Black Agency & Black Activism | Around Cleveland & Around the World


“In the same way that a threat can be just as destructive as an action, “nothing” can be the worst response of all.”  

Robert P. Madison, Architect 
From Designing Victory: A Memoir 


“Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.”

–James Baldwin, Writer
  From “Letter to My Nephew”


“The nation must listen to what’s being said in the street and understand the impact of living year after year with the feeling of being hunted and unheard if we are to ever recover from the pandemic of racism.”

–The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II
   President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach 
   Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival


Written by: Dr. Regennia N. Williams, Historian


“What’s past is prologue.” Playwright William Shakespeare suggested as much in The Tempest more than 400 years ago, just prior to the beginning of African servitude in what would become the United States of America.  In the first decade of the 20th century, during the era of Jim Crow segregation, philosopher George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”   While both authors are long dead and frequently misquoted, thought leaders throughout the global community are expressing similar sentiments in our time, as they struggle to explain the growing activism and public protests, both peaceful and violent, following the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer.  Many historians–while refusing to accept fate and destiny as acceptable explanations for current events, will admit that one can learn valuable lessons by carefully studying the American past. 

May 29, 2020, was the Friday after Mr. Floyd’s death on Memorial Day and the day before the first round of related peaceful protests and violent unrest in Greater Cleveland, Ohio.  It was also the date that I decided to invite members of the Facebook group for the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society to join me for the     June 1, 2020, launch of a new initiative, “Black Agency and Black Activism, around Cleveland and around the World.”  My goal was to raise awareness about this topic in recent history.

On June 1, 2020, I did, in fact, share a post on Facebook.  That post included a link to a New York Times article with the following headline:  “Two Crises Convulse a Nation: A Pandemic and Police Violence.”   As commentators began to compare the events of 2020 with those of the turbulent decade of the 1960s, I decided that the focus of my “Agency . . . Activism” posts for the first week in June would be the power of the written and spoken word, according to three black men with firsthand knowledge of the 1960s: James Baldwin, Robert P. Madison, and the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II.  An essayist-novelist-playwright, an architect-author, and an activist-educator-pastor, respectively, the words of these men will, no doubt, continue to inspire readers and listeners for some time to come.  I offer the following essay as an open invitation to read, watch, and listen to complete works by and about these men, including the titles mentioned below.

(James Baldwin)

In his December 1, 1962, “A Letter to My Nephew,” James Baldwin—in anticipation of the January 1, 1963, centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the planned August 28, 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” wrote to his teenaged namesake, who was coming of age in a racialized, poverty-stricken environment.  The letter said, in part:

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born [in New York’s Harlem] and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Baldwin, an openly gay integrationist who never shied away from controversy, went on to suggest that there was nothing wrong with being black and no reason for his nephew to try to be like white men. Instead, the younger James had to do the following:

[A]ccept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

You don’t be afraid. I said it was intended that you should perish, in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go beyond and behind the white man’s definition, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word “integration” means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.

Baldwin subsequently concluded, “[T]he country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too early.”

Robert P. Madison is a native Clevelander and current resident of Shaker Heights, Ohio.  Like Baldwin, he  was born in the 1920s and struggled with Depression Era poverty. Madison shared some of his thoughts about what could and should be done in response to racism and racial unrest in his 2019 memoir Designing Victory.

(left to right: Bernard, Julian, and Robert Madison pictured here looking over the model for one of their designs, the United States’ embassy building in Senegal, in 1966.) 

An award-winning architect of international renown, he helped integrate Cleveland Heights, Ohio, through the purchase of land and by designing and building a new home on North Park Boulevard.  He and his family also joined the historically white St. Paul Episcopal Church in that community. In chapter 18 of his book, Madison explained that he “had high hopes for St. Paul and wanted that church to help [him] realize them, particularly given the tone of the times.”  His disappointment, however, is clearly expressed in the following passage:

One Sunday [in 1966], while Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood was still burning, I was particularly eager to hear the message the preacher would deliver.  Would he instruct us on our duty to help promote peace and civility?  Would he work to broaden and unite the community?

No.  Instead, he started talking about a sculpture of the hands of grace some British artist had given the church.  I sat there for an hour, waiting for him to say something about the Hough riots.  Even though the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken from that very pulpit five years earlier, this preacher didn’t say a word about what was going on a few miles away.


So I wrote a letter to the bishop telling him that, while Hough was burning, the preacher was talking about some gift from England.

Nothing.  I never heard a word.  In the same way that a threat can be just as destructive as an action, “nothing” can be the worst response of all. To be true to myself, I knew I had to do something.  So I rescinded my membership in St. Paul’s to return to my old church, St. John A.M.E.  I wasn’t bitter, just disappointed that lasting change takes so long.

In the current season of protests and riots, many religious leaders are refusing to remain silent, including the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II.  Born just two days after the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Rev. Barber has for many years preached, protested on behalf of, and taught about the need for radical change in public and social policy in America, especially as it relates to the lives of poor and low-wealth people. As the Co-Chair of the 2020 Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival, Rev. Barber is viewed by many as being the heir to the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement, since the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated months before the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and March on Washington.  In response to the George Floyd protests and coincident unrest during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Barber stated:

The nation must listen to what’s being said in the street and understand the impact of living year after year with the feeling of being hunted and unheard if we are to ever recover from the pandemic of racism.

