Saturday, July 14, 2018

Glenville: Bullets and Artists

CORRECTION: today’s event @ MLK LIBRARY IS NOON-4:30pm. 

THEN and NOW: Glenville at the hub

Two nights ago, at that place of joyful gathering known as Karamu House, the only white person in a room full of mostly elderly but extraordinarily alert African Americans, spoke an obvious but too little appreciated truth when he said, “Black History is American history.”

Nine days from now will be the 50th anniversary of one of the most epic days in the history of a neighborhood, a community, and a city. As darkness enveloped a few tightly woven streets on the outskirts of Cleveland’s sprawling yet overcrowded Glenville neighborhood, a small but heavily armed band of black men and boys opened fire upon several unsuspecting isolated white policemen on nighttime patrol.

What happened next has perhaps never been told as grippingly in minute by minute detail as in Ballots and Bullets, a book published only days ago. While our review will be published here tomorrow, may it suffice to say now that the Glenville shootout still reverberates today, from Lake Erie to Kinsman, from the East Cleveland schoolyard to Cudell Recreation Center to West Park. Beyond its tragic human toll, it trumpeted the end of the Honeymoon of Carl Stokes administration’s honeymoon, the death of Cleveland NOW, and gave birth to the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.[1]

Today and tomorrow, several generations of activists will share memories and perspectives of what some describe as the Glenville Uprising. Presenters will represent many disciplines and perspectives. Among them will be Dr. Raymond Winbush, Don and Norma Freeman, Mississippi Charles Bevel, Joan Southgate, Khalid Samad, Sherrie Tolliver, Christin Farmer, and many more.

Today’s program runs from noon until 4:30pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. branch of the Cleveland Public Library, 1962 Stokes Blvd. tomorrow’s event will occur from 2pm-5pm in Case Western University’s Harkness Chapel, 11200 Bellflower Rd.
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Glenville will perhaps be undergoing a uniquely double collective Sankofa moment this weekend. Even as people address what happened fifty years ago in a spirit of “Where do we Go from here — Community or Chaos?”, another event will be taking place within walking distance of MLK Library and Harkness Chapel, celebrating what some interpret as harbinger of a New Glenville.

Today is the inaugural edition of “FRONT, An American City”, which is comprised of artist commissions, films, and public performances. FRONT will showcase the work of local, national and international artists from today through September 30, radiating out from a hub on East 105 Street just north of Wade Park Avenue to collaborating museums, civic institutions and public spaces throughout Northeast Ohio.

Details can be found here and here.

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[1] The 2012 murderous 137-bullet rampage by Cleveland police officers that took the lives of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams ended on an East Cleveland public school playground. The November 2014 killing of Tamir Rice occurred on the playground of Cudell Rec Center. Carl Stokes’ plan to rebuild Cleveland through the multi-million dollar Cleveland NOW program went up in flames the instant it was discovered that a small portion of NOW proceeds had been misdirected towards the purchase of weapons used in the shootout. The CPPA was born in the wake of Stokes’ decision to withdraw white policemen from patrolling Glenville in the immediate aftermath of the Glenville shooting until the area had been pacified, owing to Stokes’ concern, supported by evidence, that some police officers were bent on exacting revenge for the murder of three of their colleagues.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Cleveland Black History spotlighted today thru Saturday

Nation's Largest African American Video Oral History Archive Honors Cleveland Area HistoryMakers

Cleveland will play host and homage over the next three days to a set of highly accomplished Cleveland citizens, as part of The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive. The celebration and recognition begin tonight with a reception at Karamu, with more than one hundred guests expected, including area business, civic and community leaders.

Those honored include living legends architects Robert Madison and James Whitley and William Whitley; physicist Julian Earls, aerospace engineer Woodrow Whitlow Jr., Albert Antoine, and Ralph Gardner-Chavis; astronaut Guion Bluford; and foundation executives Steven A. Minter and Margot Copeland.

Others to be honored include clergymen Joseph EvansOtis Moss, Jr. and E. T. Caviness; civic activists Leatrice Madison and Paul Hill Jr.; and educators June Sallee Antoine and Anthony Jackson.

The arts community is well represented by a host of performers, artists, musicians, and educators, and gallery owners, including A. Grace Lee MimsJeffrey Mumford, Leslie AdamsDianne McIntyreMarjorie Witt JohnsonWendell LoganJohnny ColemanLouise HopeDonald WhiteRobert Lockwood Jr., Wadsworth A. Jarrell Sr., Ed ParkerErnestine Brown, and Malcolm Brown.

Also recognized will be members of the legal and business communities, including C. Ellen ConnallyLillian BurkeStanley TolliverMarcella Boyd Cox and Dominic Ozanne; and television journalists Leon BibbHarry Boomer, and Russ Mitchell.

Rounding out the list are the unique Dorothy McIntyre, a pioneering air pilot, and the renowned motivational speaker George Fraser.

