Ohio History Journal


Moore
Winter-Spring 2002
pp. 25-43
Copyright 2002 by the Ohio Historical Society. All rights reserved.
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Class Conflict over Residential Space in an African American Community: Cleveland's Lee-Seville Public Housing Controversy

By Leonard Moore


When discussing the conflict over residential space in America, historians have placed much of their emphasis on the efforts of whites to thwart residential integration. The story is a familiar one. Fearing a decline in property values, a rise in crime, race-mixing, and a general threat to their way of life, white homeowners, with the support of lending institutions, realtors, housing developers, governmental agencies, and homeowner's associations, went to great lengths to keep their communities racially homogenous. While these studies have enriched our knowledge of post World War II America, scholars have limited themselves to the traditional white against black framework, neglecting to examine the tensions over access to living space within African American communities themselves. As this paper suggests, black middle-class homeowners shared many of the same attitudes toward homeownership and community stability as their white counterparts. However, unlike their white counterparts who viewed all black residential life as pathological, middle-income African Americans limited their negative and stereotypical views of black life to the black lower-class. Ironically, although many black middle-class homeowners had probably experienced some degree of housing discrimination, they had no problem discriminating against their own. The Lee-Seville housing controversy is one such episode.1


Leonard N. Moore is an Assistant Professor of History and Director of African and African American Studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He teaches courses in African American and Urban History. This year, the University of Illinois Press will publish his book, Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power.

1. The literature on race and housing is voluminous. Some of the more noted works are: Stephen Grant Meyer, As Long As They Don't Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods (New York, 2000); Thomas Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, N. J. ,1996); Arnold Hirsch, "Massive Resistance in the Urban North: Chicago's Trumbull Park Homes," in The


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When Carl Stokes gained election as the first black mayor of a major city in November 1967, he was determined to alleviate Cleveland's housing shortage through an aggressive public housing construction campaign. Although all of the city's public housing units were in segregated lower-class areas when he entered office, Stokes wanted to construct units in middle-class areas. Stokes hoped that his efforts would usher in a new era in public housing. In May 1968 he announced plans to build 277 single-family homes in the black middle-class neighborhood of Lee-Seville.2

The genesis of Cleveland's housing crisis lay in the second great migration of African Americans to Cleveland after World War II. Between 1950 and 1965 Cleveland's black population grew from 147,847 to 279,352, while its overall population shrank from 914,808 to 810,858. In 1950 black inhabitants represented only 16.2 percent of the population, but by 1965 they accounted for 34.4 percent, with over 99.9 percent of them living in the rigidly segregated corridor on the East Side. Since there had been virtually little new home construction in Cleveland's inner city after the depression, the arrival of black migrants ushered in a severe housing shortage forcing them to lodge wherever possible. The majority of black migrants settled into rat and roachinfested substandard or dilapidated housing units, while other unfortunate families had to rely upon unconventional and unsanitary housing. For instance, it was not uncommon to find black families living in garages, alleys, sheds, attics, cellars, and basements. Although home construction in the suburbs peaked in the 1950s, these developments were off limits to middle-class blacks either through banking discrimination, restrictive covenants, exclusionary zoning laws, or outright intimidation and violence. Thus, since the black middle class was unable to move to the outlying areas of the city, the black poor and working class were effectively limited to the city's traditional slum areas.3

 

Journal of American History, 82 (September, 1995); Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (Cambridge, Mass., 1983); John F. Bauman, Public Housing, Race, and Renewal: Urban Planning in Philadelphia, 1920-1974 (Philadelphia, 1987).

2. For a deeper discussion of Stokes's political career see: Leonard N. Moore, "The Limits of Black Power: Carl B. Stokes and Cleveland's African-American Community, 1945-1971" (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1998); Carl B. Stokes, Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography (Cleveland, 1973); William E. Nelson and Phillip E. Meranto, Electing Black Mayors (Columbus, Ohio, 1977).

3. For a good overview of the city's housing problems after World War II see: "NonWhite Residential Patterns," Container 1, Folder 9,Anthony J. Celebreeze Papers, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio, (hereafter referred to as WRHS); "Housing Crises," Container 2, Folder 44, Cleveland Mayoral Papers, WRHS; Ernest C. Cooper, The


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Carl and Shirley Stokes in 1969. (Photo Courtesy the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio.)

