Ludlow Community Association
This organization set a national example as a neighborhood development model that was created to counteract prevailing prejudice against black buyers in white neighborhoods. Established in 1957 after the bombing of a home that belonged to an African American family, it remarkably reversed white flight and maintained a well-balanced, integrated neighborhood for at least 30 years and rebuked widely-held beliefs about integrated living.
Cuyahoga County’s recording of the Ludlow marker unveiling on October 20, 2022
A short, multimedia presentation the Cleveland Restoration Society put together to outline this history.
Shaker Heights Founding
Shaker Heights, an inner-ring eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, is named for the North Union Shaker Community, which was later purchased by Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen who began developing the land in 1905 as a “Garden City” suburb to appeal to “upper-class citizens.” The village of Shaker Heights was incorporated in 1912. By 1920, the Van Sweringen Company imposed restrictive covenants reserved for “compatible neighbors” that excluded Jews of “lesser means,” Catholics and Blacks. Shaker Heights attracted families because of its “first class educational facilities…for top quality schools…churches…country club…and maintenance of community standards.” Of the nine Shaker Heights neighborhoods, all named after the respective elementary schools, Ludlow is the smallest community.
The Ludlow neighborhood lies geographically in both Cleveland and Shaker Heights. Ludlow is also adjacent to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Cleveland, where middle-class African Americans had begun integrating in the 1940s. In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that restrictive covenants were a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment. Some of the Mount Pleasant residents began buying homes in the Ludlow community, which remained primarily white until restrictive covenants were outlawed.
Ludlow Housing integration
In the 1950s, affluent African American families started moving into Ludlow. Medical professionals including Dr. Winston Richie, Dr. Drue King, and Dr. Theodore Mason, and their respective wives Beatrice, Frances, and Beverly, bought homes in Ludlow. Due to customary residential segregation practices in Shaker Heights, most families needed their neighbors’ approval to purchase a home. For example, Dr. Richie had to meet with 10 neighbors on each side of his house and across the street to gain their approval to purchase his home. As more Blacks moved into the neighborhood, “white realtors were not selling to whites, and blockbusting was taking place,” said Beverly Mason. “Blockbusting is a practice in which a real estate agent attempts to move a non-white, usually Black family, into an all-white neighborhood for the purpose of exploiting white fears of impending racial turnover and property devaluation to buy up other property on the block at depressed prices,” asserts Gregory Smithsimon. This unethical racist and paradoxical practice led to the proliferation of Black homeownership in the primarily white Ludlow community.
On January 3, 1956, while the house was under construction, a bomb exploded in the garage of John and Dorothy Peggs’ home at 13601 Corby Road near the Ludlow Elementary School. John, an attorney, and Dorothy, an educator, had been warned by an anonymous caller not to move into Ludlow. “For Sale” signs cropped up in response to the explosion as white homeowners fled the neighborhood in fear of declining property values. The bombing of the Peggs’ house served to unite Blacks and Whites to promote integration and address concerns about panic selling and white flight. According to Mason, the bombing of the Peggs’ house was a turning point, as Black and White neighbors started meeting with each other and building a neighborhood coalition, which resulted in the establishment of the Ludlow Community Association (LCA) in 1957 that was incorporated in 1959.
The Ludlow Community Association
LCA served as a national example to promote neighborhood integration. Members began to implement strategies to stem blockbusting and encourage white residents to remain and purchase houses in the community. The LCA’s first president, Irwin Barnett, “while concerned with rumors that Ludlow was transforming into a ‘ghetto,’ he sought strategies to attract white residents to the area.” For members of the LCA, this goal was no small task. The practice of blockbusting continued as real estate agents refused to show White home buyers the neighborhood and banks made it difficult for them to secure a mortgage. As a result, few White families had moved into the area from 1959 to 1961.
In 1960, LCA received a $7,500 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to establish a real estate clearinghouse and hire a housing director. The LCA established the Ludlow Company, its own mortgage enterprise, to finance down payments and the purchase of homes by whites in the Ludlow neighborhood. Although viewed as racial favoritism, the strategy for integrating the neighborhood was successful. The Ludlow Co. increased White home ownership in a neighborhood that had now become increasingly Black. From 1960 to 1963, the company sold 35 houses to white families. Additionally, LCA held several successful fundraisers to operate the housing program. In 1966, the organization raised $10,000 when it hosted Ella Fitzgerald’s performance at the Cleveland Orchestra’s Severance Hall, and a year later it raised $15,000 for the performances of Nancy Wilson and The 5th Dimension. Given these intentional efforts, Ludlow transitioned racially from predominantly Black to White by the late 1960s.
