Learning from a Cleveland Legend: A Conversation with Leon Bibb

By Todd Michney, Ph.D.

Journalist Leon Bibb recently spoke to me about his family roots, his youth growing up in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, and where African Americans stand in the aftermath of the Trump presidency. Bibb studied journalism at Bowling Green State University, served with distinction in Vietnam (winning a Bronze Star), and worked at the Plain Dealer before starting a storied television career. In 1972 with WCMH in Columbus, he became the first Black news anchor in Ohio. In 1979 Bibb moved back to his hometown to join WKYC, and from 1995-2017 he anchored for WEWS, where he continues as a commentator. Bibb is a longtime resident of Shaker Heights.


Mr. Bibb began by explaining how he came to be born in Alabama in 1944: although his parents arrived in Cleveland in 1940, his mother returned to her ancestral home to give birth to him when his father, who worked for the U.S. Navy Department, was sent to serve in World War II. After initially living with his father’s relatives on East 86th Street in Cedar-Central, Bibb’s parents moved the family in 1947 onto Parkgate Avenue in Glenville. “You’re gonna pay big time to live out there,” their relatives told his father, “You’re going out to the Gold Coast and it’s expensive.” While still a predominantly Jewish area, Glenville was the city’s most up-and-coming Black middle-class neighborhood. His parents went in together on a duplex house with his father’s sister and her husband who was also a veteran; they were attracted by the stately Miles Standish Elementary School across the street and the Cultural Gardens at the end of the block. “We were surrounded by the Black professionals,” Bibb told me, “doctors, an architect, people who owned funeral homes, dentists, teachers, and assistant principals of schools.” As for Glenville in the 1950s, he joked, “if you could not find it on East 105th Street, you probably could live without it.” There were movie theaters, a new car showroom, hat and shoe stores, delicatessens, grocery stores and markets, hardware stores, pharmacies, soda shops and more. There was Scatter’s Barbecue, and nightclubs like the Tijuana and Café Society where the country’s biggest jazz bands stopped on tour. He watched the neighborhood’s demographics shift as he advanced to Empire Junior High School and then Glenville High School; only five white students remained by the time he graduated in 1962. “It didn’t worry me too much,” he recalled, because the people who were moving in were Black people who seemed to be very nice, and we were all very nice.”


“I don’t know how my childhood could be better,” Bibb emphasized. He and his friends spent their time playing Little League baseball at Gordon Park, where they named their teams after the star Cleveland Indians players: the “Colavitos,” “Helds,” and “Dobys.” The City’s Recreation Department and Board of Education kept the playground at Miles Standish open in the summer, even sponsoring crafts classes and other activities; Bibb learned to play the ukulele. Twice a summer the Show Wagon would perform for kids and parents alike, with a band or quartet, baton twirlers, maybe a comedian or ventriloquist. Bibb and his friends even organized track meets for a friendly competition with nearby Pierpont Avenue: “We would have a 100-yard dash, a 50-yard dash; we would have the 200-yard dash, the mile bicycle run. We would have a stopwatch and keep records – and we did this all by ourselves, there were no adults involved.” He felt he had been largely shielded from the hurts of racism, aside from a handful of negative encounters with kids from the Sowinski area, a Polish enclave on the other side of Rockefeller Park.


Mr. Bibb recalled family trips to visit relatives down South, or for funerals, and how his parents instructed him and his sister that they would be avoiding gas stops or bathroom breaks after crossing the Ohio River. On one trip around the time Emmett Till was murdered, his father had made a tense but successful stop in Kentucky for Pepsi-Colas to go. “I know it was hard, because you want your kids to know that they’ve got rights. But they also wanted their son to not be murdered,” he reflected on his parents’ dilemma. “All that is part of what it takes to survive in America and be Black,” he noted in referring to the organizations African Americans have built for self-advancement, notably fraternities and sororities which can now count Vice President Kamala Harris among their members. “Since 1619, we’ve been a strong people who just don’t go away; our strength is in our stick-to-it-iveness, our pursuit of education and dealing with the racism which is always out there.”


Todd M. Michney is a native Clevelander who teaches at Georgia Tech. He is the author of Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

Photos: 1-Leon Bibb in 4th Grade, early to mid-1950s. 2-Leon Bibb and his cousin Allen Moreland on Parkgate Avenue. 3-Leon Bibb’s father (Leon Bibb, Sr.) with his sister Shirley in front of the Bibb home at 9122 Parkgate Avenue.


Dawg Pound! Steeler Nation!

Contributed by Robyn Marcs, WRHS Grants Manager.

Back in this era, there was a role reversal between these two teams with the Browns being one of the most winningest teams in football and the Steelers consistently losing games. The Steelers won their first game against the Browns in 1954 to the surprise of all, trouncing Cleveland 55-27 in 1954.

The tide finally turned for the Steelers in the 1970s with their famous Steel Curtain defense, led by “Mean” Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White. Terry Bradshaw also led the team to victories in 4 Super Bowls during this decade. Meanwhile, the Browns were past their Jim Brown heyday and their successes in the ‘50s and ‘60s. While the ‘70s and ‘80s would see talented players in Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids as well as Bernie Kosar and Earnest Byner, there were also infamous plays such as Red Right 88, the Fumble, and the Drive cursing the team.

