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

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

2
EXPANDING BLACK SETTLEMENT IN THE 1940S
GLENVILLE AND MOUNT PLEASANT

The meeting of Glenville’s Park Home Owners Association was barely under way one Sunday afternoon in April 1945 when Chester K. Gillespie threw the proceedings into tumult. According to an eyewitness report made to the Council Educational Alliance (CEA), a Jewish social service agency active in the neighborhood, association president Harold Beebe announced the purpose of the meeting: “to keep this area a white neighborhood,” as “there had been a lot of trouble with hoodlums in the community which threatened the life and property of the people.” A local police lieutenant was the first speaker to address the approximately 150 present, and he attempted to strike a conciliatory balance, pointing out that there were “plenty of white delinquents and wayward children” in Glenville and thus the problem was “[not] essentially one of a racial character.” He did recommend, however, that “if any suspicious looking Negro gangs … were noticed the police should be notified immediately.” One woman in the audience claimed that “twenty hoodlums” had “undermined the foundation of her home,” while another complained about “potentially delinquent children” who “ran loose over the neighborhood while [their] mothers and fathers worked.” The lack of racial specificity in these comments apparently caused some attendees to become “uneasy and impatient,” leading Beebe to return to “the property angle and the problem of keeping Negroes out.” It was only then that the otherwise all-white audience noticed Gillespie, an African American attorney who in 1944 had bought at 934 Herrick Road, right around the corner from Beebe. With Beebe demanding that Gillespie leave and the audience shouting remarks like “Get him out!” and “We don’t want the Niggers,” white councilman Harry T. Marshall stood and defended Gillespie as a model citizen, a former state senator, and city council member. Doubtless unbeknownst to the audience, he also had a history of litigating for civil rights.1

Gillespie rose amid continued shouts of opposition to his presence and promised he would leave if allowed several minutes to speak. He first thanked the police lieutenant for his relative impartiality, then expressed his own con-

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