AF: All righty, hello I am Aaron Fountain, and I am speaking with Shelley Stokes-Hammond today is January 28, 2022. All righty Shelley, so are you ready?
SSH: I’m ready Aaron.
AF: okay so first question I’d love to ask everybody is tell me about yourself. Where were you born, grew up, your parents, and childhood upbringing?
SSH: I was born quite a while ago now, November 13, 1950 in Cleveland. I was born at the McDonald House in university hospitals. That winter Cleveland had a historic snowstorm, so all the rest of my life that my father was living, whenever my birthday came he would say ‘boy I’ll never forget that year you were born and came in here with that snowstorm.’ It was a really historic storm for Cleveland. But anyway, my father is Louis Stokes and my mother was Mildred Sharply. They met while they were in college at Western Reserve University. Then when I was around seven, they divorced. We spent about a year with my mother, and then they both wanted custody and they wrestled with that. Ultimately they agreed that we would live with my father and my grandmother, and still have my mother be a significant part of our lives. That’s how it worked out. We were living on east 105th and Garfield when my parents divorced. When we started living with my father, we moved over into the Mount Pleasant area with my grandmother. She had a house on east 149th and Bartlett. From there we ended up moving into the Ludlow neighborhood. Both my parents remarried, so I ended up growing up with all four of them in my life.
AF: I know about your father because he’s a former politician. What did your mother do for a living?
SSH: My mother when they met she actually started Western Reserve University at the age of 16. She was majoring in languages. She had a real interest in journalism. She actually had the first talk show by an African American female in Cleveland while she was carrying my brother Chuck, he was born in 1954. But she ended up not continuing her college education once they had children. She ended up not going back until later after she had remarried. Then she went on and got her bachelor’s, her master’s in education. She was one of the first principals over on the west side of Cleveland. She was a very good writer, speaker, photographer, she liked tennis.
AF: I know you do have a very interesting family history. I heard in an interview they said your mother worked as a maid in the Ludlow area and then later became a resident. You said your father was encouraged to move there. What influenced them to move there and what was their reaction?
SSH: I was thinking about that. I did not know why we moved there until I was working on my master’s thesis and I interviewed my father and my stepmother J Stokes. I interviewed them together and I asked why did you decide to move into the Ludlow neighborhood. That’s when my father said ‘well by virtue of my work and civil rights, a lot of people thought that it might be really nice. I might really like to raise my family there.’ He said he explained that the word was that it was this experiment to see if they could successfully integrate and make things work. He liked the idea of us growing up in a diverse community, and he also felt that the classes were less crowded and there would be more educational opportunities there. But really, there was nothing different in our family between the two neighborhoods. You had people that had the exact same goals in Mount Pleasant and when we lived on Garfield in the Glenville area. You always had black families that were striving to get the most for their children. It was just the system that was restricting us from being more mobile and having access to suburban communities. But people in the other neighborhoods had just as much pride and their goals were just as high and they worked just as hard for their children. I was happy with my friends, my school, and the house we lived in Mount Pleasant, as well as in the Ludlow community,
AF: I know it was a middle-, upper-middle class neighborhood. I know your family moved their 1960s so do you have like any memories of the neighborhood in the early years when you were living there?
SSH: I think we moved there in ‘61. I have to double check that, but I think it was the winter of 1961. It was winter, and I noticed that a lot of kids skated at an ice rink in the community. That got my attention. For that Christmas, I wanted a pair of ice skates so I could do what other kids in the neighborhood were doing after school and on the weekends. Other than that, my next door neighbor Fanaross family, I was excited because they had a daughter who was in the same grade as me. She and I were in fifth grade together. That was exciting. I quickly adjusted. Another thing is I felt like I had teachers that cared about me in both school systems. But what was very nice is I felt a real push for learning how to research when I was attending Ludlow elementary school. We had this teacher by the name of Mrs. Link. She actually would sign her name and draw the links of a chain. She took one of my reports, and she took it down to the principal Mrs. Foss, and they both really thought well of it and they put it in the window display case outside the principal’s office. That really fed well into my spirit because I knew at eight years old that I really wanted to be a writer. That was very encouraging. I noticed a greater emphasis on vocabulary. We actually had little vocabulary books, and the research. Those things I felt were a little different from what I had experienced before.
