationalisms that were often discontinuous and contested.
These approaches are reflected in the text, of course, but also in an illustration program that is an essential part of our collection. For example, Margaret O’Mara’s chapter on high-tech suburbs features a magnificently mid-century photograph of President Charles De Gaulle visiting Silicon Valley in 1960 as part of his efforts to create a French equivalent—efforts, O’Mara shows, that set the stage for a worldwide competition to establish spaces for innovation.
One of the most striking images in the book is of a man dressed as Jesus walking the streets of Chicago. Arijit Sen sees the man—a member of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which attributes its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle’s landing on the coast of India in 53 CE—as a way to explore the changing character of immigrant parades and the embodied character of transnational performances in urban space.
Building types, too, can cross oceans. Malls, for example, have become some of the most standardized set pieces in metropolitan areas worldwide. Erica Allen-Kim demonstrates, however, that these spaces include local variations like the retail condominium—a spatial arrangement created by small business and real estate investment imperatives in East Asia—that have emerged and been disseminated across great distances. Among her examples is Pacific Mall, a Chinese-Canadian shopping center in suburban Toronto.
Transnationalism is a fundamentally historical process, and Matt Garcia shows how a community’s migrants and immigrants can take on very different meanings depending upon its position in a changing global economy. Arbol Verde, originally a Mexican settlement on the periphery of Los Angeles, meant one thing to workers in early-twentieth-century agribusiness like the one who drew this map of the barrio and something very different to college administrators in the globalized educational economy of the turn of the millennium.
In these and eight more essays, we try to show how urban history can think beyond the nation-state, especially by continuing to modify its methodological traditions to encompass a broader, transnational framework. In so doing, we build upon a body of work in globalized urban history that has been growing quickly in recent years. We discuss a lot of this literature in greater detail in the introduction to the volume, but you can get an initial sense of the emergence of work in this vein by going to the Urban History Association website and perusing the conference programs over the years: research on transnational urban history is one of the components of an efflorescence in the field, a reason why the most recent biennial conferences have between two and three times as many papers as the early ones. Moreover, a group of scholars recently launched the Global Urban History Project, a wide-ranging effort to continue transnationalizing the field; the project also has its own blog.
As far as future directions for transnational urban history, there are all kinds of promising points of departure, but I think political history has a great deal of potential. After all, the entire field of urban history was revitalized in the mid-1990s by scholars who used community studies—often within a metropolitan framework rather than a municipal one—to illuminate trends connecting local and national politics. Theirs was a thoroughly national framework that needs to be globalized.
In this political moment, there is a great deal that is transnational about urbanism and politics. The shocking outcome of the U.S. presidential election of 2016 has become something that needs to be explained, but of course that was only the most surprising of a number of recent political reversals around the world. Domestically, the initial narrative of a blue-collar revolt has been called very much into question by people who have pointed out the centrality of race to people’s electoral choices. But the role of urbanization needs a lot more explanation, since one of the most consistent divides was people living in urban areas and inner suburbs versus those on the further periphery and in rural areas; even after adjusting for race, the differences were considerable, as Richard Florida and others have pointed out.
This is also a transnational story, however. Immigration was not just an important issue in the U.S. election, but also in the earlier Brexit vote and in subsequent national and local elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and then again in the United Kingom. But this has not played out the way that people often think. in the U.S., places with the highest proportion of foreign-born people were strongly Democratic (again after controlling for race), while GOP anti-immigrant sentiment paradoxically flourished in places where comparatively few newcomers to our shores reside. In Europe, the relationships among immigration, urbanization, and voting have also been consequential, though less straightforwardly than here.
This is also a transnational matter because this pattern of reactionary politics thriving in rural areas has been apparent for quite some time. The metropolitan split in the politics and violence that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia comes to mind, as the more complex political geography of the Brexit vote. If we consider this more globally, though, the picture changes dramatically: in India, the world’s largest democracy,the nationalist BJP rests on an electoral base that is relatively urbanized. There is much to think about here, and the answers may have a great deal to tell us about what we analyze in Making Cities Global as the “intertwined historical development” of “the connections between urbanization and globalization.”
White nationalists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. From an historian’s perspective, there was little surprise in this action, especially after two years of widespread appeals to white nationalism in the course of one of the most heated presidential campaigns in American history. Why did the organizers’ choose Charlottesville? What do their organizations hope to gain by defending sites of Confederate history?
Virginia is, perhaps, the deepest home for white nationalist expression in the United States. Long before the American Revolution, ideas about racial differences and divisions shaped the Old Dominion. Between 1670 and 1750, the intertwined influences of slavery and white supremacy redefined freedom and bondage in the British Colonies. Cities like Norfolk and Richmond, and small towns like Charlottesville, grew in the soil of racial strife and oppression for more than three centuries. Racial perceptions shaped the spaces and places that teach American history. White supremacy molded the evolution of the American political economy.
Due to the grafting of racial perceptions through economic spatialization (informed by race), we must ask: how can the detailed analysis of metropolitan growth better inform scholarly and public understandings of white supremacy in the twenty-first century? The first step must be the forceful confrontation of the pervasive denials about racist decision-making by people in positions of authority throughout American society. In 2016, university leaders made straight-faced excuses about the hateful politics of white supremacy represented by Woodrow Wilson with nothing more than nostalgia as a rhetorical fig leaf.
Urban historians – better than most – know that the language of economic growth offers the thinnest veneer for earlier generations of racist reasoning based in both science and religion. In the traditions of Kenneth Jackson, Robert Fogelson, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Sugrue, in his book Colored Property, David Freund revealed how the language of biological racism in housing markets before 1945 transformed into market and efficiency justifications during the Civil Rights/Black Power era. Even 100 years prior to the racist housing associations in Freund’s work, in the early nineteenth century, municipal land-use patterns reflected the assumptions of white supremacy, including in discussions about gradual emancipation. In the context of the Charlottesville Nazi and Klan marchers’ chants of “Blood and Land,” the expanding metropolis represents an existential threat against the purity of small towns and isolated rural communities.
The megapolitan threat – as both a symbol and a reality – mobilized the resurgent fascist movement in the United States. A megapolitan is a massive, metropolitan region – there are currently ten in the United States (“BosWash” or “Boston-Washington” being the wealthiest) and perhaps another dozen growing around the world. The white nationalists understand that inclusive cities undermine their political agenda. No one symbolized the ascendant power of a global, multi-racial coalition against white supremacy more than Barack Obama. The daily reminders about an African American with presidential authority instigated a backlash that channeled through a patriarchal xenophobia that simmered under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. The feeling of retreat among social conservatives who perceived the encroachment of women’s rights, racial equality, LGBTQ equality, and fluid immigration policies drove a politics of resentment that continues to unfold daily in 2017. For educators, it is a crucial moment to distinguish among the segments of the American population that are committed to fascism and white supremacy and others who simply stand silently on the sidelines waiting for the tension and conflict to subside.
Figure 1. Richmond, Virginia (c. 1864)
Urbanists’ challenge is to bring rural spaces into urban history.. This imperative exists because the majority of the participants in the movements to reassert white nationalism come from rural areas and small towns across the United States. In Suburban Erasure, I began this process by showing that the fringes of cities were simultaneously independent small towns and rural communities. Even without formal incorporation into the political framework of major cities, the commercial infrastructure that connected metropolitan areas dramatically transformed rural places. Sometimes, this process even erased the most vulnerable enclaves of African Americans. Since 1960, racially marginalized communities with little material prosperity have remained the easiest target for suburban redevelopment in the United States.
