Clover Elliott

Aaron [00:00:01] Hello, my name is Aaron Fountain. I am in Beachwood, Ohio. Today is October 21st, 2022, and I am speaking with Elliott Clover. Oh, Clover Elliott. So, the first question is always a soft question I always ask. Can you tell me about yourself? When were you born, raised, and childhood upbringing?

Clover [00:00:24] I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932, so that makes me 90 years old. I was educated here in Cleveland. I went to Kent State. Prior to that, I was accepted into the School of Nursing at Francis Payne Bolton School of Nursing, and two weeks before I was to start, they called me and said I could not come because they did not have a roommate for me. And that was devastating. The purpose was they didn’t have a black roommate for me and no one white would probably room with me. So that turned me around, and I decided to go and become a teacher. And I really am not that interested enough to help children. And I really like kids. I was going to be an elementary education. And when it came time for me to do my practice teaching, I knew I couldn’t handle it. So in the meantime, I was taking civil service exams because that would be a way of trying to help me get over the disappointment. And I did score number one in the whole state of Ohio to be on the civil service list, and that’s what took me into the Labor Department. And they put me in the employment service division where I was to work and help people get employment. However, that was back in 1950 something and they gave me the position of handling the day workers, people who were going to go clean houses and what have you in the service industry. I built that up to be a quite a great department because I have a personality that I can deal with any and everybody, and I can understand your headaches and what have you. So that department grew and it was very interesting because I learned an awful lot about the thoughts of white people, because I would be sending black people into their homes to be service workers and cleaning agencies for cleaning up the homes and what have you. On the telephone, the person who would be calling into my department would not be able to know the color of my skin because I could talk like they talk and I would put the endings on my words. So that sort of threw people off. And I got a good, good education of how white people thought of black people by phone. They would be asking, ‘Well, don’t send me anybody who can’t help move some furniture, because I don’t know what these black men do to these black women, but they all have female problems.’ That was one thing I heard from them. The next one is, ‘well, I’m not going to be able to pick them up, so they’ll have to be able to get here. It’s not too far of a walk, but it’s not that close either.’ So they were expecting an awful lot from a day worker and paying a very low, low rate. But this was back in the fifties. And so it was any amount of money that a person could work and earn it honestly was appreciated. So what happens; I refer to it as survival. They had to survive. So, when they would go to Ms. X House, they would tell her to save the newspapers for them because they could not afford to buy a newspaper. And they would like to have the newspapers to read about what at least was going on. So the employee lawyer would say to me, ‘I don’t know why they want these old newspapers. It’s so stupid for them to read old news.’ But what she didn’t know was she was surviving with those newspapers because she would take a couple of slices of baloney, wrap it up, put it in between the newspaper. She would take some bread slices and wrap that up, put it in the newspaper, fold it up and put it back in the bag. So she had some food. Then they would go to the freezer. And if they’d see the number of steaks you have and all that, they put a steak and wrap it up in the newspaper, put it and take the bag out. So she went out loaded. She survived. Even though you didn’t pay her enough money, she was able to get some food. So that was one of the things that I learned, and that was a learning situation for me because when they share that information with me, I was dumbfounded. But it made sense. The next phase of this was the riots had come. So since I had been and set the department up for the day workers, I was a perfect choice to be sent to that area because, number one, they would not allow anybody white in there. And the next thing was that they were all so angry of the white merchants because they were accusing them of coming into the hood or the ghetto, whatever you want to call it, and overcharged them, run up bills, and what have you. And leave and go back to the Heights in luxury. So they decided to destroy their business. And that’s what started the riots in the Hough area. They could not send anyone from the Department. Well, the Department of Labor stepped in, by the way, and said, we’ve got to find employment for people. And this is why my department was chosen, because they could go out and you didn’t have to have any kind of special training to clean the house. So this was one of the things that I had to establish in the Hough area. And I did, and it went very well.

