Cleveland and the Civil Rights Movement then and now

It’s hard not to think about the ills that led to the Civil Rights Movement at a time like this.   I n the place of lynchings and church burnings, we have guns… lots of guns, and prisons.  I haven’t had a whole lot of time recently to write but I also have needed a little time to process and think about what I want to contribute to the dialogue following the horrific shooting at the Emanuel AME Church last week (yes, I started writing this post the week after the shooting).  While I feel a deep sense of sadness, powerlessness, and even some hopelessness, those are not the things that I want to write about today.  The color of my skin provides me with a safety net that far too many people have never known.  I think of myself as an ally and work to be one where needed.  I believe that one of my roles as an ally is to not fill this space with my pain or my frustration; there are so many people talking about the pain, and there is so much pain to talk about.  I have too much to learn from others on those points.


United Freedom Movement (UFM) school desegregation picket line – April 13, 1964. Taken from the Cleveland Memory Project website

So… I’ve been thinking a lot about the Civil Rights Movement lately.  I’m a lover of history not because it was so awesome and could be described as “the good ol’ days” but because there are so many lessons to be learned from our past and so many opportunities to develop an understanding of the processes that have made us what we are today.  The Civil Rights Movement is a shining example of solidarity, of true leadership, selflessness, sacrifice, fed-upness, pissed offness, change…  I could go on.  I wrote last month about the baby steps to end legal segregation (if you didn’t read it, you can here) but the story doesn’t end with the resolution of Brown v Board; if it did we never would have had a Civil Rights Movement.  People have written books on the topic so I won’t go into the details here but I found out about an organization in Cleveland called the United Freedom Movement while doing some research online.  The United Freedom Movement was an organization that actively protested school segregation in Cleveland.  It was created in 1963 by the NAACP after inviting various groups to come together to “examine the areas of education, housing, employment, health and welfare, and voting and political participation, as they related to blacks in Cleveland” (from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,  You’ll notice that I wrote “1963” not “1953”, so yes, 9 years after segregation was declared “illegal”.  Perhaps you know what I’m going to write next, if you’ve looked into this you might, but perhaps you’ve never really thought about it and are now wondering how people could still be fighting for desegregation 9 years later.  Turns out that 9 years isn’t that long in human history and certainly not long enough to undo the deeply entrenched segregation that centuries of the evils of slavery and Jim Crow reinforced.  So there are two kinds of segregation; de jure (by law) and de facto (just is).  I would argue that the two can be blurred but for the purposes of this diatribe let’s say they’re different.  What the UFM was fighting against was de facto segregation.  People were segregated not by law but because communities were segregated.  Believe it or not, communities were intentionally segregated in a practice referred to as “residential redlining”.  Keep reading and you’ll find out more about residential redlining.  The UFM argued that Cleveland perpetuated the problem by building new schools in locations that exacerbated segregation.  Unfortunately the UFM only survived for a few years before internal factions brought about it’s end. All these years later, can we say that segregation is a thing of the past in Cleveland?  Turns out that we cannot.  In fact, according to the Atlantic Blackstar, Cleveland is 7th on the list of most segregated.  Business insider put together a very visually descriptive story on segregation in 21 of the most segregated cities in the US, and yes, Cleveland is on their list as well.  This is worth looking at because they have maps with dots that represent the race of residents, so it’s very easy to see where the lines are drawn.  The map on the website is much clearer for some reason so I’d recommend that you look here.  You’ll find that cities like Chicago, L.A., St. Louis, and Cincinnati are also on the list.  If you want to see what diversity looks like on one of these maps check out the one of New York City.  The neighborhoods of The Bronx and Queens are very diverse (I had to compare to Google Maps to find exactly where those were in comparison to the dot map).  Chicago, on the other hand, is so segregated that the map actually looks like a striped flag (red (white), orange (Hispanic), blue (black), orange (Hispanic), blue (black) with a glowing green dot (Asian)).  I feel the need to add that according to the black-white dissimilarity score New York is actually more segregated than Chicago but there seem to be a few more places of intense diversity in New York than Chicago.


“Cleveland’s black-white dissimilarity score is 72.6, according to a study of 2010 Census data by professors John Logan and Brian Stults of Brown and Florida State University. A score above 60 on the dissimilarity index is considered very high segregation. The red dots show white people, blue is black, orange is Hispanic, green is Asian, and yellow is other, according to maps of 2010 Census data by Eric Fischer.” Read more:

What does this level of segregation mean to the citizens of Cleveland?  It means a whole lot of things that will take many, many blog posts to delve into but to be brief about it; segregation impacts individuals’ ability to relate to and feel safe around people of different backgrounds, it makes it harder for some people to find work and for children to have access to quality education, it makes transitioning from a homogeneous community to a diverse community challenging and intimidating.  I want to be very clear about this next point: Segregation is detrimental to EVERYONE!!!!  The white person who went to an all white school and only sees black people as they’re portrayed in media or occasionally in public places is not a better person for that segregation.  The black person who went to an all black school and only sees white people in police uniforms and occasionally in public places is not going to fare better in a still majority (albeit diminishing) white society for that segregation.  I mentioned residential redlining earlier; it turns out that this practice, which took place for most of the 20th century (and still does), is largely responsible for the segregation that we still see today in most major U.S. cities. I recently got in touch with a woman involved in a program called HEAL (Healthy Eating and Active Living – I’ll be writing a separate post about this organization soon) in Cleveland.  It turns out that she’s also part of a team that “address[es] broader equity issues related to policy, planning, economics and community in the region”.  Through the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University, the team released a report in May 2014 entitled “The History of Race and real Estate in Cleveland & Its Relationship to Health Equity Today”.  This report details why Cleveland is as segregated as it is with a very detailed description of residential redlining. Redlining was described by Thomas Petigrew as “the most resistant to change of all realms – perhaps because it is so critical to racial change in general” (From this paper by Marc Seitles, 1996). Redlining comes from the practice of mortgage lenders literally drawing red lines on maps around neighborhoods where they would not lend.  Through this practice black families were ushered into neighborhoods that were deemed “hazardous” or “definitely declining” and therefore away from white neighborhoods (From this paper by James Greer).  Do you think Hood would have done what he did if one of those 9 individuals had been his neighbor as he was growing up, or the parent of his best friend from school?  Probably not. There are, most likely, lots of people who think segregation is great.  There are also a whole lot of people who probably don’t think about it… at all.  There are people like me who know it exists and are mad about it, but aren’t exactly sure what to do about it (I hope that changes as I spend more time looking into this).  And there are people who are actively fighting to undo the damage of perpetual segregation.  I intend to find those people and share what they’re doing to achieve integration and equity. Stay tuned… another post is already in the works.   Works cited:

Categories: Community, JusticeTags: , , , ,

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