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

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

1
The Roots of Upward Mobility
OUTLYING BLACK SETTLEMENT BEFORE 1940

Fully one-third of the approximately 350 African American families living in Cleveland’s outlying Mount Pleasant neighborhood owned their own homes in 1930, a reminder that some black Southerners who came to Northern cities during the Great Migration acquired land and homes fairly quickly. The challenging nature of property record research, however, has impeded sustained historical inquiry. In fact, only three of the property-owning Mount Pleasant households listed in that year’s census are readily traceable in the public record.1 Fortunately, these three families were fairly typical; details of their lives mirror the experiences of African Americans on the urban periphery, at a remove from the dense and increasingly segregated inner-city districts solidifying at this time. All three couples were Southern-born, as were 70 percent of all black Mount Pleasant spouses in 1930. All three husbands occupied upper-working-class positions, thereby providing a scaffold for economic security and upward mobility unavailable to most black families at the time. Two of the three wives also worked for wages, further bolstering their families’ economic security, as did approximately onefifth of black Mount Pleasant wives in 1930. All three couples obtained mortgage financing to build their new homes, as did virtually all African American homeowners in this outlying enclave. In addition, one bought additional vacant lots and rental properties elsewhere, also not unusual for middling black families prior to the onset of the Great Depression.

William G. Slaughter, born around 1872, was the first to arrive in Mount Pleasant, getting a building permit in September 1916 for his two-story house at 3303 East 130th Street worth $2,200. The downtown Citizens House Building Co. contracted to build the house, as it did for other black owners in the neighborhood. Slaughter’s first listing in the 1916 city directory was as an “auto operator” (chauffeur) for a presumably white household in the still-posh Hough neighborhood. Over the next three years, his occupation was listed variously as “houseman,” “butler,” and, as of 1920, “chef” in a private home. The census additionally reveals that his wife, Gladys, worked as a maid, that they had no children, and that they were both born in Virginia. Slaughter worked as a chef

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