Aaron [00:08:44] I just want to know about your experiences in Hough. Can you talk more about your experience in Hough and finding the residents employment?

Clover [00:08:55] When I got to Hough and as I was calling around to find out and get employment for the individuals, it dawned on me that white people had never been into the Hough area or into the hood, so they had no knowledge. The only thing that they could understand was what was being shown on TV, which was all negative and nothing positive. So I decided what I’m going to do is I’m going to get a group of employers, get them together and take them on tours in Hough. So that they could see and say that they had been there, see how the people were living. See how the black merchants were trying to hold on. And at that time there was quite a few. It was the black nationalists they were called. And they were in control. So I got permission from them to bring white people in because I told them what I want them to do was to see what was really going on. See how people were being forced to live. And so they gave me the permission. But they had to give me a; I don’t know if it was a Muslim name or a Black Nationalist, but they gave me the name of Aesha. So that went well. I would take them. There was a restaurant owned by Muslims who had bean pies made from great northern white beans and what have you, and they made pies out of it. So I took employers to that restaurant and they were scared and hesitant to eat. But once they tasted the food, they were just amazed at how delicious it was. So it was a learning experience, and this is what I was really wanting to capture. I was wanting them to see the intelligence of our black people if we had an opportunity and a chance. And also it was really, I was really appreciated by them because they knew I was trying to help them, and they allowed me to bring white people in there so that they could be taught. That went very well. And many people did get employment as a result of it. So that was a very smart move for the Department of Labor, which was a necessity, and I really did enjoy it. I made friends with the individuals. It was not easy because when I first got there they were referring to me as a boogie bitch, meaning I was coming from another area of the us black people. I didn’t live in the hood, I was educated and all that.

Aaron [00:12:57] And you lived in Mount Pleasant too, right?

Clover [00:12:59] Right. That’s that was pretty much the Hough area. It was dangerous. And there were so many angry, angry people. Just angry. And I can understand it. I understood it. And that’s why I decided we got to educate white people.

Aaron [00:13:34] Ok. Can you elaborate more on the culture of Hough. I know it was an incredibly overcrowded neighborhood, about 1/10 of the city’s population in that one neighborhood.

Clover [00:13:48] There was a councilwoman named Fannie Lewis. Did you check her? She was a go getter and a fighter, and she was handling that portion of the Hough area as far as what a council person to do and trying to help the people. They loved her. And she went to bat with city council to try to keep the Hough area and to try to get money for rebuilding and what have you. She’s a good job. My concern was getting in there to do my job and then getting back out. And so Franny Lewis was the person who was the one who worked with the people to try to get them to. If they fixed something to keep it well. She was really a pioneer. But my focus was more on employment and helping them earn money legally. And I found out some of the best mathematicians were the guys who played dice over in the corner somewhere because they could count so fast. They had never been able to understand a lot of things, but they could sure count money.

Aaron [00:15:38] Can you elaborate more on your relationship with the Black Nationalists? It’s kind of interesting that they called you, nickname you boogie b i t c h.

Clover [00:15:48] Okay. The Black Nationalists felt, in my opinion, they felt like, ‘Oh, you’re the kiss ass to the white man because you have a position.’ And so it was difficult, maybe in the very beginning for me to be dressed like I was gonna go to my regular position, to go into the area, looking, in my opinion, decent. So to kind of dress down was difficult for me, but I recognized that this was what was necessary in order for them to be able to accept me and for me to prove myself that I am here because I am black, and I want to help you, and I know what your experience. And so I truly was able to establish that relationship with them. And it was really, I enjoyed it. And then on occasions, I would see and hear things that had happened to them that I know was true. And that was heartbreaking. But I was trying to get them into some employment. At least they would have some income. It wasn’t that much, but it was something.

Aaron [00:17:36] What were those stories that were heartbreaking?

