Womens History Reading Recommendations

Interested in learning more women’s history? There are many titles available for purchase now on our web store and in the Cleveland History Center Museum Store.  Scroll through this curated list of recommended reads and continue shopping here. 

Damsels in Design: Women Pioneers in the Automotive Industry, 1939–1959

In the mid-1950s, an innovative group of women at General Motors (dubbed the Damsels of Design by marketers) and their counterparts at Ford, Hudson, Studebaker, Packard, and Tucker changed automotive history forever. Read the untold story of the women who excelled in the Mad Men era of automobile and industrial design!

Deeds Not Words: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

Twenty-nine award-winning textile artists from across the United States each crafted a quilt celebrating women’s suffrage. These dazzlingly varied, sometimes troubling, always inspiring artworks reflect the long and continuing fight for equal rights for all. Introductions summarize the history of women’s suffrage, an even more complicated subject than you might think, then dozens of art quilts continue the learning.

Flora Stone Mather: Daughter of Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue & Ohio’s Western Reserve

This is the biography of one of Cleveland’s leading philanthropists. In 1881 Flora wed her neighbor, Samuel Mather, a marriage that united two of Cleveland’s―and the nation’s―wealthiest and most influential families. The region and city still benefit from her generosity, compassion, and foresight. be important reading for students of women’s studies and the history of philanthropy as well as those interested in Ohio’s Western Reserve and its people.

Often condemned as a form of oppression, fashion could and did allow women to express modern gender identities and promote feminist ideas. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox examines how clothes empowered women, and particularly women barred from positions of influence due to race or class. A fascinating account of clothing as an everyday feminist practice, Dressed for Freedom brings fashion into discussions of American feminism during the long twentieth century. A part of our By the Book Author Series! 

Sisters of Notre Dame of Cleveland

Since their arrival in Cleveland in 1874 to serve German Catholic immigrants, the Sisters of Notre Dame (SND) have given their time, skills, and compassion to the people of Northern Ohio and beyond.

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

The suffragists face vicious opposition from politicians, clergy, corporations, and racists who don’t want black women voting. […][I]n one hot summer, they all converge for a confrontation, replete with booze and blackmail, betrayal and courage. Following a handful of remarkable women who led their respective forces into battle, The Woman’s Hour is the gripping story of how America’s women won their own freedom, and the opening campaign in the great twentieth-century battles for civil rights.

Liberated Spirits: Two Women Who Battled Over Prohibition

A provocative new take on the women behind a perennially fascinating subject–Prohibition–by bestselling author and historian Hugh Ambrose. These two Constitutional Amendments enabled women to redefine themselves and their place in society in a way historians have neglected to explore. Liberated Spirits describes how the fight both to pass and later to repeal Prohibition was driven by women, as exemplified by two remarkable women in particular.

The Woman Suffrage Cookbook: The 1886 Classic

The Woman Suffrage Cookbook was the first of several fundraising cookbooks published in support of the movement behind the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Edited and compiled by Hattie A. Burr, it features recipes from prominent suffragists as well as from women eminent in their fields: teachers, lecturers, physicians, ministers, and authors.

At once the ideal introduction to Lorain native Toni Morrison and a lovely and moving keepsake for her devoted readers: a treasury of quotations from her work. With a foreword by Zadie Smith. This inspirational book juxtaposes quotations, one to a page, drawn from Toni Morrison’s entire body of work, both fiction and nonfiction to tell a story of self-actualization.

CHILDREN’S:

Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote

The fight for women’s suffrage between women’s rights leader Alice Paul and President Woodrow Wilson is creatively presented as a four-round boxing match in this energetic nonfiction picture book.” Sarah Green’s bright, detailed illustrations perfectly accompany award-winning author Barb Rosenstock’s captivating narrative. Grade Level: 2 – 5

Who Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

New York Times bestselling series “Who Was”.  As a young lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg advocated for gender equality and women’s rights when few others did. She gained attention for the cases she won when arguing in front of the Supreme Court, before taking her place on the bench in 1993. Reading level grades 3-7

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem

A lyrical picture book debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long

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Finding Amelia — In Cleveland

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

A recent story in the New York Times titled “An Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved” was certain to get attention.   Was it “the” answer to the question of where she crashed and perished in her round-the-world flight in July 1937?   No, it was about another mystery related to this noted woman aviator.

It all centered on a leather flight helmet that had been kept in a family for decades and which family tradition claimed that it belonged to Amelia.   It purportedly had dropped during the hubbub that surrounded Amelia’s landing at the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929 as a participant in a woman’s transcontinental air race.  Even though she came in third she received a huge welcome as people swarmed around her single engine Lockheed Vega airplane – and why not, she was then the nation’s most noted female pilot.

The year before (1928) she had flown across the Atlantic – albeit as a working passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stoltz and Louis Gordon.   This was one year after Charles Lindberg’s flight and it made the headlines – placing Amelia as the first woman to cross the Atlantic.  She soon became a national icon and would do a solo transatlantic flight in 1932.

Her flight to Cleveland was a true test of her skills – indeed, only 11 of the 20 who began the race made it to Cleveland.  In the coming years she would visit the city numerous times, usually at the National Air Races which the city hosted again seven more times in the 1930s.  Her fame continued to grow and in 1933 she and first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a plane ride together.  She and Eleanor became fast friends exchanging both letters and ideas.

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt flying from Washington, DC to Baltimore in 1933, Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

She also pushed against the barriers facing women pilots who were usually referred to as aviatrixes  — and indeed, the cross country race was gender nicknamed the “Power Puff Derby” by actor and humorist Will Rogers.  Yet during 1930s she would hone her skills as a flyer, winning races and setting records.  At the same time she used her celebrity to promote the growing aviation industry, and served as a Vice President of National Airways .  But perhaps her most important contribution was being a founder of the Ninety-Nines a group of women pilots who worked to advocate for women in aviation.  She served as the organization’s first president in 1930.

Her ultimate goal was to circumnavigate the globe.  Her flight would not be the first, but it would be the longest, flying roughly along the equator – a total of approximately 29,000 miles.   As we know, that flight in 1937 which began in Oakland, California, would never be completed.   She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 1st, 1937 while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island – a small speck of land in the South Pacific.   They have never been found – and the search for Amelia goes on today, eighty-five years later.