On Monday, June 1, 2020, the Western Reserve Historical Society reaffirmed its partnership “with the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA), established fifty years ago to support the African American Archives during a time of intense and important social unrest in Cleveland and the nation.”  This ongoing partnership now includes “In Their Voices: Documenting the African American Experience in Cleveland, An Initiative to Promote Listening, Learning, and Teaching.”  By supporting the collection of first person narratives and other primary documents related to the pandemics that millions of people are talking  about in 2020, it is our hope that secondary works about this period in our history will be enriched as a result of our efforts. 

We are listening, and we hope that you will share your story with us.

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League of Women Voters in Cleveland is 100 years old on May 29, 2020

(Above Image: Belle Sherwin on the cover of Cleveland Women magazine, 1918. WRHS Library)

Guest Written by Susan Murnane, League of Women Voters | Greater Cleveland Chapter

The League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland (formerly known as the Cleveland LWV) turns 100 years old on May 29, but we didn’t know that until very recently.  For many years, the Cleveland LWV claimed that it was formed in April 2020, and we had no reason to question the timeline.  Nationally and locally, the League of Women Voters was created out of woman suffrage organizations, and in 1949, Virginia Clark Abbott wrote the history of woman suffrage in Cuyahoga County and of the Cleveland LWV up to 1945 relying on the memories of surviving women who participated in the suffrage fight and became leaders in the early League. Abbott wrote that the Woman Suffrage Party of Cleveland disbanded and launched the Cleveland LWV at a meeting at Cleveland’s Hollenden Hotel in April 1920. Abbott had the founding story mostly right, but the date was wrong.

What a celebration it was. On May 28,1920, at least 2,000 Cleveland women attended the Fifth Annual Convention of the Cleveland Woman’s Suffrage Party at the Duchess Theater on Euclid Avenue near E. 55th St. to celebrate their history with a pageant.  On May 29th the convention resumed at the Hollenden Hotel to formally disband the Cleveland Suffrage Party and reincorporate as the Cleveland League of Women Voters. The Cleveland LWV announced its purpose as: “… to foster the education of women in citizenship, to give them unbiased information upon the vital issues of the day, to support improved legislation and to secure law enforcement. The league as an organization shall support no political party, but shall urge women to enroll as voters.” Today, the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland empowers voters and defends democracy throughout Cuyahoga County, with more than 550 members, men and women, in eleven chapters. For more information go to .

The LWV of Greater Cleveland is partnering with the Western Reserve Historical Society to celebrate the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage and the founding of the Cleveland LWV with the upcoming exhibit: Women and Politics. The exhibit was scheduled to open on May 22 but has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.  Ironically, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic also disrupted suffragists’ organizing activities as they worked to pass the woman suffrage constitutional amendment.  The amendment was passed by both houses of Congress in June 1919 and sent to the states.  It was ratified and became law on August 26, 1920.

In April 2020, WRHS staff contacted LWVGC asking the exact date that the Cleveland League formed in order to post a commemorating article.  We checked our sources and realized we had no records that showed an exact date. We had donated our earlier files to WRHS in the 1970s, and there were very few records from the first decades of the Cleveland LWV. Apparently, the early LWV activists were too busy changing the world to keep good records. The WRHS staff member checked the Plain Dealer and found the original report of the League’s formation celebration on May 29 1920.

“Women to Usher in Voters’ League,” Plain Dealer May 28 1920

There is a moral to this story for all history lovers.  Too often, a fact gets recorded in a respected source and is repeatedly cited as authoritative. No one ever goes back to check the original documents, but the generally accepted “fact” is not true. In this case, after 70 years of perpetuating a mistake, the record has been corrected.

The virtual Women and Politics exhibit is coming soon, sign up for our emailing list to stay updated: Sign Up Here.

Ask a Historian | The Modern World

Lili asks, “How would you define the modern world and when do you believe it began?”

“Historians date the “modern” era to the late 1700s with two pivotal events:  The French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution each of which began a significant alteration of society — one relating to  hierarchies of power and governance, and the other to the means of production and consumption.  These changes have been ongoing since then.   However, some now argue that we are in a “Post-Modern” world in which these changes, usually seen as progressive, are now being questioned or seen as having reached an end..
Historians also look at an “early -modern period”, beginning in the late 1400s with the Renaissance and the consequent rise of independent inquiry, the challenge to religious systems (e.g. the rise of Protestantism), and the beginning of the age of exploration.
Of course, both of these periods largely reflect a focus on “western civilization” and neglect changes taking place in China, and the Indian subcontinent.
So, my tendency, like many others, is to see “modernity” as things that are new and innovative, but core shifting styles and technologies really rests on the major changes that I’ve noted above.”
John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Dan-Dee Potato Chip Company White Motors Truck

In the year 2000, the Crawford Museum was contacted by the Signature Models firm to make toy scale models of some of the collection’s most popular cars. One of those chosen was the 1920 White truck.  (WRHS accession 2003.23.4).