Suburban erasure did not just eliminate small enclaves of African Americans; it also created a new terrain of white nationalism. The twentieth-century erasure of historically black, brown, and impoverished communities differs significantly from nineteenth century settlement and land-use patterns. African American communities were only protected by the perception of the profitability of the residents’ bodies and labor before the Civil War. The possibility of thriving, autonomous black communities after Reconstruction (and, especially, after Plessy v. Ferguson) was intolerable, as seen in the rising tide of lynchings and riots that culminated in the Red Summer of 1919, the Tulsa riot of 1921, and the destruction of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. With the advent of amortized mortgages, violent removal was no longer necessary. Market forces and economies of scale could simply erase small communities. Over the next century, scholars must grapple with the ways that race informed the evolution of space and place in locations like Middletown and Toms River, New Jersey (see Figures 2 and 3) – formerly rural places where new forms of metropolitan segregation reinforce the politics of white supremacy.
Figure 2. Middletown, New Jersey (c. 2017)
Figure 3. Toms River, New Jersey (c. 2017)
Scholars have added new insights into old debates that simultaneously sought to reverse the process of historical erasure and form new understandings of urban, rural, and suburban spaces. Robyn Rodriguez’s In Lady Liberty’s Shadowand David E. Goldberg’s The Retreats of Reconstruction advance scholars’ understanding of this changing cultural and spatial landscape. Goldberg shows how the political economy of northern Jim Crow entrenched racist policies of inclusion that required immigrants to pursue social expressions of white identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rodriguez complements this knowledge by revealing the ways that whiteness shaped the suburban politics of immigration after 1970. Willow Lung-Amam has uncovered similar patterns and pressures in Silicon Valley’s suburban schools. Zaire Dinzey-Flores documented the effects of these forces in Puerto Rico as gated communities shaped the built environment. Rhonda Williams opens the door to new paradigms in urban history by centering the experiences of African American women in the processes of creating just, inclusive metropolitan places. Anthony Pratcher’s new research on Phoenix, Arizona, emphasizes the patterns of displacement and erasure that compose the central assumptions of suburbanization and metropolitan expansion. Work by Carl Nightingale and Angel Nieves shows the ways that transnational institutions communicated these assumptions over the last two centuries, inspiring a new generation of scholars led by Paige Glotzer, Devin Fergus, Nathan Connolly, and Marcia Chatelain to analyze the racial and spatial dimensions of greed in the real estate markets.
These combined efforts bring urban history to the forefront of the public policy debates as seen in the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic magazine, the Boston Review, and National Public Radio. As historians contribute to the planning of future cities, Charlottesville reminds us to carefully disentangle the ways that white supremacy has informed the transitions among rural, urban, and suburban spaces over the last three hundred years.
Walter Greason is a professor of history and anthropology and Dean of the Honors Program at Monmouth University. Dr. Greason’s research focuses on the comparative, economic analysis of slavery, industrialization, and suburbanization. He serves as the Treasurer for the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, which is holding its national conference this year in Cleveland, Ohio, from October 26 through 29, 2017. Dr. Greason has published widely including three books, The Path to Freedom, Suburban Erasure, and The American Economy.
On January 3, 1956, a bomb exploded in the garage of John G. Pegg, an African- American newcomer to the Shaker Heights neighborhood. The explosion was a turning point for the Cleveland suburb: the wealthiest neighborhood in America in 1960. Though it destroyed Pegg’s garage, it also jolted Shaker Heights’ residents into action. Out of the debris emerged white residents’ desire to change their community from one that fostered racial intolerance to one that openly accepted African Americans. Instead of succumbing to fear, they decided to racially integrate.
Emboldened by the landmark Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which ruled racially restrictive covenants unconstitutional, African Americans like John G. Pegg began moving to Shaker Heights in the 1950s. In response to this influx of African-American homeowners, some white homeowners feared that they would have to leave their affluent community. Subsequently, some white residents started selling their homes.
Other white residents hoped to remain in the Ludlow neighborhood of Shaker Heights; they felt invested in the community and wanted to continue living there regardless of the increasing black population. Spurred by the firebombing of Pegg’s garage on January 3, 1956, while his home was under construction, white residents, as well as African-American newcomers Winston Richie and Theodore and Beverly Mason, formed the Ludlow Community Association (LCA) in 1957. The LCA’s first president, a white resident named Irwin Barnett, was most concerned with stopping the rumors that “Ludlow was going to turn into a ghetto” due to the influx of black residents and ensuing white flight. As a result of these fears, Barnett sought out strategies to encourage whites to purchase homes in the community. However, two external threats impeded the LCA’s progress: banks and real estate agents. Realtors refused to show whites homes in the Ludlow neighborhood and banks made it difficult for them to secure mortgage financing.
As a result of banks and realtors obstructing white homebuyers’ ability to purchase homes in Ludlow, subsequent LCA presidents prioritized attracting white potential homebuyers. These presidents were able to re-attract whites to Shaker Heights using a variety of methods, including lending up to $5,000 for second mortgages to prospective homebuyers who could not afford the cost of a down payment. Many of the LCA’s social events raised funds for white homebuyers’ loans. In 1966, LCA President Alan Gressel invited jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald to perform, and raised $10,000 in ticket sales, which funded the LCA’s activities, including its mortgage program. In 1969, LCA President William Insull, Jr. used the proceeds from the LCA’s production of My Fair Lady to finance loans for prospective white homebuyers to live in Ludlow. As a result of the LCA’s efforts, Ludlow began to reverse the annual rate of change from 1964 to 1967, where home sales were about one-tenth of one per cent from white to black. By 1968, the rate of change transitioned from black to white.
Unfortunately, the LCA’s focus on white homeowners to maintain integration meant discouraging black people from purchasing homes. While the LCA never explicitly encouraged discrimination against black homebuyers, its actions reveal otherwise. Many African-Americans who wanted to finance their homes faced difficulty and few, if any African-American homebuyers purchased homes through the LCA’s program, given the organization’s preference for white homebuyers.
Additionally, African-American businessman William Percy was so outraged by the LCA’s aloofness towards him when he viewed a home that he was “ready to sue the LCA for discrimination.” Ironically, when Percy moved to Ludlow and joined the organization, he began to understand the LCA’s position, and eventually became its first black President in 1964. Percy’s “shared interests” with white Ludlow residents “as the basis for the construction of suburban identities” both motivated his and white LCA members’ ability to disavow their discrimination against black homebuyers as a way to subsequently maintain their community’s property values.
Several events that took place between 1968 and 1979 laid the foundation for Shaker Heights to pursue a more equitable form of integration in the 1980s. By the 1970s, the changing racial climate in the U.S. ushered in by the Civil Rights Movement, the Open Housing Movement, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 produced an environment in Shaker Heights where there was harsher criticism of local fair housing organizations’ problematic policies.