As to the mystery of the flight helmet which was dropped on the ground when she landed in Cleveland – well, it turns out that the helmet was indeed hers.    Its authenticity was confirmed by using a sophisticated photogrammetric analysis of the helmet compared to one worn by Amelia in images taken in 1928.

Yet, Amelia, like her helmet, really is no longer lost.   Her skills and daring were remarkable and they helped advance the cause of women who sought to fly.  That she often came to Cleveland (and lost her helmet here!) is something worth noting and, indeed, celebrating.   Much of the story of her involvement in the National Air Races is chronicled in the Historical Society’s stunning collection of air race documents and memorabilia – and Amelia is also honored at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport.

 

1929 National Air Races and Aeronautical Exposition, Courtesy of the WRHS Archives
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Cleveland Changes Baseball History

By Mary Manning, Ph.D., PK-12 Education Coordinator & Youth Entrepreneurship Education (YEE) Project Director (Interim)

In 1946, the Cleveland Indians gained a new owner – Bill Veeck, an enthusiastic promoter committed to making the team the best in baseball at nearly any cost.

In 1947, the team stopped splitting time between their historic stadium, League Park in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, and moved into Municipal Stadium full-time. Where League Park’s capacity numbered 22,500, Municipal Stadium could accommodate three times as many fans, and Veeck employed imaginative tactics and stadium promotions to fill as many of those seats as he could.

In July of 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro American League and brought him straight to the majors, believing Doby could handle the transition and that a stint in the minor leagues to warm him up would limit the media impact of the signing. With Doby’s arrival in Cleveland, Major League Baseball’s American League was officially integrated—mere months after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Then, in 1948, the Indians fielded a roster that included Doby, along with famed former Negro League pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and won the World Series.

This photograph from WRHS collections shows Doby and Paige at a moment of rest during a game that must be in either the 1948 season or the 1949 season – the only two years Paige played with the Indians. To some degree, it reflects the personalities of the two men. Doby, a known introvert, surveys the scene before him, while Paige, a charismatic, confident man, seems in the middle of speaking.

These two men also represent the kinds of players who made up the first two waves of the integration of Major League Baseball. Doby was 23 years old when he arrived in Cleveland, an extraordinarily gifted young multi-sport athlete who would eventually put together a 13-year MLB career on top of the four seasons he had played in the Negro Leagues. In 1978, he would become the second Black manager in Major League Baseball for the Chicago White Sox (second to the Indians’ Frank Robinson, hired as a player-manager in 1975).

In contrast, Paige remains the oldest player to debut in Major League Baseball—he was 42 years old when he made his first start with the Indians in July of 1948. Yet he had been pitching professionally since 1927 when he began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. In between Negro League seasons, he would barnstorm throughout the Midwest and other parts of the country, including a tour beginning in the fall of 1946 that pitted him against Indians great Bob Feller on a near daily basis. Paige had an uncommonly high number of pitches in his arsenal and accumulated new tricks that helped him maintain his dominant form on the mound as he grew older.

Together, these two very different men would help lead the Indians to first the American League pennant and then to the most recent World Series victory in Cleveland. Both would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Doby would be honored in 2015 with a statue in front of Progressive Field. Though Jackie Robinson was the first and most famous player to begin the integration of Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians played a crucial role in how baseball would receive players from the Negro Leagues, especially ones as experienced and talented as Paige.

Y Hoops?!

Photo: Buildings YMCA Old Central Building 1900s, Photo courtesy of the WRHS Archives.

 

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

The NBA All Star Game’s arrival in Cleveland in February provides a good reason for looking at the history of basketball – and, that history is remarkable.  Today the game is played around the world.  Its global reach is reflected in the NBA.  Currently, 39 countries are represented by 109 players.  With 30 teams and a roster limit of 15 for each team, there are 450 – so the international representation is just a bit over 24%

That’s pretty amazing for a sport that was invented in the United States by James Naismith (1861-1939) who, by the way, was born in Canada.  Many, if not most people, know the story of Naismith using a peach basket and a soccer ball to create the game.  His thirteen original rules for the game still, in most ways, echo on today’s courts although the style and speed of the game are far different from what he envisioned.  However, the place (the YMCA) where he created the game is central to the internationalization of basketball.

Educated at McGill University (where he played football, lacrosse, soccer, and rugby – and also was a gymnast) he moved to the United States in 1890 to study at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.  It was there that he invented basketball.  The impetus for its creation was the need to provide bored and boisterous young men with a vigorous indoor athletic activity during the winter months.  The first game was played on March 12, 1892.

Perhaps at this point it is important to emphasize that the YMCA is the Young Men’s Christian Association.   The YMCA movement began in the mid-1840s in London and quickly spread well beyond England.  Cleveland’s branch of the movement began in 1854.  The common thread that bound all the early Y’s together was helping the many young men coming into cities lead a good, pure Christian life and thus avoid the temptations – bars, brothels, and bad company – that characterized growing urban areas.  The Cleveland YMCA stated its purpose as to prevent “the ruin, physical and spiritual, which overtakes so large a proportion of the multitude of young men constantly arriving in our city.”

It did not take long for the organization to realize that the best way to attract young men to membership and participation was through vigorous physical activity – it built teamwork, fellowship and also burned off energies that could have been directed to the dissipations of city life.   It was the leader in the national movement known as “Muscular Christianity” which ran against older notions that physical exercise, and sport where antithetical to a good religious life.  By the 1880s “muscular Christianity’ helped power a burgeoning sports culture in the United States.  It provided a good basis for what would become gym programs in schools, it buttressed a growing collegiate sports movement, and fit neatly into the life and politics of men such as Theodore Roosevelt.

That’s why basketball’s birth was in the confines of a Christian organization.  Indeed, by the late nineteenth century, the YMCA was one of the pre-eminent sports “powers” in the United States.  It fielded its own football team, captained by Amos Alonzo Stagg.  The team was known as “Stagg’s Stubby Christians”.  Of course the Y inherited a developing football culture, but it also invented another sport – volleyball.  And as a Christian, global organization linked to a strong missionary movement the sports the “Y” created reached a wide audience.