Cleveland-based, White Motors got its start thanks to sewing machines. Thomas White, founder of the White Sewing Machine Company, relocated to Cleveland to be closer to the Midwest markets.  His sons, Walter, Windsor, and Rollin became fascinated by innovations with the automobile instead.  Rollin White, educated and trained as an engineer, designed an early steam-powered automobile, and the White brothers were able to convince their father to build it.  Its success spurred Thomas to allow the brothers to take over a corner of the White factory, and begin production.  White cars were known for their quality engineering and became the most popular steam-powered vehicles in America.  The White brothers also introduced a line of trucks, at first steam-powered and later gasoline-powered.  By 1915, the automobile department at the White Sewing Machine Company was spun off into its own company, the White Motor Company.

White trucks soon gained a reputation for toughness and durability, and very quickly White trucks were adopted by the U.S. Army, as well as a variety of commercial businesses.  During WWI, the White 2-ton truck was selected as the standard Class A truck of the U.S. Army, and Whites saw extensive service in Europe. White trucks were doing so well that by 1918, White Motor dropped all automobile production and shifted solely to truck production, which continued until 1980.

Among the commercial users of White trucks was the Dan-Dee Potato Chip Company, which began in 1913, and moved to Cleveland in 1915.  Starting with horse-drawn wagons, the company soon moved to gasoline-powered vehicles.  This 1920 White 3/4-ton panel truck was acquired in 1952, when Dan-Dee employee Truman J. Fisher conceived of the idea of acquiring and restoring an early White to honor Dan-Dee’s founders, Charles V. Pike and Harry Orr.  Fisher supervised the restoration and realized his dream in 1953. The truck displays the 1928 Dan Dee logo and blends images of the company’s products from the late teens to the 1930s.

In addition to promoting the Dan Dee brand for forty years, the truck served the community appearing in countless parades and visiting schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, usually driven by Charles P. Pike, son of the company founder.  The truck was donated to the Crawford by Charles P. Pike in 1994.

Another Building Full of Old Cars and Airplanes… So?

Remember the last scene from ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”; a vast warehouse jammed with sealed wooden crates stretching as far as the eye can see? When you think of the term ‘museum’, is this the image that pops up first?

Sadly, for some folks today, the ‘dusty warehouse’ label applies to many cultural institutions, especially if they’ve never taken the opportunity to visit. Perhaps their preconceived notions hearken back to a time over a century ago, where museums were repositories for items of great historical or cultural significance, populated by wooly-headed scholars, researchers, and well-to-do connoisseurs. They were largely a province of society’s elite.

With the passage of time, wise administrators understood that museums could be a wonderful resource for the surrounding community, not only serving to educate and entertain, but becoming a point of civic pride as well. The collective doors were thrown open, with the public invited to participate in educational programs, lectures, tours, and special exhibitions. The ‘dust’ began to fall away.

By the time Fred Crawford began to amass a serious collection of antique automobiles around the mid-1940’s, the notion of creating a museum for the enjoyment of the public was well established. Since Mr. Crawford was the president of Thompson Products, the resources of the huge corporation were brought to bear on creating one of the first automobile museums in the United States, repurposing a former Cadillac dealership in downtown Cleveland. Twenty years later, with the dealership lease expiring, plans were put in motion to transfer the growing collection to a purpose-built facility within the grounds of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum opened in September of 1965, and has been in continuous operation since then.

The museum houses a world-class collection of around one hundred and seventy automobiles, aircraft, and motorcycles, as well as a plethora of related support materials. Visitors can examine in detail cars that were produced at the dawn of powered personal transportation, through the Classic or Golden Age of automobile design, right up to the present with autonomously piloted vehicles.

A pressing issue for nearly all museums today is how to address the visitor’s question of ‘I’ve seen it once, why go back?’ (A valid yet troubling inquiry). Museums can no longer function as remote, elevated, or exclusive bastions of preservation of the past. They must remain current, engaging their visitors with ever-changing exhibits, programs and offerings to keep the experience fresh.

The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum has taken this mission to heart, and is continually striving to elevate the quality of time the visitor spends. One might ask about the relevance of a gallery filled with antique cars; they were built so long ago that there is no current point of connection to them. Perhaps, but as exemplified by the Crawford’s latest exhibition, ‘Electric, Steam, or Gasoline’, visitors became aware of Cleveland’s significant past contributions to alternative power, anticipating innovations by manufacturers like Tesla by over a century. People were literally shocked by a late 1930’s Citroen that was powered by coal; something few even knew existed, and were wowed by the all-electric, ultra high-tech Chrysler Portal prototype which points the way to our future modes of transportation. Several of the alt-fuel vehicles were sourced from the Crawford’s permanent collection, and provided the viewer with insight as to how innovative thinkers decades ago influenced current design directions.