AF: I would say as somebody who personally attended a diverse school, you see people who are successful of different races, and people who are a little average or lackluster of different races, so I imagine there wasn’t any kind of association with certain racial stereotypes as a young kid?
SSH: Exactly. I really did not have a sense of that. I did notice that people were different colors. But it was just like noticing what somebody wears, or the different colors of birds, or flowers. I had not yet learned to associate race with discrimination, at that point I had not learned. But now that I’m an adult, one of my best girlfriends grew up in Birmingham and she knew at age six what racism was because she saw Bull Connor on the television saying, ‘what else do they want, they’ve got running water.’ She got that at six years old. There were often people in the neighborhood or people in her family were worried about African American men missing. When she saw the dogs and all that happening right there in her town, she made the connection. When I saw it on television, I just thought it was horrible. I didn’t understand it. I just couldn’t connect it with anything to have a correct understanding of what was going on.
AF: Did you get the chance to meet people on the Ludlow Community Association growing up?
SSH: I did. Let’s see, well first of all, our next door neighbors the Fanaross, they were some of the founders of the LCA. Living next door to them for a decade, were like close families. My sister Angie took Hebrew lessons with Paul Faunaross. I went over to their house when they would like the menorah for Hanukkah. They came by our house and we had Christmas. I do remember our first summer there, I remember hearing some people ask Mrs. Fanaross something about Negros or living next door or something. I remember Mrs. Fanaross saying ‘they’re fine, there’s nothing.’ I just I didn’t understand everything, but I did catch that conversation. I did know another founder Fran King and her husband Drew King. Have you heard about them?
AF: Pretty sure. I went through the archival files at Shaker Heights Public Library, so I know I’ve seen their names.
SSH: Mrs. King was my Girl Scout troop leader at Ludlow. I just really looked up to her. I went to school with two of her daughters, Carol King was I think a year younger than me and then her daughter, Crystal was a year ahead of me. They were just students that I admired and noticed that they were good people and good students. I remembered that Mrs. King, I think the person who helped lead the troop was Mrs. MacAfee, and I think that Mrs. MacAfee was white and her husband was black. I don’t ever remember seeing her husband somewhere along the line I think I got that understanding. I really enjoyed participating in the troops with their leadership. Let me see. Mahali, the Mahali family. I was chosen with some other kids to go to a united appeal rally downtown in Cleveland. On the way back we were down in the terminal waiting for the rapid transit train to take us back to Shaker. Mrs. Mahali was one of the parents who was taking us kids. Some men up on the main floor of the Cleveland terminal tower, he looked down the stairwell to where we were waiting for the train and he hollered out at her “nigger lover.” He was really angry, I never forgot that. When I went home, I told my father and he just shook his head and kind of chuckled. But we never really talked about it. So, I still didn’t really know what it all meant, I just knew it was hostile. Mrs. Mchaley said ‘come children, come.’ She gathered us and she was trying to find a place for us to be safe. Let’s see, who else did I know? The Polster. I did not know the Polster family as a child, but federal judge Dan Polster and I were in the same class. His parents were also founders of the Ludlow Community Association. I got to know more people when I decided to do my research for my thesis. That’s when I met Emily Barnett, Chris Branch, Pat Mazzo or Meso, Fran and David Namcoon, Joan Campbell, Mimi Sobel, and Stuart Wallace. I interviewed all those people for my master’s thesis.
AF: I think I saw Tom Chemlimsky name too
SSH: He was, I think a president of the Ludlow, of a more recent president, right?
AF: Yes, I met him in person. He was dropping stuff off at Shaker library going to Richmond, Virginia. Serendipitously we just met.
SSH: Oh, how nice.
AF: He gave his contact information, so that was interesting.
SSH: Oh that’s beautiful. Yeah he was a nice person.
AF: The incident you said that happened downtown. Because Ludlow did seem like this very unique community. So did you experience similar episodes when you were around the Cleveland metro area?