In 1972, Joseph H. Battle, an African-American Ludlow resident, realtor, and President of Operation Equality—a national housing program that the Urban League of Greater Cleveland implemented to ensure that housing practices abided by the Fair Housing Act of 1968—wrote a scathing denunciation of the Shaker Communities Housing Office, for Operation Equality. The Shaker Communities Housing Office, an organization founded in July 1967, openly preferred white homeowners over black homeowners, asserted Battle. More specifically, Battle lamented the Housing Office’s continued discrimination against prospective black homebuyers, its failure to achieve neighborhood stabilization due to integrated areas receiving a growing African-American population, and the reluctance to support open housing in unintegrated sections of the city. Given the Ludlow Community Association’s role in establishing the Housing Office in 1967, LCA members expressed guilt over the Housing Office’s errors. In 1972, members internally acknowledged that stabilizing Ludlow would become “increasingly more difficult,” that “nothing is being effected to motivate the white brokers at this time…unless the laws are more vigorously adhered to.” Despite the LCA’s internal admission that it was difficult to maintain integration in Ludlow, more criticism would continue to be levied at Shaker Heights’ failure to equitably integrate.
Tension over the Housing Office’s policies erupted in April 1979 when half of the Housing Office’s coordinators, two black and four white women, resigned in a public protest over the disparate treatment of white and black prospective homebuyers. In a public letter published in the Sun Press, the resigning coordinators cited the ambiguity of whether the Housing Office’s pro-integrative policies were meant to encourage integration or containment. Finally, in June 1979, the Housing Office unveiled a new policy that promised black and white prospective homebuyers equal treatment. Under the new policy, whites were to be shown homes in areas that were predominantly black and blacks would be shown homes in areas that were predominantly white.
Donald DeMarco, who became the Director of Community Services in November 1982, enhanced these policies. Although DeMarco did not work for the Housing Office, as the Director of Community Services, his office oversaw the Housing Office’s seventeen employees. Under DeMarco’s direction, the Housing Office enacted policies intended to “promote and sustain racial integration” instead of aiding homebuyers who want housing in areas that helps “further segregation.” For example, the Housing Office worked with real estate agencies that provided the Housing Office with referrals from homebuyers who were not interested in exploring housing options in an integrated community. Acquainting homebuyers and realtors who were initially opposed to living in and selling homes in an integrated community, with the appealing aspects of Shaker’s vibrant community—such as its excellent schools—were non-race based methods of making these homebuyers and realtors receptive to the idea of living in and selling homes in a community with fantastic amenities, that happened to be integrated.
The City of Shaker Heights also supported the Housing Office’s newfound commitment to equitable integration. In 1986, the City of Shaker Heights inaugurated a homebuyers’ loan program called the Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights. The Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights provided white homebuyers with loans to encourage them to move into neighborhoods that were at least fifty percent black and black homebuyers with loans to encourage them to move into neighborhoods that were at least ninety percent white.
Shaker Heights’ commitment to integration also extended to establishing metropolitan-wide integration by forming an inter-government agency called the East Suburban Council for Open Communities (ESCOC) in 1983. Shaker Heights, in conjunction with the nearby suburbs of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, as well as their respective school districts, founded ESCOC as a joint venture, funded by the Gund and Cleveland Foundations. Led by African-American Ludlow resident Winston Richie, ESCOC provided loans to black homebuyers who purchased homes in suburbs that were less than twenty-five percent black and white homeowners who purchased homes in suburbs that were more than twenty-five percent black. By 1990, ESCOC estimated that it assisted 400 black families in moving into Cleveland’s predominantly white eastern suburbs.
Despite the revolutionary promise of these local and regional fair housing organizations, it was still difficult to eradicate white supremacy’s impact on the housing market. While the city’s policies provided economic incentives to encourage both black and white homebuyers to integrate neighborhoods, few black homebuyers could afford to purchase homes in predominantly white neighborhoods; therefore, white homebuyers still received ninety percent of loans in the early 1990s. Establishing equality proved to be quite difficult in the Cleveland-metropolitan area, given its ranking as the second most segregated housing market in the nation, in accordance with two nationally published independent analyses of 1990 Census data.
This disparity is also important because it reveals that white privilege in the housing market is persistent and cannot be eradicated, only abated. Therefore, the efforts of all three entities to curtail housing segregation underscore that efforts to combat residential segregation have to be consistent and constant because of the housing market’s preference for whiteness and segregation.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shaker Heights’ commitment to pro-integrative policies waned. ESCOC dissolved shortly after Winston Richie’s resignation as Executive Director in January 1991. In 2002, the Housing Office closed and two offices of city government absorbed its functions. Additionally, the community associations that invested so much time and energy into integrating Shaker Heights in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s began to exist as solely social organizations in the 1990s and 2000s.
One possible explanation for Shaker Heights de-prioritizing its fair housing efforts is colorblindness. The idea that Shaker Heights “accomplished” its goal of integrating its community and therefore no longer needs apparatuses to intentionally integrate is a form of colorblindness. This misconception ignores the housing market’s preference for whiteness and residential segregation, under the guise of equality for all.
These colorblind attitudes have had tangible effects on Shaker Heights’ racial demographics over the past two decades. The absence of pro-integrative efforts places Shaker Heights in danger of completely re-segregating as a predominantly black, middle or working-class community. Racial demographics in 2000 and 2010 reveal that Shaker Heights was beginning to re-segregate without persistent methods to maintain integration. According to the 2000 Census, Shaker Heights was 59.9% white and 34.1% black. By contrast, in 2010, whites composed 54.9% of the total population and blacks comprised 37% of the total population. These statistics are significant because they underscore the white flight that afflicted the community over the past two decades.
This high rate of white flight demonstrates the difficulty in retaining white homeowners and attracting white homebuyers to integrated communities without interventions in the housing market. While it is not negative for a community to re-segregate as a predominantly black community, studies demonstrate that predominantly black neighborhoods struggle with less access to quality amenities and report lower incomes compared to white neighborhoods. Employment discrimination causes black employees to earn lower incomes than white employees. Therefore, integration is desirable not for cultural reasons but rather to expose black homeowners to resources that they otherwise might not receive in a segregated, racist housing market. 
The most logical steps for Shaker Heights to stave off complete re-segregation are for residents and activists to be vigilant of the segregation and whiteness that permeate the housing market. While this does not include giving preferential treatment to white homebuyers to reside in the community, these steps should include targeted advertisements to white homebuyers, given many white homebuyers’ fear of living in communities with increasing populations of color. Other steps should include providing mortgage subsidies to both black and white homebuyers and providing financial assistance for black and white homeowners to reside in neighborhoods where their races are underrepresented. Taking steps to encourage integration will also help the community stabilize its home values. Overall, Shaker Heights’ integration can be maintained only if there are concerted efforts to do so.
Nichole Nelson is a PhD candidate at Yale University studying twentieth-century American History, with a focus on post-WWII urban and suburban history. Nelson was the Metropole’s UHA member of the week in April. Read more about her research here.
Photo at top of the page, Shaker Heights rapid transit line, Jet Lowe, 1978, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress
 Russell H. Davis, Black Americans in Cleveland from George Peake to Carl B. Stokes, 1796-1969. (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1972), 331.
 Thomas Meehan, “The Good Life in Shaker Heights,” Cosmopolitan, 46-51, March 1963.
 Joseph P. Blank, “Ludlow—A Lesson in Integration,” A Reader’s Digest, September 1968, 194.