Within a decade of basketball’s invention, it was not only being played at the YMCA but at public schools, colleges, and social settlements.   Cleveland’s Hiram House Settlement was fielding basketball teams in the early 1900s and those teams reflected the immigrant communities that Hiram House served – some teams were largely Jewish and others Italian – and their battles on the court sometimes moved out into the street.

The game also quickly attracted women and also resulted in restrictive women’s rules for many collegiate women.  Interestingly the rules were written by a woman, Senda Berenson, who oversaw the physical education program at Smith College.  Yet, women, including the multi-sport star Babe Didrikson, would play by the general rules or some other modification of them.

Basketball also moved quickly beyond Protestant Christianity.   Played in the settlement houses of New York City it became “the” game of the children of Jewish immigrants and at one time was known as the “Jewish” game.  Soon, traveling teams of adult players were attracting audiences.  Among them were the Philadelphia SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) which dominated the game at the exhibition, semi-pro, and pro level.   Cleveland’s first basketball “impresario” in the 1920s was Max Rosenblum who also promoted amateur baseball, soccer, football, and bowling.

Basketball’s origins were in an increasingly segregated societyand that too was reflected in the YMCA.  The first Black YMCA was established in Washington D.C. in 1853, and other branches followed.   In Cleveland, the Cedar Avenue Branch became the Black YMCA, although there was contention in the community about accepting a segregated facility.  Eventually, in 1946, the YMCA established a policy to end segregation.

It was in this and other milieus that the sport spread into the African American community.  Indeed, even in settlement houses, such as Hiram House, there were Black teams and ethnic white teams.   The sport spread throughout the playgrounds in Black areas of the cities and also in schools, which even though not “officially” segregated, became predominantly Black.  The East Tech “Scarabs” in Cleveland became one of the city’s basketball powerhouses during the 1930s.  Nationally, Black teams, such as the New York Renaissance (the“Rens”) played and beat many of the best white teams.  One of the best early basketball players to come out of Cleveland, “Wee” Willie Smith, (who started playing at Hiram House)  played for the Rens and is now a member of the NBA Hall of Fame. Professional basketball, however, remained segregated until 1950 when the NBA would break the color barrier.

It took some time for professional basketball to evolve into the “mega” sport it is today.   The real base of the game for many years was in high school, college, and company teams.  In Cleveland amateur basketball predominated until the founding of the Cavaliers, Cleveland’s first NBA team in 1970.  Prior to that, the city had fielded several pro teams, including the Rosenblums, the Allman Transfers, the Cleveland Rebels, and the Cleveland Pipers.  The Pipers made history by hiring the first Black coach in pro-basketball, John McLendon in 1962.

Yet, to focus only on the pro-game is to ignore what began at the YMCA 130 years ago.  Today, hoops abound – on urban playgrounds, in backyards, on suburban garages, and on barns in the countryside.

An estimated 450 million people participate in basketball around the globe which ranks it fifth among all sports, and its global audience ranks third with an estimated 2.2 billion fans!  Given this, it should come as no surprise that the NBA’s roster reflects the world.   So, on February 20th, Cleveland will, in essence, host the world  — thanks in large part to the YMCA!

Do You Believe in Miracles?

By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society

Most Clevelanders can tell you where they were when our beloved Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals. For me, my family and I had just come back from a Father’s Days barbecue. My mom and I watched the final minutes of the game and then jumped around our living room hugging each other crying while my Pittsburgher father mumbled something about not being able to make fun of Cleveland not having a championship since 1964 anymore. However, forty years before the 2016 championship, there was another miracle in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were a new team in 1976, having only been established six years prior. The team didn’t even have a set place to play until 1974 when the Richfield Coliseum opened with the hope that its convenient location halfway between Akron and Cleveland would draw more fans. The 1976 Cavs were led by Austin Carr, Dick Snyder, Jim Chones, veteran player Nate Thurmond, and Robert “Bingo” Smith.

It’s every sports players’ dream to have a game’s final moments fall on them, and Dick Snyder was no exception. The Cavs had finally made it to the first round of the playoffs, and the seven game series was tied at 3-3 (sound familiar?) on April 29, 1976. The final seconds of the game saw the score tied at 85-85. With four seconds left, Dick Snyder made a crucial two-point basket that put the Cavs in the lead, and when the Bullets tried unsuccessfully to close the gap, the Richfield Coliseum erupted into cheers for the home team. The late Cavs announcer Joe Tait emotionally shouted, “The Cavaliers win! The Cavaliers win! 87-85!” Fans flooded the court, and even tried to tear down the baskets!

While unfortunately the Cavs fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 after star player Jim Chones broke his ankle, the legacy of the Miracle of Richfield lives on. It was the first time that the Cleveland Cavaliers showed themselves to be more than just an expansion team, and today Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, and Nate Thurmond have had their numbers retired by the team. And forty years later the Cavs brought the championship home in one of the greatest games of the NBA Finals. It just goes to show that you can’t spell “Miracle” without “CLE.”

Cleveland, Ohio and the Rise of Gospel Blues

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD

Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

The Shields Brothers established their gospel quartet in 1928 and kept the group together for 70 years. (Photograph by Allen E. Cole; courtesy of Frederick Burton.)

In Post-World War I Era Cleveland, a popular destination for African American migrants from the South, gospel music became increasingly popular.  This growing popularity was due in no small measure to the business acumen of people like Claude Shields Sr., quartet singer and owner of the Shields Brothers Cleaners on Cedar Avenue.

After the 1920s, quartet artists and their fans did not hesitate to participate in and promote live concerts, make studio recordings, and, in some instances, write books about gospel’s influence on other styles of American music, including Rock and Roll. Arthur Turner (second from the right in the above Shields Brothers photo), for example, also served as the long-time manager for Cleveland’s Elite Jewels, “The Gospel Songbirds of the North,” and one of the city’s most popular female quartets.

The cover of Frederick Burton’s Cleveland’s Gospel Music. (Arcadia Publishing, 2003)

Frederick Burton, whose family migrated to Cleveland from Tennessee in the 1960s, is the author of Cleveland’s Gospel Music (Arcadia, 2003) and founder of the Gospel Music Historical Society. In 2005, he and other artists participated in “Nearer My God to Thee,” during the Rock Hall’s  tribute to Sam Cooke, a Mississippi native and migrant to Chicago. Cooke gained a national following as a member of the Soul Stirrers gospel quartet and as a solo artist.