The Browns won their most recent championship in 1964, while the Steelers have gone on to win six Super Bowls since 1974. The rivalry is strong between these two cities, sometimes in one’s own family!

But hey, at least we have more NBA Championships than Pittsburgh, right?


1964 Browns | Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductees

Five players from the 1964 team have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jim Brown, Lou Groza, Leroy Kelly, Gene Hickerson, and Paul Warfield:

Jim Brown (born February 17, 1936) is an American former professional football player and actor. He is best known for his exceptional and record-setting nine-year career as a running back for the NFL Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. In 2002, he was named by Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever.   He is widely considered to be one of the greatest professional athletes in the history of the United States.  Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

Paul Warfield (born November 28, 1942) is a former professional American football wide receiver in the 1960s and 1970s known for his speed, fluid moves, grace, jumping ability and hands.  Warfield was a rookie for the 1964 Browns and quickly developed into a go to receiver for quarterback Frank Ryan.  Warfield also played for the Miami Dolphins and was a member of the 1972 Dolphins that went undefeated and remains the only NFL team to do so.  Warfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

Leroy Kelly (born May 20, 1942) is a former American football player. A Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, he played for the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League from 1964-73.  Kelly was a rookie on the 1964 team and provided a different style of running attack along with Jim Brown.  Kelly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

Lou Groza (January 25, 1924 – November 29, 2000) was an American football placekicker and offensive tackle who played his entire career for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and National Football League (NFL). Groza was professional football’s career kicking and points leader when he retired after the 1967 season. He played in 21 seasons for the Browns, helping the team to win eight league championships in that span. Groza’s accuracy and strength as a kicker influenced the development of place-kicking as a specialty; he could kick field goals from beyond 50 yards at a time when attempts from that distance were a rarity. He set numerous records for distance and number of field goals kicked during his career.  Groza was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

Gene Hickerson (February 15, 1935 – October 20, 2008) was an American Football offensive guard who played for the Cleveland Browns in a fifteen-year career from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1973. Hickerson was a six-time Pro Bowler from 1965 to 1970. Hickerson was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

A Different Part of Ohio

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications.

It’s relatively easy to find a good definition of the Western Reserve on various websites (including that of the Western Reserve Historical Society) that detail its origins. Suffice it to say that the Western Reserve is that area of Northeast Ohio comprised of those trans-Appalachian colonial claims that the State of Connecticut “reserved” for itself upon the creation of the United States. Other former colonies ceded land claims in the west at that time, but Connecticut retained about 3.3 million acres stretching 120 miles westward from the Pennsylvania border. If you need a quick detailed overview, read this. But, there is much more to the story of the Reserve other than the legalities of creating “new Connecticut.”

The Western Reserve was, and arguably, still is a “place apart” in Ohio. Given its Connecticut origins, many of its original settlers were from that state or from other states including New York, New Hampshire and Vermont. When they came, they built upon a landscape that had been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years by Native Americans. That original landscape was defined by rivers and trails and not by the logic of the surveyors’ lines that Moses Cleaveland and his party impressed upon the land. Those trails still exist – for example, travel the first segment of the new Opportunity Corridor out of University Circle and you, in part, are following a Native American path that early settlers used to travel from what became Doan’s Corners to the township of Newburgh.

Those early settlers, however, brought a mindset and culture to the area that stood apart from, for example, southern Ohio. It is physically evident in the numerous town squares in the Reserve, including Public Square in Cleveland. In essence the settlers replicated the New England town square where one would find the church (usually Congregationalist or Presbyterian), the meeting hall or courthouse, and numerous small businesses (for a view of a town square that echoes that distant past, drive east on Route 87 and explore Mesopotamia). Their religious beliefs also echoed those of the early settlements in New England and which for a number of early settlers set them firmly against slavery. That is why Cleveland and Oberlin became major stations on the Underground Railroad. But, it is important to remember that opposing slavery did not mean that all or many of that mindset envisioned full equality between Black and white. But compared to southern Ohio, the Reserve was a place apart and one that voted wholeheartedly for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and 1864. Much of this story is now told in the Underground Railroad Center in the Cozad-Bates House in University Circle.

It can also be argued that the Protestant tradition of stewardship of a community also set the area apart and, perhaps, provided the foundation for a deep, rich, and ever evolving philanthropic tradition of Cleveland and northeast Ohio. Indeed, it is a tradition that expanded and diversified as Cleveland evolved from what was a small, farm-centered mercantile community, into a multi-ethnic industrial city in the years after the Civil War. The descendants of the early settlers, in large part, embraced and prospered because of this change – but the change itself challenged them. For example, there were questions whether railroad travel was proper on the Sabbath, and there were issues when confronted by new ways of celebrating Christian holidays. When the congregants of a German Evangelical Lutheran Church displayed a Christmas Tree in their sanctuary, some Protestants characterized it as a “heathenish custom, this groveling before the shrubs.” Attitudes toward gambling also remained strong – that is until the state took over the lottery business and, of course today, there’s a casino on the Public Square of Cleveland.

