Wednesday, March 12, 2014
EAST CLEVELAND TODAY
This posting is a bit of a digression from the history of East Cleveland during the 1940s and 1950s with which I am more familiar. However, I believe those who follow this blog would also like to stay current on issues affecting East Cleveland today. In previous postings I tried to avoid much discussion of current issues, because for the most part I only know what I read in the papers. My current knowledge of East Cleveland has been gained through research I have done at the East Cleveland Public Library and occasional visits to my old neighborhoods.
Like many of you who grew up in East Cleveland and then returned to visit, I am shocked by the physical deterioration of the town. Whole blocks of houses and apartments have been abandoned or burned out and boarded up. Those housing units, which are still occupied, tend to be in marginal states of maintenance. Most housing is not owner occupied. The population is the poorest of the poor. Many of you have commented on my blog about how depressing it is to see what has happened to our old home town.
There are those who will blame the current state of affairs in East Cleveland on the racial change, which occurred starting in the 1960s. I have received comments to that effect on this site. I lived in East Cleveland during the early 1960s while attending Western Reserve University. I studied sections of the City as part of an Urban Sociology class project in 1962. Later in the decade, I walked all the streets of East Cleveland meeting people as a candidate for State Representative. I met many of the new African-American citizens and found them to have similar values, hopes and dreams as I and my long time East Cleveland friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, White flight, encouraged by real estate block busting tactics, moved too fast to allow the development of a stable integrated community.
East Cleveland became a stable majority African-American community by the 1980s. It was still a community of middle class values, which encouraged strong families, home ownership and property maintenance. Unfortunately, the transformation of East Cleveland into a majority African-American community coincided with the major economic decline of the Cleveland region resulting in what we know as the rust belt. This combined with the flight of the middle class (both White and African-American) from the inner ring suburbs left East Cleveland with a different population. The difference was not African-American or White. The difference was economic class.
Back in 2011 I started this site with the following comment: “An argument could be made that East Cleveland had no clear identity of its own. Each part of East Cleveland is like the community it borders. On the North it borders the Collinwood section of Cleveland. On the West it is adjacent to The Glenville section as well as University Circle and Little Italy. Finally, on the South and East is Cleveland Heights. In many ways the socio-economic groups, housing etc. in East Cleveland were quite similar to those in adjacent communities.” I went on to argue that East Cleveland did, in fact, have an identity of its own and went on to describe that identity in detail.
In September 2012 I made the following comment in my presentation to an urban history class at Case Western Reserve University: “As much as it pains me to say it, there may not be a reason for the City of East Cleveland today. In fact the very existence of the City of East Cleveland may be a barrier to solving the problems of the area known as East Cleveland. I already pointed out the similarities of sections of East Cleveland with the neighboring cities. The problems of the economically depressed population of East Cleveland are more appropriately the problems of the entire Cleveland metropolitan area. If the area of East Cleveland were a part of Cleveland and/or Cleveland Heights, the current concentration of economically depressed people could be absorbed by the larger tax base of those communities or Cuyahoga County. The barriers to land development within the current boundaries of East Cleveland would be lowered. I even believe that East Cleveland as it exists today is no longer a viable power base for the African-American political establishment, if it ever was in the first place.”
Since my presentation in September 2012, there has been considerable discussion in the media and the community of East Cleveland about the possible merger of East Cleveland with the City of Cleveland.
In fact, the mayors of the two cities have come out in favor of that merger. Former Cleveland Council President and former head of the NAACP, George Forbes seemed to initiate this discussion. There have already been examples of mergers of some city services with those of Cleveland including the Water Department. A strong movement to merge the East Cleveland Public Library with the Cuyahoga County Public Library failed due to opposition from a small but vocal group of citizens even though the Library Board had recommended the merger. It now seems as if the greatest impediment to the final merger will be the East Cleveland City Council. It will take a vote of the people to finally decide the future of the community.
Last night I watched a 40 minute program, which describes the heartbreak and despair felt by current and former citizens of East Cleveland. That heartbreak and despair is similar to that which many readers of my blog expressed, when seeing what has become of East Cleveland. The difference is that most of my readers have been White former citizens, who lived in East Cleveland, when I was there too. The people you meet and hear on this program lived there during the 1990s and later. They are all African-American. The hopes, values and sorrow they express are the same as mine and those of most of my readers.