In The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas A. Dorsey in the Urban Church (Oxford, 1992), Dr. Michael Harris suggests that Dorsey, a Georgia native and former pianist for blues legend Ma Rainey, was “The Father of Gospel Music.” Dorsey became director of music at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church in the 1920s and later founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, which many Clevelanders still support today.

 

Remembering Siegfried F. Buerling, Director of Properties Emeritus, Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS)

Message by Kelly Falcone-Hall, President and CEO, WRHS

Dear WRHS family and friends:

 

Today, I am writing to share sad news. Our friend, Siegfried F. Buerling, Director of Properties Emeritus for the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS), passed away December 30, 2021.  While there are no words to do justice to his memory and life’s work, I’ll do my best on behalf of WRHS, and as Siegfried’s friend, to remember and honor this singular individual who contributed so much to Hale Farm & Village and WRHS.

Siegfried F. Buerling was the first, longest serving and most beloved Director of Hale Farm & Village until his retirement in 1998. He began his career as an apprentice cabinetmaker in Buerling’s Cabinet Shop in post World War II Germany. He worked as a journeyman in cabinet shops in Germany and Switzerland, and later as a furniture restorer in Montreal, Canada.

In 1959, Siegfried took the position of Carpenter-Cabinetmaker at WRHS and before he joined The Hale Farm, as it was known then, he worked on a variety of special projects at WRHS’s headquarters in University Circle. Notably, he led the construction of the Museum Galleries built in the late 1950s that connect the Hanna and Hay Mansions – Western Reserve Galleries I, II, the Central Addition and the Norton Gallery. Soon after, he transferred to Hale Farm and worked on special projects during the farm’s earliest days as a museum. In no time, he rose to lead Hale Farm & Village as its longest and most accomplished Director, retiring in 1998 as the Director of Properties and Special Projects for WRHS.

Siegfried in ABJ April 1985_clip.jpg

Image from feature in Akron Beacon Journal April 21, 1985

No other person is more important to the history and trajectory of Hale Farm & Village than Siegfried Buerling. His leadership contributed to Hale’s success and popularity during its first decade of operations, so much so that he convinced leadership to create a master plan to expand the farm museum into an expansive outdoor living history experience. During the 1960s, Siegfried and his colleagues visited places like the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Michigan, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. They studied New England and old Western Reserve towns and villages and conducted extensive research in the WRHS Archives toward a vision for a 19th century Western Reserve village at Hale Farm.

 

To create the village, Siegfried established a ‘Preservation through Relocation Program’ that saved certain 19th century Western Reserve buildings threatened by development. These buildings, including the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Memorial Meetinghouse, Goldsmith House, Ephraim Brown Land Office, Benjamin Franklin Wade Law Office, Saltbox House, Jagger House, Jonathan E. Herrick House and others were relocated to Hale Farm and restored to their original beauty and charm around a recreated village green. Siegfried was responsible for identifying and restoring more than half of the museum’s historic structures, the foundation for the Hale Farm & Village experience today. This vision would come to define the experience and put Hale Farm & Village on the map as one of the finest outdoor living history museums in the United States.

 

During his long tenure, Siegfried worked tirelessly and masterfully with philanthropic, business and community leaders, chief among them the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR), which he founded, to further develop The Hale Farm into an expansive outdoor living history museum with 34 historic structures, an agriculture and horticulture program, a calendar of popular programs and special events, and establish the museum as a destination for unique, high quality curriculum-based school programming that continues today.

 

As a skilled cabinetmaker, Siegfried had a special interest in early American crafts and industry, and as a result developed a series of working craft shops and demonstrations at Hale Farm & Village including blacksmithing, glass blowing, pottery, basket, broom and candle making, and spinning and weaving. Once again, thanks to Siegfried’s vision and entrepreneurial mindset, Hale Farm’s renowned Craft and Trade Program started in the 1960s stands as the finest of its kind in the Midwest and the inspiration for WRHS’s Youth Entrepreneurship Education Program for schoolchildren.

 

As Director of Properties, Siegfried led WRHS’s work to restore and build experiences at its properties – Shandy Hall in Geneva, Loghurst in Canfield, the Holsey Gates House in Bedford, and the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor that was operated by WRHS until 2008.

 

Siegfried’s commitment to WRHS continued long after his retirement. In the 1990s, he managed the restoration of Euclid Beach Park Carousel horses (the Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel was restored to operating condition at the Cleveland History Center in 2014). In 2006, WRHS again engaged him as a Preservation Consultant and Project Manager of Hale’s major, multi-year preservation project to restore and stabilize the site’s collection of historic structures, and this work continues today.

 

For Siegfried, Hale Farm & Village was a labor of love and his life’s work. The Buerling family – Siegfried, his late wife Heidi, and his sons Bruce (deceased), Peter and Curt Buerling lived at Hale Farm.  In 2008, to celebrate Hale Farm’s 50th anniversary as a museum, Siegfried was the first person to receive the Hale Farm & Village Legacy Award, and WRHS created a fund at the Akron Community Foundation in his name.

 

Friends, it is not possible to recount or begin to adequately describe Siegfried’s impact on Hale Farm & Village and WRHS in a single communication. To know Siegfried was to love and respect him and recently, I had the privilege of visiting with him, his son Curt Buerling, and Hale Farm & Village Director, Travis Henline. During this special visit, we made plans to host a holiday party with Siegfried, his family and close friends and decided after to celebrate Siegfried’s 90th birthday on January 29, 2022 at Hale. I am ever grateful to Curt for giving us the opportunity to visit with Siegfried, to reminisce and express to him how important he is to Hale Farm, to WRHS, and to so many of us personally.

On behalf of WRHS, I offer our sincerest condolences to Siegfried’s family and friends and pledge to continue his work to preserve and safeguard Hale Farm & Village and his story for the benefit and enrichment of generations to come.

 

Thank you, Siegfried.

Kelly Falcone Hall Full Signature.jpg

Siegfried and Heidi Buerling,

HFV Legacy Award Benefit 2008

Kelly Falcone-Hall, Curt Buerling and Siegfried,

at Hale Farm 2021

Please share your memories, stories, and photos of Siegfried with us using the digital Share Your Story page.