 Sources: Pegg’s home was located at 13601 Corby Road. Davis, 331; Blank, 194 and “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3-4, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society.
 “Trends in Housing,” National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing 9, no. 6, (November-December 1965), Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society
 Gilbert Selden served a one-year term in 1959; Bernard Isaacs served as President from 1960-1962; Joseph Finley was President in 1963; William Percy served as President and 1964; Alan D. Gressel succeeded him, serving from 1965 to 1966. Source: “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3.
 1966 Ludlow Community Association Annual Report, Shaker Library.
 Sources: John S. Diekhoff, “My Fair Ludlow,” The Educational Forum, March, 1969, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5, Western Reserve Historical Society; Ronald Spetrino, President of the Ludlow Community Association, to Ludlow Residents. Shaker Heights, Ohio, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5, Western Reserve Historical Society; “1957-2007: 50th Anniversary LCA—Ludlow Community Association,” 3-4, Ludlow Community Association Records Series I, 1953-1972, Box 5, Folder 5; Western Reserve Historical Society.
The Worlds of Ludlow. Report. Shaker Heights: Ludlow Community Association, 1968, 8.
 W.C. Miller, “Shaker Housing Office Unveils Equality Policy,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1979.
 Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015
 Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015 and Tuthill, Linda. “Pursuing an Ideal: How Shaker Heights strives to maintain integration,” Shaker Magazine May 1985, 35 (Shaker Historical Society)
 Donald DeMarco, interview by Nichole Nelson. January 8, 2015
 Bill Lubinger, “Pro-Integrative Efforts Assessed Pattern of Segregation Unlikely to Change Study Finds,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 26, 1992.
 Terry Holthaus, “Fair Housing Leader Quits, Calling Efforts a Lost Cause,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 1991.
 “Communities,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 12, 2002.
 Informal conversations with current Ludlow Community Association Presidents, Julie Donaldson and Mary Ann Kovach, underscore the community associations’ transition from integration in the 1950s through the 1990s to social programming in the 1990s and 2000s.
 “Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000: Geographic Area: Shaker Heights city, Ohio,” from “Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Ohio.”
 I calculated the percentage of white residents by dividing the number of white residents—15,635 by the total population—28,448. I calculated the percentage of black residents by dividing the number of black residents—10,545—by the total population—28,448.
Source: “Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: 2010—Con.,” from “Ohio: 2010—Summary Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Census of Population and Housing.”
 These themes are discussed in detail in Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Mary Pattillo’s Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class, and Mary Pattillo’s Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City.
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My current work is a social history of mass housing and inequality in Mexico City. The dissertation traces the rise of Latin America’s largest shantytown, Ciudad Neza, as it grew alongside a government-built housing complex named San Juan de Aragón. Both Ciudad Neza and San Juan de Aragón are representative of a crucial historic juncture for Mexico, and Latin America in general, an era when the optimism of modernist urban planning was eclipsed by the rise of the urban shantytown. I focus on housing to explore how it contributed to “a great divergence” among the millions of migrants who arrived to Mexico City in the middle of the twentieth century. During this period, public housing evolved into a mechanism for upward mobility among the city’s incipient middle-class at the expense of the informal poor, producing a new set of political subjectivities and cultural sensibilities among the city’s residents.
The project stems from my life-long fascination with the historical experience of people leaving the countryside for major cities. After pursuing several different ideas (street vendors, migrant associations), I found that struggles over housing provided a focal point and entryway into this experience and allowed me to highlight the diversity of the people arriving to Mexico City during the 1950s (erroneously portrayed in the press and scholarship as a monolithic mass of poor, illiterate campesinos.)
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
In the past, I have usually taught courses on Latin American history, but this past summer I was able to teach a course called “Cities in World History.” It was great to go beyond Latin America and teach about housing and architecture in places like New York and Paris. We also went up to the present and covered the rapid growth of refugee camps, a socio-spatial formation that exists in a peculiar kind of limbo state that contains both elements of transitory encampments and permanent neighborhoods. The refugee crisis is creating human settlements of millions of people and they’re challenging what we think of as “urban.” Ben Rawlence’s account of a massive refugee camp in Kenya (City of Thorns) and the UNHCR’s online resources on camps/cities in Syria were very eye-opening for the students.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
There has been an effervescence of literature on Latin American cities in the past few years. The best of example of that work can be found in Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America, which is really a great collection of cutting-edge work that spans across various disciplines and countries. I’m looking forward to the release of two books on Mexico City – Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City and Andrew Konove’s Black Market Capital: Urban Politics and the Shadow Economy of Mexico City (both due out next year).
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?
In general, there is no perfect dissertation topic. I found it was better to go through an early process of trial-and-error, doing some initial archival research to see what existed and where it would take me as opposed to trying to conceptualize and formulate everything in my head. Specifically, with urban studies, it is by definition multi-disciplinary/ interdisciplinary, opening up the opportunity to reach out to other scholars outside of your own department for advice, leads, or possibly to serve on your committee.
As a historian who studies the built environment and housing in Mexico, what has your response been to the two massive earthquakes that just hit the country?
More than anything else, there has been a tragic loss of life (361 people so far) that stretches from Mexico City to Chiapas. They were jolts that revealed the underlying divisions in Mexican society, while producing acts and sentiments of solidarity that transcended those divisions experienced in one’s everyday life and daily routines. At the time of this interview, I see hundreds of volunteers throughout the city as I go through my day. The memory of the more devastating 1985 earthquake is palpable in every sphere of society. There is a large void to be filled among historians in regards to the urban social movements that preceded the 1985 earthquake, its role in the expansion of Mexico’s civil society, and the urban reconstruction phase in the aftermath of the earthquake (one of the largest since the Marshall Plan in Europe). Two great pieces for further reading are: Elena Poniatowska’s Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake (a book on the 1985 earthquakes) and a recent article by Pablo Piccato, “Lessons from Mexico’s Earthquakes: 1985 and Today.”
On a crisp October day in 1970, a crowd cheered Carl Stokes on as he scrambled down the dock behind Fagan’s Beacon House in his yellow fishermen’s boots onto a submerged platform and sloshed through the murky waters of the Cuyahoga River. Stokes, elected 50 years ago next month as the first African American mayor of a large U.S. city, had promised this stunt of appearing to walk on water as a demonstration of his faith in the fledgling entertainment district that had recently sprung up along the riverbank. Stokes’s messianic gesture was part of the Flats Fun Festival, an event intended to help Clevelanders reframe their perception of a river that infamously caught fire the previous year.
The savvy and charismatic Mayor Stokes was accustomed to embodying hope in Cleveland, a city that like many in the emerging Rust Belt was well aware of its own urban crisis before the river burned. Two race riots—the Hough uprising in 1966 and the “Glenville shootout” two summers later—had brought it into sharp focus. The city’s mishandling of urban renewal had even resulted in a federal freeze on releasing additional renewal funds to Cleveland until a few months into Stokes’s first term. Morale had sunk so low in 1967 that Stokes chose as his campaign slogan “I Believe in Cleveland” and promised a clear departure from the inertia of the “caretaker mayors” who preceded him.
