The Cleveland African American Civil Rights Trail cannot incorporate every significant event, organization, and individual that shaped the city during the modern civil rights movement. Therefore, this resource below will provide the names of notable organizations, locations, and moments with brief summaries and references to learn more about this rich history.
CLEVELAND AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS TRAIL
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Adalbert Church (1969-1971) This church is the site of Cleveland’s first African American Catholic community, led by Father Gene Wilson, the first black pastor in the diocese. Fr. Wilson worked with the Black Panther Party to establish community programs, including a free clinic, and bus rides to prison program. Address: 2347 E. 83rd St, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Afro Set Black Nationalist Party (1969) Founded by Harllel Jones, the Afro Set was primarily responsible for the rise of Black Nationalist sentiment in Cleveland. It was based in the Hough neighborhood. Learn more here.
Annette Ogletree (1968-1969) This biology teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools became the center of two student protests at East High and John F. Kennedy High schools in October 1968 and April 1969, respectively, for teaching students Black Nationalism. Her transfer from East High led a group that called itself the United Black Student Alliance to draft a list of grievances and walk out of school the next day. Demanding a greater need for security inside and outside of school, teachers walked out the following day. In April, about 100 students and sympathizers organized a 10-mile march from JFK High to downtown to protest Ogletree’s pending transfer. The group never reached the school board office, but the Superintendent sent staff home early, canceled a meeting, and closed the building out of caution. Learn more here.
Black Panther Party, Cleveland chapter (1970-1973) No official Black Panther Party existed in Cleveland prior to 1970. Given the strong-hold Black Nationalists organizations had in Hough and Glenville, the Panthers established its office in the Kinsman neighborhood. Although not as effective as the Oakland, California chapter, the Cleveland chapter organized community programs to help poor and working-class residents, educated its membership, formed alliances, and experienced constant police harassment. Address: E .79th and Rawlings, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Boddie Recording Company (1958-1993) From 1958 to 1993, Thomas and Louise Boddie’s industrious Boddie Recording Company was Cleveland’s first African-American owned and operated recording studio, serving a clientele ranging from gospel, soul, and rhythm & blues groups, to rock, bluegrass, and country musicians from as far away as Detroit and West Virginia. Address: 12202 Union Avenue. Learn more here.
Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People (1896-Present) Founded by three women, the institution was the first Black established and maintained social welfare institution in Cleveland. With no government funding, Black residents and philanthropists supported the institution to house elderly people. Address: 4807 Cedar Avenue, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Cleveland State University Black Studies Program (1969) The Black Studies Program was founded in 1969 under the leadership of Dr. Ralph Pruitt. Its creation followed significant activism by black and white students on campus to enhance representation for minorities in all aspects of University life, including in academics, research, scholarship, and extra-curricular activities The Afro-American Cultural Center (currently the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center) opened in 1970 to enhance opportunities for community and campus collaboration and student engagement, while also sponsoring exhibits and talks highlighting African American history, politics, art, and writing. Learn more here
Collinwood High School Riots (1960-1975) Many serious, racially motivated confrontations took place in Collinwood over a fifteen-year period. The first major incident at Collinwood High School occurred in 1965. In April 1970, after another episode of racial violence, the mayor kept the school open, but protected it with policemen backed by National Guard units. Address: 15210 St Clair Ave., Cleveland. Learn more here.
Domestic Workers of America (1965-1995) Formed in 1965, the organization was led by CORE member Geraldine Roberts. With early financial support from Cleveland CORE, DWA located its headquarters at the Bruce Klunder Freedom House at 5120 Woodland Ave. The organization lasted well into the 1990s and successfully advocated for unemployment expenses, worker’s compensation, minimum wage standards, and social security benefits. Composed mostly of older black women, DWA also illustrated the turn from direct action protest to community organizing. Learn more here.
Dunbar Life Insurance Company (1945-1960) This Black-owned Company helped Black residents gain homes with mortgages and loans during a period of omnipresent discrimination in the housing market. Address: 7609 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Learn more here.
85th Street Club (1940-1968) As federal urban renewal programs failed to stabilize urban neighborhoods, street clubs like E. 85th Street filled the void. It organized community events and cleaning programs to increase the betterment of its block. Learn more here.
Forest City Hospital Association (1957-1979) A group of Black physicians formed Cleveland’s first interracial hospital in response to their systemic exclusion from White hospitals. It served patients in the Glenville neighborhood, which had experienced a demographic shift as it went from a largely Jewish to Black neighborhood. Persistent financial difficulties, declining admissions, and the integration of the healthcare field led to its demise. Address: 701 Parkwood Dr. Cleveland. Learn more here.