New Costume Acquisition: Dr. Tameka Ellington

Images courtesy of Dr. Tameka Ellington

By Patricia Edmonson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles

The WRHS costume collection is ringing in the new year with an exciting acquisition. Dr. Tameka Ellington, formerly of Kent State University, is taking the next step in her career to write, speak, and share her expertise with others. As part of that process she has made her work in surface and fashion design available and the WRHS will bring in four of Dr. Ellington’s garments.

In her own words, Ellington’s work tells the stories of her ancestors: “Asante Sana (thank you in Swahili) is the name I have chosen to represent my total body of work.” She looks to a number of African regions and countries for inspiration, and has hopes of one day learning more about her own tribe and heritage.

Dr. Ellington works with natural fibers and uses techniques such as wax batik with resist dying, digital textile printing, and non-traditional leather tooling. The four garments coming to WRHS include The Offspring, Royal Mbebana, The Origin of Anansi the Spider, and How the Zebra Got its Stripes. Their arrival is part of a larger initiative to create a more diverse costume collection. Dr. Ellington grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Glenville High School before continuing her education. Today she lives and works in Akron, and WRHS is excited to create an ongoing relationship and make plans to display her garments in the future.

Join our Discussion with the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle

Contributed by the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, Author, Let the Oppressed Go Free: Exploring Theologies of Liberation

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1948, Dr. Marvin A. McMickle is a 1970 graduate of Aurora University in Illinois with a B.A. in Philosophy. His alma mater also awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1990. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1973 and did two additional years of graduate study at Columbia University in New York. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey in 1983. He was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1998. He was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio in 2010.

 

He was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1973 at Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City where he served on the pastoral staff from 1972-1976. He served as the pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church of Montclair, New Jersey from 1976-1986. He was pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio from 1987-2011. During that time, he led the church in establishing a ministry for people infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This ministry was the first of its kind in the entire country. The church also instituted a community tithing initiative in which the church tithed out 10% of its annual budget to various community programs and agencies. Dr. McMickle was named Pastor Emeritus in 2018. He became Interim Pastor in May 2020. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Cleveland State University in Cleveland, OH, president of the Cleveland NAACP and Urban League, and president of the Shaker Heights Board of Education.

 

Dr. McMickle was the Professor of Homiletics at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio from 1996-2011. Upon retiring he was named Professor Emeritus by the Board of Trustee and the faculty. He is the author of 18 books. He has authored dozens of articles that regularly appear in professional journals and magazines. He is a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. In the winter semester of 2009, he served as a Visiting Professor of Preaching at Yale University Divinity School. He was also an adjunct instructor at Princeton, New Brunswick, and New York theological seminaries.

 

Dr. McMickle served as the 12th President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School from July 2011 to June 2019.

 

He is an active member of the Progressive National Convention and American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA).He is also a Life Member of Kapa Alpha Psi Fraternity and a member of Sigma Pi Phi.

 

Dr. McMickle has been married to Peggy Lorraine Noble since 1975 and they have one son, Aaron who resides in New York City with his wife Pilar and their two daughters Aaliyah and Lola.

Fuel Cleveland

By John C. Lutsch

Most recently, the Museum participated in the seventh annual Fuel Cleveland motorcycle show, held at the former Cleveland Twist Drill factory at East 47th and Lakeside. We brought our 1918 Cleveland single-cylinder bike, along with our ultra-rare 1956 Vincent Black Prince, and the positive response was immediate.

Fuel Cleveland ‘1955 Vincent Black Prince’ Photo by John Lutsch
‘1918 Cleveland’ Photo by John Lutsch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around five thousand visitors packed the one-day show, and the variety of choppers, customs, bobbers, and vintage bikes was remarkable. Machines like the Vincent are so rarely seen that quite a stir was created, particularly among the motorcycle media. Our friends at Lowbrow Customs sponsored and organized the show, and with some good fortune, we may be invited back again next year! We would like to thank Bob Vail, Tim Dunn, and Bill Glavac for their kind assistance transporting our bikes to the show.

‘The Crawford at Fuel Cleveland’ Photo by John Lutsch

Coffee and Cars Event

By John C. Lutsch

Late September saw the Crawford participating in the Molto Bella car show, held at Stan Hywet Hall on the 12th, where we displayed our newly-acquired 1956 Citroen Traction Avant Familiale to great interest from the crowd. Also, on the 25th, our Macedonia Preservation and Storage Facility hosted its second ‘Coffee and Cars’ of the year, but with dire weather forecast for the day, attendance was sparse. The rains held off however, and a highlight of the event was the firing up of two aircraft engines owned by Macedonia volunteer Frank Sesek (see Frank’s profile in News from the Crawford, Issue One). His 1943 Jacobs R755 radial was originally used to power training aircraft for future B17 bomber pilots, and the jet turbine is a Garrett Auxiliary Power Unit, which was used to start the Navy’s F18 Hornet fighters. Frank hit the afterburner on the jet and one could feel the heat blast thirty feet away! Really impressive! Keep an eye out for our next Coffee and Cars coming next Spring!

BMW Motorrad Ride Event

By John C. Lutsch

On September 11-12, BMW Motorrad (BMW Motorcycles Corporate) held a two-day rider experience at the Crawford in coordination with Pamela Dengler of Sill’s Motor Sales, Cleveland. Pam was featured in News from the Crawford Issue Two earlier this year. The BMW factory team arrived with a huge, purpose-built semi tractor-trailer housing eighteen of their new R-18, massive-engined touring motorcycles, designed to compete directly with Harley Davidson within this market niche.

BMW Motorrad ‘BMW and Sill’s Motors Team,’ Photo by John Lutsch

Over eighty local riders signed up for the experience, with around ten rolling tours occurring each day. Snacks, beverages, and music were provided by Sill’s, and the BMW folks were pleased with the turnout, and considered the event a great success. Because of the support of local businesses like Sill’s the Crawford is able to extend a warm welcome to previously unengaged members of the motoring community. A big ‘Thank you!’ to Pam and her team!

‘New BMW R18’s ready to roll,’ Photo by John Lutsch

Mods vs Rockers

By John C. Lutsch

August 28 saw the Crawford ‘Invaded’ by a group of local bikers celebrating a ‘Mods vs Rockers’ tribute to classic British motorcycling, where owners of scooters faced off against traditional large-displacement motorcycles with a display of their machines and a tour of the Century exhibit.

