Cleveland: You gotta be Hough
July 18, 2016 1:17 PM   Subscribe

While all eyes are on Cleveland, the RNC convention coincides with the anniversary of a significant chapter in the city’s history. Today, July 18th 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the Hough Riots. Last week WCPN, Cleveland’s NPR station ran a series of stories about the riots, their antecedents, the aftermath, and developments in the five decades since.

The Hough riots erupted in the predominantly African-American community of Hough (pronounced "Huff") on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, between July 18 and July 23, 1966.

In what became a familiar story in the 1960s, a single racially charged incident on a hot summer day sparked a widespread reaction to decades of the usual mix of lack of economic opportunity, official neglect, repressive police actions (and policies), negligent landlords, exacerbated by a tradition of "self-segregated" ethnic neighborhoods.

Four people died and over 240 fires were set. Longer lasting damage was caused by rapid population loss and economic disinvestment, lasting decades. More recently, there are signs of hope and growth in Hough.

Previously: (Chateau Hough).
NOTE: Linked headings below go to summary pages containing partial transcripts and further links to the audio (and sometimes video) and other resources. Numbers in parentheses are program runtimes: over three and half hours of content.

The Origins of Hough (4:48)
Oliver and Eliza Hough established a farm in the area in 1799, just three years after Moses Cleaveland first surveyed the Western Reserve. By 1872, the farming community of Hough voted to be annexed to Cleveland, and thereafter growth was rapid. Street after street was built up, and before 1900 three quarters of the land in Hough was already built.

Electric streetcars lines came; Large elaborate houses were built. Euclid Avenue was coined "Millionaires Row." Then, huge apartment buildings attracted more people while depressing the value of the big houses.

Then came the stock market crash in 1929, and the Great Depression. Single family houses were chopped up into 8 units, or 10 units, or 12 units. Sometimes you'd have 35 families living in one house.

The combination of war, depression, outward migration, and greed left the once toney Hough neighborhood in tatters.

Cleveland was a chain of islands In 1966 (4:32)
In 1966, Cleveland is a city of ethnic neighborhoods, where “self-imposed segregation was a way of life.”

A Look at What Led to the Riots (4:30)
In the 1950's blacks made up less than 5% of the population in Hough. Ten years later more than 70% of the 2.2 square mile neighborhood was black. White property owners ended up renting out their houses to these new residents, often at inflated prices.

They subdivided the houses into many small rental units, so that you have what amounts to efficient apartments and rooming houses. Conditions get more and more overcrowded.

The city wasn’t providing services like regular trash. Landlords neglected their properties.
One of the most insidious things the [Cleveland mayor] Locher administration allowed to happen is for the housing department to give an order not to enforce the housing code in the Hough area.
-- Cleveland State University History professor Mark Souther
The NAACP and leaders of the black community tried to get the city to make changes. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X visited Cleveland and gave civil rights speeches. Malcom X first gave his “The Ballot or The Bullet” speech in Cleveland on April 3, 1964.

U.S. Civil Rights Commission investigates crowded housing in Hough (4:38)
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission set out to examine conditions facing black residents in cities across the country. Cleveland was the first of many stops. The commission met in April 1966 at Liberty Hill Baptist Church on Euclid Avenue and at the federal courthouse downtown.

For six days the commission heard from Cleveland mothers, children, activists, attorneys, high school students, laborers, union leaders, landlords, elected officials, and police.

In the early 1960s, the city slated parts of Hough for urban renewal. As the years went on, residents complained that their neighborhoods weren’t looking so renewed.

Cleveland’s commissioner of slum clearance and blight control, James P. Friedman was asked why so many buildings were out of compliance with housing code. “There was a policy . . . in the department of urban renewal and housing in the city of Cleveland some years ago that there would not be code enforcement in the phase one or the phase in execution of that project,” Friedman answered.

“Has the city of Cleveland done anything to expand housing opportunities for Negroes in the metropolitan area?” After 11 seconds of silence, Friedman replied, “None that I know of.”