The 1967 election produced jubilation. Like other energetic mayors of his time—New York’s John Lindsay, Detroit’s Jerome Cavanaugh, and Boston’s Kevin White—Stokes seemed capable of delivering a renaissance in Cleveland. He gave Clevelanders “a psychological lift” and, in the words of one observer, “a feeling . . . that perhaps the city can be saved after all.” And the hopeful image extended far and wide. The mayor’s executive assistant reported that wherever he traveled, “people were saying nice things about Cleveland again.”
The success that Stokes had in reshaping public impressions of Cleveland owed in no small measure to William Silverman, a public relations guru who had cut his teeth on Nixon’s 1960 presidential campaign. It was Silverman’s idea to brand the mayor’s agenda with a catchy name to wrap its many initiatives in a shiny package. Silverman’s conception, Cleveland: NOW!, soon became a tagline for TV ads, billboards, and was an ingenious way for Stokes to cultivate the appearance of progress through otherwise unrelated modest initiatives that were more readily achieved than his more expansive plans. The symbolism of Cleveland: NOW! was useful not only for countering the enervating effect of intractable problems but also for offsetting symbolic losses that paralleled the urban crisis. Among these losses were the closures in 1968 and 1969 of the beloved Sterling Lindner department store, shuttering of the row of cinema palaces that comprised Playhouse Square, and demise of Euclid Beach, Cleveland’s most storied amusement park.
Although Mayor Stokes cared more about expanding the city’s supply of affordable housing and improving access to industrial jobs, he was also conscious of the need to attend to Cleveland’s image, and nowhere was better for that than downtown, which inspired metaphorical description as the city’s “showcase,” “heart,” or “mainspring”—in short, a place thought to possess central economic and symbolic importance for the metropolitan area. Following a period when two previous mayors had struggled to produce just three sizable new downtown buildings even with the promise of the nation’s largest federally subsidized downtown urban renewal project, Stokes made regular use of his spade and scissors at groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for an impressive roster of new high-rises. More importantly, his administration was attuned to the need to do more than simply rely on a building boom to create a larger captive audience of office workers that might stave off the decline of downtown retailing.
As in other American city centers, downtown Cleveland experienced a loss of shoppers to suburban shopping plazas after mid century. At a time when San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, a former chocolate factory converted into a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, was an influential model for reorienting central cities as destinations for suburbanites and tourists, Cleveland planners were taking note. While the city’s 1965 reevaluation of the 1959 downtown plan continued to recommend the “malling” of Euclid Avenue as an antidote to retail decline, it also noted the 1890 Arcade’s potential to be Cleveland’s answer to Ghirardelli Square. Although the Arcade did not materialize as a major tourist venue, Stokes was the first mayor to actively pursue a leisure-driven agenda for downtown Cleveland as part of a broader effort to rejuvenate a city beset by problems. In the downtown segment of his televised Cleveland: NOW! documentary in 1968, the mayor told of a French magazine writer who remarked during a visit to Cleveland on how deserted the downtown streets became after dark. Stokes believed downtown could become a “people place.”
The mayor’s vision found an advocate in Ed Baugh, who had recently left the Peace Corps to serve as Stokes’s city properties director. From his City Hall office, Baugh looked out on the Mall, one of the nation’s few Daniel Burnham City Beautiful plans to be implemented to a significant degree, and he saw an attractive but little-used expanse. In his mind’s eye, Baugh conjured a Tivoli on the Mall—piped music, live concerts, cafes, surrey rides, and nighttime floodlighting—as an antidote for what one of the city’s daily newspapers called Cleveland’s “grim, all-business image.” With the mayor’s blessing, Baugh opened the Mall Café and staged events such as Mall-A-Rama, with games, crafts, and even model boat races in the fountain pool, and Fun Day on the Mall, a music festival that brought rock and R&B acts headlined by Edwin Starr. Significantly, the administration took pride in drawing together a diverse audience and saw diversity as essential to the city’s future.
Baugh extended his version of the “Fun City” mindset that Mayor Lindsay championed in New York beyond the Mall. The administration recognized the potential of efforts by business owners and the Old Flats Association to turn the rough-and-tumble docklands of the Flats along the Cuyahoga into a place fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Old Town Chicago or Gaslight Square. The Old Flats Association, formed in 1968 by business owners such as Harry Fagan, (whose four-year-old tavern featured a New Orleans-style jazz band), found an ally in Baugh and the Stokes administration, which added gas lamps and signage and worked with organization to sponsor a rededication of the site where city founder Moses Cleaveland landed in 1796.
Even as the Stokes administration worked to carve out new entertainment destinations, it also labored to restore one that had been lost. The Playhouse Square area on downtown’s eastern end had once hummed with activity. In addition to the 12,000 seats in five theaters, dozens of fashionable stores and large restaurants lent a Times Square-like quality that persisted long after sunset. When the theaters closed, their demise took down a number of nearby businesses. Concerned business owners formed the 9-18 Corporation (named for East 9th and 18th Streets, which marked the boundaries of the part of Euclid Avenue the organization served). The 9-18 Corporation partnered with the mayor’s office to relight Euclid Avenue with super-bright “Lucalox” bulbs developed at General Electric’s Nela Park, its lighting division campus in East Cleveland.
Stokes’s predecessor, Ralph Locher, had undertaken a citywide plan for replacing streetlights with a similar symbolic gesture as part of a demonstration project to jumpstart a moribund urban renewal project in Hough just months prior to the Hough uprising, but before the relighting campaign could progress far, the murder of a Cleveland Orchestra chorister in the heart of University Circle forced the mayor to redirect new lighting to allay fears in the city’s cultural district. Three years later Stokes was making a similar move to quell concerns about the dark, forbidding stretch where theater marquees had until recently blazed with light. As Stokes’s utilities director later recalled, the Lucalox treatment was “something visual” to help “taxpayers see where their dollars were going,” and it was predictably touted as another public service of Cleveland: NOW! On a late October evening in 1969, the mayor flipped a ceremonial switch to dedicate what he claimed was now the brightest downtown in the United States and spoke of his hope for reinvestment in Playhouse Square.
The mayor went a step further. Understanding that the 9-18 Corporation, like so many other organizations formed over the years in the interest of promoting specific sections of downtown, was insufficient to the task of promoting all of the central business district, Stokes worked with business leaders to form the Downtown Consortium in 1970. The Downtown Consortium was Cleveland’s first public-private partnership to coordinate revitalization in the district. The new organization pledged to continue supporting efforts to revive Playhouse Square while also undertaking a variety of symbolic interventions. Perhaps the most noteworthy was the plan to hold a downtown festival and, at Ed Baugh’s suggestion, use the event to test an idea first hatched in the 1959 downtown plan: making Euclid Avenue into a pedestrian mall. The closure of the street for the festival separated this event from previous festivals sponsored by business interests, but it did not lead to a permanent “malling” of the street, leaving future planners to continue debating the concept through the 1970s.
Clevelanders may not have seen the immediate coalescence of a leisure-driven downtown transformation, but they certainly learned to see their city as having the potential to move in that direction. Indeed, it was at this time that Herbert Strawbridge, the chairman of the Higbee Company, a leading local department store, having recently visited Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, began seriously thinking about making a bold move to use his store as a developer of a similar complex in the Flats. He thought of it as a way of making Higbee’s future less dependent on office workers by creating a powerful magnet for suburbanites and tourists. Strawbridge would take the plunge in 1972 when, after he read in the newspaper that a junkyard was planned on the site of Moses Cleaveland’s river landing nearly two centuries before, he resolved that Higbee’s could not stand by and watch the desecration of “Cleveland’s Plymouth Rock.”