SSH: No, that was the only incident I experienced. I do have the names of classmates of mine that I’m still in touch with, and one family, the Tiff family, they were super talented in music and athletics. Michelle Tiff was an incredible pianist. Her teacher wanted to buy, I think it was a concert piano for her or grand piano, really nice because that’s what she did. She even got her doctorate in it and she went to the Curtis Institute of Music from Shaker. They had found a piano from somebody in Shaker. When that person found out it was for Michelle, and Michelle was black, the person didn’t want to sell it. But her music teacher took care of that, and they got the piano. Her music teacher was white and not racist and dealt with the racism. I did not experience racism myself until high school at Shaker. Mainly, it was this one guidance counselor and as an adult I found out she was doing this to her everybody.
AF: Like what was she doing?
SSH: In my case, my first few weeks at in the high school, she had me called out of class to meet with her about my schedule. Then she said well ‘you must have worked awesomely hard and must of stayed awfully late while you were studying when you were at Woodbury.’ I said no, and she said ‘well, I don’t know how else you could have gotten these grades.’ I just didn’t understand why she would say something like that. Then she said, ‘well your IQ doesn’t indicate you should be able to get grades like this.’ So, the only thing that saves me is that after we started at Ludlow is they did do some IQ tests. I overheard my father telling my stepmother ‘hey look at this all three of the kids have all their IQ scores are around the same.’ They were always talking about how brilliant my sister Angie was because she read all the time. I decided that I was okay. If I got a score around Angie, I must be okay. But it was hurtful, l and it did affect me, still. Then when I started working for Howard University, and we were in a meeting doing development work for Howard, somebody brought the fact that she had that exact same experience. Then so many other people in the room who had gone to integrated schools had had that experience with white counselors. I do know people who are white who had terrible counselors too. The friend I told you about who grew up in Birmingham, she had a black counselor who would not discuss going to college with her because she was from the lower economic class in Birmingham. He just totally discounted her, and yet she was valedictorian of the class. She only went to college because a neighbor encouraged her to apply, and she got a full scholarship to Tuskegee. These things do happen irrespective of race. Sometimes it’s just a character issue in addition to racial issues.
AF: That’s interesting because I don’t know if you know my research looks at high school student activism in the 60s and 70s. I do come across incidents like that
SSH: Really, I didn’t know about that.
AF: Yeah, the anti-Vietnam war activism and black power, feminism, all in high schools.
SSH: That’s interesting. I would love to read it.
AF: I can send you an article I published about it.
SSH: I would love to read it.
AF: okay because I don’t know, I’m pretty sure stuff happened at Shaker, but I don’t know I never asked or looked.
SSH: We had a student, like a committee on racial equity or something that I was a member of. But honestly, I had forgotten until I was going through records and saw my name on the list and then I just kind of vaguely. I still don’t know that I understood what I was doing. But I was there. I felt that I think because it was the 60s that a lot of young people were more sensitive to things because of just what was happening all across our country. But most of the kids, if you didn’t come from Ludlow, most of the white kids who, if you came from one of the other elementary schools, you had never seen a black person other than a maid until you got to Shaker. I only had one white student ever say anything unkind, and I don’t know that its race but I kind of feel like it might have been.
AF: What did they say?
SSH: I was trying really hard to do well. I think we were comparing grades, and then she basically told me. I’m going to leave you in the dust and you’ll see. I’m going to make your [indecipherable].’ I was like, what would I even make her think to say something like.’
AF: I listened in the oral history interview, that’s when you said that in high school that’s when you started to notice race and then the students started to segregate themselves. What are your memories of that because that seems to happen a lot when kids get older?
SSH: That was a big deal. It was interesting because nobody talked about it. You started having lunch in the cafeteria, and then you just saw this table of all the black kids. You saw some isolated situations where blacks and whites might be eating, but for the most part all the black kids sat in one section of the cafeteria. I remember feeling like you belong there too. But I also felt a little uncomfortable I just felt like that was my only choice. I had to learn how to play big whiz because folks did that after they ate with the extra time. You were trying to do things so that you would be socially acceptable in the crowd. I just did that but I remember feeling really uncomfortable, and it was in Ludlow we had overnights with black and white friends. My sixth grade graduation I performed on the stage with three other white girls. I really felt like something about the fact that we were about to do dating, and it was almost like we just intuitively understood something about race.
AF: That definitely makes sense. I kind of skipped around but that’s perfectly fine. I know Ludlow held a lot of community gatherings. They invited book authors and politicians, ambassadors. Do you remember those events?