More from the 1966 U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearing (3:04)
[With links to further audio clips]
Policing was also the subject of hours of testimony. Residents testified as to police indifference, harassment, selective enforcement, etc. Police took longer to respond to calls in Hough than in other neighborhoods. Cleveland’s Chief of Police testified that police would sometimes arrest people to investigate a case, holding some as long as three days without charging them.

The final report called for black representation in both police rank & file and in upper levels of the safety department, and for the creation of a police–citizen advisory committee that would review complaints about officers and have influence on recruitment.

The commission also asked students about the quallty of their schooling.
Linda Rae Murray (now a physician now living in Chicago) and Howard Birdsong, two seniors at Collinwood high school, testified about the racial conflicts at the school. In March 1965, the Plain Dealer reported at the time, “a Negro couple whose two sons attend Collinwood were beaten by a group of white persons.”
I never felt the goal was just purely integration. We were really focused on the difference in resources of the schools,” Murray said in a recent telephone interview. “Things were very much focused on more working-class demands. What kind of jobs did people have, what kind of housing were they able to get?

I think that the attitude of the neighborhood, that this is their school, that Negroes have no right to attend the school, Negroes have no right to attend their Y, Negroes have no right in their area at all, is one of the things that precipitated the amount of organization that went on that week.
The commission released its initial findings on June 30th, 1966, recommending that the city bring homes up to code and make improvements to the school system.

That was three weeks before the riots began.

The Spark (7:43)
At the Seventy-Niner Café at the corner of Hough Avenue and East 79th street, a black man bought a bottle of wine to go, and asked for a glass of water. The owners refused the water believing the man was going to use the glass to drink wine in the bar. An argument ensued and the owners reportedly told a barmaid not to serve water to blacks.

A short time later someone posted a sign on the outside of the café that said "No Water for N______". The situation deteriorated from there.

There's a Concert Going On (5:52)
Leo’s Casino opened on Euclid Avenue on Cleveland’s east side in the 1950s to showcase jazz music -- a ‘black and tan club’, one that welcomed and attracted both black and white audiences.

By the early 1960s, Motown Records chief Berry Gordy began to use Leo’s Casino as a test market. Motown’s music was marketed to both black and white teens under the racially neutral banner of “The Sound of Young America”. "If it was a hit in Cleveland, it was going to be a hit nationally."

Marsha Mockabee, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, remembers: "My first trip there was at 16 . . . I won dinner with The Temptations. We ate at the old Kon Tiki restaurant and then went back to the club, where the group brought us on stage and sang "My Girl" to us. I was the most popular girl in my high school for about a week!"

On the night of July 19th, 1966, Motown’s The Supremes were on the final night of a a six-night stand at Leo’s Casino, just blocks away from where chaos was spreading along Hough Avenue.

Ruthie Brown (former community relations director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) was there when the National Guard arrived at the club, surprised to find a concert in full swing: "This place is closed. Don’t you see those tanks outside? There’s a riot going on!"

Hough endures (4:37)
Once the riots ended, Hough looked toward rebuilding. State Rep. Carl Stokes, who promised new investment in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, won election as the first black mayor of a major American city. Vice President Hubert Humphrey traveled to Cleveland in 1968, stood with Mayor Stokes in Hough and awarded a $1.6 million grant to redevelop the neighborhood. Thus, the Hough Area Development Corporation.

The Corp built MLK Plaza, with a supermarket and other businesses. It built hundreds of affordable apartments, and tried to start up a credit union and black-run businesses.

Despite these efforts, “between 1970 and 1980, Hough lost 8,412 housing units -- 40 percent of its total housing stock. That’s not a result of the riots. That’s a result of the [urban renewal] and landlord-backed arson.”
-- Prof. Daniel Kerr, American University, author of Derelict Paradise.

In the 1980s, Hough’s councilwoman, Fannie Lewis, wanted more housing built. The city offered tax abatements and other incentives, transforming what was once downtown Hough into blocks of new apartments and modern single-family homes valued today at around $200,000.

But the poverty rate in Hough is around 44 percent, and the median household income is about $17,000. “Where are people who are making $25,000, $30,000 [going to live]?”

Questions about housing -- who owns it and who can afford it—have trailed Hough through its many incarnations.