After the Ludlow Co. ceased operations during the 1970s, the city of Shaker Heights launched its pro-integrative housing program. Over the next decade, the neighborhood demographics shifted to 55 percent minority. As of today, the LCA remains active. “Its focus on integration waned by the late 1990s and early 2000s.” In more recent years, the LCA has remained highly involved in community programming, including youth programs, and neighborhood events. Influenced by the civil rights movement and the nationwide push for integration, LCA serves as a model of community activism toward fair housing. It stemmed the tide of white flight and helped to maintain a well-balanced, integrated neighborhood for several decades. For this reason, the Ludlow community and the Ludlow Community Association have been selected as sites of significance on Cleveland’s African American Civil Rights Trail.
Housing segregation in Cleveland
Cleveland has been one of the most racially segregated cities in the US for many years. Efforts to integrate failed in the 1990s, and integration programs and nonprofits no longer existed or lost interest in achieving the goal. Today, Black residents primarily live on the East side and surrounding suburbs, while White residents are mainly located on the West side, including suburbs in the South and far East. This distribution is a result of federal policies, real estate practices, and personal preferences. White flight not only involves the physical movement of White people, but also the withdrawal of their financial investments. The consequences of housing segregation are significant. Social sciences have shown that where one is born can have a major impact on their life outcomes. For example, in Cuyahoga County, the infant mortality rate for Black babies is 15.1 per 1,000 live births compared to 3.8 for white babies, as of 2018 according to First Year Cleveland. Despite this, Cleveland has yet to fully achieve integration.
Bill Barnett is the son of Irwin and Emilie Barnett, the former was the first president of the Ludlow Community Association. In this interview, he discusses his upbringing, parents, as well as his mother reaching out to African diplomats who experienced discrimination in the United States.
Clarence Holmes is the former president of the NAACP and member of the United Freedom Movement. In this interview, he discusses his upbringing, law practice, tenure in the NAACP, the United Freedom Movement, and the Ludlow Community. He was 95 on the dates of these two recordings.
Shelly Stokes-Hammond is the daughter of former Ohio congressmen Louis Stokes and the niece of former Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes. In this interview, she discusses her upbringing, living in Ludlow, attending Shaker Heights High School, and her masters thesis on the Ludlow Community Association.
Maxine Isaacs is the daughter of Bernard Isaacs, the second president of the Ludlow Community Association. In this interview, she talks about her father as well as her upbringing in the Ludlow neighborhood, and the community itself.
Carolyn Milter is a former Ludlow resident who played an instrumental role in straw buying a home for a Black family. The practice consisted of a White person purchasing a home and then selling it to a Black family. In this interview, she recounts that story, as well as her upbringing, tenure at the Cleveland Press, and living in Ludlow.
Lynn (Spetrino) Vincent is the daughter of Ronald Spetrino, who was in charge of the fundraising for several years and was an integral part of bringing Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and The Fifth Dimension to Severance Hall, and doing the My Fair Lady Fundraiser at The Colony Theater in Shaker Square. Her mother, Suzanne Spetrino Hogle, was an active member of the Ludlow Housing Association and worked to sell homes within the community. In this interview, she discusses her parents, growing up in Ludlow, and the Ludlow Community Association.
Blank, Joseph P. “Ludlow-A Lesson in Integration,” Reader’s Digest, September 1968.
Donatelli, Jen Jones Donatelli. Local Black Babies Are 4x As Likely To Die Before Age One. This Clevelander Is Saying, “No More.”
FreshWater, July 10, 2019. https://www.firstyearcleveland.org/about-us/newsroom/2019/07/10/local-black-babies-are-4x-as-likely-to-die-before-age-one-this-clevelander-is-saying-no-more
Fountain, Aaron. “The Ludlow Community Association,” Façade, issue 108, Spring 2022.
“Ludlow: 25 years of making community integration work.” Plain Dealer, April 25, 1982.
Ludlow Notes, News, & Neighbors, vol. IV, no. 5, November 1963, box 19.1, binder, Shaker Heights Public Library.
Hannan, Sheehan. “What Happened to Integration?” Cleveland Magazine, August 3, 2020. https://clevelandmagazine.com/in-the-cle/commentary/articles/what-happened-to-integration.
Morton, Marian, “Ludlow Community Assn.,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History Online, https://case.edu/ech/articles/ludlow-community-assn.
Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York: Liverlight, 2017.
Smithsimon, Gregory. Liberty Road: Black-Middle Class Suburbs and the Battle between Civil Rights and Neoliberalism. New York: NYU Press, 2022.
Stokes-Hammond, Shelley “Recognizing Ludlow—A National Treasure; A Community that Stood Firm for Equality.” MA Thesis, Goucher College, 2011.
The Ludlow Community Association, 1967 Annual Report, box 19.1, folder Annual Report, 1965-1980, Shaker Heights Public Library.