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

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

5
Mobility and Insecurity
DILEMMAS OF THE BLACK MIDDLE CLASS

In April 1966, Morris Thorington Jr. testified at a hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at Cleveland City Hall. As a black business owner and lifelong resident of the city, he starkly expressed many of the realities, dilemmas, and frustrations faced by upwardly mobile African American families striving to get ahead in a deteriorating local economy and segregated housing market. The Thoringtons owned a home on Eldamere Avenue in the city’s Lee-Harvard section, and he was the proprietor of a beverage store and delicatessen in Hough—the neighborhood that would explode several months later in the city’s first urban uprising. Yet Thorington felt the need to bolster his economic security by working as a driver and salesman for a potato chip company; using income-pooling, like many middle-class African American families, Thorington’s wife ran the store during the day, while he took over in the evenings. Asked by the commission to name the biggest problem facing his business, Thorington responded, “Financing,” the need for “a quick small loan,” which arose from buying “a warmed-over business in a warmed-over neighborhood,” by which he meant one that had “deteriorated to the point that the previous [white] merchants have decided it is no longer to their advantage to stay there so they sell out to some Negro who is trying to move a step up the ladder.” He cited difficulties in obtaining insurance and reemphasized how crucial credit was for businesses whose customers relied heavily on welfare and social security. Asked if his business was located in an urban renewal area, Thorington corrected the questioner that it was an “urban destruction area,” drawing applause from the audience. “All they’ve done down there,” Thorington said of the city’s redevelopment projects, “is chase the people over into Glenville and other areas and made slums out of them; tear down a few houses, make the streets more deserted, fewer people and more vulnerable to hoodlums.”1

Continuing on, Thorington opined, “You are just moving your ghetto from Hough to Glenville, to Mount Pleasant, and finally to Lee-Harvard and Shaker Heights[,] and God knows where to from there. But the whole thing is eventually going to erode the whole city.” Asked whether he would like to see public

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