Clover [00:17:42] The idleness of men in their area. They all here like girlfriends or women. And there was no work for them to do. So what do they do? They get a friend, they get a woman, and they it’s the next thing they’re going to do is probably become sexually available to do nothing but eat, sleep and whatever. And so getting the men, finding jobs for men was very difficult. So they were out there all the time. The women would go to the work and do the house cleaning and what have you. And then they would come home and they were tired, and the man hasn’t done anything all day. So it was just a natural behavior of idleness with people who have nothing to do. And so I couldn’t get into any of that, but I could work with the women and tell them how to be strong. And that’s why I think today the black woman is so strong. She’s so strong because she’s had to be. And that’s about the only thing that they were, I found them to be exceptionally smart people, very smart. They just had not had an opportunity to use it. But common sense came into the picture. And when you have common sense, you don’t really have to have a degree because your degree comes with your common sense. You may not agree with me, but these individuals were so intelligent. They knew the behavior of individuals and they had not had any psychology one on one. Of course, as you know, it was experience and common sense is what got them to the intellectual level of understanding your behavior. Because they would say a lot of times, ‘I went out there to do something and they wanted to give me $4 and I looked at the worthless $4 and I could tell, no, no, you will have to give me more than $4.’ But they were able to distinct the difference in being used and abused at your expense. So I think that’s common sense and that’s what really made me aware, and I’ve always known common sense is not common. But when you have it, you can rationalize and reason and paint a picture that you can see. Common sense is very important. And I know that they recognize that because they would say, no, I’m not going in there. I don’t like the way it looks. I was wonder, why wouldn’t you go in there? I don’t know I don’t like the way it looks. So, I think that’s one of the things where common sense was checking in, because they can look at a situation and figure out whatever needed to be figured out that made them say, no, I don’t want to go in. So I thought that the common sense was very well used.

Aaron [00:22:16] The jobs they had to domestic laborers, can you talk about your experiences working in the white people’s home. I guess it’s the suburbs, right?

Clover [00:22:23] Oh, definitely.

Aaron [00:22:25] Okay. I’m just more curious about their experiences of how that was.

Clover [00:22:55] I have gotten some phone calls from well, this one incident that happened that I was totally not aware of. This individual got a call from a male employer who wanted someone to come to his house to clean his house. And I was able to get this person. I called her and asked would she be able to go out to this area and clean the man’s house. He needed it right away and what have you. She said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go whatever.’ We had to keep a tally for the number of people we referred out and it was like they were expecting X number of people per day and hoping that we could get that. So I was happy that this individual was going to go out here because that was going to be another point for me of putting someone to work. And in order for us to get credit for a day of employment, they had to spend 4 hours a day in order for us to say that that was a job. So this individual went to this house and the next thing I know, I looked up, she was coming back into the door at the office and I said, ‘What happened? I said, ‘You have been there for hours.’ I’m thinking, I’m going to lose this point. And she said to me, she said, ‘No.’ She said, but look, she reached down in her bosom and pulled out some money and she said, ‘You see what I made today?’ Then she told me that when she got there, the man was very nice and he said, Come on, sit down, let’s have some coffee. And she said, and ‘I sit down, I had some coffee with him and whatever.’ And she said, ‘I said to him it was getting kind of late.’ And she said, ‘I said well where did you want me to start.’ He said, in the bedroom. She said, ok. So she goes in the bedroom and she said she saw this pail of water with a bunch of towels stacked up on the bed. And she said, ‘Now what do you want me to do?’ And he told her, ‘now this is what I want you to do. I want you to dip these towels in this ice water and then just whip me with them.’ And I said, ‘What, are you kidding me?’ I said, ‘Did you do that?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I did.’ She said, ‘I whopped his ass until it looked like a lobster.’ I mean, this is the kind of things that went on with them abusing and trying to misuse black women coming into their home and when they were either single or what have you. There’s so many incidents like that. I guess some people would say this is common behavior or whatever. I don’t know how you would put it, but this was left up to the individual who went there, whether or not they were going to do it or not. But this person, she admitted she did it, and she made some money so she could go buy some food. And she said ‘I whopped his ass, it looked like a lobster, and my shoulders killing me now.’ So this has happened in a lot of cases.

