The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the National Park Service for its project entitled “In Their Footsteps: Developing an African American Civil Rights Trail in Cleveland, OH.” The project involves the installation of ten (10) Ohio Historical Markers at the “top ten” sites in Cleveland associated with the struggle for civil rights for African Americans between the years 1954 – 1976. The struggle for civil rights continues today, as many Americans face inequities in housing, education and the criminal justice system. By marking sites in Cleveland where events took place which were pivotal to changes in federal legislation and Black empowerment, our community will honor the courage and steadfastness of our those who brought about this legislative and social progress. Beginning in October 2019, it is anticipated this project will take three years.
On February 19th, 2021, the Cleveland Restoration Society officially announced the first three (3) locations of several Ohio Historical Markers to tell the story of civil rights in Cleveland. The markers will point out history-making civil rights events from 1954 to 1964 (The Modern Civil Rights Movement) and 1964 to 1976 (The Second Revolution). The first three (3) site selections are Cory United Methodist Church (Cory UMC), located at 117 E. 105; Glenville High School, 650 E. 113; and a location in the city’s Hough neighborhood.
In commenting on the Civil Rights Trail, Baker Hostetler partner and CRS Board Chair, Scott Holbrook, stated: “CRS believes that learning from the past can help shape an equitable future, and we will do our part by telling the meticulously researched story of each site along the Trail, while relating it to our current times. This is a challenge we are proud to take on.”
According to researchers and scholars, Cory UMC was the largest Black church in the city during the 1950s and 60s. Through the many services the church provided, it became a key venue for organizing and a key platform for influential civil rights leaders to speak to predominately Black listeners. W. E. B. Du Bois (1950) and Thurgood Marshall (1951) addressed the congregation from the pulpit. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there numerous times. An estimated 5,000 packed the sanctuary and streets outside Cory during a visit by Dr. King on May 14, 1963. The Cleveland chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality brought Black author Louis Lomax and Malcolm X to speak on April 3, 1964. It was then that the Muslim minister and human rights activist delivered the first iteration of his speech, titled The Ballot or the Bullet. Cory also played an instrumental role on the grassroots level, holding election campaign rallies, voter education, and registration drives. Established in Cleveland in 1963, the United Freedom Movement (UFM) held many meetings at Cory. The UFM fought for education, employment, health, housing, and voting rights. Rev. Sumpter Riley was a top leader with the organization.
The Hough Uprising occurred in the summer of 1966. It is said to have been the result of a dispute in a café at E. 79th and Hough Avenue. Whatever the case, days of vandalism, looting, arson, and gun violence, stemming from years of racial tension and discrimination against black residents, resulted. Hough was selected because the event is considered the most significant urban uprising in Cleveland, in reaction to substandard housing, criminal injustice, and the lack of public accommodation. Five days of violence ended with four people dead, 50 injured, and 275 arrested. The event made a lasting impact on the city.
The African American Civil Rights Trail project is supported through a grant from the African American Civil Rights grant program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The project has also been funded in part by a grant from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a generous contribution from anonymous donor.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.