SSH: The only one I remember is when they organized the showing of My Fair Lady at the Colony Theater. That’s the only one I remember. I definitely felt the energy of that community and people doing things, but the only event I remember is that one. It was a big deal for me because my father went with us, and he was always working. The fact that he took time off to go to this movie with us was really exciting, made me really happy, and it was my birthday. I remember feeling like wow, you could just feel the energy of the whole community coming together. I did not know that they were raising money to help provide second mortgages for whites who were being denied loans by banks that were trying to stop them from moving into the Ludlow neighborhood. I did not know that my father had purchased the certificate of stock for that reason as well. Again, I did not know any of that so I did my thesis, and then he just happened to say ‘yeah, I did that.’ He shared as I was able to put the image in my thesis. He told me that it was really hard for him to find that one dollars.
AF: I’ve seen events, Ella Fitzgerald, the Fifth Dimensions. I’ve seen photographs of that event at the Ludlow.
SSH: I do know people whose parents went to those events, and I’m happy to give you their names. I am sure Brian Walker his parents were founders of the LCA. They lived on the corner of the street from us. His mother’s still living, but she has dementia. The King family. Carol and Crystal are still in the Cleveland area. I’m sure they have photographs of their parents at some of those events.
AF: I found plenty of photographs at the Shaker [Heights] Public Library. There’s an interesting collection of people coming together and piling whatever they had.
SSH: Interesting. Well I need to go back there again and see what else they have.
AF: Yeah, it’s interesting collection. I read you babysat for the Milters. How are they like at people? Do you have any memories of babysitting their children?
SSH: I just remember going there one time and her child was an infant. I didn’t really have to do that much. I just remember thinking that their house was really pretty. I remember her because I felt something from her and now when I see that look on her, it’s the part of her that’s an activist. I may be wrong, but she’s so committed to things being done right in this country. She’s had the courage to do a lot of things that a lot of folks were not doing back then. Only when I worked on my thesis that I interviewed her and learned what she was doing during those years. When our family left Shaker, it was 1971. We moved to the DC area because of my father’s work. My mother and stepfather were living in the Lee-Harvard area. They built a house on Van Aiken. They moved in ‘71 the year we left. For every other year of our lives until my mother moved to Detroit in 2015, we were back in Ludlow staying at my mom’s house. Whenever we came in for my father’s or my uncle’s events, we lived there. Carolyn Milter and my mother got to be really close. I think they may have worked on Girl Scout stuff together as well as community work. Carolyn knew both sets of my parents, and that made it nice.
AF: I’m actually learning more about your uncle Carl. Do you think Ludlow had any influence on his administration?
SSH: I need to think about that to make sure I give you correct information. I wish I had explored this more with my father, but he made it very clear that people in Ludlow and in Shaker supported Uncle Carl’s campaign. I really should talk to my aunt Shirley his ex-wife to know more about that. But they did support his campaign financially and with activism.
AF: I know you wrote your master’s thesis. Are there any other things you learned that you were oblivious to as a kid? You cover some of them.
SSH: I didn’t know about the bomb as a child. I found that out doing the research. I had no idea. I went back to school late in life so I didn’t know any of that. I just knew that I had a nice childhood. I realized I had a great opportunity. For instance, my parents didn’t meet with guidance counselors in high school to advocate for me, or talk about my college plans. But I knew friends of mine had parents that were doing that. I had seen my grandmother walk home from her jobs of cleaning houses, and I was very clear about the road our family had traveled. I thought my father’s attitude was ‘hey look, you’ve got more than I had so take the ball and run. Do what you have to do.’ I always felt like just do my best, and cope, and hang in there, and do your part. He didn’t have certain things and he made it so you just have to learn how to make your way.
AF: What lifelong impact do you think living in Ludlow had on your life?