Aaron [00:27:08] Oh, in Cleveland.

Clover [00:27:10] Everywhere.

Aaron [00:27:10] Oh I know. In the South definitely.

Clover [00:27:14] Everywhere. What’s done in the dark comes to the light sometimes. But it is what it is.

Aaron [00:27:24] The same thing happened to men too, like men with women or men with other men?

Clover [00:27:30] Well, it wasn’t as prevalent then, you know what I mean? If it was, it was undercover, but it was very much so with the black woman.

Aaron [00:27:50] How long did this program last for giving people in Hough employment?

Clover [00:27:55] Oh, dear. It lasted. It’s really hard to tell, but it was a long time. It was all during the time that they were reconstructing, rebuilding. And so I was able to help them get jobs and doing that with the construction companies. I had to talk with the the bosses and see if they couldn’t find because most of the jobs you had to be trained and qualified, but they could be laborers. And so that’s how it slowly began to take effect there. And then with Fannie Lewis pushing and getting the money to get these jobs and what have you. That led me to when I decided to retire, I opened up my own business and I started training persons who did not have employment in electronic technicians. And that was wonderful because I was able to get a lot of those people who I have met in the Hough area to come. I had a contract with the city of Cleveland to train individuals in electronics, and that was so necessary because at the time the only thing they could work on would be a copy machine. It had not advanced to the point where it is now, but they all learned how to make a radio. That was the first thing they learned in the school, and that grew as a result of my experience. The unemployment that I experienced in that whole area that we had to get people and trained them. And the government did see it also because they put money out for us to do that. So it’ll be up to the individual to take advantage of it and learn it.

Aaron [00:30:36] I was wondering how do they feel about the jobs that they were doing? I mean, did they sense of dignity or happy of making a.

Clover [00:30:42] How did the people feel?

Aaron [00:30:44] Even though they were low, they still probably felt some dignity.

Clover [00:30:49] They felt good because they were making some money. And that money, I’m trying to think of a saying they used to say, bullshit stops, but money walks or something. They compared it which was as I say a common sense. A little bit is better than nothing. Well, they had a whole lot of common sense things to edged them on to do it. Like a little bit is better than nothing. I’m going to get this and then I’m going to get some more when I go here. They were like figuring. So they were anxious to work. But most of them had not had any training except laboring. And that was easy. You know, you didn’t have to learn how to pick up sticks.

Aaron [00:31:58] I used to work at a hotel and it was like no training on how to pick up chairs.

Clover [00:32:01] Right. You don’t need no education for that. And so this was the type of work, but at least it paid off. It did.

Aaron [00:32:21] Now I’m kind of curoious, what is your Orange Village story? I don’t know what it is.

