Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

Penned in mid-1953 by Charles H. Loeb, the managing editor of Cleveland’s main black newspaper, this “Editorial in Rhyme” expressed confidence that housing opportunities for African Americans were improving, even as it underlined the unacceptable living conditions still faced by many. In writing these verses for the Call & Post, Loeb alluded to recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that had begun to address decades of legally sanctioned residential segregation: Shelley v. Kraemer, the 1948 landmark decision that invalidated deed restrictions against racial minorities, as well as Barrows v. Jackson, which had reaffirmed Shelley just one month earlier. Such progress notwithstanding, Loeb simultaneously emphasized the economic underpinnings of the “ghetto,” where an artificial housing shortage ensured that many African Americans had little choice but to pay exorbitant prices for overcrowded and dilapidated housing. But on the general direction of the black freedom struggle, Loeb was an optimist. He had reported on civil rights gains as a World War II correspondent for the Negro Newspapers Publishing Association, and in a 1947 book he had chronicled the successes of the Future Outlook League—a militant local pressure group to which he belonged—dedicating it “to the new generation of American Negroes, who are no longer content with second-class citizenship, and who intend to do something about it.” In another rhymed editorial from earlier in 1953, Loeb had exhorted readers, “Don’t be a dope an’ give up hope / When vic’try’s close at hand / I can remember when the world / Was rougher on the colored man,” and then gone on to enumerate some of the Jim Crow indignities he had witnessed prior to his relocation north during the Great Depression.2

Loeb satirized Cleveland’s supposed exemplary race relations record while evincing a shrewd understanding both of racially inflected housing market dynamics and an increasingly visible shift in the geographic setting for black upward mobility. In fact, the opening poem took its inspiration from a move by the first African American couple into Lee-Harvard, a still partially undeveloped neighborhood in the city’s southeastern corner with new ranches and colonials resembling those on the nearby suburban streets of posh Shaker Heights. This event did not transpire without controversy, but with the city providing adequate police protection to the couple, Wendell and Genevieve Stewart, and after two weeks of mediation presided over by the mayor himself, Cleveland successfully preempted the violent retaliation that white residents not uncommonly mounted in response to black residential expansion in other cities—hence Loeb’s sarcastic yet accurate characterization of “free an’ liberal Cleveland / Where the bigots hide their hand.”

That the Stewarts deserved praise for standing up to white prejudice and taking on the role of “pioneers”—a term commonly applied at the time to the initial African American families crossing residential color barriers3—may seem obvious. But Loeb tactfully declined to mention that the couple was

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