The housing crisis escalated as Cleveland's poorly planned urban renewal programs forced thousands of black families to relocate into existing crowded and congested areas. Beginning in the mid-1950s with the Longwood, Garden Valley, and St. Vincent Projects, Cleveland's urban renewal program displaced several thousand residents and offered very little relocation assistance. In the 1960s, the Urban Renewal department initiated several more disastrous projects, most notably Erieview and University-Euclid. Erieview was designed in 1961 with the hope of creating 4.7 million square feet of new office space and 5,500 luxury apartments in the downtown area. Once the land was cleared, however, developers could not attract investors. Instead, the Erieview project became nothing more than a "wasteland of parking lots." The

 

Negro in Cleveland, 1950-1963 (Cleveland, 1964); Julie Boatwright Wilson, Cleveland: The Expansion of a Metropolitan Area and its Ghettos (Cambridge, Mass., 1991); United States Commission on Civil Rights, Hearing Held in Cleveland, Ohio, April 1-7, 1966 (Washington, D.C., 1966); Robert Hodgart, "The Expansion of the Negro Ghetto in Cities of the Northern United States: A Case Study of Cleveland, Ohio and University Park, Pennsylvania" (MA. thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1968); Raymond Jirran, "Cleveland and the Negro Following World War II" (Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1973); Thomas Bier, "Housing Dynamics in the Cleveland Area, 1950-2000," in Cleveland: A Metropolitan Reader, eds., Dennis Keating, et al., (Kent, Ohio), 1996; Call and Post, 22 March 1947, 5 April 1947, 31 May 1947, 12 February 1949, 3 October 1953, 31 October 1953.


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city's most ambitious project was University-Euclid. The project stretched from the eastern end of Hough to the University area and included plans to rehabilitate over 4,000 units in 1961 alone. Five years later, the department's budget had been exhausted, but only 600 units had been rehabilitated. Reasons for the failure of the city's urban renewal program were that it suffered from "several defects," including, inadequate planning, slow execution of plans, poor relocation assistance, and lax enforcement of housing codes. In fact, the city's Urban Renewal Commissioner, James Friedman, testified in 1966 that the departmental policy was to allow housing in urban renewal areas to deteriorate so the land would be cheaper to purchase for demolition purposes. However, no new housing was ever built, and the families that moved out rarely received relocation assistance. Forty million dollars and 6,000 acres later, the nation's most ambitious urban renewal program had nothing to show for its efforts. By the mid-1960s, the city had displaced thousands of poor families, who in turn crowded into lower middle-class neighborhoods. Consequently, Stokes inherited a severe housing crisis as he entered office.4

With approximately 2,500 homes, the Lee-Seville community was in many ways a testament to black progress. With its spacious homes, manicured lawns, wide streets, and broad sidewalks, the community was unlike any other area of black Cleveland, and Lee-Seville homeowners took pride in that fact. As with their white counterparts, black residents were excited about quiet streets, large yards, better schools, and most importantly, home ownership. Equally important, however, is what home ownership in Lee-Seville represented: upward mobility. The purchase of a home in Lee-Seville signaled one's arrival into the black middle class.5

However, as black homeowners made their way to Lee-Seville they faced harassment and intimidation from conservative whites. In fact, they were forced to arm themselves on several occasions when police failed to provide them with protection. They were also forced to deal with a host of structural problems as well. Recreation facilities were nonexistent, schools were overcrowded, and the neighborhood drainage system was negligible. Thus, although the community was a delight to

 

4. Earl Selby and Robert Strother, "Cleveland in Crisis: An Urban Renewal Tragedy," undated and untitled magazine article in Container 28, Folder 499, Carl Burton Stokes Papers, WRHS (hereafter referred to as Stokes Papers); United States Commission on Civil Rights, "Hearings in Cleveland," 18-230, 648-712. As the city's urban renewal department continued its record of incompetence, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) withdrew the city's federal funding in January 1967. Stokes got the funding restored in February 1968.

5. For good background information on the Lee-Seville community see: Cleveland Press, 2 August 1962, 3 August 1962.


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onlookers, there was a considerable amount of dissatisfaction from local residents. Much of the community outrage centered around the 120 acres of vacant land that sat on both sides of Lee-Seville road. In many ways it was a community junkyard for furniture, refrigerators, garbage, rubbish, hot-water tanks, and old automobiles. Residents were eager to see the land developed and cleared up. The land was originally zoned for semi-industrial use, but Lee-Seville area homeowners convinced the city to purchase sixty-seven acres of the land in March 1967 for residential use. Upon purchase, the land was designated for families displaced by the city's urban renewal program. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), which had unsuccessfully attempted to build a 900 unit high-rise public housing complex there in the early 1950s, owned the remaining acreage.6

The mayor's proposed development would contain 274 new singlefamily homes with an option for residents to purchase at a one percent interest rate to insure community stability and to give low-income residents an incentive to take care of their property. When complete the development would include forty-eight one-bedroom homes for the elderly, 122 three-bedroom, eighty four-bedroom, and twenty-four fivebedrooms. The houses were to sit on huge lots, recessed from the street, in a variety of colors and designs, comparable to the existing homes in the Lee-Seville area. Eligible families would pay rents between $40 and $80 a month. Stokes was particularly excited about the development because it would shorten the housing authority's 1,700-family waiting list, and it would encourage private developers to build housing for lowincome residents. Although Stokes could have chosen any community within the county, he chose Lee-Seville largely because the land was available, and he was confident that area homeowners would be more receptive to the idea of lower-class black folks moving into their community. In late May 1968 Stokes named local fair-housing advocate Irving Kriegsfeld Executive Director of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to help him better articulate his plans for Lee-Seville and to coordinate his overall housing program.7

 

6. John Pilch, Dept. of Properties, Parks and Recreation to Stokes, 7 January 1969, Container 88, Folder 1730, Stokes Papers, WRHS; "Lee-Seville Housing: Chronology of Events," Container 32, Folder 578, Stokes Papers.