Hough residents want to focus on the present -- and the future (8:45)
Hough residents are fighting to share a different narrative, one heavy on hope, positivity, and progress. Some perspectives from people who live and work in the Hough neighborhood today:

“People think of Hough as ‘the Hough riots’ and from the outside looking in they only know about what folks tell them about the riot, but there’s more in Hough than riots.”

“The things that are happening and growing, the seeds were planted long ago, but now they’re coming up and we’re getting there.”

“People don’t come to Hough and actually see what’s going on here. And people like you in the media don’t ask those questions about the positive things going on in Hough. We live here, so we see it day-in and day-out. . . . That stigma of what happened over 50 years ago, people have that, but until they come here and actually see what’s going on, I guess it’s hard for people to imagine anything else.”
-- Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

“The perception of this community for the most part is negative, and has been for a long time. . . . we’ve had our challenges, and we will continue to have them, as does the United States of America . . . . But at the same time people are working hard every day to make this community, this city, a better place for us to live, and to work, and to thrive.

“I think Cleveland has [a] victim mentality, and I think there will be people who will never change their impression. But those of us who are here have a responsibility to push back on that when we hear it, and to challenge people about who we are and what that means when they say it.”
-- Fatima Family Center director LaJean Ray

Teaching the Hough Riots (4:22)
The Hough Riots impacted Cleveland far beyond that week of unrest 50 years ago. But what about the people who weren’t around for the riots? How do they find out about Hough’s history, and what lessons can be learned?

Living History -- Hough, Before and Beyond 1966 (1:55:17)

An illuminating and wide ranging panel discussion on the history on Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood at the Euclid Tavern*.

  • Carolyn Watts Allen, former Saftey Director for the city of Cleveland. Allen and her husband recruited around 20 families to build and live in Hough's Renaisance Village development.
  • James L. Hardiman, First Vice President of the Cleveland Chapter NAACP, civil rights attorney, educator. Hardiman grew up in Hough.
  • Dr. Mark Souther, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University.
  • William Tell, retired Cleveland Police Department Captain. One of the first to build a home in Hough in the late 80s.
* Home of the Mister Stress Blues Band and band performance scenes for the Michael J. Fox/ Joan Jet film Light of Day (1987), and many other things through the years. The Euc has been a tavern for over a century.

Sound of Ideas -- Hough: Before and Beyond '66 (48:22)
A round-table discussion, with Q&A about the riots, antecedents and aftermath. Recorded live at Eliza Bryant Village, the oldest African American retirement facility in the country, and located in Hough.

  • Mark Souther, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, Cleveland State University
  • Joyce Harris, Lifelong Hough Resident
  • Mansfield Frazier, Founder, Vineyards of Chateau Hough
  • Deborah Enty, Chief Operating Officer, Eliza Bryant Village
  • Nick Castele, Reporter, WCPN
  • Mark Urycki, Reporter, WCPN
posted by Herodios (6 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for putting this together! A piece of US history I did not know.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:25 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here is hoping for a peaceful and safe week for everyone in Cleveland. Also, thank you for putting this together.
posted by Fizz at 1:33 PM on July 18, 2016

Thanks for this post.
posted by jammy at 1:50 PM on July 18, 2016

The Hough riots were the biggest thing that ever happened in Cleveland. A friend and I stood atop an apartment building on our paper route and watched the fires far out across the city, while down below us (in Little Italy), men with guns crowded Mayfield Road. Ohio. I'm so glad WCPN is doing this series. The story about the bar at East 79th and Hough putting a sign in the window saying "No Water for N______" is pure bushwah, however. Think about it. No business that made its living off a 100 percent African American clientele in a 100 percent African American neighborhood would do such a thing. My theory is the violence happened, because violence happens. And then it took off.
posted by Modest House at 4:41 PM on July 18, 2016

a sign in the window saying "No Water for N______" is pure bushwah, however.

Pretty much all contemporaneous sources mention the sign, in some form, in some sequence.

Some sources say that that it was a customer who'd been refused who posted the sign, presumably as a form of protest.

There's a link above to the Wiccuhpeedia article, which in turn contains links to further sources.
posted by Herodios at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

"My theory is the violence happened, because violence happens."

That is not a theory.
posted by jammy at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2016

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