Cleveland As A Chain Of Islands In 1966
For some people in Cleveland, the good old days are a real thing. And for them, July 18, 1966 was pretty close to those good old days. Jobs that lasted from high school to retirement were still available. The Plain Dealer arrived in the morning every day and the Cleveland Press in the afternoon. The city’s population, according to the 1960 census, was the 8th largest in the country, a small decline from its peak in 1950.
“The neighborhood hasn’t changed much as far as the buildings from where we’re sitting," says Bernie Buckner as he surveys Tremont from Lincoln Park, the part of town where he grew up, on a beautiful July day. Buckner remembers a time when the steel mills were still going strong - three shifts a day, seven days a week.
“When the mills were really producing, you could see the smoke. And if you lived down on the southside, your car would have like a fine, grain dust on it," says Buckner.
In 1966, Beverly Masek was 20 years old. She also grew up in Tremont. Masek’s father was a Hungarian immigrant and worked nearby as a machinist. She remembers a neighborhood where just about everything you needed was right around the corner.
“It’s so different than now, because you walked, you took public transportation, there were no shopping centers. The stores were either local or you got on the West 14th bus and you went downtown," says Masek.
She also remembers the beginning of a change coming to the largely white neighborhood. Just a few years earlier, the city opened public housing in Tremont to African Americans.
“Once they started to integrate into the housing project, my parents were very prejudice. I wasn't and I don't know why. And there was a lot of bickering, a lot of fights because of that," says Masek.
But for the older generation, in this neighborhood made up of European immigrants from Poland and Ukraine and Romania, self-imposed segregation was a way of life, says Bernie Buckner.
“Ukrainians stayed with the Ukrainians, so you go down the street right here to St. Olga's and you had the Ukrainian Church. You go to St. John's Cantius, if you were of Polish descent at all, you'd be at St. John Cantius, that's just the way it was," says Buckner.
Extended interviews on life in Cleveland in 1966.
One predominately African American part of the city was the Central neighborhood on the eastside. George Dixon grew up near East 83rd and Cedar. He says a July day in 1966 in his neighborhood would have looked like one anywhere else in the city.
“A typical summer day – you know – the kids were out playing in the street – baseball, basketball, playing football, you know, pretty laid back," says Dixon.
Dixon’s father started off working at the steel mills then opened a neighborhood grocery store. Like Tremont, houses were owner occupied back then. Everyone got their supplies from shops in the neighborhood. But the place to shop, in this part of town, was 105th Street.
“My mother would give us a dollar. If we got one whole dollar, we were very lucky, and we would go up to 105, there was some movie theaters up there. And that dollar was supposed to give us car fare to the show, get us into the show and buy us a hot dog," says Dixon.
Dixon says he also learned when he was young that there were neighborhoods nearby where he wasn’t welcome.
Ed Mishic was a teenager in 1966, living in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, at 74th and Donald, not far from where Dixon grew up or from Hough.
“If you went into the lobby of the church I belonged to, which I'm not going to name, they had a big county map up. And Superior was marked and 79th were marked as the Mason Dixon line. African Americans weren't really allowed to cross that," says Mishic.
But, before long, the problems in one Cleveland neighborhood would erupt and shake the entire city.