AFRICAN AMERICANS. Cleveland’s African American community is almost as old as the city itself. GEORGE PEAKE†, the first black settler, arrived in 1809 and by 1860 there were 799 blacks living in a growing community of over 43,000. As early as the 1850s, most of Cleveland’s African American population lived on the east side. But black and white families were usually interspersed; until the beginning of the 20th century, nothing resembling a black ghetto existed in the city. Throughout most of the 19th century, the social and economic status of African Americans in Cleveland was superior to that in other northern communities. By the late 1840s, the public schools were integrated and segregation in theaters, restaurants, and hotels was infrequent. Interracial violence seldom occurred. Black Clevelanders suffered less occupational discrimination than elsewhere. Although many were forced to work as unskilled laborers or domestic servants, almost one third were skilled workers, and a significant number accumulated substantial wealth. Alfred Greenbrier became widely known for raising horses and cattle, and MADISON TILLEY† employed 100 men in his excavating business. JOHN BROWN†, a barber, became the city’s wealthiest Negro through investment in real estate, valued at $40,000 at his death in 1869. Founded by New Englanders who favored reform, Cleveland was a center of abolitionism before the CIVIL WAR, and the city’s white leadership remained sympathetic to civil rights during the decade following the war. Black leaders were not complacent, however. Individuals such as Brown and JOHN MALVIN† often assisted escaped slaves, and by the end of the Civil War a number of black Clevelanders had served in BLACK MILITARY UNITS in the Union Army. African American leaders fought for integration rather than the development of separate black institutions in the 19th century. The city’s first permanent African American newspaper, the CLEVELAND GAZETTE, did not appear until 1883. Even local black churches developed more slowly than elsewhere. ST. JOHN’S AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH was founded in 1830, but it was not until 1864 that a second black church, MT. ZION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, came into existence.
Between 1890-1915, the beginnings of mass migration from the South increased Cleveland’s black population substantially (see IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION). By World War I, about 10,000 blacks lived in the city. Most of these newcomers settled in the Central Ave. district between the CUYAHOGA RIVER and E. 40th St. At this time, the lower Central area also housed many poor immigrant Italians and Jews (see JEWS & JUDAISM). Nevertheless, the African American population became much, more concentrated. In other ways, too, conditions deteriorated for black Clevelanders. Although black students were not segregated in separate public schools or classrooms (see CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS), as they often were in other cities, exclusion of blacks from restaurants and theaters became commonplace [editor: we have to ask why, and exactly who led other white Clevelanders to adopt racism after being peaceful with blacks?], and by 1915 the city’s YOUNG WOMEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSN. (YWCA) prohibited African American membership. HOSPITALS & HEALTH PLANNING excluded black doctors and segregated black patients in separate wards. The most serious discrimination occurred in the economic arena. Between 1870-1915, Cleveland became a major manufacturing center, but few blacks were able to participate in INDUSTRY. Blacks were not hired to work in the steel mills and foundries that became the mainstay of the city’s economy. The prejudice of employers was often matched by that of trade unions (see LABOR), which usually excluded African Americans. As a result, by 1910 only about 10% of local black men worked in skilled trades, while the number of service employees doubled.
Increasing discrimination forced black Clevelanders upon their own resources.