The Crawford experience can be very akin to listening to a delightful musical composition. If it resonates, one is prompted to go back to it over and over. So it is with a great museum; with each visit, something new and interesting can be gleaned, and our present is given definition and meaning by our past. The museum’s objects are touchstones to what has preceded us. Leave the dusty crates to the movies, and embrace the living and constantly evolving entity that is the Crawford. It will be time well spent!

Karamu Theater

Karamu Theater is turning 105 this year! Located in the Fairfax neighborhood, it’s the oldest black theater company in the country, and it’s still one of Cleveland’s premier cultural arts institutions.

Our Karamu Theater collection is one of the most treasured in the African American Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society. It consists of photographs, correspondence, play scripts, programs, announcements of events, guest books, newspaper clippings, and much more.

Early on Karamu emerged as a premier training ground for talented African Americans like playwrights Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, actress Ruby Dee, and Cleveland artist Charles Sallee . Other stage performers included Minnie Gentry (Terrence Howard’s grandmother), Robert Guillaume, and James Pickens Jr., from Grey’s Anatomy.

Also, A Raisin in the Sun’s first stop off Broadway was at Karamu, and many notable people have attended Karamu performances, such as Carl Stokes, Zelma Watson George, and Muhammad Ali.

Women Boutique Owners in the 1920s

During the 1920s, a group of Cleveland women became the faces of local fashion. Their boutiques could be found downtown, and in particular, the Quinn-Maahs and Mary Kazhal stores were known for importing Parisian fashions. 


Halle Brothers’ employees Katherine Quinn and Gertrude Maahs left to start their own business in 1921. Their first shop spanned multiple storefronts from 1421 to 1425 Euclid Avenue, although they moved around a bit in later decades, they remained open into the 1950s. Locals shopped there for the latest European imports as well as more affordable copies of runway fashion.

Mary Kazhal, Inc.

Kazhal had opened her shop in 1918, a block or so down from Quinn-Maahs at 1276 Euclid Avenue, where the street meets Huron. Not only did the shop import and make sportswear and gowns, but it imported Parisian furs, like this life-like fellow. From 1938 the shop operated at Carnegie and East 105th, until its closure in 1950.

Summer Fashion in Cleveland

If you need inspiration to get out of your sweatpants, hopes of warm days to come might help. It can be hard to imagine bringing your summer clothes out again, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at what some Ohioans have worn on hot days over the past few centuries.

Isabella Harkness wore this dress in the early 1850s. The textile is a windowpane weave with printed roses. Although she would have been wearing several layers, each one was an airy cotton or linen. In this period, and increasingly in the 1860s, an understructure of a crinoline held skirts away from the legs and allowed for plenty of breezy circulation.

During her short tenure as First Lady, Lucretia Garfield wore this at-home gown in her Mentor, Ohio home. The dress is made of a light, breathable cotton and buttons down the entire front. Lucretia would have worn it over her usual undergarments, but the flowing fabric would have been comfortable in the warm weather. She wouldn’t have left her home in something like this, but would feel comfortable hosting friends. 

During the 1910s, women continued to wear corsets, but silhouettes allowed for more movement and freedom than in previous decades. Helen Chapin ordered this dress for her 1919 debut, but it sadly arrived the day after her party, although she surely found other opportunities to wear it. Layers and sheer fabric and appliqued blossoms embody summer.

Mary Bolton lived briefly in Paris during the late 1940s. While here, she fell in love with French design, and shopped the sample sales. After her return to Cleveland, she continued to wear garments by Dior, Nina Ricci, and others. These two dresses from the early 1950s share a silhouette with a full, sheer skirt. The white Dior gown is decorated with tiny faux white wisteria, which flowers in late spring and early summer. It’s easy to imagine the fun Mary might have had in breezy weather, with skirts twirling.

Allen E. Cole

Before cellphone cameras and selfies, there was African American photographer Allen E. Cole. Cole was an entrepreneur and a civic minded businessman whose photographs appeared regularly in the Call & Post newspaper, and for many years he was the only black member of the Cleveland Society of Professional Photographers.

Cole migrated to Cleveland in 1917, and worked at the Cleveland Athletic Club for 10 years before opening his home portrait studio, which was impressive for a person of color in that era. It was in his home studio that he photographed Ohio’s first African American judge, Perry B. Jackson.

Because of Cole’s deep civic involvement, his collection has become an invaluable resource for documenting the diverse experiences of Cleveland’s vibrant black community. The collection, some of which can be seen in Digital Cleveland Starts Here, consists of clubs, churches, social and fraternal organizations, weddings, schools, and much more.

Women at War | WWI

Although they were not allowed to fight in battles, women were instrumental in supporting the war effort across the globe. At the outset of World War I, long before American troops arrived on foreign soil, American women were “over there” volunteering with civilian organizations to provide nursing, transportation and other war relief services. Women aligned themselves with humanitarian organizations such as the American Red Cross, YMCA, Salvation Army, and others to meet wartime needs.

When the Marine Corps announced via newspaper advertisement that women would be allowed to join the ranks in order to help “free a man to fight”, the response was rapid and plentiful.  In New York City alone, there were over 2,000 prospective recruits who showed up at the recruiting office. Recruiting offices in other U.S. cities also reported a high turnout of patriotic minded women who wanted to serve their nation. 