Certainly, northeast Ohio is not “new Connecticut” anymore. It is a combination of many groups – some people estimate that nearly 130 “identities” can be found in northeast Ohio, and the region hosts a global set of religious beliefs. But here one could argue that this transformation occurred because the region has held promise for many people over many years – from the first people, to the early settlers, to those who came to work in a burgeoning industrial economy, and today for those seeking refuge, education, or positions in an evolving “med-ed” metropolis.

One could, of course, argue that the past has been totally eclipsed, but that is wrong for history is a cumulative process. Each change depends upon that which preceded it – Native American trails become roads; stewardship becomes philanthropy; and social justice links to a deep history of reform. However, more Interestingly that cumulative process has, in an economic sense, created a new Western Reserve – that being region we today call Northeastern Ohio

Cycles and Cicadas – Patterns of the Past

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications.

The forthcoming emergence of the 17-year cicadas is fast approaching. It’s one of nature’s most incredible cycles – periods of time built around natural rhythms that define our lives.

Indeed, this event is a good occasion to think about how we choose, in many ways, to divide the past into regular spaces of time, and then how we park our memories within those spaces.

Obviously, the earth’s orbit of the sun and the four seasons that accompany it are the natural set of cycles that define our lives. And, of course, within that orbit there are the shifting positions of the stars that form the Zodiac and the astrological links to Capricorn, Gemini, Taurus, et al. that some believe govern our personalities and our fate.

But within that natural cosmic cycle we create and encounter other time nodes to which we link our lives and memories — all of which are based on the calendar that defines the days and years of our journeys around the sun. The school semester, baseball season in spring, and football in fall are markers we sometimes use to chart our lives. Then there are others – every four years a Presidential election, the time in one’s youth of a bar or bat mitzvah, or a first communion are remembered stages in life.

There are longer cycles defined by other cosmic events – Halley’s comet appears every 75.3 years. Mark Twain was born in 1835 during an appearance of the comet. He noted in 1909 “I came in with Halley’s Comet. It is coming again next year. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together. ‘” Twain died in 1910 when the comet returned.

This year the cicadas seem to provide us another natural cycle – the emergence of Brood X which will be prevalent in Ohio and Indiana. It is estimated that this will be an occasion when billions of cicadas come out of the ground beginning in May. It happens every seventeen years and things will get a bit noisy and sidewalks and streets a bit crunchy. And it “sounds” like it will be memorable.

Indeed, what do Clevelander’s remember from the last time Brood X emerged? It was 2004 and the Indians would end up in 3rd place – Omar Vizquel was still on the team. The Browns, well forget about it, as it would be only a 4-win season (remember coaches Terry Robiskie and Butch Davis?). But then the Cavs had LeBron on the squad. He had been drafted the year before. Jane Campbell, the city’s first and only woman mayor was still in office and still dealing with the economic issues that followed the “Dot-com” collapse in 2001-2002.

Nevertheless, some of us may wish to link a life event to this natural event this year. Will we someday tell someone that he or she was born in the year of the great Cicada emergence? Perhaps, but, that could get confusing particularly if he or she moves out of the area. Brood X is one of 14 broods of 17- year cicadas, each emerging on its own annual cycle in specific areas east of the Mississippi River. Add to that the three broods of thirteen-year cicadas that emerge at different times, and it’s hard to measure a life event like a birth, wedding or graduation around a noisy spring unless you stay in the same place over time! Indeed, there were and will be only five years between 2013 and 2029 in the Midwest, South, and East Coast that will be absent cicadas.

Irishtown Bend

Photo of Irishtown Bend in Northeast Ohio
When the first Irish immigrants began to arrive in Cleveland in the 1830s, they settled in a neighborhood that would come to be known as Irishtown Bend, which was part of a larger area known as the Angle. Situated along the river east of W 25 th  Street and south of Detroit Avenue, this neighborhood encompassed a total of 22 streets. However, Cleveland’s Irish population quickly outgrew the bounds of the Irishtown Bend neighborhood, particularly with the influx of refugees from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. By 1853, the St. Patrick Parish was established on Bridge Avenue to help serve the rapidly expanding population, and in 1868, St. Malachi’s Church was established in the center of Irishtown Bend.
Unfortunately, many residents of the neighborhood struggled with extreme poverty and were especially susceptible to diseases such as cholera, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. As families became more prosperous, they began to move away from the neighborhood, seeking to distance themselves from the impoverished area. By 1900, most Irish residents had moved on, and the neighborhood was resettled by Eastern European immigrants. Sadly, the neighborhood began to decline, and by the 1980s, no commercial or residential buildings were left in the area.