The Stokes era, now being celebrated in the golden anniversary year of his historic election, was a might-have-been watershed in Clevelanders’ efforts to jar their city onto a new course of revitalization. We now know very well that, not only in Stokes’s time but also throughout the half century since, decline and revitalization are not sequential but coexist in perpetual tension. Many times we have seen mayors, business leaders, and other urban prognosticators declare that revitalization is at hand—that a city has “turned the corner” or embarked on a “comeback.” History tells us that it’s rarely so simple. Revitalization is something that must be forever cultivated. That is exactly what Carl Stokes understood. He knew and often admitted that Cleveland’s problems were real and should not be swept under the rug. Yet, as he worked to steel the public for a long, expensive, and sometimes controversial struggle for a better city, the mayor also understood and deployed the symbolic rhetoric and actions that he knew might help manage people’s response to the challenges ahead.
Mark Souther is a Professor of History at Cleveland State University. Souther will be speaking on October 27 in the “Alternative Visions for Cleveland” roundtable at this year’s SACRPH conference. This essay was adapted from Souther’s new book Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation” (Temple University Press, 2017). Souther is also the author of New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City (LSU Press, 2006).
“I believe … the Cuyahoga will be the place,” Moses Cleaveland wrote in July of 1796. Working for the Connecticut Land Company, Cleaveland had arrived in Ohio to survey the land and plot it for settlement. Cleveland, he believed, would be well situated for future success. “It must command the greatest communication either by land or Water of an River on the purchase or in any ceded lands from the head of the Mohawk to the western extent or I am no prophet,” he wrote to his superiors. Others viewed the potential hamlet more problematically. “Cleveland has a Thousand Charms but I am deterred from pitching on that place by the Sickness, the poorness of the Soil, and the inhabitants under the hill,” wrote Gideon Granger in 1804. Needless to say, Granger’s views suggested changes needed to be made.
Transformation occurred. Due in part to the kind of physical alteration of the environment that made its larger counterpart Chicago famous, “the Sickness” that Granger noted was afflicting residents eventually dissipated. Engineers opened new channels that more directly connected to Lake Erie; the Cuyahoga River’s swift current eliminated sandbars that had previously prevented larger ships from accessing the lake. It also eliminated “the miasmic swamps from the mouth,” thereby bringing greater health to inhabitants.
With other transportation improvements such as the completion of the Erie and Ohio Canals and the introduction of the railroad, Cleveland boomed. The city evolved from hamlet to “commercial village and city [to] industrial city, and [to] post industrial city,” as historians Carol Poh Miller and Robert A. Wheeler summarize in their short history of the metropolis. Though it lay it in what was then considered the American West, planners and leaders attempted to construct the city on the model of the New England town. It would not stay that way.
Canal building and railroad construction enabled the city to establish itself as a commercial center; circumstances did not remain static. First the “west” moved; in 1825 Cleveland could lay claim to frontier status, but by 1845 that frontier had moved 1,000 miles further west. Second, demographics shifted. If its population consisted primarily of the native born in 1825, two decades later half of the city’s residents had been born abroad. Third, the disinterested gentlemen politicians of 1825, serving only for the “public good” had, twenty years on, become machine hacks as ”party politics” determined most elections.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the city had emerged as a regional economic force. Cleveland shed its provincialism and its political and civic leaders engaged in national debate particularly in regards to slavery and abolitionism. Industry soon flourished; its police and fire departments formed in the 1860s. Having emerged as a center of abolitionism, the city threw its support behind Lincoln and, after secession, the Union. European immigrants poured into the city. In its early years the city housed mostly new arrivals from Ireland and German, but with the onset of industrialization it welcomed Italians, Slavics, Greeks, Hungarians and other immigrants. Hoping to escape discrimination in Europe, Jews also arrived in large numbers. Roughly 3,500 resided in Cleveland by 1880, and within 40 years the number climbed to 75,000, making Jews nearly 10% of the overall population. In 1890, 37 percent of its population had been born in Europe, but even more telling, three quarters of the city were either born abroad or the progeny of parents who were immigrants.
Jewish Americans would be critical to the city’s wellbeing in the coming decades particularly as the black population swelled and pressures resulting from segregation and structural racism in the housing market bulged. In moments, Jewish homeowners resisted African American attempts to purchase homes in Cleveland neighborhoods; at other times, they worked to reduce tensions between the two groups as communities slowly integrated. An odd amalgam of self interest, altruism, and fear over alleged declining home values shaped responses. “[I]n Cleveland, ethnic and religious divisions shaped divergent responses and decisions,” historian Todd Michney points out. “Whites of different backgrounds reacted more or less disconcertedly, some departing sooner and others later, with patterns hardly resembling unanimity.” Still, on average, when compared with their Catholic white ethnic counterparts in the city, Jewish Clevelanders demonstrated greater flexibility and understanding in relation to housing integration.
Admittedly, for much of the nineteenth century, African Americans made up a small percentage of the city’s population. Serving as a guide, navigator, and interpreter, Joseph Hodge (aka Black Joe) had been an important contributor to Moses Cleveland’s initial founding of the future metropolis in 1796, but the state’s Black Laws, which essentially discouraged black settlement in Ohio, and the practice of slavery south of the state’s borders, more generally helped keep these numbers low.
It was not until World War I and the Great Migration that residents would witness an increase in the city’s African American population. With immigration at a standstill, “Cleveland’s industrialists turned to the ready supply of black labor in the South,” historian Russell H. Davis pointed out in 1972. The great flow of labor north brought the quotidian, the remarkable, and everything in between. For example, James Cleveland Owens, named after the city his parents viewed as “the promised land,” arrived in the Ohio metropolis during the 1920s. During his first day of school he took on the name that he would later make famous. Unable to fully understand Owens due to his southern accent, his teacher mistook his nickname of J.C. for Jesse. His teachers “from that day forward, called him Jesse instead. So did everyone else in this new world he was in,” writes Isabel Wilkerson in her Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Warmth of Other Suns.
Jesse Owens needs little introduction, of course , but rather embodies Cleveland as a site of opportunity, both shaping and shaped by new arrivals. The growth of the black population continued through and after World War II. Most settled on the city’s east side which would be “the principle place of residence” for Black Cleveland for much of the twentieth century. Though limited by segregation, as Michney argues in his recently published work, Surrogate Suburbs, Cleveland’s black working and middle classes “dynamically and creatively engaged with space at the urban periphery” and transformed communities into critical centers of black economic, social, and political life. This influence exceeded local neighborhoods, labor, and demographics. In 1967, Carl B. Stokes triumphed in the mayoral contest becoming the first black mayor of a major U.S. metropolis.
World War II drove Cleveland to further economic and demographic heights. In 1950 the city reached nearly 1,000,000 residents with almost 150,000 of that figure accounting for black Clevelanders. Unfortunately, like other rust belt counterparts such as Pittsburgh or Detroit, the fall came soon after. In ensuing decades, the usual story of decline and deindustrialization unfolded, yet its history, while similar to its sister rust belt metropolises, proved unique. As Mark Souther notes in his forthcoming work Believing in Cleveland, it did not “endure collapse as stultifying as that in Detroit”; it lacked the kind of global connections and vastness of the Windy City or the tourist friendly James Rouse revisionist reboot of Charm City. Pittsburgh, perhaps its closest relative, found ways to rebuild successfully upon the dual industries of “eds-and-meds” and cutting edge robotics and medical technology (though Patrick Vitale’s arguments to the contrary are noted). Cleveland, arguably the most understudied of these examples, went its own way.