Mabelle Leland Musser (1889-1995) also joined their ranks, and her uniform is in the WRHS costume collection. Musser was born in Hinckley, Ohio and lived in Medina and Oberlin and attended Oberlin Business College before working for the Elyria Gas Engine Company in 1910. In 1917 her brother, Max, enlisted in the Marines, shortly before Mabelle could too. In the service, she was a Corporal and worked in Washington D.C. until she was discharged in 1922. Thereafter Madelle married and worked as a stenographer in a law office. She lived to be 106.


(WRHS Costume Collection. Woman’s Marine Corps Uniform. Gift of Mrs. A. William Hall 58.10)

Another way for women to see the front was as Red Cross nurses. George Crile’s Lakeside Unit in Rouen, France was one opportunity for women to join in. The Base Hospital No. 4 took on 82,179 cases in 20 months. At their Mobile Hospital No. 5, from August 1918 until January 1919, 124 nurses cared for 994 seriously injured soldiers, mostly American, French, and German.

(Red Cross Nurses on Parade. WRHS Library)

(Lakeside Unit Photographs. Dittrick Medical History Center, CWRU)

See more here:

Life’s A Beach

Cleveland’s greatest asset is, arguably, Lake Erie which has made the area a hub of transportation and industry, and given us a supply of fresh water that many other communities would envy.    However, every summer the lake takes on another guise – a recreational wonderland for boaters, fishers and bathers.  It’s highly doubtful that early Clevelanders viewed the lake as a getaway from everyday life, but as the city grew and prospered in the years after the Civil War its shoreline (at least those portions that had not been taken over by railroads and industry), became a highly sought after site for the homes and estates of the wealthy and powerful.   Bratenahl became Cleveland’s version of Newport, Rhode Island. It was where many who had grand homes on Euclid Avenue, built large, equally grand summer “cottages” along the lake.   Just to the east of Bratenahl, William J. Gordon, who had made a fortune in wholesale groceries and iron ore created his own landscaped 122-acre park at the mouth of Doan Brook.   West of the Cuyahoga, Jacob Bishop Perkins, who amassed his wealth from real estate built his home, “Twin Elms” on the lake shore.   West of his property were the homes of Marcus A. Hanna, Caroline W. Hanna, and Julius Feiss.   Essentially much of the shoreline was privately owned – either by the railroad, or individuals by the late nineteenth century.


So, where did someone without great wealth find a beach – a place to escape from the heat of a Cleveland summer?   Fortunately, Gordon willed his park to the city when he died in 1892 with the proviso that it always remain a free public park.   Perkins offered his lakeside land to the city in1889 at a price far below market value.  The city demurred but in 1894 reconsidered and acquired a large portion of his estate for public use as Edgewater Park.


By the turn of the twentieth century everyday Clevelanders had access to a public beach on both the east and west sides of the city.   Edgewater and Gordon parks had large public bath houses where people could change into their then cumbersome bathing costumes.   But there were now also other beaches that could be accessed via the amusement parks that owned them.   White City amusement park had a beach as did, of course, Euclid Beach.


As the city’s population grew from just over 381,000 in 1900 to over 900,000, the beaches provided an urban getaway for many Clevelanders, but other things had changed as the city grew.  Bathhouses became a thing of the past as bathing attire became less cumbersome and the auto rather than the streetcar or bus became the prime way to reach the shore — one could now dress for the beach at home!   At the same time, access to some beaches began to disappear.  Euclid Beach Park closed in 1969.  White City was long gone, as the amusement park had succumbed to fire and storm less than a decade after its opening.    Gordon Park was bisected by the construction of Interstate 90; the mouth Doan Brook was culverted; and a dyke (Dyke 14) for the disposal of dredged material jutted out from the shoreline.   Growing lake pollution was a major factor in the decline and closure of Gordon Park’s beach and it almost killed off the beach at Edgewater.  Mayor Carl Stokes provided a temporary expedient to the situation by having the water near the beach treated to kill bacteria.    However, by the mid-1970s, the city was increasingly unable to fund the maintenance of its lakefront parks and both Edgewater and Gordon park had fallen into disrepair.


Matters began to turn around when in 1977, the City of Cleveland executed a lease agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to maintain, develop, and improve the parks along the shore of Lake Erie.   Now, over four decades later, the city’s much improved shoreline parks and beaches are part of the Cleveland Lakefront State Park and are a major factor in the growth of neighborhoods like Gordon Square and Battery Park.  Townhouses and condos now occupy old industrial sites and give residents a view of the lake and Edgewater Park (where one can still find “Perkins Beach” at its most westerly end.)  A new (2019) pier at Euclid Beach now offers splendid views of the city and the lake  — and a beach (of sorts) has been created on the East 9th Street pier for beach volleyball!  And as for that dredging dump at Gordon Park – it is now a nature preserve!

Convertibles | Know When to Fold

As the weather warms, even a ‘bread, milk, eggs’ trip can become an adventure, if you’re driving…a convertible!