History of St. Patricks Day in Northeast Ohio

History of St. Patricks Day in Northeast Ohio
The public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland has a longer history than we once thought. The very first Parade that we know about in Cleveland was organized in 1842 by the city’s third resident Catholic priest, Rev. Peter McLaughlin. Fr. McLaughlin was a proponent of “temperance,” or abstinence from alcohol, and his St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats—the only Catholic church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time—continued with a Parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members.
Various organizations have sponsored and participated in the Parade at different times over the Parade’s 175-year history. Sometimes it was organized by explicitly Catholic groups, such as the Fr. Mathew Total Abstinence Society, the Catholic Central Association, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal organization, whose 19th century membership rosters are housed at Western Reserve Historical Society. At other times, the Parade was organized by groups more specifically interested in the cause of Irish nationalism, such as a local militia known as the Hibernian Guards, the Fenian Brotherhood, or the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association. In more modern times, the Irish American Civic Association organized the Parade from 1935-1957, and the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland has managed the Parade from 1958 through today.
The structure of the United Irish Societies was formalized with the sole aim of running the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The concept was, and is, that independent, constituent organizations would come together, headed by an Executive Director, to take mutual responsibility for raising the money for the Parade and for developing and implementing the guidelines for the Parade. At its founding, member groups were the only Irish organizations that were allowed to march in the Parade.
A treasure trove for more recent Parade history can be found in the papers of Raymond “Rip” Reilly (a longtime Parade director and publicist) at  WRHS!

Women Making History | Alta Weiss

Contributed by Robyn Marcs, WRHS Grants Manager

Alta Weiss was born into a Jewish family, the second of three daughters, in Berlin Heights, OH. By the time she was 17, Alta was playing semipro baseball for the Vermillion Independents. She was the only woman on her team, and her male teammates and the manager were at first skeptical about letting her play. After 15 strikeouts in one game, they realized her talent and let her join the team. Each weekend, she made the 127-mile trip from Ragersville, OH to Vermillion to play ball, debuting on the mound in September 1907. Alta quickly earned the name “Girl Wonder” for her pitching prowess. The following year, her father established the Weiss All-Star semipro team, and people flocked from miles around to catch a game featuring the talented lady pitcher.

Alta was a sensation, garnering attention for her skill and poise on the mound. While still on the Vermillion team, Alta was able to play at League Park, now the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum, against future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie and the Cleveland Naps. A special train was even built to Cleveland just for those who wanted to see Alta play there! Of her skill Nap said: “she looked to me to have as much as many men pitchers … but really, I was surprised to find that she could pitch so well.” Vermillion beat the Indians that day, 4-2.

Alta used her funds from her baseball barnstorming days to good use, and paid her way through higher education. In 1914, Alta graduated medical school from The Ohio State Medical College, the only woman in her class. She continued to play baseball until 1922, when she decided to practice medicine full time. Alta passed away in 1964 and is buried in Winesburg, OH. She truly helped paved the way for women in baseball, and was a local woman in a league of her own.

Women Making History | Margaret Wong

Margaret Wong

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publicationsusing resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

The history of assisting new immigrants in Greater Cleveland is linked, in many ways, to the work of women who have used their skills, as lawyers, agency directors, and volunteers to assist newcomers to our city over the past century.

Margaret Wong and Associates, one of the nation’s foremost immigration-focused law firms had its beginnings, so to speak, in Hong Kong.   That is where Margaret Wong was born. Her father was Hwang Mien Lin, a newspaper publisher and her mother Kuan Kuo Hua, a journalist. Margaret’s goal was to study medicine, and in order to so she obtained a student visa to the US.  She and her sister Cecilia arrived in 1969 with four suitcases, several hundred dollars, and with some rudimentary English. She studied initially at Ottumwa Heights College in Iowa and then graduated from Western Illinois University. However, her plans would change when she decided to, instead, study law. She graduated with her JD in 1976 from the SUNY Buffalo Law School where she was one of only four women in the class.

Her search for a legal position was difficult, made so by biases against women and immigrants.   She persisted and eventually came to Cleveland where she found a position at Central National Bank as a credit analyst. Yet, her desire was still to practice law, and given her own experiences as an immigrant, she wanted to focus on immigration law.   She did so by starting her own law firm in 1978. Today Margaret Wong and Associates is one of the premier immigration law firms in the nation, a feat made possible by Margaret’s incredible work ethic and her desire to assist those who are confronted by an unbelievably complex body of rules, regulations, and case law that today govern immigration to the United States.   Headquartered on Chester Avenue in Cleveland, and with offices in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Raleigh, the firm now has three partners, nine associates, and a number of paralegals. For many immigrants, Margaret Wong’s dedication and that of the members of her firm have provided new, secure lives in the United States.

Margaret Wong’s story is, perhaps the most recent of those that relate to women who have helped immigrants in our city and nation. The history of one of Cleveland’s premiere immigrant aid organizations clearly reflects that connection.

In September 1916, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Cleveland established its International Institute “…for the protection and welfare of immigrant girls.”   Margaret Fergusson would head the Institute from 1926 until 1954 when it merged with the Citizens Bureau to form the Nationalities Services Center. Both institutions had, up to that time, assisted over one hundred thousand immigrants and refugees. Lucretia Stoica, the daughter of Romanian immigrants and formerly a case worker at the International Institute, would become the Deputy and then the Executive Director of the merged agency, serving as its head for twenty-six years until her retirement in 1988. Algis Ruksenas would become director in 1988. Renamed the International Services Center in 1994, it would again be led by a woman, Karin Wishner, after Ruksenas’ retirement in 2006. Karin who had previously worked with the Center’s educational programs would then oversee its merger into the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in 2016. She would retire in 2019. Today Dylanna Grasinger heads both the Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania offices of the USCRI.

