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

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

3
Zoning, Development,
and Residential Access
LEE-MILES IN THE 1950S AND 1960S

At a January 1953 meeting of homeowners’ associations from Southeast Cleveland and the nearby suburb of Maple Heights, as part of an ongoing effort to halt construction of a public housing project, Henry Hawk, a former truck driver turned construction worker, rose to speak. “I made mine the hard way,” he asserted, before claiming preposterously, “There are folks in these housing projects who own yachts.” Hawk was a member of the Lee-Land Heights Civic Council, an organization that had recently supported industrial zoning to block African American settlement in the city’s southeasternmost section where the proposed housing project was to be located. Containing a mixture of single-family homes, retail strips, and light industrial plants, this part of the city was still being developed in the 1950s, and it was overwhelmingly white. First and foremost, the fight against the public housing project—which, due to new federal mandates, was, at least in theory, supposed to have racially integrated occupancy—was a manifestation of the nearby white residents’ racial anxieties. However, and surprisingly, considering the negative racial undertones that characterized much of the debate against the proposal, one other fact about Hawk needs to be taken into account: he was black.1

Predictably, Hawk’s viewpoint and participation in the Lee-Land Heights Civic Council was met with skepticism in the larger African American community. Hawk was thrown on the defensive and felt compelled to tell the Call & Post that he attended meetings in the homes of white council members. Going further, Hawk additionally claimed that white residents in the area “welcome colored people who build their own homes, but [just] don’t want a Project.” The following week, he hosted a meeting of the organization at his own house, in an attempt to disprove charges that he was its token black member. While a handful of like-minded African American supporters did come, evidence indicates they had only a tiny presence on the council. Revealingly, at the September 1952 meeting where a petition drive against the housing project got its start, only six black sympathizers had been present—whom local NAACP head

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