At the dawn of the automobile, virtually all were open vehicles, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the formal definition of a ‘convertible’ was generally agreed upon in the United States; that of a car with a permanently affixed folding top and roll-up windows.

It seems as though the idea of producing a ‘fun’ open-topped car occurred to several domestic manufacturers simultaneously. Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, and Lincoln all introduced models in 1927 that fit the definition perfectly.

During the ‘Golden Age’ of American motoring, from the late 1920’s through the following decade, automotive styling reached its zenith, with a mind-boggling array of color choices, power plants, and custom bodies available to the well-heeled customer. Add a canvas drop-top to the equation, and the results could be pure poetry. Have you ever attended a car show where a 1930’s Duesenberg convertible rolled in? The crowd response can become almost reverential.

Despite their attention-grabbing good looks and general popularity, the volume of convertibles has always been a mere fraction of total automobile production for a given year. When first introduced, the figure was around one tenth of one percent. During the seminal cultural changes of the 1960’s, that figure reached a high of 6.4 percent; still small by any measure.

The conundrum facing the potential convertible customer was one of enthusiasm and style versus practicality. Growing families required roomy interiors, protection from the elements, and an affordable product. Convertibles usually came at premium prices, had dodgy weather seals, couldn’t be used for hauling much, and a second ‘fun’ car was usually outside most folks limited budgets.

Possibly the most radical example of the sacrifice of practicality in a convertible was the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, a two-door retractable hardtop convertible that used an astonishingly complex system of seven electric motors, four lift jacks, four locking mechanisms, and ten limit switches to lower the top into the trunk. The top was so large that it required the front third to be hinged to fold for storage. They are a crowd pleaser at current shows, but their production lasted only three years.

From a boom in popularity in the 1960’s, domestic convertibles began a slide that concluded in the mid 1970’s, occupying merely one percent of total sales. Pending (although never enacted) government safety regulations regarding rollover protection influenced the Big Three automakers to stop convertible production altogether. Of course, European and Asian manufacturers knew an opportunity when they saw one, and offered a variety of convertibles to desperate enthusiasts. Sales were strong enough to influence the Americans to resume production six years later in 1982, and the drop-tops have been rolling off the assembly lines ever since.

Most current automakers have some sort of open car in their yearly lineup, particularly in the exotic luxury or hyper car sector. Usually, a new model is debuted as a hardtop with a convertible version following on at a later date, exemplified by the new Corvette C8.

Convertibles are not for everyone, but if you’ve ever driven one on a summer evening, moon ascending over the horizon, newly mown hay on the wind, and temperatures changing with every hill and valley, the experience is unforgettable and visceral. Pure automotive joy.


Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon recently promised his seniors that he would find a way for them to have their commencement, despite current school closures. Today, students wear their cap and gown as they cross the stage, and generally wear anything they want underneath. Some schools, girls’ schools in particular, require wearing white, and this was no different for young women 100 years ago.


Clevelander Ruth Ruck (1902-1988) graduated from 8th grade in January, 1916. She wore a white cotton dress, trimmed throughout with lace, pictured here in this photo postcard her family ordered to celebrate the occasion. Her dress is now in the WRHS costume collection. A 1900 etiquette guide wrote, “A pure and neatly made white muslin dress is the most appropriate, and always just the thing for the occasion. White is becoming to all young girls, comparatively inexpensive and always perfect in taste.”


CLICK HERE to watch a video of our Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles, Patty Edmonson as she goes deeper into the history of graduation dresses.


Although we’re not sure where she attended middle school, Ruth graduated from Commerce High School in Ohio City. She lived at 3639 Fulton Road with her parents, two sisters, grandfather, aunt, and two cousins. Her father, George Ruck, sold shoes, which makes one take a closer look at Ruth’s two-tones leather boots in this image. Although not much has turned up about the family, we know that Ruth’s sister, Hazel, died the same year this image was taken. It’s hard to imagine such a loss.


Ruth attended Wittenberg University and Western Reserve College for Women (now CWRU). Ruth loved to hike, and was a leader in the YWCA’s Girl Reserves. After leaving Wittenberg, she worked for the YWCA as recreation and athletic director of their Rocky River camp. Ruth was well-known for skills such as swimming and archery. In 1930 Ruth married Charles Lees. By the 1940 census, the couple had moved to Detroit and Ruth was at home caring for their son.

Reading, Writing, and Fighting for Justice | Honoring the Legacy of Ida B. Wells Barnett

“We die. That may be the meaning of life.
But we do language.  That may be the measure of our lives.”

From Toni Morrison’s 1993 Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature


There is no shortage of books and other resources about African Americans who continue to use the power of the pen in their struggle to bring about a more just society. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with public libraries and research centers closed to patrons, it is still possible to find many of the publications that inspire readers to think and act in ways that are in keeping with the tenets of democracy. 

This is certainly true when it comes to books about Ida B. Wells Barnett and/or the causes for which she fought.  The daughter of enslaved African Americans in Mississippi, Wells Barnett lived from 1862 to1931, surviving slavery, the Civil War, the overthrow of Reconstruction, and the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic that claimed the lives of several members of her family.  