Women Making History | Zelma Watson George

Zelma Watson GeorgeZelma Watson George became a symbol of African American achievement in several fields ranging from operatic diva to United Nations diplomat. After moving to Chicago with her family she earned a sociology degree from the Univ. of Chicago and studied voice at the American Conservatory of Music. Later she added advanced degrees in personnel administration and sociology from New York University.

Her journey would bring her to Cleveland to examine the John G. White Collection of the Cleveland Public Library. She would go on to write a musical drama based upon her research, “Chariot’s A’Comin!”, which was telecast by WEWS-TV in 1949. That year Zelma assumed the title role in Gian-Carlo Menotti’s opera, The Medium, at Karamu Theater. She was selected by Menotti himself to repeat her triumph in an off-Broadway revival of the work. As an African American appearing in a role not written for one per se she was likely New York’s first example of non-traditional casting.

In the 1950s Zelma served on several government committees at the national level, culminating in a world lecture tour as good-will ambassador and an appointment as U.S. alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (1960-61). From 1966-74 she served as director of the Cleveland Job Corps. Following her retirement and the death of her husband, she lectured, wrote, and taught at Cuyahoga Community College.

Women Making History | Adella Prentiss Hughes

Adella Prentiss HughesAdella Prentiss Hughes spent her life promoting musical causes in Cleveland and, in founding the Cleveland Orchestra, was able to bring international acclaim to Cleveland. Mrs. Hughes was born in Cleveland to Loren and Ellen Rouse Prentiss. She graduated from Miss Fisher’s School for Girls and graduated with a music degree from Vassar in 1890. She toured Europe for a year before returning to Cleveland, and she devoted herself to the sparse local musical scene, first becoming a professional accompanist. Though she enjoyed playing music, by 1898, she also wanted to bring other musicians to Cleveland. She was married once, in 1904, to Felix Hughes, but they divorced in 1923.

For seventeen years, she brought orchestras, ballets, and operas to Cleveland to perform at Gray’s Armory. In 1915, she established the Musical Arts Association that called upon a group of wealthy businessmen for the funding of cultural projects. Under her leadership and the guidance of Nikolai Sokoloff, the Musical Arts Association founded the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918. Mrs. Hughes was the Orchestra’s first manager for 15 years and held leadership positions at the Musical Arts Association for 30 years. In 1945, Mrs. Hughes only nominally retired, and continued to pursue musical interests until her death in 1950.

Women Making History | Fannie Lewis

Fannie Lewis

Fannie Lewis earned her tough as nails reputation as a tireless leader and dedicated public servant who worked hard to improve conditions in not only her own ward, but also the city of Cleveland.

Fannie Lewis was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but her heart was in Ward 7 of Cleveland, which she represented for almost 30 years. Lewis first gained public attention when she was photographed talking to National Guard troops after the Hough riots. After the riots Lewis became a recruiter for Neighborhood Youth Corps, and was eventually promoted to recruitment coordinator. Wanting to take a more active role in her community, Lewis ran for City Council in 1979, and began her first term as councilwoman in 1980. During her time in office she advocated for voting rights, the Cleveland school voucher program, the construction of new expensive homes in the Hough area known as “Fannie’s Mansions”, and she was also responsible for the “Fannie Lewis Law” which required that city residents make up at least 20 percent of the work force on city construction contracts that were above $100,000. Serving for 28 years, Lewis is the longest-serving female council member in the history of Cleveland, and was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

Women Making History | Judith A. Resnik

Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Judith A. Resnik blazed a trail for young girls across the United States to take an interest in space and science. Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978, Dr. Resnik was 1 of 6 women representing the first female class to enter the program. She first flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-D, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on August 30, 1984. This was the maiden flight of the Orbiter Discovery. On this mission, the crew earned the name “Icebusters” by successfully removing hazardous ice particles from the orbiter using a Remote Manipulator System.

Later, Resnik was a mission specialist on STS 51-L, which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 11:38:00 EST on January 28, 1986. The crew on board the Orbiter Challenger included the spacecraft commander, F. R. Scobee, the pilot, Commander M. J. Smith (USN), fellow mission specialists, Dr. R. E. McNair, and Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Onizuga (USAF), as well as two civilian payload specialist, G. B. Jarvis and S. C. McAuliffe. The STS 51-L crew died on January 28, 1986 after Challenger exploded 1 minute and 13 seconds after launch.

Women Making History | Rowena Jelliffe

Rowena Jelliffe and Karamu House

The dream of Rowena Jelliffe was to build a center where people of different ethnic cultures could find common cause

coupled with hard work materialized into the establishment of Karamu House, a nationally recognized interracial community center. Mrs. Jelliffe, born in 1892 in New Albion, Illinois. It was her early upbringing that Mrs. Jelliffe often credited for giving her a sense of dedication to the ideals of gender and racial equality. She came to Ohio in 1910 to attend Oberlin College, where she was the president of the Oberlin Women’s Suffrage League and met her future husband, Russell, who also campaigned for women’s rights.

