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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Teaching the Hough Riots

Gadison's lesson asks students to react to newspaper headlines from the Hough and Glenville riots.

By Elizabeth Miller 

As we’ve heard during our series “Hough: Before and Beyond ‘66”, the Hough Riots impacted Cleveland far beyond that week of unrest 50 years ago.  But what about the people who weren’t around for the riots?  How do they find out about Hough’s history, and what lessons can be learned? 

Teaching Cleveland history

Pam Ogilvy teaches at Beachwood High School.  She spent 8 of her 10 years there teaching U-S history, including the Hough Riots.  But in 2010, Ogilvy was able to create a lesson plan that would be available to several Northeast Ohio teachers through an organization called Teaching Cleveland. Greg Deegan, another Beachwood teacher, started the program and asked Ogilvy if she wanted to be a part of it.  

“The goal is to seamlessly incorporate Cleveland history into the curriculum,” explained Ogilvy.

For Ogilvy, it was a no-brainer to include the Hough riots in her civil rights lesson.

“I already talk about the Detroit race riots in 1967. I talk about the Watts riots in 1965,” said Ogilvy.  “Well, Hough came right smack dab in the middle.”

For the lesson, students read a 1966 Time magazine article.  They also review a 1968 thesis from Princeton student Marc E. Lackritz.  The Time article provides an emotional, subjective account of civil rights riots happening all over the country, while the Lackritz thesis is more factual – what happened, who died, and how much property was damaged.  

Ogilvy has members of one group pair up with the other, and explain the part of the story they know so everyone has a more complete view of what happened.  Students also listen to clips from City Club forums, including one from 1966 where Louis Stokes, an attorney at the time, spoke.

“The Hough riots had left death, destruction, pillaging, destruction, homelessness, joblessness, and debris in an already forsaken community,” said Stokes in a clip from the 1966 City Club Forum.

The other forum is from 1976, 10 years after the riots.  Ogilvy says it can be difficult to include Cleveland History into an already strict statewide curriculum.   “In order to fit what some might say is superfluous stuff, you really have to time it correctly,” said Ogilvy.

“But it can be done, you just have to put in a little effort.”

  Ogilvy says her students respond one of two ways – either they’ve heard of the riots through a personal connection, such as a grandparent who grew up in Cleveland. Or they have no idea that the Hough riots ever happened.

“They’re shocked because of the proximity to Beachwood,” said Ogilvy.

But the lesson gives them a larger appreciation for Cleveland’s role in national history.

“When you talk about history, the civil rights movement – when you’re able to circle it back and make it applicable to somewhere they have probably driven through and didn’t even realize it – it’s really eye-opening to them,” said Ogilvy.

Hough school to honor 50th anniversary of the riots

Ogilvy’s lesson extends to one of Hough’s neighborhood schools, Citizens Leadership Academy, a charter middle school.  There, students learn about Hough in the 8 th grade.

One of them was Jalen Brown, now in the 11 th grade at John Hay High School.  He said learning about the Hough Riots reinforced a lesson he learned from other historical events in the past.

“You should be an up-stander not a bystander,” said Brown.  “You should stand up for what is morally right versus what is the easiest way out.”

This year, in honor the 50 th anniversary of the riots, the school will devote the 1 st two weeks of classes to teaching all 300 students about Hough. 

Peaceful protests vs. violent protests

The 1966 riots also served as an educational tool for Cleveland schools last year before the verdict for Cleveland Police officer Michael Brelo.  He was found not guilty last May in the 2012 shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects.

Anticipating protests, Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon asked the district social studies content manager, Gayle Gadison, to create a lesson plan so teachers could prepare their students for the protests.

Gadison used the Hough riots as well as 1968’s Glenville Riots and last year’s unrest in Baltimore to illustrate what a place looks like before and after a protest.

“What happens after the fires are out, after the streets are swept up and the trash is picked up? What happens then?”asked Gadison.

The lesson, presented to 8 th graders and high school students, includes questions for students to answer as if their house was damaged in a protest.

“Where will you live until your house is repaired? Where will you shop for groceries? Where will you get your hair cut?”

Gadison’s presentation also looks at the economic effect of the riots, with images of Cleveland’s east side businesses pre-riots and a glimpse at the neighborhood today.  From there, teachers use the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery as an example of a peaceful protest.  Then, students decide if they think participating in a violent protest is worth it.

 “We wanted them to use this information to inform the actions they would take in order to affect change,” said Gadison.

An “independent study” for some students

For 13-year old Jane Nilson, learning about the Hough riots was an independent study.

“The title of my paper is Cleveland’s Hough Riots: the violent encounter that ushered in new hope for African-American leadership and municipal reform,” read Nilson.

She attends the Birchwood school, a small private elementary and middle school on Cleveland’s west side.  Part of the middle school’s social studies curriculum is the national History Day competition, where students choose a topic to research and present a paper, website, documentary (etc.) first at a district-wide level.

“The first thing that came up when I was looking for ‘civil rights and Cleveland’ was the Hough Riots,” said Nilson.  “My teacher helped me decide on this. The more I read about it, the more interested I became.”

If a student does well, they go to states and then onto nationals. Nilson placed 6 th in the nation with her paper on Hough.  She also took home the competition’s Civil Rights History Award...and a new love of Cleveland. 

“When I started writing the paper, I sort of connected with the city’s history in a way I hadn’t before,” said Nilson.   

Nilson’s history teacher, Connie Miller, said at least 2 previous students chose the Hough riots as their History Day topic...and that provides an opportunity to learn about the complexities of the riots.

“There were triggers to what happened,” said Miller. “There were reasons for what happened - not that it justifies what happened, but there were many different angles to look at the topic from.”

And soon, Clevelanders won’t have to go back to the classroom to learn more about Hough.  Next November, the Western Reserve Historical Society will open their ‘Cleveland Starts Here’ exhibit, which will include information on the Hough and Glenville Riots as part of the city’s history.

Hear Jane Nilson read the last paragraph of her paper on the Hough Riots, which took home the national History Day’s Civil Rights History Award.