Haggins Realty Office (1961-2015) Isaac Haggins established a new office in Cleveland Heights in 1968, becoming the first black-owned realty office in any Cleveland suburb that sold homes to African Americans at a time when white realtors refused to do so. In 1969, the Haggins Realty office was bombed as an act of racial violence. Address: 2221 North Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights. Learn more here.
Heights Community Congress (1972-Present) A fair housing organization formed in Cleveland Heights in response to racial discrimination in the real estate industry. In response to rapid demographic changes in East Cleveland, activists encouraged integration without re-segregation. Learn more here.
Home of Dollree Mapp (1961) This home was the site of a significant event that sparked a landmark US Supreme Court case regarding the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution as it relates to criminal procedure. Address: 14701 Milverton Rd, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Home of Robert P. Madison (1960) After earning a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University, Robert Madison returned to his home town of Cleveland and opened the first architectural firm started by an African American in the state of Ohio. In 1960, Madison moved his family to a home he designed and built on North Park Blvd. in Cleveland Heights. Initially, Madison was not even able to purchase the property because of his race; instead, a Jewish person purchased it in their name. During their first year in the home, the Madison family endured acts of racial violence including threatening phone calls, belligerent neighbors, and rocks tossed at the house. Despite all of this, Robert Madison lived in the home for over 40 years and grew his architecture practice into a nationally known firm with many significant projects including U.S. embassies, the Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Louis Stokes Wing at the Cleveland Public Library, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 2339 North Park Boulevard, Cleveland Heights. Learn more here.
John Hay High School Walkouts (1968-1969) In November 1968 and February 1969, students John Hay High School organized two walkouts to protest a new discipline policy that suspended students for 3 to 5 days for tardiness or loitering in the hallways. Additional grievances included cafeteria food, lavatory maintenance, inadequate science laboratories, the powerlessness of the Student Council, and the presence of security guards, who students accused of being arrogant and “getting fresh” with female students. Administrators’ unresponsiveness to the students’ demands led to another walkout in February, in which pupils held a sit-in at district headquarters and closed the school for 10 days until their demands were met. Learn more here.
Jomo Freedom Kenyatta Club (1968) Local militant groups, such as Lewis Robinson’s Freedom Fighters, Harllel Jones’ Afro Set and Fred Evans’ Black Nationalists of the New Libya, advocated a more uncompromising and community-based position for civil rights legislation and empowerment. They had a community presence in centers such as Lewis Robinson’s Jomo Freedom Kenyatta House on Superior Avenue. Learn more here.
Liberty Hall (1923-1982) This building served as the branch officer for the Cleveland chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In later years, it served as the headquarters for the UNIA in the 1940s and again in the 1970s and 1980s. Address: 2200 E. 40th Cleveland. Learn more here.
McDonald’s Boycott (1969) In 1969, Cleveland’s residents from the city’s Black leadership class and Black Nationalist groups formed the Operation Black Unity to demand Black ownership of four McDonald’s on the East Side. Stalls in negotiations led to boycott campaigns that cut business by 90 percent. Eventually McDonald’s representatives capitulated and allowed Black people to purchase franchises. It was all part of a bigger movement, whose goal was to build economic power in Black communities through Black-owned businesses. Learn more here.
Our Lady of Fatima Parish (1949-1972) Headed by Father Albert A. Koklowsky, a white priest, the church served the largely Black neighborhood of Hough. Koklowsky sought to rehabilitate housing and assist residents with job training and placement. Address: 6800 Lexington Ave, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Shiloh Baptist Church (1966-1975) The Church was known for hosting a Civil Rights themed social event for African Americans known as the International Tea. The first International Tea was held in 1966 and meant to act as a positive representation of the black community to the outside world. Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at the Tea in 1975 where he urged the attendees to continue effecting change through the ballot box. Address: 5500 Scovill Ave, Cleveland. Learn more here.
Sidaway Bridge (1966) During the Hough Uprising in 1966, the Sidaway Bridge became a flashpoint between the two neighborhoods it spanned: the predominantly African American Kinsman neighborhood and largely white Polish neighborhood in Slavic Village. Someone attempted to remove planking and set it on fire in order to prevent anyone from using it. This was particularly harmful to Kinsman residents, as children crossed the bridge to attend school. Rather than be repaired, the bridge was closed and later used as evidence that the City and school officials had worked together to segregate the elementary school. Address: Sidaway Avenue and East 65th Street. Learn more here.
Wilkins School of Cosmetology (1936-1997) Located in the Cedar-Central neighborhood, the school provided a place for entrepreneurship and social services for Black residents. It educated Black people from Canada, Cuba, Africa, and the Caribbean. Beauty parlors often served as social spaces for Black women and men to escape from the hostile world. It supported many Black-business endeavors in Cleveland during the civil rights movement. In a sense, it served as “an incubator for black women’s political activism and a platform from which to agitate for social and political change.” Address: 2112 East 46th Street. Learn more here.