SSH: I really think that it helped me to appreciate what Dr. King said about getting to look at people based on the content of their character instead of their color. I feel I was fortunate to feel like that in Mount Pleasant, and I felt like that in Ludlow. It was when I entered the work world that I felt clear hostility and resentment. Like ‘you don’t belong here in this corporation, and I want to do everything I can to keep you from progressing. I have certain thoughts about you and your kind.’ That became very clear and when I started raising my children out here in Maryland. There were white teachers and principals who felt like they couldn’t possibly be as intelligent as they were. They couldn’t possibly be this talented in math or science. They worked against them. I ended up having to chair an equity committee at Chevy Chase Elementary School. We did not live in Chevy Chase, we lived in Silver Spring. But because of busing and Board versus Education it took them forever, but they came up with this busing plan out here. Where they took children of color from a lower economic area and bust them into Chevy Chase. They were already below grade level in reading and math by third grade. I mean it was really terrible. I was trying to find a good math science magnet because those were strengths of my son’s Bren and Eric. I didn’t know all of this history. I enrolled them there and oh my god, it was horrible. I ended up joining another African mother, and it was another mother who had grown up in Ludlow as well, and we all we didn’t realize it but we ended up doing what they did in Ludlow in order to make things better for our kids. We were joined by other white parents who did not want their daughters discriminated against as our children were being discriminated against. That’s one thing I mean I can count at Ohio University. I was the only black person who sang in the Ohio University choir. I think I just said I want to sing. So I joined the choir. I also joined my sorority and I sang with the deltas. But as president of the delta chapter there I would go to
2nd Shelley Stokes-Hammond Interview
Aaron Okay, so I’ll start it. So my name is Aaron Fountain, and I am speaking with Shelly Stokes-Hammond. Today is March 3rd, 2022, and we are speaking over the telephone. I have a few questions because our last interview cut off short, unfortunately. And you were in the middle of discussing that when you were the president of the Delta chapter at your college.
Shelley I’m glad you brought that up. I think I was just trying to say that we were, as I understand it, there weren’t that many of us African-Americans at Ohio University. I think they had more around the time I came. Maybe I can’t remember 10% or 1%. It was really small. But I was comfortable because of growing up in Shaker, which was diverse. But I was also comfortable because my family had maintained ties with the black community. So we attended a black church with their campaigns. They always took us into a predominantly black community. We had started out in the black community. I didn’t understand all of those different things the way I do now and as I did as I grew up. So I was very comfortable. I was president of my sorority, which was a black sorority founded in Howard to try to do more with public service and social justice it was Delta Sigma Theta. But at the same time as president, I would have to meet with the president of other sororities on campus that were all white. And so I was comfortable walking at both worlds. And I guess it’s something that W.E.B. Dubois talked about, the Souls of Black Folks that that you have to two-ness where you are. So maybe it really wasn’t a big deal. Maybe I was just doing what he described all along.
Aaron I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think it’s the double veil if I’m correct.
Shelley Yeah, I think that’s what. You don’t really know what’s happening, but we just. It does happen.
Aaron This is related to your thesis. I’m just kind of curious, how was it like to interview, how did you go about finding people to interview and how was it like interviewing them?
Shelley It was wonderful. But I wonder if it’s okay if I just go back a little bit to explain how the whole thing came about. I knew I wanted to get more education. It was more difficult once I became a mom and a single mom of three kids. Of course, they were my priority. And working to support them was also a priority. I always took advantage of wonderful opportunities with all my jobs to keep learning. But I really wanted to go back to school and get more degrees and so forth. I wasn’t sure what to specialize in. I had gone back to my grandmother’s home place because I can’t remember if you and I talked about how I did not know about slavery until I took a course at Ohio University while I was there, and that was around 1970. I did not know about slavery. So I’m telling my great grandmother wanted to know what are you learning about in school. And that was the most fascinating thing to me, the black history I was learning. And so I assumed she didn’t know it either, because nobody had talked about it in the home. And I started running the whole story down to her, and she eventually stopped me when I got to sharecropping. She says, I know. I had heard she was a sharecropper, but I really didn’t know what a sharecropper was. Any mention of slavery or sharecropping when we were students in school, it may have been like just a side message, you know, maybe a paragraph. I don’t know if anything was mentioned. They probably said something, but it was brief. The focus was on the North versus the South, preserving the union and the generals. The battles, dates, things like that. So anyway, I recovered a little bit. I felt bad because I was teaching my grandmother something that she knew but for some reason never talked about. So I asked her, how can I learn our family history? And she told me to go back to Georgia and to see the only sister, the only sibling out of 11 who stayed in