After marrying in 1915, the Jelliffes moved to Cleveland where they were hired by the Second Presbyterian Church to conduct neighborhood improvement projects. They bought two houses and named them Playhouse Settlement. The settlement welcomed all races and educated the neighborhood residents through art. The Gilpin Players, the first theater group, was started in 1920, and in 1927 the theater opened. The theater was called Karamu after the Swahili word that means a place of joyful meeting. After moving in 1950, the name of the settlement was changed to Karamu House. Through the Jelliffes’ work, Karamu House prospered and expanded its programs.

Besides working on projects related to Karamu House, the Jelliffes were also involved in the establishment of important civic welfare organizations such as the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Association, the Community Relations Board, and the Cleveland Urban League. They were delegates to the 1921 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention in Atlanta and they attended the Pan-African Congress in Paris. In 1963, the Jelliffes retired from Karamu House and spent much of the 1960’s campaigning for civil rights. After her husband’s death in 1980, Mrs. Jelliffe served on the boards of the East Cleveland Theater and the Fine Arts Association of Willoughby

Women Making History | Lethia Cousins Fleming

lethia fleming

Lethia Cousins Fleming was many things throughout her life; campaign organizer, women’s and civil rights activist,wife, and politician, to name a few. Although Mrs. Fleming was most well known for her work in politics, both locally and nationally, she was also a twenty-year employee of the Cuyahoga County Child Welfare Board where she worked following an unsuccessful bid for her husband’s city council seat in 1929.

Born in Tazewell, Virginia in 1876 to James Archibald and Fannie Taylor Cousins, Mrs. Fleming was educated in Ironton, Ohio and later at Morristown College in Tennessee. Following college, she returned to her home state where she was a suffragist and taught for twenty years, until her marriage to Thomas Wallace Fleming in 1912.

After their marriage, the couple moved to Cleveland, where Thomas, a lawyer, would later become the city’s first African-American councilman. Only two years after the move, Mrs. Fleming became the chairwoman of the Board of Lady Managers at the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People (later the Eliza Bryant Center) and was also part of many national organizations. She was a charter member of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, the Traveler’s Aid Society, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Cleveland Branch). An ardent supporter of the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA), her fundraising efforts led to the purchase of the first PWA building.

Though she did not win her husband’s city council seat after his imprisonment, Mrs. Cousins was active in politics on a national and local level. She worked on galvanizing support among African-American women for three Republican presidential candidates: Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, and Alfred M. Landon. She chaired the executive board of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and served as president of its Ohio federation. She served on the executive board for the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council of Negro Women, in addition to serving as president of the National Association of Republican Women and executive director of the Republican Colored Women organization.

WRHS Women Making History | Cassandra Moran

Cassandra Moran

Advancement Manager at Western Reserve Historical Society


What do you do at WRHS? 

As Advancement Manager, my job is to share ways people can help WHRS deliver the dynamic history of Northeast Ohio. Everyone has a story to tell and at WRHS we show how these stories have shaped generations.

Why is history important to you? 

Everyone has a story to tell and at WRHS we show how these stories have shaped generations.

Do you have a favorite figure from history that motivates you? 

Two extraordinary historical figures inspired me as a child: Madame Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart! Madame Curie was born in 1867, the same year that WRHS was founded. A brilliant scientist, Curie was the first female recipient of the Noble Prize and the first person to win it twice—once in Physics and then in Chemistry. Aviator Amelia Earhart broke flying records and promoted aviation with her charisma, easy smile, and flying ability. Earhart visited Cleveland many times in the late 1920s and 1930s for the National Air Races. Both women pushed the boundaries of their day.

Why History Matters:

History when I was growing up was weekly trips to the local library, visiting museums, and listening to stories at the dinner table. Today, history is available at the touch of a keyboard. However, the digital age cannot replicate the sensation of strolling through a historic mansion, riding on a century-old carousel, or experiencing the thrill of seeing a WWII fighter plane parked in front of you. How people remember and engage with history is what defines the world we live in today. I come from a strong line of women who first arrived in colonial Massachusetts (1630). They wound their way to Ohio and then branched into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. These women were determined and hardworking, whether as a cook for a logging camp, a teacher in a rural school, or helping run a dairy farm. These remarkable women—their work and values passed down in family stories—are a part of my personal history and make me who I am today.

Cassandra began in the Education Department, teaching programs to school groups and speaking on Cleveland history topics to the local community. Cassandra now works to increase the museum’s engagement with supporters and works on special events, including behind-the-scenes programs. Cassandra grew up outside of Chicago but has called the Cleveland area home for almost 20 years. After graduating from Georgetown University, she spent her career working in philanthropy and local organizing. Speaking of her work with WRHS, Cassandra says, “I was raised by philanthropic-minded parents, and it’s wonderful to work in a region that supports nonprofits as much as Northeast Ohio does.” 