For example, in the area of race relations and housing, though it witnessed its own tensions and occasional violence, it never endured the kind of unrest and bloodshed that defined other cities. Cleveland “did not experience anything remotely approaching the sustained and highly organized violence mounted by white residents in … Chicago and Detroit”, writes Michney. White ethnics in Cleveland, particularly its Jewish residents, might have been uncomfortable with neighborhood transitions, but they never resorted to the kind of brutality that defined the era, and many even tried to work with community groups in order to blunt population changes or enable them to occur more efficiently.
Urban historians have spent decades peeling back the layers of rust belt ascension–decline–ascension narratives. In addition to groundbreaking work like Tom Sugrue’s The Origin of the Urban Crisis which established a new template for discussions of urban America, a newer cohort of scholars like Tracy Neumann, the aforementioned Vitale, Michney, and Souther, Elihu Rubin, Andrew K. Sandoval Strausz, Chloe Taft and others have been reworking the rise-and-fall narratives by intellectually sauntering down previously ignored avenues of exploration. In particular, Michney and Souther seek to place Cleveland, with some exceptions, into this discussion. “Like many cities across the Great Lakes region,” writes Souther, “Cleveland was a city whose leaders faced broad challenges that forced them to manage its decline or, perhaps more accurately, to manage perception of metropolitan transformations that produced spatially differentiated outcomes – winners and losers.”
Even if rise and fall narratives obscure important realities, few would argue that by the 1970s Cleveland could use some improvements. In a fifteen-year period from 1958 to 1973, the city lost 50,000 manufacturing jobs. Schools struggled, neighborhoods faced declining infrastructure, and air pollution soared. While some African Americans found purchase in the suburbs, most remained relegated to struggling communities in the inner city that ultimately served as a “repository for the metropolitan area’s worst socioeconomic hardships,” Souther argued in a recent article.
“The Best Location in the Nation” (1940s), “The Best Things in Life are Here” (1970s), “Comeback City” (1990s), and “Believe in Cleveland” (2000s) serve as only a few taglines among countless others that were meant to sell post-World War II Cleveland to the nation. “New York might be the Big Apple, but Cleveland is a plum,” the Cleveland New Dealer once asserted. Unfortunately, no degree of semantics could alter opinions held by even local residents. “Anyone dumb enough to believe that ‘the best things in life are right here in Cleveland deserves to breathe Cleveland’s air and live in Cleveland’s filth,” wrote one disbelieving Shaker Heights resident. “Cleveland is a rotting corpse clothed in a hazy, blue gray shroud. Cute songs and slogans won’t fix it. You fix a trash heap by cleaning it up. You start with the air and work your way down period.”
Today, disgruntled Clevelanders of the past aside, it would seem such attempts to renew interest in the metropolis are unnecessary; the city has shed the image of the “mistake on the lake,” when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from pollution. Pop culture overflows with references to the city. The soap opera that is the relationship between Lebron James and the Cavaliers has transfixed the nation for over a decade and arguably boosted the NBA to new heights of popularity. ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Believeland” laid out the angst of the city’s erstwhile sports fan for all to see; only to be improbably redeemed by James and the Cavaliers the same year. Tina Fey’s Thirty Rock dedicated an entire episode to the city’s undeniable if unexciting pleasantness; the film Trainwreck gently teased it for the same. It even gets a mention on the latest album, Sleep Well Beast, by Ohio’s most famous aging hipster rock band, the National: “Young mothers love me / Even ghosts of girlfriends call from Cleveland / They will meet me anytime, anywhere.”
Whether or not our bibliography for Cleveland fully explains how the city came to its current incarnation remains to be seen. We do hope that it piques interest in a rust belt city that has persevered through two centuries of existence. Beyond trite slogans, 1990s sitcoms (Drew Carey, we are looking at you), or museums dedicated to dying art forms (we kid, Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Millenials love dinosauresque four-piece garage bands … ), the city of “progress and prosperity” soldiers on in ways 1970s resident might never have predicted. Perhaps, Mr. Carey, Cleveland does rock.
As always, we know the list has flaws but hope that readers will use the comments section to help us fill in the blanks. Special thanks to J. Mark Souther (especially herculean in his efforts), Todd Michney, and Nichole Nelson for their help in creating the bibliography.
Campbell, Thomas F., and Edward M. Miggins, eds. The Birth of Modern Cleveland, 1865-
1930. Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1988.
Cigliano, Jan. Showplace of America: Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue, 1850-1910. Kent, OH: Kent
State University Press, 1991.
Davis, Russell H. Black Americans in Cleveland: From George Peake to Carl B. Stokes, 1796-1969. Cleveland: Associated Publishers, 1972.
Hammack, David C., Diane L. Grabowski, and John J. Grabowski, eds. Identity, Conflict, and Cooperation: Central Europeans in Cleveland, 1850-1930. Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 2002.
Harwood, Herbert H., Jr. Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland’s Van Sweringen Brothers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
Howe, Frederic C. The Confessions of a Reformer. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press,
Keating, W. Dennis. The Suburban Racial Dilemma: Housing and Neighborhoods.Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.
Keating, W. Dennis, Norman Krumholz, and David C. Perry, eds. Cleveland: A Metropolitan Reader. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995.
Kerr, Daniel R. Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.
Kusmer, Kenneth L. A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930. Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 1978.
Michney, Todd M. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in
Cleveland, 1900-1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
Miller, Carol Poh, and Robert Wheeler. Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796-1996. 2nd ed.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
Moore, Leonard N. Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power. Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2002.
Pekar, Harvey, and Joseph Remnant. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. Scarsdale, NY: Zip Comics,
Phillips, Kimberley L. AlabamaNorth: African-American Migrants, Community, and Working-Class Activism in Cleveland, 1915-1945. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Souther, J. Mark. Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the
Nation.” Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017.
Stokes, Carl B. Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography. New York: Simon & Schuster,
Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save Cleveland. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015.
Swanstrom, Todd. The Crisis of Growth Politics: Cleveland, Kucinich, and the Challenge of
Urban Populism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985.
Tittle, Diana. Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban
Strategy. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.
Toman, James A., and Blaine S. Hayes. Horse Trails to Regional Rails: The Story of Public
Transit in Greater Cleveland. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996.
Vacha, John. Meet Me on Lake Erie, Dearie!: Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition, 1936-1937.
Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2010.
Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. Cleveland: A Tradition of Reform. Kent,
OH: Kent State University Press, 1986.
Wiese, Andrew. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth
Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Borchert, James, and Susan Borchert. Downtown, Uptown, Out of Town: Diverging Patterns of Upper-Class Residential Landscapes in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, 1885-1935. Social Science History 26, no. 2(2002): 311-346.
Jenkins, William D. “Before Downtown: Cleveland, Ohio, and Urban Renewal, 1949-1958.” Journal of Urban History 27, no. 4 (May 2001): 471-496.
Michney, Todd M. “Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising.” Journal of Urban History 32, no. 3 (March 2006): 404-428.