the South. All the others came north with the Great Migration. When I graduated about a year after I graduated, I went back to Georgia and I did what she said, and I stayed with that one sister. Fortunately, her sister took me to where my grandmother and were all of them were born and worked as sharecroppers. When we got there, my aunt was extremely distraught because their place had just been torn down. All of the rubble was on the ground, the bricks and the wood. But the place that their next door neighbor’s place was still standing. So we had a chance to see what their home was like. I had traveled there with my brother, Chuck Stokes, who was a student at Morehouse College. And so he was on his way back to school. And we just decided to make this visit part of his return to school. So he was with me in this town as well. I never forgot that I was able to take the photographs and because I was so impacted by it, my aunt also arranged for me to meet descendants of former slave owners of our family. My brother and I were a little uncomfortable about that because at that point I was very clear about race and our history and it was sort of like the Black Power Movement, and I just didn’t feel that great about meeting them. But I did with my aunt was suggesting. Well, this woman was really delighted to meet us. She was really into family history and she ended up helping us in ways that were amazing. And so I’m going to skip forward. The bottom line is I kept holding on to all these photographs descendants of the one of the former slave owning family sent me an amazing package filled with information to help us research our family history. But I was so conflicted by everything at that point. I just couldn’t figure out how to move forward. And so I get married, I have kids, and I work. But I periodically keep going back to these photographs and back to these amazing documents that were sent to me. So I’m searching on the Internet. I’m thinking, well, maybe I should get a doctorate in history. Maybe I should do this. But as I was searching, I discovered historic preservation as an option. And I said, I think that’s, because it sounded like it would give me an opportunity to learn about history and architecture. That way, I would understand more about these photographs of the place that I saw, because I also saw their church that was built right after the Civil War. And I also had other things that the descendants of the slave owners had given me. I called and spoke to the director of the program. He was so nice and told him my story, wrote that in my application, and then he was really committed to helping me. I wanted to write about these things and ultimately books, not just about my family, but others too. When it got closer to me, wrapping things up for my thesis, one of my professors wrote me a letter. She said she had lived in Shaker from 1995 to 2002. She had gotten her master’s in Historic Preservation from Columbia, and then she was in Cleveland, getting her Ph.D. in history from Case. She was living in Shaker. She was going to give a presentation for the Landmark Association or something. And she said that what bothered her was that there were no stories about the African American experience and how the integration occurred. And how it was maintained. She said she had seen photographs, but nothing was there to really tell the story. So she suggested that I consider that. I had planned to do something about the journey of the African-American experience with respect to hope, because of how I saw my aunt’s reaction when she saw that her former slave quarters, which they lived in as sharecroppers, had been torn, it was her home and it was heartbreaking for her. And then I was trying to reconcile that with my experience growing up in Shaker. So with her help, we put all the pieces together and that became the goal for my thesis. And the problem was that to really recognize a place as a historic site, you have to have grounds for that, as you know. And we didn’t know if we had any grounds for it. She didn’t know. So I had to do a lot of research. And what I found was that in 1987, Congress had issued a mandate. It was a public law. I’ll have to let you know what it was. But it was a specific public law that said that the National Park Service had to go back and revise its guidelines for nominating sites as national historic landmarks to make sure they fully reflected the heritage of our country. And that’s when the National Park Service started developing the guidelines called the Framework for Civil Rights and the Framework for Racial Discrimination in Housing. When I did my thesis, only the civil rights framework had been completed and was published. The housing one was in draft form. I had to get special permission from staff of the National Park Service. I got to work directly with the historian who was writing that piece, who I can’t remember right now as we’re talking, I’ll have to let you know later. But anyway, that’s what we did. And then we were able to provide the documentation to support a case, an argument to recognize Ludlow as a historic site. So that’s why I named my thesis. And actually my son Brett came up with that title, “Recognizing Ludlow: A national treasure, a community that stood firm for equality.” I didn’t want it to be about my family, want it to be about the historical journey of African Americans with respect to home. And I wanted to make sure it represented the Ludlow-Shaker story in whole. But I do have some things about my family. I have a picture of the sharecropping home that was next door. I have a picture of the plant, the big house, one of the slave owners. But I don’t really identify it because I was trying to be more objective and not subjective and focus on my family. I was trying to focus more on the whole, big picture, but as my dream was to write a book and this training I felt would help me to write a better book. So now I’m in the process of trying to get that book published, and I finally got to that point.