She went on to become a teacher, and by her own admission Wells Barnett was also a crusader for justice, whose investigative journalism revealed the sordid details about the history of lynching in America and challenged the injustices that allowed mob violence to continue. 

In the wake of the April 2020 publication of the second edition of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, a new generation of history teachers and students will, no doubt, become more familiar with her story.  With the May 4, 2020 announcement of the posthumous Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board for her journalism, Wells Barnett also joins the ranks of other African American recipients, including Ohio native Toni Morrison, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction.


To read more on this topic: Click Here.

Euclid Beach Park Slogans

When you think about the name of almost any amusement park, their slogan or tagline comes to mind.  We think of Disneyland and Walt Disney World as “The Happiest Places on Earth”. Closer to home, Kennywood in Erie, Pennsylvania currently uses two slogans: “Make a New Memory” and “America’s Finest Traditional Amusement Park.” A few years back they were “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World.”  The new home of the Flying Turns, Knoebels Amusement Resort in Ellysburg, Pennsylvania, uses various catch phrases: “Americas Number One Amusement Park,” “It’s My Kind of Fun (Is Knoebels Fun),” “Picture Yourself (at Knoebels),” “Make New Memories the Old Fashioned Way,” and, “Fun, Food, and Fantasy.”


Waldameer Park & Water World wants us to remember: “You’re Gonna Love It.” Conneaut Lake Park is “A Traditional Amusement Resort with Something for Everyone!” and the place “Where the Past Becomes the Future.”  Cedar Point right here in Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie is definitely no stranger to the use of slogans and taglines: “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” America’s Rockin Roller Coast,” “America’s Roller Coast,” and, “CP is the Place to Be.”


For Euclid Beach Park, there were two slogans: “One Fare-Free Gate-No Beer” and “Nothing to Depress or Demoralize.” “One Fare” referred to the agreement reached between the Humphreys and the street car companies servicing Euclid Beach.  The Deluth and The Superior, the two boats which brought patrons from downtown Cleveland to the Pier at the Park would be taken out of service and the street car companies agreed to charge one fare from the point of pickup to Euclid Beach with no additional charge for transfers. As for the “Free Gate”, there was never any charge for entering the Park grounds, except a few instances during the final years.  When the Humphrey family took over operation of the Park in 1901 they wanted to emphasize the family-friendly way they planned to operate the Park.  No beer or alcohol of any type was ever served or permitted on the grounds.  Almost everyone associated with the amusement park business thought the profit lost from the elimination of alcohol and the games of chance would inevitably lead to financial ruin. Clevelanders embraced the new policy of “Nothing to Depress or Demoralize” and the rest is as they say is history. The “Coney Island” template was not the only successful way of operating an amusement park.

Education in the Early Years of the Western Reserve

Imagine a morning in the 19th century schoolhouse: rough hewn log walls, embers glowing in the wood stove central to the 12 x 16 foot classroom, waxed paper window panes diffusing the spring sunshine. The stillness is interrupted by the gurgle of the swallows in the chimney, while voices sounding more like the cackle of coyotes than young scholars on the path stir the school teacher to action. She smooths back a stray hair, straightens her vest, breathes deeply, and prepares to ring the 8 o’clock bell calling the children to another day in the little valley school.
The Western Reserve pioneers worked quickly to establish formal schools in their growing rural communities. Education of children, then as now, was considered the first and greatest duty.
The first school in Cleveland was located near the corner of St. Clair and Bank St. (W. 6th) by 1817, but our Cuyahoga Valley settlers were already holding sessions as early as 1811 in homesteads or empty cabins. The classes of 20 or more students met for class six days per week, eight hours each day. Teachers were paid by subscription, fees ranging from two to four dollars for each summer and winter term. A teacher might be paid partly in cash, partly in goods such as wheat, while boarding with families in rotation throughout a term. Reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and geography comprised the course of study for ages 8 to 14 in the early schools, and in the pre-McGuffey Reader days, The Farmer’s Almanac, the family Bible, or treasured volumes of literary classics served as textbooks.
Schools brought a community together in ways outside daily lessons, and there was pride in the accomplishments of learners of all ages. Evenings in the little school houses saw box supper socials, literary societies, and singing schools, with civic meetings providing a forum for debates on the issues of the day.
From the humble beginnings of the one-room school, judges, lawyers, doctors, journalists, civic leaders, teachers, and entrepreneurs of all sorts received an education sufficient to contribute to the strength of the new community and success beyond the boundaries of their valley home.

