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Glenville Generations: Racism, Poverty And Hope

Michael R. White elementary school, formerly Miles Standish elementary in Glenville. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
Front exterior of Michael R. White elementary school, formerly Miles Standish elementary [Annie Wu / ideastream]

The 1968 shootout between Cleveland police and black nationalists in the Glenville neighborhood had a devastating effect on the community. But did the shootout break Glenville or was it the breaking point? It’s been fifty years and residents past and present — with memories of the neighborhood’s golden days as well as awareness of its present troubles — believe there’s a brighter future.

Glenville past and present

Richard Andrews was a young boy when he moved to Glenville with his family in 1953, living in the parsonage where his father ministered. He says Glenville then was a fabulous place.

“Houses were well kept. There was tremendous variety in the architecture. I thought we had good schools,” Andrews recalled.

It’s a version of Glenville that Chenoa Miller has never known. She graduated in May from Glenville High School.

“The Glenville I see is poor. It’s desecrated; it’s burnt down; it’s vacant lots; it’s abandoned houses, abandoned buildings. There’s no business,” she said. “So that’s the Glenville I see.”

She adds that the quality of her education through the Cleveland Metropolitan School District has been subpar compared to schools in other Northeast Ohio towns.

“So I feel like it’s been a downfall. It’s been a decrease in education. It’s been a decrease in socioeconomics. It’s been a decrease in everything.”

The decrease began decades ago. Redlining and racially restrictive covenants limited the areas where black people could live.

“I didn’t realize that it was one of the five areas of Cleveland — along with Central and Hough and Mt. Pleasant — that were more or less Negro reservations,” said Andrews recalling his childhood. “All of the black people lived in one of those five communities by and large.”

As a student attending Cleveland’s Miles Standish elementary, Andrews says he didn’t understand the systemic forces that were driving overcrowding in the city’s schools.

“I remember when the population went over 1000 and I thought that was some kind of accomplishment,” said Andrews. “I didn’t realize that what they really meant was that more people were being jammed into smaller spaces and the class sizes got larger and the strains on the teacher and the administration got bigger.”

The Shootout: Symptom or cause of decline?

On July 23, 1968, Cleveland police engaged in a shootout with black nationalists at E. 124 th and Auburndale in the Glenville neighborhood. Three police officers, three nationalists, and a civilian were among those killed that night.

The next evening, then-Mayor Carl Stokes decided to limit oversight of the neighborhood to black-only police officers and community leaders, but they were outnumbered. Stokes called in the National Guard and over the next several days, clashes continued between residents and law enforcement. Neighborhood businesses were looted and burned.

Police arrested Fred Ahmed Evans, leader of the New Libya black nationalists and charged him with the murder of the officers and the civilian. A year later, he was convicted of all charges.

But Richard Andrews believes Evans and the shootout were not the driving force behind Glenville’s decline.

“The problems in Glenville would have occurred with or without the shootout,” he said. “It was a dramatic moment of resistance but the larger structural forces were in play and would have played out the same way. It just maybe accelerated some things.

“We’re talking about housing. We’re talking about discrimination of employment. We’re talking about problems in transportation. We’re talking about a community that is not built around the needs of the poorest citizens. It’s not built about lifting all the boats.”

Chenoa Miller says she never learned about the Glenville shootout until this year when she was a senior in high school, “which I find kind of ridiculous because I go to Glenville High School.”

She and a group of students were tasked with researching Glenville history, especially the shootout.

“And when you look at it, when you start to tell the story of Glenville, you tell your peers, ‘Hey, this happened and this happened. This is how it was.’” But Miller says she was met with indifference from her other classmates.

“I feel like with this generation, they have the mentality of, ‘If it doesn’t pertain to me, then don’t got nothing to do with me.’”

“A very leaky dike”

After college and law school, Andrews returned to Glenville in 1972 and worked at the Legal Aid office at St Clair Ave. and E. 105 th St.

“Which was a very romantic sense that I had to come back and work in the community, but the systemic structures in place made the kind of law that was being practiced out of that office more social work than legal practice.” Andrews says poverty was everywhere.

“As a legal aid attorney you’re representing people who by definition can’t afford counsel. And their problems weren’t so much legal as economic. So we dealt with evictions all the time. We dealt with utility cut offs. We dealt with misdemeanors we handled in the criminal court. And people were getting sued because they couldn’t pay their bills. A lot of it was systemic. Landlords took advantage of you. When you’re poor, everyone takes advantage of you. And we were trying to put fingers in a very leaky dike.”

To encourage change among her fellow students, Miller says she tried to make the history of the Glenville shootout relevant to modern day life.

“So I would say, ‘Hey, you may think this happened 50 years ago and it doesn’t really matter, but do you not realize that the reason you live in poverty is because of that? Do you not realize that you have a bad neighborhood and you might be shot on a daily basis is because of that?’

“I’m going to make it pertain to them so they have the right to be like, ‘Ok, I need to do something, I need to learn, I need to make a change, I need to do something, some type of action,’” Miller explained.

She says she plans to return to Glenville High to teach the incoming freshman class about the shootout and neighborhood history.

“I really want it to be a high school curriculum. I want it to be taught ‘cause if you learn your history, you can prevent any further damage.”

Hope for the future of Glenville

Despite the past and present of Glenville – the poverty, the violence, and institutional racism that has benighted the community – both Andrews and Miller are hopeful for the future.

“Glenville will experience a renaissance,” said Richard Andrews.

There’s value in its location between Lake Erie and University Circle, he says, and its bones are strong. He points to the Opportunity Corridor development project connecting I-490 with University Circle as well as development along the neighborhood’s southern border as evidence that reinvestment is coming.

“The biggest question is, how will it be managed?” Andrews asks. “And will it be equitable and will the people, who have suffered through the 40 plus years of lean times who are still there, be able to participate in the renaissance and the Glenville of the 21 st century?”

He hopes gentrification doesn’t displace those who have been a part of the neighborhood for the past several decades.

“My hope for Glenville is that the investment made by my generation and the generations that have followed retain a place in the Glenville of the future.”

Like Andrews, Chenoa Miller envisions a Glenville that returns to prosperity, and residents who return to help see it through.

“My hope for Glenville is to show that you can come from a ghetto, a hood, or any type of situation that has poverty or abandoned houses and still make your way to the top but also give back to your community, not just find a way out, but to come back and make your community better.”

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.