Aaron How far along are you with the book?
Shelley I’ve really written every chapter. However, I drew guidance from different people, I have revised my table of contents, and I have prepared my proposal. And so now I am rewriting the chapters to support the revised table of contents. But I am proceeding with reaching out to publishers as I keep writing, even though I know some of them may ask me to make changes.
Aaron Oh, okay. Yeah. I usually how it works. Work in progress.
Shelley I published a few articles and I published a thesis, but I have not really done books. So, this is my first experience.
Aaron Okay. Now I’m kind of curious, as somebody who does research a lot. One thing I know that normally you tend to find what you’re not expecting. Did you come across anything to your research that was kind of a surprise to you or a bit shocking?
Shelley That’s a really good question. And I know the answer is yes. Let me see if I can just think off the spot of some of the things I found. Well, I had a chance to meet with Emily Barnett, who was one of the founders. Have you heard about her yet or?
Aaron Heard about her? Yes.
Shelley Okay. Anyway, that was when I learned listening to her telling me how they had an apartment that they were a young couple just trying to get on their feet. They had a baby on the way and I think one was here and they needed a house. And then she said she hadn’t really paid much attention to the bombing and the for sale signs that were flying up because her life was so full with a newborn baby. And then she goes out to take the baby for a walk, and then she sees all these for sale signs. And then later that day, I think Dr. King drops by her house, Dr. Drew King. And she couldn’t get over how he was dressed so nicely. And they were in their shorts and stuff. And he said, ‘Hey, you know, we’re trying to figure out what we might do about the situation. We’re talking about all of us getting together. Would you like to come over?’ All of it was just so. I loved hearing how it just sort of happened. Just human beings, neighbors, ordinary people. Coming from two different backgrounds. They were Jewish and Dr. King, African-American, who grew up in the Tuskegee environment. Saw Dr. George Washington Carver, had gone to Harvard for undergrad, was the choir. These are other stories that surprised me that I got from Mrs. Fran King and how the discrimination he encountered. Because one of his professors took a stand, he took stand also about the discrimination, he couldn’t go to med school. These are the backgrounds people are coming from that led them to say, you know what? It’s like Emily’s husband. She gave me this beautiful. She said he wrote about his life and he just said, he found his voice. I like it here. I don’t want to leave. He had grown up there as a child, and he didn’t like the idea of running away from a place that he loved. He always felt that that the Ludlow community was the prettiest of all the elementary school districts in Shaker. So those things surprised me. It also surprised me when I did my research, I did not realize one thing that that I learned was. Like, for example, the historic register, the national landmark criteria, talks about this amazing railway system that’s integrated so beautifully into the suburban community. And it is. However, the other thing it does not mention is it talks about how it was also great for the white males who were commuting to their professional jobs downtown in Cleveland. So in 20 minutes, they could be downtown and that meant basically only needed one car there. Their suburban whites could have this one car. But that wasn’t the case for African-Americans. In 1920, I think it said that there were only like 50 African American domestic workers who were working in the Shaker community. But by 1930, when that railway system opened, there were 367. And then in 1940, like 582, in 1955, 58. And my grandmother, she would have been taking the railway system to work there as a domestic worker. Irwin Barnett, Emily Barnett’s husband said. No, I think it was Bernie, Bernie Isaacs said, ‘You know, they were invisible. They were totally invisible.’ And so what the Congress was saying, you need to update these nominations to show the full history. So don’t talk about the beautiful architecture, the brilliant engineering concept, the events where you had, which they deserve credit for that. But also talk about who else was writing those cars, who was invisible. But how people in that community at a certain point decide, ‘hey, we have to do something different here.’ And that’s how people like myself ended up being able to grow up there. So that’s what motivated me a lot with my book and with the research. Those things surprised me. Those are all things I just didn’t know.
Aaron That happens all the time with research. It’s not research if you don’t run into issues and if you don’t find out what you’re not looking for.
Shelley That’s so true. That is true. I do research for lots of other people and other projects and I’m always really, really interested in the value of every life and every story.
Aaron There’s one question I did have and I didn’t get to the first time. So you were talking about your master’s thesis and you said one part that you aim to make Shaker Heights inclusion into the National Register for Civil Rights and for the Ludlow neighborhood to be recognized at the Civil Rights Heritage Site. Can you describe your efforts to make your goal a reality?