Then & Now | Antonia – An Immigrant Mother

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, using resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

Perhaps the most striking statue in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens, our city’s monument to its diversity, is that of an anonymous immigrant mother holding two children. It can be found in the lower level of the Croatian Garden. It challenges our concept of who should be honored in the history of our multicultural city. Certainly, there are other women, all famous, depicted within the Gardens, but no other monument binds us together as well as this – it is a reminder that migration and immigration are not simply the stories of famous men, nor is the history of women simply that of those whom we choose to see as agents of change. It also means that each of us may well have a story such as the one that follows. It is not one of an activist, but of an ordinary woman, whose brief life was built around and constrained by custom and tradition.

In 1906 Antonia Bohinc and John Vuk, her new husband left their home in what is now Slovenia to come to Cleveland. There they would join Michael, her brother-in-law. She was nineteen, the daughter of a charcoal burner from the town Kropa. John, likely an orphan, was from the nearby settlement of Kamna Gorica. John left little behind while Antonia left behind her parents and two brothers.

Kropa was a smoky town of iron forges; forges that long ago created the spikes that helped build Venice. But it was nestled in a green semi-rural, hilly area of the countryside. Today it is a stunning small village, almost frozen in time. The home she lived in still stands. And while she left for America, the culture and norms of Kropa shaped her life.

Antonia’s life in Cleveland would be far different in terms of environment. The couple settled on Lakecourt, a short street of small frame homes running westward from E. 55th Street just north of the Lake Shore & Michigan railroad tracks. She may have enjoyed the view of the lake to the north, but it was compromised by the continual din of trains and the coal smoke that they and the area factories, such as the one that John worked in, emitted. It was likely a wrenching change of scenery. And there she settled into the life expected of her at that time – cooking, keeping house, and having children. Like many women from abroad, she would eat only after her husband had been served.

She had her first child, Kate, in 1907; two years later a second child, Marie was born; followed in 1911 by Antonia (known as Rose) and in 1913, a fourth daughter, Frances. It was literally one pregnancy after another, each in a new world, and strange surroundings. One of her daughters recalled a bit of family lore that indicated that each of them had been delivered in the house by the tracks.

In slightly less than nine years after arriving in Cleveland she would come down with a common affliction in crowded American industrial cities. She had tuberculosis and on May 24th, 1915 she succumbed to it in the Cleveland City Hospital. She was only 28. Her husband spent an enormous sum of $72.50 on her funeral, the equivalent to over $1,800 today. He could not fully pay the bill. Her grave in Calvary Cemetery lacked a proper stone until one of her daughters, Marie, purchased one many years later. Nor could he care for his young daughters. One was sent to live with a friend, the two youngest spent some time in a Catholic orphanage. Eventually he would remarry.

Each of the four daughters would survive far longer than their mother. All would marry, but only one would have children – ironically, two boys. Each, through the foods they prepared, would carry part of the family heritage with them, but while they knew the language of their parents, they seldom used it. One daughter, rebellious in her own way, would be tempted to become a chorus girl, and then train as a

cosmetologist, only to later be prohibited by her second husband to practice her trade as he, the son of immigrants, insisted in being the breadwinner.

This story of one young immigrant woman, who brought four daughters into the world and then died at the age of 28 is tragic, but not unique. Nor are the lives of her daughters. Similar stories can be found throughout the world, both then and, indeed, now. Yet, in and of itself, the story indicates that in our celebration of Women’s History Month, our focus need not only be on those who have achieved a solid place in the history books or pushed the boundaries of women’s rights, but on every woman. It is, perhaps, the story of “every woman” that most truly resonates with most of our own experiences and given the diversity of our nation, best allows us to see our shared humanity.


(Photo: John and Antonia with their first daughter, Kate.)

Then & Now | Geraldine “Gerry” Ferraro

Contributed by Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA, Curator for Italian American History at Western Reserve Historical Society.

Geraldine “Gerry” Ferraro (1935–2011) was the first woman and Italian American to become a vice presidential candidate when she ran on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984.  While the team did not win the election, Ferraro had a long, successful career in politics.  She served as a member of the US House of Representatives from 1979-1985, secretary of the House Democratic Caucus from 1981-1985, US Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1993-1996, and as a member of Hilary Clinton’s campaign team in 2008.

Ferraro was born in Newburgh, New York, to Antonetta Corrieri, a seamstress, and Dominick Ferraro, a restauranteur.  Her father emigrated from Marcianise, Campania, Italy.   Her grandparents on her maternal side emigrated from Molise, Italy.  Ferraro was proud of her Italian heritage.  In the acceptance speech for her nomination as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro said, “The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love.”

After getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts in English, Ferraro served as a public school teacher in Queens.  She said it was not her first choice of career, but one option that was acceptable for women.  Ferraro soon switched gears and studied law at Fordham University, graduating in 1960.  She was only one of two women in her graduating class.  After raising her children, Ferraro took a full-time position in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in 1974.  This job led to her election to the U.S. House of Representatives where she was a strong advocate for women’s equality in the areas of wages and pensions.