Case Western Reserve University will license The HistoryMakers Digital Archive making it available for faculty and student classroom instruction and research. In doing so, Case Western joins forty other universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, Northwestern, Ohio State and three public libraries and one private school.

During its three-day visit, The HistoryMakers will seek partnerships with other local civic, educational and cultural institutions.

The HistoryMakersa national nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is dedicated to recording and preserving the personal histories of well-known and unsung African-Americans.   It is the largest video oral history archive of its kind, and the only massive attempt, since the WPA Slave Narratives of the 1930s, to record the African American experience by the first voice. In 2014, the Library of Congress became its permanent repository. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has said, “The HistoryMakers archive provides invaluable first-person accounts of both well-known and unsung African-Americans, detailing their hopes, dreams and accomplishments—often in the face of adversity, this culturally important collection is a rich and diverse resource for scholars, teachers, students and documentarians seeking a more complete record of our nation’s history and its people.”

The HistoryMakers Collection now numbers over 10,000 hours (3100 interviews) of first person testimony recorded in over 200 cities and towns including international locations like Norway, the Caribbean and Mexico. The earliest memory in the collection dates to the 1700s.

The HistoryMakers wants to help elevate the black experience in Cleveland as well as ensure that Cleveland’s African American history is properly represented in this internationally significant Collection. To do so, more prominent African American Cleveland area leaders will be interviewed for inclusion in the Collection once appropriate funding is secured.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Sounds of silence overwhelm talk of Cleveland's future

In what may have been the last question* from the audience after a panel presentation on how catalyst projects throughout metro Cleveland impact the small business community, city councilman Kevin Conwell, whose Glenville area ward encompasses deep poverty cheek by jowl with the region's wealthiest concentration of institutional assets, rose to ask how the kinds of projects being discussed might be designed to benefit the whole community, especially those parts that suffer from "abject poverty".

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell's 8th Ward
encompasses the wealth and power of University Circle
as well as the poverty and promise of Glenville.

Conwell’s “tale of two cities” question was asked against the backdrop of a recent incident that clearly had him distressed; he had referenced the same issue earlier that week at the annual meeting of Famicos Foundation. Conwell spoke in both instances about having to call the city's health department over the filthy and unsafe conditions at Park Place, a 122-unit concrete estate that sits near the southwestern foot of University Circle. While geographically the estate sits just off the west end of Opportunity Corridor,
Park Place Apartments, where Councilman Kevin Conwell,
who lives about two blocks east of the complex, says that
residents are complaining of rodent infestation and other
unsanitary conditions. He has called for action by the city's
health department.
culturally there is a mile deep chasm between its tenants and the accumulated wealth perched just above it.

Conwell's question came after a discussion featuring Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, chief executive of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District; Carl Naso, CFO of the Port of Cleveland; David Ebersole, Cleveland's economic development director; and Deb Janik, senior vice president for real estate and business development at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the nation's largest chamber of commerce.

Before Conwell's question brought the discussion down to earth, Janik had extolled the Opportunity Corridor, saying the project was a "foundation upon which to rebuild every single neighborhood". She praised her organization for its role in Cleveland's over-hyped "public-private partnership" development model, saying that "no one does [PPP] better than Greater Cleveland, and no one ever has." Unable to check her enthusiasm, Janik professed her belief in Cleveland's being the "greatest city in the country".

These comments fairly cried out for the counterpoint that Conwell's question provided. As we discussed with a friend afterwards, clearly just asking the question is not enough. But too often at such civic engagements — this annual meeting of the Uptown Business Association, held in the elegant quarters of Case Western Reserve University's Alumni Center — the concerns Conwell raised are invisible and unvoiced.

Several weeks ago, the managing partner of a midsize downtown law firm ratcheted up a civic debate on Cleveland's sorry ranking across a variety of metrics in contrast to our perceived municipal competitors. There was an immediate cry to round up and interrogate the usual suspects, worthy of Captain Renault at the end of Casablanca. Amid cries to form this or that committee or commission, there was scarcely a peep from Cleveland's black community, whose issues must be addressed if this region is ever to stop circling the drain.

There should not be a public meeting in Greater Cleveland on the status, accomplishments or prospects of our city or region, attended by any would be leader or representative of the black community, where the disparities and inequities of our community are not discussed. Nowhere is the timidity and fecklessness of our current leadership more in evidence than in our inability or unwillingness to even put our issues on the table.

Outside of our local sports icons, the three most celebrated public figures in most black homes are likely Martin Luther King, Carl Stokes and Muhammad Ali. All are now nearly universally lauded for their courageous stands born of principled conviction. But every one of them was vilified when they were standing strong. And many of those who sing their praises the loudest today battled them viciously every step of the way.

Where are today's representatives capable and willing to speak truth to power?