Michney, “Constrained Communities: Black Cleveland’s Experience with World War II Public Housing,” Journal of Social History 40 (Summer 2007): 933-956
Michney, Todd M. “White Civic Visions Versus Black Suburban Aspirations: Cleveland’s
Garden Valley Urban Renewal Project.” Journal of Planning History 10, no. 4 (November 2011): 282-309.
Souther, J. Mark. “A $35 Million ‘Hole in the Ground’: Metropolitan Fragmentation and
Cleveland’s Unbuilt Downtown Subway.” Journal of Planning History 14, no. 3 (August 2015): 179-203.
Souther, J. Mark. “Acropolis of the Middle-West: Decay, Renewal, and Boosterism in
Cleveland’s University Circle.” Journal of Planning History 10, no. 1 (February 2011): 30-58.
Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. “Perceptions of the Burning River: Deindustrialization and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River.” Environmental History 13, no. 3 (July 2008): 515-35.
Tebeau, Mark. “Sculpted Landscapes: Art & Place in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens, 1916-
2006.” Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (winter 2010): 327-50.
Cleveland Historical. https://clevelandhistorical.org. A website and mobile app that puts
Cleveland history at your fingertips. Developed by the Center for Public History +
Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University.
Cleveland Memory Project. http://clevelandmemory.org. An online collection of digital photos, historical texts, oral histories, videos, and other local history resources. Developed by the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University.
Cleveland Voices. https://clevelandvoices.org. An online streaming-audio collection of
approximately 1,000 interviews conducted since 2002 as part of the Cleveland Regional
Oral History Collection, a project of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
at Cleveland State University.
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. http://ech.case.edu. Originally published in 1987 by Indiana University Press and now online, the ECH is edited by Case Western Reserve University historian John J. Grabowski, contains more than 3,000 entries about all aspects of Cleveland history.
 Carol Poh Miller and Robert A. Wheeler, Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796 – 1996, (Indiana University Press, 1997), 9.
Associate Professor of History and African & African American Studies
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My current book traces African-American women’s use of policy gambling to navigate racism, sexism, and capitalism in Black Chicago between 1890-1960. Policy structured economic and gender relations there, where participation in the formal economy was tenuous and unstable—or plain back-breaking. Policy was a viable option for the overwhelming amount of women who confronted a lack of opportunities to get ahead legitimately in the primary economy. I rely on archival collections from the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and National Archives, as well as arrest records and police reports from the Archives Department of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, to show that Chicago’s policy women—the wives, the queens, the runners, the gamblers and conjurers—capitalized on both their tenuous relationship to the economy and the men in their lives to capture unheard of possibilities.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I’m teaching a first-year writing seminar on the Underground Railroad, with a focus on Eastern Indiana-Ohio history. I’m also teaching an upper-level survey course, African-American History to 1865. These courses, at first, don’t seem very related to my research on policy gambling but both push students to reconsider the legacies of escape. Escape informs the ways in which gambling, as part of the informal economy, unfolded in major urban centers such as Chicago, Harlem, and Washington, D.C. The Great Migration starts with these radical acts of self-emancipation and results in innovations to capitalism. Isabel Wilkerson charts this amazing chronology in her book The Warmth of Other Suns. I also push my students through various writing and digital assignments to reflect on the ways in which the past informs their present, especially our relationships in urban spaces. For example, my Underground Railroad students have to complete a digital storytelling project exploring the parallels between present-day issues such as Sanctuary Cities and the Underground Railroad.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
I can offer words of advice on balancing the demands of your institution while satisfying your own research agenda. I have found that the best way to balance my commitment to research and the demands of teaching at intensive small liberal arts intuitions like Earlham College is to follow academic blogs like this one or others such as Black Perspectives and to start networking on Twitter. This became my way to keep on top of the debates in my fields and keep me informed of relevant publications when I can’t devote a lot of time to reading scholarly monograph after scholarly monograph or traveling to conferences.
I’ll also offer a plea: if you find yourself in a place where you can take advantage of the benefits of tenure-track employment turn your focus to the tireless advocacy for contingent laborers in our field–the adjuncts, visiting assistant professors, and short-term contracts. There is no better place to focus our efforts.
Your current work is on gambling. What’s the best story you’ve seen during your research about how someone spent their winnings?
Most people who won from policy drawings used their money to place more bets—this was how policy writers (those who solicited bets door to door throughout the neighborhood) made their living. Their goal was hook patrons on the excitement of the drawings and small kickback winnings. But by far the most incredible story comes from the famous Jones Brothers in Chicago. The brothers, with help from their mother, owned and operated several policy wheels all over Chicago pulling in millions of dollars annually. In the late 1940s their family had several run-ins with the Italian mafia forcing them out of the city. The family matriarch, Harriet Lee Jones, moved the family to Mexico City where they opened up a very successful car dealership and textile factory. Harriet and her boys were tireless and very successful entrepreneurs.
Just as I’m sad to see that the warm days of summer are behind us, it’s bittersweet to realize that our coverage of Ho Chi Minh City has come to an end. In tandem with the Burns/Novick documentary on the Vietnam War, I felt immersed in this Metropolis of the Month. A trip to HCMC may not be on the horizon for me, but next time I’m in the D.C. area I will most certainly take an afternoon to visit Eden Village.
It makes sense that Northern Virginia’s Little Saigon is where we ended our exploration of HCMC, since we began by recognizing how empires shaped Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City. “Subject to imperial rule throughout their history,” we noted in our HCMC bibliography, “the Vietnamese people held tightly to their own identity while absorbing aspects of its occupiers—China, Japan, France and the U.S.” To better understand the “navigation of identities, economies and politics,” at play in “this burgeoning Southeast Asian metropolis,” we published two travelogues from wildly different perspectives: a nineteenth-century American-born woman living in Japan, who made a stop in Saigon/Cholon on a round-the-world tour, and a twentieth-century American man in modern HCMC on vacation. While Clara Whitney remarked on the “queer mix of nationalities … these different people and costumes” and the “low marshy shores – completely overgrown with a thick vividly green foliage,” our own correspondent found “a nation awash in youth and motor scooters,” where the “Traffic flows like a giant school of fish along the wide boulevards constructed during French occupation.”
While Cleveland may not be “awash” in scooters, it certainly shares wide boulevards with HCMC–notably Stokes Boulevard, named after former mayor Carl Stokes, which runs eastward from the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University towards the suburb of Shaker Heights. We’ll feature several posts this month that examine Shaker Heights, either directly or tangentially, as well as the Stokes mayoralty, the role of sports and arenas in municipal politics, and the experience of conducting research in and on Ohio’s cultural capital and second largest city.
For those attending the upcoming SACRPH conference, we hope that our Metropolis of the Month coverage will ensure that your visit to Cleveland will be historically enriched. And for those who cannot join, we hope that you will share in the spirit of the mid-1990s when the Drew Carey Show ruled the airwaves, the Indians threatened to win a World Series, and city leaders told residents and the national public that Cleveland was the “Comeback City.” Arguably amidst a second renaissance–boosted by a “Believe in Cleveland” boosterism–with a renewed downtown, the best basketball team east of the Mississippi, an equivalent baseball team to boot, and a now-fully-established Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, it is just as the Drew Carey Show’s theme song attested: Cleveland Rocks!
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