Mods vs Rockers ‘Mods vs Rockers friendly faceoff’ Photo by John Lutsch

Of course, it was all good-natured rivalry, but their gathering served as a reminder of the very real confrontations created when ‘Mod’ scooter riders faced off against traditional ‘Rocker’ bikers in 1960’s England. The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr famously replied, when asked whether he was a ‘Mod’ or a ‘Rocker’, ‘Neither. I’m a Mocker’. Cleveland’s Skidmark Garage serves as headquarters for the ‘Mods vs Rockers’ group, and the Crawford looks forward to hosting this bunch of local rowdies again in the near future.

Mods vs Rockers ‘Mods Scooter’ Photo by John Lutsch

 

Million Dollar Baby

By John Lutsch

‘Johnny Risko in his prime’ photo courtesy boxingoverbroadway.com

Occasionally, great classic cars are like comets; they burn brightly across the night sky, remain for a short time, then continue on their unseen and mysterious journey. Such is the case with our featured car, a 1929 Auburn 8-120 Speedster, originally owned by professional boxer Johnny Risko of Sheffield Lake, Ohio.

 

‘1929 Auburn Boattail Speedster arrives in Sheffield’ Photo by John Lutsch

 

‘Distinctive ‘boat-tail’ of the Johnny Risko Speedster’ Photo by John Lutsch

Risko, now largely forgotten, was a sports superstar in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, going toe-to-toe and sometimes beating boxing legends like Gene Tunney, Max Baer, and Max Schmelling. He became known as the ‘Rubber Man’ because of his ability to take a punch and keep coming forward. In approximately 140 fights, he was stopped only three times, and counted out only once, when he was 38 years old.

Because of his success, Risko could afford the finer things in life, one being the purchase of a new 1929 Auburn Speedster. When most cars of the period were capable of speeds in the 40 mph range, the Auburn could push nearly 100 mph. Risko, although a great boxer was an average driver, who promptly wrecked the car. Undaunted, he purchased another 1929 Speedster, drove more carefully, and kept the car until his death in 1953. From that point on, the Speedster became the proverbial comet, hidden from view in a Lodi, Ohio barn from 1956 until Auburn enthusiast Alan J. Atkinson of Houston, Texas recently discovered it while purchasing another Auburn from the the owner.

The Speedster was then sent to Doug Pray of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Co. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma for a complete restoration. 3000 man-hours later, the Auburn was ready for the show circuit. On September 4th  the Speedster gained top honors at the prestigious Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, and on October 9th, took a top award at the AACA Hershey Fall Meet. Immediately afterward, Mr. Atkinson transported the car to a gathering of Johnny Risko’s remaining relatives in Sheffield Lake, where the Speedster became the instant center of attention. Family members were encouraged to sit in the car for photographs, and October 10th was named ‘Johnny Risko Day’ by Sheffield Lake’s mayor.

The 8-120 Speedster is a true work of art in the automobile world. The steeply raked windscreen and unmistakable ‘boat-tail’ bodywork distinguish it clearly from its contemporaries. The silver-over-blue paint scheme fits the car perfectly, and the subtle bordeaux-rust paintwork on the wheels provides a subtle counterpoint. In a word, the car is stunning. A dove gray leather interior complements the styling beautifully. In later developments of the Auburn Speedster, the ‘boat-tail’ is present, but the fenders are faired more completely into the surrounding bodywork. The early versions, like the Risko car, are certainly more distinctive, and arguably more dramatic.

So, is this 1929 Auburn Speedster a true ‘Million Dollar Baby’? Perhaps not quite yet, but it certainly is within spitting distance of that seven figure number. It was, for a brief moment in October, a blazing comet that burned its way into our collective memory as an incredible automobile, and a living testament to the life and career of a local sports legend.

*Special thanks to Crawford volunteer Stan Kohn for making us aware of the Auburn’s appearance in Northeast Ohio.

‘Painting by Ed Tillrock of Madison Square Garden, March 24, 1930, With Johnny and his Speedster’

 

Raiders of the Lost Art

By John Lutsch

‘La Cigogne’, by Francois Bazin 1920” Photo by John Lutsch

In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. When his financial patron Lord Carnarvon, who was looking over Carter’s shoulder asked if he could see anything inside, Carter replied, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’

The Crawford’s Macedonia Restoration and Storage Facility may have little in common with the Valley of the Kings, but it too contains ‘wonderful things’ in a myriad of rooms which are not open to the public.

One room reveals shelf upon shelf of carefully stored vintage headlights; from oil-fueled to acetylene, to electric-powered. Nearby are corresponding glass lenses for the headlamps glimmering like jewels.  Another room contains a trove of silver trophies, from aviation’s Golden Age to classic automobile races to awards garnered by some of the Crawford’s most noteworthy cars.

‘A fragment of the headlight collection’ Photo by John Lutsch
‘Vintage trophies gleam at Macedonia’ Photo by John Lutsch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was in a rather dark corner of a small storage area that the subject of this article was discovered, surrounded by equally rare and beautiful objects. It is an original casting of ‘La Cigogne’ (The Stork) created by French Sculptor Francois Bazin in 1920. Not only is it a beautifully executed bronze work of art, but significantly, it is the prototype for the ornaments which graced the radiator caps of all Hispano Suiza motorcars from 1920 onwards. It is an iconic image familiar to most vintage automobile enthusiasts and has been reproduced in all sizes and materials throughout the past century.

Bazin’s inspiration for the sculpture was the image that adorned the flanks of the aircraft of French flying ace Georges Guynemer during World War I. Bazin served in the fighter squadron led by Guynemer, and the artist wished to create a tribute to his commander who was lost in action. Coincidentally, the black prancing horse seen on all Ferrari automobiles was given to the automaker by the mother of the Italian fighter ace Francesco Baracca who carried the symbol on his aircraft, and was also killed in the last year of the war.

‘Georges Guynemer with his SPAD S VIII’ photo courtesy The Aviation Heritage Trust

The stylized image of a flying stork was not exclusive to Hispano Suiza however. The wildly exquisite French Bucciali cars, produced from 1922 until 1933 had the bird emblazoned on each side of the engine cowlings, creating a unique and unforgettable impression of speed and elegance. They are among the rarest and most desirable of the great classics from the Golden Age of motoring.