* We were unable to stay and hear any response to Conwell's question.
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The bus stopped here and the driver is still napping

I left home for the office this morning about 6:50. Energized by a restful Fourth, I’d already exercised, perused articles from the New York Times and the Cincinnati Enquirer, read and sent a few emails, uploaded a picture of Kevin Conwell for a post that will be published later today, fixed breakfast and left the kitchen semi spotless, showered, shaved and dressed, and used the RTA app on my phone to discover that I could shave about 8 minutes from my two bus commute by leaving 49 minutes earlier.

I had barely gotten 200 yards from my porch and was already perspiring. The air was so humid I was transported back to my childhood visits to Richmond VA. My earliest years were spent in Washington DC., one hundred miles north of Richmond, where my mother was born and her parents still lived.

DC was humid enough, so much so that in that era Congress used to adjourn for the entire summer. Even as a first grader I sensed that DC was much faster paced than Richmond. And it wasn't just that DC was the nation's capital, either. The Virginia atmosphere was just thicker; people moved slower. And that was true for my six-year old motor as well. I just wasn't as efficient a nuisance when I was in Richmond. I couldn't run as far, as fast, or as long.

All of which came back to me on my walk to the bus this morning, along with my father's mid-century observation about how the invention of air conditioning had changed the South and enabled it to be more competitive. He was from Houston, Texas, where I imagine the heat and humidity took an even greater toll on productivity and efficiency in the first half of the twentieth century.

I'm slowly making my way through a book about Atlanta politics this summer, and I have just finished one set in Birmingham. As I read or visit other places, I always compare notes with my hometown. To my father's observation I would suggest that another competitive advantage that the old industrial North has lost -- and Cleveland may be Exhibit A -- is our refusal to give more than a lip service welcome to the demographic and cultural changes that are transforming our country and the world.

I'll have more to say on this directly in the next couple of days as I review Ballots and Bullets, a provocative new book by local author and attorney James Robenalt that underscores how little this community has changed in the last half century.

Our civic leadership is metaphorically still sitting on the veranda sipping mint juleps, dreaming of the Amazon while the world passes us by.

Monday, July 02, 2018



Book Review

Murder on Shades Mountain

The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham

Author Melanie Morrison talks about 1930s Birmingham at Loganberry Books, June 24, 2018

One early August afternoon in Depression-era Birmingham, Alabama, Willie Peterson, an unemployed miner of modest stature suffering from tuberculosis, was walking down the street in the midst of finishing some household errands, when the sole survivor of a sensational double murder fingered him as the rapist-murderer of her sister and their friend.
Very shortly this random black man would be arrested, nearly lynched, shot and almost killed while in police custody by a vicious relative of the survivor, tried twice for murder, and sentenced to death by electrocution.
I wasn’t too many pages into Melanie Morrison’s riveting account of Peterson’s legal lynching before realizing that I was reading history disguised as suspense. The author’s extensively researched narrative puts the reader smack in the middle of an all-too familiar American saga of a salt-of-the earth guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Peterson was a church-going deacon of modest mien, far from the kind of fellow you would expect to be accused of such a heinous crime. But he was in a region where Jim Crow was so rigidly enforced that, even though the chief of police, the county sheriff, a prosecutor who said “that Negro ain’t no more guilty than I am,” the editors of the white Birmingham papers, and the president of the Birmingham Bar Association, all professed a belief in Peterson’s innocence, a jury took only 30 minutes to convict him.
Author Melanie Morrison, r, with sister,
Cleveland resident Stephanie Hrbek,
former director of Near West Theater,
at Loganberry Books, June 24, 2018
Peterson’s story resonates on several levels, thanks to Morrison’s deft story telling. It is a personal account, though she was born eighteen years after the crime: her father dated the younger sister of two of the victims. It also offers keen insights into some of the more easily overlooked aspects of white privilege, as when she points out that the revered novel To Kill a Mockingbird is essentially a “white savior narrative that portrayed black people as guileless victims without agency or a supportive black community.” And it provides a public service, evocative of William Faulkner’s observation that the past is not even past — most useful at this time — when she writes in an Afterword to her deceased father:
 “[W]e who are white must always critically interrogate the stories we have inherited from our forbears … Because white Americans remain largely ignorant about the manifold organizations, movements, and uprisings — led by people of color — that resisted racism in every region and every era of this country’s history. … Because the white savior myth not only masks the rich history of resistance and reform, it diverts attention from the real work white people need to do in collaboration with people of color.”
Peterson’s long overlooked story should have a special resonance for many black Clevelanders. So many thousands and thousands of black men and women emigrated here after 1915 from Alabama’s industrial and rural areas that, as Kimberley Phillips pointed out, Cleveland came to be known in some circles as AlabamaNorth.
In addition to being a compelling read, Murder on Shades Mountain provides a ground level portrait of the workings of structural racism, an insightful critique of white savior stories, and offers us valuable vignettes of the brilliant and legendary attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, and such other key historical figures as the Scottsboro Boys and Walter White.
Murder on Shades Mountain is a reminder that “the civil rights movement was not born in the 1960s” and that its work is far from complete.
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