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

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

4
Racial Residential Transition
at the Periphery
NEIGHBORHOOD CONTRASTS

Interviewed some thirty-five years after the fact, Murtis H. Taylor reflected on her early experiences directing the Alexander Hamilton Community Center and its successor, the Mount Pleasant Community Centers, a position she held from 1949 until 1971. Asked the original focus of the agency, Taylor stated, “The purpose in coming to [the] Mt. Pleasant community … was to see whether or not we could integrate activities, [and] prevent the exodus of [whites from] housing.” Taylor was African American, born in Macon, Georgia, but raised in Cleveland from an early age. A graduate of Western Reserve University, she had previously worked at Karamu House, the renowned Cedar-Central social settlement that since the 1920s had mounted interracial theatrical productions. At the Community Center, Taylor headed a racially integrated staff fitting for what she termed a “melting-pot” neighborhood, which included a Polish-American Catholic, a Japanese-American Baptist, a white Quaker, and herself. In a bold first step, Taylor eliminated the all-black weekend dances once sponsored at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School and instead organized interracial “interest groups” revolving around art, sports, drama, and square dancing.1

To make participation more racially “balanced,” Taylor reconfigured the program from 1949–50, recalling, “If we felt that too many Negroes were coming we would run and recruit whites. If we found out that too many whites were coming we would run out and recruit more Negroes.” However, her efforts to sustain integration ultimately failed because of “pressure from … the colored teenagers,” who wanted a place to dance, considering that “the white teenagers had Canteens all over the neighborhood,” particularly at Catholic schools, where African Americans were unwelcome. “And so we [re]opened the canteen because of the pressure,” Taylor explained. “A few whites would come and they would try to dance, and our colored kids would laugh at them. … [So] pretty soon they stopped coming to the dances.” With only a youth square dancing group remaining integrated, Taylor redirected attention toward adults and elementary school children, who seemed more receptive. The weekly all-

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