‘1932 Bucciali TAV8-32’ photo courtesy Supercars.net

Bazin went on to become a very successful artist, creating many significant works in bronze and porcelain throughout his long career. In addition to ‘La Cigogne’, he was responsible for several additional sculptures that eventually became coveted hood ornaments for exotic automobiles. To own one of Bazin’s hood ornaments is a collector’s dream, but to have one of the original sculptures on which they are based is extraordinary.

‘Hispano Suiza Hood Ornament’ photo courtesy Hemmings Motor News

‘La Cigogne’ is cast in dark, low-luster bronze and is affixed to an elliptical, veined marble base. Dimensionally, it is 13 inches tall, 16 inches long, and around 6 inches wide. Its weight is approximately 20 pounds. The artist’s signature appears cast into the ‘cloud’ base supporting the stork. It clearly is part of a small edition of sculptures, but the exact number is unknown.

In the near future, the Crawford hopes to have the exquisite ‘La Cigogne’ on display for everyone to enjoy. It may not have the same cachet as King Tut’s belongings, but it truly is one of the rarest of birds.

 

Tech Tips

As the temperatures lower, and the fluffy white stuff makes more frequent appearances, most of us face the sad reality that our vintage, sports, and classic cars must go into storage for the all-too-long winter. Before the garage is shuttered for the final time, here are some recommendations to follow so that come Spring, your car’s recommissioning will be headache-free.

 

  • Change your oil. Fresh oil will limit the amount of water the lubricant absorbs while static. Most folks don’t realize oil is hydroscopic, and with absorption of water it can partially lose its viscosity.
  • Over-inflate your tires. This is to reduce the possibility of incurring flat spots due to the tire remaining static while supporting the weight of the vehicle. The best method to avoid flat spots is to store the vehicle on jack stands to eliminate concentrated pressure on the tires.
  • Fill your gas tank. Having a full tank helps to prevent moisture from building up in the tank and corroding the fuel lines. A good fuel preservative is highly recommended as well.
  • Protect the undercarriage. A large piece of plastic dropcloth placed beneath your vehicle can prevent excess moisture evaporating from damp concrete and settling on your chassis. This is an easy, inexpensive way to prolong the metal bits underneath the shiny bits.
  • Install rodent deterrents. Mice and (heaven forbid) rats are incredibly injurious to automobiles in storage. They love to eat wiring, insulation, leather, and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into. They also love to create nests in the engine bay, heating system, and exhaust areas. First, block off your tailpipe(s) to prevent mice from using them to get into the exhaust system. Also, if possible, block off the intake to airboxes as well. If your car is running rough, you just may find the air filter chewed to pieces and a season’s worth of acorns stored there too. Electronic pest chasers are very effective in reducing the number of unwanted garage guests, and for those who do get through your first line of defense, mouse and rat traps are a must.

This is just a short list of suggestions to keep your stored car in top condition, and to avoid frustration when the weather warms once again.

Buffalo Soldiers

By John Lutsch

The name ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ conjures up images of the Old West, where blue-clad cavalrymen galloped from their stockade forts to confront restive Native American tribes. With the clarity of hindsight, the romanticized notions of chivalry and valor associated with the cavalry have become a bit tarnished as awareness has increased regarding the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

‘The original Buffalo Soldier’ photo courtesy Buffalo Soldiers MC

The real Buffalo Soldiers, however, were a largely forgotten group of six African American cavalry and infantry regiments, created by Congress in 1866. Ironically, they were a minority group facing discrimination who were tasked with suppressing another discriminated-against American minority rebelling against life on Indian reservations. They fought their way from West Texas to Kansas, on to Montana, eventually being billeted in San Francisco, where they became acting federal park rangers in the Sierra Nevada. Their exploits are chronicled in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas.

‘Buffalo Soldiers Ride in Glenville parade’ photo courtesy ClevelandPeople.com

Fast forward to around 1993 in Chicago, where African American police officer Ken Thomas founds the ‘Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’ to promote a positive image of Black motorcyclists which would counter the prevailing perceptions of motorcycle clubs as ‘gangs’. Members were recruited from active-duty and retired military, law enforcement, and professional groups. The aim was to create not only an active brotherhood of riders, but an organization whose interaction with the community was based on charity, goodwill, and education.

The Buffalo Soldiers quickly grew to become one of the largest African American motorcycle clubs in the United States, with over 5000 members in around 140 chapters. Unusually, women were encouraged to become members in their own right as well.

Gone are the days when Buffalo Soldiers mounted up for adventure in frontier America. Now they straddle their ‘iron horses’ with a different and more positive approach to their mission; to give back to the local community, and to keep alive the memory of those African American troopers who faithfully served their country for nearly a century.

Stay tuned for more information on the Buffalo Soldiers when the Crawford’s exhibit ‘Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio’ begins in Mid-April, 2022.

A Century of the American Motorcycle

The last quarter of 2021 has been (and continues to be) packed with activities and events here at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

Our Year of the Motorcycle program launched on August 19 with the opening of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum exhibit, A Century of the American Motorcycle. This outstanding display of around thirty-five select machines from the Barber collection embody the very finest in American motorcycle technology and design from 1905 to the present. The exhibit has been a great success, generating much media coverage, and of all surveyed guests visiting the Cleveland History Center, around seventy percent cited the Century exhibit as their primary interest. When the Barber exhibit closes in Mid-March, 2022, it will be followed immediately by a complementary show of like size entitled Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio, featuring British, European, and Asian motorcycles, each with an important connection to this region. As Ohio ranks third overall in the nation with motorcycle registrations (behind California and Florida) the Crawford team feels a strong obligation to support and acknowledge the contribution made to local transportation history by motorcycling.

‘Year of the Motorcycle Opening’ photo Lowbrow Customs

The Sole Gift of Comfort and Craftsmanship

By Patricia Edmondson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costumes & Textiles

For many, the holidays are a time to feel warm and fuzzy. We celebrate, spend time with loved ones, and in Northeast Ohio try to find ways to stay literally warm on snowy, blustery evenings. The WRHS collection contains several pairs of slippers that would help do just that.