Clover [00:32:30] In 1965, well here’s Woodmere. It’s black, here’s Orange. So I was living in Woodmere in 1962 or ’63, which is black. And then in 1965, I remarried and moved to Orange Village, a street called Walnut Hills. And on that street, it ran from Chagrin all the way down to Harvard. It was an open street. However, when you got to my house on Walnut Hills the street name changed. And from my house to Harvard, it was called Pinecrest. And at my house it was a gate that blocked the whole street. So if you came down Walnut Hills and you got to my house, you couldn’t go any further. You had to turn around and go back up to Chagrin because they had a gate there to separate the black folks who lived on Walnut Hills from the white folks that lived on Pinecrest. How they got away with that is they said the Pinecrest was a private-owned street, which it was not. And the fact that it was Orange Village, it was very, very nice. Education, it was really, really one of the best things that you have. So being black, knowing how the things are, were; that didn’t bother me. That gate could stay there forever. I wasn’t there because I was trying to mingle, I was there because I wanted my child to be educated. But that was in Orange Village, which was as racist as anything could ever be. Now what happens is the kids on the Pinecrest side would put chains around the fence that were not the regular chain. So when the school bus came down, the school bus couldn’t get through the street because the school bus would have to come from Chagrin down. And they were supposed to open the gate. I think they opened the gate maybe around six in the morning, and that was to let the school bus. And they left it open all day because the school bus had to go back and forth and they would close it again at about 7:00 in the evening. So the kids a lot of times would put a separate chain around it so they couldn’t open it, which would mean the bus would have to turn around, they’d be late for school and that kind of thing. But what really made them move it was someone got ill and the ambulance came down one Walnut Hills and couldn’t get through. So they had to turn around and go all the way back, all the way around the block to get to this person. And then I think that what opened up their eyesight to see that this is dangerous. So they begin to just leave the gate open, not close it, but leave it there. And that was their way of eventually being able to open up the street. You don’t know what it’s like. You haven’t lived it.

Aaron [00:37:08] It did remind me when you say you learned how white people though about black people. So the stereotypes range from having women issues to, I can remember the other things. Oh, not have public transportation. I imagine there were other things too that were kind of through you aloof.

Clover [00:37:24] Oh yeah. I’m extremely educated. I can say hello to you and I know who you are. It’s working with the public is very interesting and I’ve told you about. I worked in the jail, didn’t I?

Aaron [00:37:48] No, you didn’t tell me that. I don’t remember.

Clover [00:37:51] I had a contract with Tri-C to work in the women’s prison. On Orange Avenue in downtown. This is prerelease center. These are the women that were about ready to be released. I was still with the employment service. No, this is my oen business. This when I got this contract and they put me down there. I was in the F building, which meant I had to come through this being had to take my rings off, get my purse. They have to go through inspection to get into the prison. That went on every day. And then I’d have to walk from that building all the way on the yard. They called it the yard to the F building where my office was. Okay, so I’ve been called a lot of bitches, okay. So, I’m walking down there, I’m dressed for the occasion. I’m there to help these women. I want them to see what you need to be, dress like with your employment. So they would call me, ‘oh here comes this old boogie bitch and all that. But you learn to ignore that. It’s no big thing. So while there I got another education about most of the women that are in prison are in there because of the man they’d taken the rap for. And then while they’re in prison, he’s got another woman. So, it’s a vicious circle, but there is a success story from it. I was through at 5:00 and there was this lady, my clerk told me, she said that there’s a lady out here in the hall and said she’s not leaving until she sees you. And I said, Where does she live? Because my contract said I could only work with the other outside counties, not women from Cuyahoga County. So I said where she live, and she said in Cleveland. I said, I can’t help her anyway. So she went and told the lady. Lady said, ‘you tell her that I’m not leaving because God sent me to her. That was the prisoner and my clerk. I looked at the clerk and it was a little bit after five, so I was on my own time. So I said, okay, send her in. So she came in and she sat down and we were talking. I found out that she had worked 13 years at a place called Ulity Rubber, and I said 13 years that’s a lot. She was in prison because she killed her boyfriend. But it was, I think, a self-defense. And so I got the information and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to take a run out to this company’ and see if they would be willing to hire her back because she was there 13 years. I did. It was out in Newburgh, Ohio, which was not that far one of the eastern suburbs. And I went in and I talked with the employer and he said, ‘Oh, I’d love to have her. How’s she doing?’ Long story short, I got her back into their company and I had the personnel person to come to the prison, he had to get permission for all that. Interviewed her again. They took her back. She stayed there until she retired. She bought a home. She’s living well. And to this very day, she calls me. This is 20 some years ago. So it’s knowing what your past has been like, her employment history I’m talking about. I said I’m going to go out here and see if they won’t take her back, and they did. So people who get in trouble, if they had a nice employment, they can probably re apply if there are no rules or regulation. But you never know unless you try. So that was the success story, and I have just truly enjoyed helping people that’s key for me.