Shelley Well, I had a big help from the librarian, the local history librarian of Shaker Heights. That’s Megan Hayes. She was the head of my thesis committee. And then I also had a professor, Clifford Mills, who was head of archives at Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard, where I worked and together, I mean, everybody brought something important. So, Megan had me do a presentation. And she promoted it as civil rights in Shaker Heights kind of put the Ludlow neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. And I actually was asked to do a lot of different presentations. Even my class of 1969 asked me to write an essay in a book that they published in 29 for our 50th class reunion. I wrote an article in a preservation magazine called Ludlow Color Field because there is, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the Ludlow community created a sculpture to also remember what happened there. I’ll send you a link to the article. So I tried to tell the Ludlow story by also promoting that piece of sculpture. Those are some of the things I have done to hopefully get the nominations that are currently on file, at least the last time I checked for Shaker Square and the Shaker Village were written in 1976. And then one of them was amended around 1983. Okay. So the one for Shaker Square talks about the beautiful Colony Theater, its architecture. But that is where the Ludlow community had in 1964. They sold out all the seats to for families in the community to go see the movie My Fair Lady. And the proceeds from that sale were used to help finance loans for whites who were being denied. The second mortgage in order to have enough money to buy a home there. Banks were stopping them because the bankers saw the community as a middle class ghetto. They felt they would be foolish to buy a house there and they wouldn’t finance it. So there were those who really felt it was a good cause and they wanted their kids to grow up in a situation like that. But they didn’t have all the money they needed. Speaking of surprises, I didn’t know my father had bought stock in a Ludlow Company to help finance that. I learned that during my research. And then he shared a copy of it and then I was able to get a copy of it into my thesis. Speaking of the thesis, maybe upside. If you guys want, I’d be happy to send a copy. Have a copy sent there. If you have things like that at CRS.
Aaron Oh, like a physical copy?
Shelley If you’re interested, I’d be happy to do that.
Aaron Yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re more than willing to take it. They collect a lot of stuff about Cleveland history.
Shelley Okay, that’s what I figured. That sounds good. So what was your original question? Have I answered it?
Aaron Yeah, it was just one question that popped up when you were talking. When you doing a research, did anybody described the lowest possibly become a quote-on-quote, “middle class ghetto?” Because going through the archive, that just confused me. The fact that the people moving in are like middle upper middle class professionals and the neighborhood would turn into a ghetto. I just get kind of perplexed when I see that.
Shelley I know that’s something else that surprised me, too, as I read the material, but that’s exactly what the concern was. I think that Brian Walker, the classmate I mentioned earlier, one thing he said in our reunion is to everybody, ‘Hey, look, black people are not a monolith.’ But I do think that unfortunately, to a great extent, the world or Americans think of black people and they go straight to certain negative connotations. With respect to class. It’s just part of the unfortunate history of racism. And so when you think about black people moving to a neighborhood, I don’t think the bankers first thought, ‘oh, no.’ I mean they knew they might be lawyers, doctors, teachers. But I don’t think that thought stayed there too long. I think that that was overruled by all the other traditional concepts about black people. They may have this degree, but they’re still black.
Aaron There was a study, it’s recent actually, it said a lot of white Americans have a hard time envisioning middle class black neighborhoods. When white people think of like a lot of black people in a shared space, they automatically associated with poverty and all the issues that come with poverty.
Shelley You know, that’s so interesting because that’s what I have felt just through my life experience. And it’s interesting to see a study backs it up. I know in just raising my sons, we experienced a lot of discrimination because out here in Maryland there was slavery. My sons were growing up in the 1980s and 1990. Many of their teachers had never gone to school with a black person because they grew up in a segregated state. And in fact, my sons, who are 37 and 39 now, Brett and Eric, they were just implementing bussing when they were in the late 1980s, even though it had been ruled in 1954 that the state was wrestling with how to do this. I had to go through an awful lot. They really suffered a lot of discrimination. And I did not realize it until later that I was modeling what happened in Ludlow. I realized I had learned more than I thought I had learned just from growing up in that community.
Aaron That’ was all of my questions. Combined we talked for over an hour.
Shelley] Oh, how about that?