Needlepoint Slippers, mid-late 19th century

Gift of the University Circle Development Foundation 65.162.2

 

During the 19th century, young women often learned needlecraft as part of their education, and many women continued to practice the art for pleasure and out of necessity. Handmade gifts are one way to show love, and this pair of needlepoint slippers from the second half of the 19th century would have kept Charles Evarts’ (1847-1911) toes warm through the winter. Evarts worked in the insurance business during Cleveland’s early days. Slippers like these would have been made by purchasing the soles and assembling at home, or by taking the completed needlework to a local shoemaker for construction. The gift giver would use patterns to create the reindeer design, done here on a cheerful red background. Women’s magazines like Godey’s offered patterns for sewing projects including slippers. 

Needlework patterns for slippers, Godey’s Ladies’ Book, 1855 and 1863

Scuffie Slipper, 1890s

H.K. Devereaux Estate, 52.256

 

Another option for cozy toes were fur slippers, in this case rabbit fur. Bedroom slippers without backs are called scuffs, or scuffies, for little ones. As children in the 1890s, Julian and Millie Devereux wore these slippers around the house. The Devereux family lived on Cleveland’s “millionaires’ row,” Euclid Avenue, and could afford luxuries like these during the snowy months.

Child’s Slippers, ca. 1983

 

This writer has her own fond memories of shuffling around the house in various pairs of slippers, and following the Mad for Plaid costume exhibition, donated a pair from the 1980s. Jack Edmonson wore these around Christmastime, and then his younger sister Patty, now WRHS costume curator, inherited them for her own use. These slippers represent the type worn by an average American child in the 20th century, rather than the privileged few. Whether you’re making or buying a cozy gift this winter, slippers are like a warm hug from a loved one, helping make the Ohio snow more bearable.

The Gift of Black Sacred Music: Our Stories, Our Songs, and Our Sources

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

 

 

On Sunday, October 24, 2021, hundreds of gospel music fans helped celebrate the 85th anniversary of The Elite Jewels, “The Gospel Songbirds of the North,” at the Sanctuary Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Mrs. Willie Mae Reese (pictured here) is the lead singer and current manager for the Elite Jewels. In the summer of 2021, she agreed to be one of the narrators for the Western Reserve Historical Society’s A. Grace Lee Mims Arts and Culture Oral History Project. An Arkansas native, Mrs. Reese shared stories about her family life and education in the South, her migration to Cleveland, her love for music, and the people who inspired her to tell the world about the place of the Elite Jewels in the history of Black gospel quartet singing. Excerpts from her July 2021 interview are included in this special “Home for the Holidays” issue of our newsletter.

Mrs. Willie Mae Reese. (Photo by Regennia N. Williams)

 

The following passages are taken from a July 2021 oral history interview with Mrs. Willie Mae Reese. Dr. Regennia N. Williams and Ms. Kathryn Oleksa conducted the interview.

 

Early Life in Rural Arkansas

I was born in Jericho, Arkansas, and I grew up on a farm that my grandfather [Walter Adams] owned. He had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, and lots of farmland. He just raised everything there on his farm –including cotton. He had sharecroppers who also lived with their families in one of the other eight houses on our farm. The [Black] sharecroppers would plant their crops, and then they would give my grandfather a certain portion of that crop for staying there . . .

. . .There was a funny thing about it, though. White people would sometimes come to our farm. If you wanted a car, for example, they would drive that car all the way from Memphis, Tennessee, and let my grandfather see it. If he didn’t like the car, they would drive it all the way back to Memphis–and bring him another one to look at! The White people wouldn’t call him “Mr. Adam.” They would only call him “Uncle Walter,” because they didn’t want to say mister. That’s just the way that it was.

 

Music, Education, and Migration

sic, so I guess that’s where I got it from. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved gospel singing. I started out singing solos, and I just migrated into quartet singing. When I was a child, we even had a little singing group with our cousins . . .

I never rode a school bus. My sister Myrtle and I walked to school. When we graduated from the grade school in Arkansas, my sister and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to live with our aunt. In Tennessee, we attended Booker T. Washington High School . . .

When I moved to Cleveland with my parents, I attended Cuyahoga Community College and studied Office Administration. Later, I started taking bass lessons from a professional [union] musician, and I am still taking lessons!

 

Mr. Arthur Turner and the Elite Jewels: Sources of Inspiration and “The Gospel Songbirds of the North”

In Cleveland, I always heard the Elite Jewels on the radio. They had a regular broadcast, and Mr. Arthur Turner was their manager. I thought that the Elite Jewels had the prettiest harmony that I had ever heard. I really, really wanted to sing with them, but I never thought I would get a chance to do that.

By the grace of God, Mr. Turner heard me singing a solo at a Baptist church in Cleveland, and he invited me to come to their rehearsal. I was about 30 years old at the time, and I started singing with the group soon after that. I don’t think anybody in the Elite Jewels had any formal training. It was just a God-given talent. We enjoyed singing, so we just kept doing it.

Mr. Turner made the Elite Jewels, because he had all of the contacts. He handled all of our management-related activities: he booked all of our concerts, he planned all of the programs, he collected the money, he maintained the equipment up. If we needed new equipment, he would go get that equipment. Of course, we paid for it, since he took it out of our money . . .

We performed with all the big groups, including the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, and Inez Andrews’ group . . . We recorded for major labels like Savoy, and James Cleveland even invited the Elite Jewels to head the quartet section of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, because he loved the Elite Jewels, but we decided not to do that . . .

It was a traveling group, and we went everywhere. The Elite Jewels had lots of opportunities, because they didn’t just sing for Blacks; they sang for Whites, too. The Whites loved the music as much as the Blacks, so the group performed for both groups. Sometimes, we couldn’t even stay in hotels; we would stay in the homes of Black people along the way . . . You always feel left out when you are not allowed to eat where everybody else eats, when you are not allowed to stay where everybody else stays, because the hotels were for Whites . . . That’s the way that it was in the South. As a matter of fact, it was like that in some of the Northern states, too, but you never let that stop you. If we had let that stop us, I wouldn’t be singing today.

After Mr. Turner retired and I took over as manager, the group was still travelling. We just kept on pushing and kept on singing.

Members of The Elite Jewels are shown performing during the group’s October 24, 2021, 85th anniversary concert. Mrs. Reese is seated on the far left. (Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)