(Photo: Geraldine Ferraro. Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images)

Then & Now | Amanda Wicker

Students at the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design

Contributed by Patty Edmonson, WRHS’s Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles

The Hunt family lived in Hancock and Washington Counties, in Georgia, at the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, Henry Hunt farmed and his wife Barbara cared for their five (eventually eight) children, including Amanda, born March 5, 1894. Mandy, as she was then called, became increasingly close with her mother and siblings after her father died in the following decade; as an adult, she lived with brothers Julian and Albert at various times. Perhaps because her parents could neither read or write, Amanda was driven to pursue her own education and career at Tuskegee Institute (now University), and as an apprentice to Addie Clarke in Washington D.C. Around 1924, Amanda married fellow Georgian McDuffie Wicker. The couple lived briefly in Savannah, Georgia before moving to Cleveland where Amanda started her dressmaking business and McDuffie worked as a Barber. The Wickers were hardly unusual in their move north, and were part of what is known as the first Great Migration. Black rural southerners sought opportunities in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. The first wave of migration began around 1916, when cities experienced shortages of industrial laborers during World War I. Amanda Wicker was a member of Cleveland’s “Georgia Club,” which provided southerners a place to connect and celebrate their Georgian heritage. Clevelanders from other southern states organized similar clubs. By 1936, approximately 15,000 Georgians lived here in Cleveland. Although Amanda’s mother remained in Sandersville, Georgia, she visited her daughter frequently.

After 1925, Amanda operated the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design from her home on Cedar Avenue. During the late 1920s the Wickers lived on Cedar Avenue, and after McDuffie’s 1929 death Amanda continued to live and work at various addresses along Cedar between East 89th and 95th Streets. [Map] Perhaps the biggest landmark in her neighborhood was, and still is, the Antioch Baptist Church at the corner of Cedar and East 89th Street. Amanda was integral to the church; she served as a charter member of the Beehive Bible Class, was a member of the Cora Boyd Mission Circle, the Fifty-Plus Club, and the Ta-Wa-Si- Club. At the end of her life she lived in Antioch Towers senior apartments.

Located primarily at 8911 and 9202 Cedar Avenue, the Clarke School offered classes for this predominantly African American neighborhood until the 1980s. Although anyone could take classes, many pupils were students from Central High School, which, along with Wicker, created an annual student fashion show beginning in 1941. The accompanying publication, called The Book of Gold, helped raise funds for student scholarships. Wicker and her instructors taught drawing, pattern drafting, tailoring, millinery, and other course. The lay person could sign up for a course to revamp their own wardrobe, but her focus was on preparing young people for the garment industry. Students could learn how to operate industrial machinery and other skills related to mass production. In 1948 the school became G. I. approved, which meant that veterans enrolled and changed the makeup of the student body for a time. Amanda worked with the Veteran’s Administration liaisons to spread awareness of the program for Black veterans. Beyond running a school and teaching the trade, Amanda Wicker worked with personal clients and served as the second vice president of Cleveland’s chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers, operated for and by Black designers.


dresses from the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design


Amanda Wicker impacted Cleveland through her civic work of providing important skills to young people and actively engaging her neighborhood. In June of 2021, the Cleveland History Center will open an exhibit about Wicker and her work. The exhibit will share, for the first time, 14 garments made by Amanda, as well as the rich photographic archive of the school, and thus a community. Visitors will come away inspired by the story of a self-made Black woman who lifted those around her.


Then & Now | Susan Hall

At Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are plenty of opportunities to shine, from parties to the induction ceremonies. The Rock Hall’s Director of Community Relations, Ruthie Brown, gave this suit to her colleague Susan Hall, who first wore it to their annual fundraiser in 2001. With its second owner, this suit has attended events, and even traveled to New York for a Rock Hall induction ceremony (although, due to a broken shoe strap, it didn’t make it to the event).

Clevelander Russell Trusso designed the ensemble during the 1990s, when he was still working as both an anesthesiologist and a couturier. He first found fashion success making one-of-a-kind wedding dresses from antique lace, and progressed to couture suits and gowns. Today, Trusso is a full-time jewelry designer, working with gems and enamel, and developing new techniques like his method for embedding diamonds into the surfaces of pearls. His clothes still fill the closets of Cleveland women, and the WRHS costume collection includes a handful of his garments.

Susan believes that “dressing for the occasion is essential,” and although her life’s work is community engagement and documenting Black history, fashion has always been important. Following college, she worked for IZOD Kids in New York City, and when she first moved to Cleveland Susan managed production and models for catalog and editorial work at Remington. She also worked as the Director of Community Relations and a Curator at the WRHS, where she worked on exhibitions such as 1964 – When Browns Town was Title TownThrough the Lens of Allen E. Cole, and Carl & Louis Stokes: From the Projects to Politics. When not working as a historian, Susan is the President of Hall Creative Productions, where she creates public art exhibits, events, strategic marketing, and historical research focused on African American and pop culture history.

(Evening Suit, 1990s. Russell Trusso. Worn in Cleveland, Ohio by Susan Hall (b. 1962)