Don’t Play in the Street! | Hiram House

In 1900 Cleveland had a population of 381,786. Much of it was crowded into neighborhoods surrounding factories and other sources of employment.  Parks and green spaces were largely at the periphery of the city and playgrounds – outside the schoolyard – were largely unknown. Lower Woodland Avenue (the area near today’s CCC campus) was its most crowded neighborhood and one of the oldest in the city. In 1896 it would become the home of Hiram House, a progressive-era social settlement that sought to better conditions in America’s increasingly diverse urban centers. Settlements offered English-language classes and a variety of other classes, sponsored clubs, taught citizenship, and campaigned for political and social change.
George Bellamy, the settlement’s founder, made certain that Hiram House engaged in all these areas, but his real focus was on recreation and youth. For Bellamy playgrounds were critical. Not only did they take the children off of dangerous streets (not quite as dangerous as they would become when autos became common) but they offered a controlled area where young people could be taught fair play, social deportment skills, and made into good citizens.  He would become a major figure in the national playground movement in the early 1900s.
When Hiram House opened a new, large, four-story building at 27th and Orange Avenue, the area behind the building, which fronted on Woodland Avenue, was purchased with a donation from Samuel Mather in order to be turned into a playground. A gated brick wall separated it from the busy street. It was a closed space where play could be supervised. The climbing bars and other apparatus, along with open area for games and sports were an absolute attractant for children in the area.  Today’s safety experts would be appalled by some of the apparatus – extremely high with no soft area to cushion a fall!
During summer vacation, the playground became the home of “Progress City” where children were groomed to be good, hardworking citizens.  They took responsibility for cleaning the playground and areas in the settlement building and were paid with Progress City money which they could spend at the Progress City store which was stocked with goods donated by area merchants.  They also elected a mayor and representatives to govern the youthful community.  It was a good experiment, but in some ways it too closely mirrored urban politics of the time – some candidates for office were found to be paying for votes with Progress City money!
This pioneer playground of Cleveland would endure through neighborhood changes until operations ceased at the main building in 1941. Today Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills continues the tradition of offering play, and other life-building experiences for young people. Its “High and Low Ropes” course provides continuity with the apparatus on the playground – but it was light years ahead in terms of safety.  And, today, the history of Hiram House lives on its archives preserved in our research library.

Barbara Plummer | Romper Room

Television was in its infancy in the early 1950s. Most stations only broadcast shows for a few hours each day, and most programs were geared towards children or housewives. In 1953, Bert and Nancy Claster of Baltimore created a television program called Romper Room. Targeted at preschoolers, Romper Room aimed to teach children good manners, morality, and civic mindedness. The program quickly became popular and was soon syndicated in local markets throughout the United States and beyond.


Romper Room came to Channel 5 in Cleveland in 1958. Barbara Plummer, a housewife from Norwalk, answered an advertisement for a job as a television host, never thinking she would get the job. However, Channel 5 hired her after one interview and, with no prior experience in acting or in television, she became “Miss Barbara” in 1958.


One of the most memorable parts of Miss Barbara’s show involved her Magic Mirror. When she held the mirror up to the camera, she could see children at home watching Romper Room. She would then call out, “I see Sarah, and Patty, and Whitney…”. Children sat glued to their televisions hoping to hear their names called.


Although Romper Room stayed on the air until the 1990s in some places, Barbara Plummer left the show in 1971 and pursued her passion of giving back to the community. She worked with many Cleveland institutions, including Playhouse Square and the Western Reserve Historical Society. Sadly, Miss Barbara passed away in March 2010.


To honor Barbara Plummer, the Museum Advisory Council of the Western Reserve Historical Society produced the following video, Miss Barbara: Reflections from the other side of the magic mirror, in September of 2005: Watch Video Here.

Hale Family, Hale House, & Three Generations

One can imagine, in the early years in the Cuyahoga Valley, how welcome the warmer days must have felt to settlers like the Hale family of seven. The promise of springtime called to them from every corner of the farm as they threw open the shutters to the cabin, welcoming sunlight and fresh air to drive out the lingering malaise of winter.
After 17 years, the Hales moved into the first floor of a new brick home before the upper stories were complete. It was fresh and bright and snug against the elements and had a grand cooking hearth and a bake oven. Over the next few years, spaces were added and divided to make room for more as the Hale children married and started families of their own.
At one point, 14 residents in three generations called “Old Brick” their home. Why did the families remain together under one roof? More rare today, 19th century households combined to support the family business or farm, provide care for the ill or aged, or allow young adults to establish their own farms. When the patriarch pulled out the fiddle to entertain the household, Jonathan Hale saw the appreciative faces of his own children, young and old, with their spouses and his grandchildren circled around him.

The Zone Family’s Legacy of Community Service

Councilman Matt Zone has been serving on Cleveland City Council since 2001, representing Ward 15 which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.  He is carrying on the tradition of community service started by his parents, Michael and Mary Zone.
Michael J. Zone represented the neighborhood on Council from 1960 until his death from a sudden heart attack in 1974. Mary accepted multiple requests to finish his term; she ran for re-election and served until 1981.
The Zone family traces its roots in Cleveland to the early 1900s when their Italian immigrant grandparents settled in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. Michael Zone’s family is from Calvi Risorta and Mary Constantino Zone’s family is from the town of Regali.
Mary and Michael grew up across a street from each other. They were married in 1944 and raised nine children. In addition to being partners in politics, they operated two neighborhood businesses, Zone Foods and Zone Travel Agency.