Aaron [00:43:10] So last question I have. Did you keep in contact with any people you helped from Hough or know what happened to them in the long run?

Clover [00:43:19] No, not really. Because Hough has changed. And it was beginning to change. When I left because it was being brought up, I guess, to some standards. And they began to build some nice homes and a lot of people were moving back into the area. I didn’t really keep. Not that I didn’t want to. But, you know, you don’t have time. You’re so busy trying to take care of your life.

Aaron [00:44:07] Okay. I was curious because I know it went from a neighbor that was like 80,000 people to now a little over 10,000. I have a hard time picturing how I used to look like because so many of the buildings are destroyed. But I know it’s dense for pictures I’ve seen it. It used to be really dense.

Clover [00:44:30] What did you say, the last part? What did you say?

Aaron [00:44:32] Oh how it went from 80,000 to now a little over 10,000. And how it used to be really dense.

Clover [00:44:39] 80,000?

Aaron [00:44:40] Yeah. Before the riots, it was about 80,000 people living in Hough.].

Clover [00:44:46] 80?

Aaron [00:44:47] Yeah that’s the estimation.

Clover [00:44:54] You might be right.

Aaron [00:44:55] That’s a lot of people for a small area.

Clover [00:44:57] You researched it?

Aaron [00:44:59] Yeah.

Clover [00:45:02] It was a lot of unemployment down there. I never knew actually in the population, but I know there was a lot of people. They were, like, protecting me. You know what I mean? ‘Like where you want to go? You want to go somewhere? I’ll go with you. Come on. Come on. A’int nobody going to bother you with me. Come on.’ You know that kind of occurred. But it was a whole lot of unemployment.

Aaron [00:45:46] Mostly from, I guess, a lack of opportunities, or education, or people who might have criminal records?

Clover [00:45:51] Absolutely. But the criminal records were minor. It’s just that it was a black person doing it. It was really racist, oh my God.

Aaron [00:46:08] In terms of how they merchants or just to Cleveland overall? Well yeah, of course Cleveland.

Clover [00:46:17] Cleveland has been very racist as any other. But it was undercover. Being black if you would walk in a place, and a good example, I walked in store up in Pepper Pike and I was followed. Everywhere I went, there was this person following me from the store. That’s an eerie feeling. It’s resentful because this person, all they knew in my mind, is that I shouldn’t be here because I’m black. That’s how I felt. Now she’s following me because she thinks I’m going to steal something. And so as quiet as it’s kept, I was aware of it, but she wasn’t aware that I knew. So sometimes if I felt like it, I’d give them something to think about. And then I would say a couple of times I might have said, ‘Wweetheart, you really don’t have to follow me because I probably could pay your salary.’ That was a real downer for them. How dare you say something like that to me? But I was lying. I couldn’t pay her salary. But, I mean, I didn’t know what to say to shake her up. So that’s the kind of stuff that was, like, undercover. But you recognize what is happening.

Aaron [00:48:18] More overt things would be like walking into the wrong neighborhood like Little Italy or Woodland Hills years ago was a no go zone for a lot of black people.

Clover [00:48:29] You know, racism is a horrible thing. It’s horrible. It’s horrible, especially because of the color of our skin. But it’s also racist-ness in white people, too. It is not as serious as it is with us only because you can look at us and tell who we are. There’s is different. There’s a lot of jealousy among them. The nationalities there is a resentment there. So it’s a degree of racism, but it is not as prevalent as it is for us because they can change their name if it sounds like Italian or Jewish. They can change their name. And you don’t know who they are, what their nationality is because of the color of their skin. So that’s the advantage that they have.

Aaron [00:50:57] That’s all the questions I have. I’ll officially end. About 50 minutes. That’s not bad