7. Stokes to Francis Fisher, HUD Regional Administrator, 9 May 1968, Container 68, Folder 1299, Stokes Papers; Stokes to Paul Unger, Urban Renewal Task Force, 4 March 1968, re: "Lee-Seville Public Housing," Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers; Howard B. Cain, Cleveland Chapter, The American Institute of Architects, 24 July 1968, Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers; "Cleveland's New Look in Public Housing," Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers; "Fact Sheet: CMHA Housing in Lee-Seville," Container 88, Folder 1736, Stokes Papers; "Statement by Mayor Carl B. Stokes: Appointment of Irving


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Although the Lee-Seville development was to be built on fifty-one vacant acres of CMHA land, the housing authority still needed the approval of Cleveland's thirty-three member city council to make the necessary street and neighborhood improvements. Stokes saw council's approval as a potential obstacle. Despite the fact that ten council members were African American and that twenty-seven were fellow Democrats, Stokes did not control city council. It was controlled by its president, Jim Stanton, a shrewd and sophisticated anti-civil rights Democrat who had the unwavering support of seventeen council members, including several African Americans. In fact, throughout Stokes's mayoral tenure several of the city's black councilmen were unofficial members of the Stanton bloc. Although Stanton specialized in race politics, his control over city council enabled him to attract black support from African American members in council.8

When Stokes announced his plans for the development two LeeSeville area councilmen, Clarence Thompson and George White, both African Americans and Democrats, immediately objected on the basis that the existing level of city services could not handle the population increase. Upon hearing their concerns, Stokes realized that getting the requisite legislation passed would take a major fight.9

At an emotional city council meeting in July 1968 the two councilmen attacked the mayor's proposal. "We don't have adequate schools now; we don't have adequate recreation now; we don't have adequate police protection now," said White. To the surprise of those in attendance, White suddenly shifted his argument from the lack of city services to one based on class. "We learned that it takes a lot of struggle for the fine things in life. You don't get it by thinking that the Federal government is going to make everything right." White also attacked the mayor for making the black middle class the subject of his experiment. "I want you to go to Shaker Heights (a white suburb) and plead for housing there," he said. When Councilman Charlie Carr and Community Development Director Richard Green, both African Americans, rose in council to support the proposal, City Council President Jim Stanton held them to a

 

Kriegsfeld to the City Planning Commission," 21 June 1968, Container 51, Folder 957. Stokes Papers.

8. The conflict between Stokes and Stanton began in 1965 when Stokes ran for mayor, effectively negating any possibility of a successful Stanton candidacy. As Stokes's popularity increased, Stanton made a concerted attempt to consolidate his power over Cleveland's city council. By 1967 Stanton was arguably the most powerful person on the Cleveland political scene, and when Stokes entered office racial politics became the order of the day.

9. Cleveland Press, 24 May 1968, 27 May 1968, 29 May 1968; Irving Kriegsfeld to Clarence Thompson, 11 June 1968, Container 88, Folder 1730, Stokes Papers.


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strict time limit. Stokes then took the rostrum and argued that the development would provide quality housing for the people who needed it most, then went on to state that the council's delay in passing the legislation was virtually signaling the "death-knell" for decent public housing. Stokes was passionate about Lee-Seville because he recognized that there was "no more serious crisis today than the poverty-stricken, the ill-fed, the-ill clothed, the ill-educated, and the ill-housed."10

At the following Monday Night council session, tensions flared again as Councilman George White tore into CMHA to the "cheering and applause" of over 150 of his constituents. "My opposition is not an attempt to embarrass this administration," he proclaimed. "But if you don't have enough police protection now how are you going to have it with more houses. Anyone who can tell me 1,000 more children won't cause a problem can call me a bigot and a man who is against his own people." As White took his seat his supporters showed their approval by waving orange and black signs calling for no project, while those in favor of the project showered him with insults. In response, Stokes reminded the councilman that the conditions of the city could not be changed overnight. "Whatever we try to do in two years cannot possibly replace what hasn't been done for the past quarter century." In closing, however, Stokes reiterated the city's obligation to provide decent housing for low-income people. "We have to give the poor people a chance to have their own garage, their own piece of property. We have to give these people a chance to be a part of the affluent society."11

Days later Stokes issued a press release outlining the city's commitment to increasing municipal services in Lee-Seville. The mayor promised new access roads, with requisite lights and sewers; additional police patrols; a mini-fire station; new playgrounds, including a swimming pool and basketball court; stricter code enforcement; and funds for housing rehabilitation. Councilman Thompson was not convinced. Instead of having these entire improvements contingent upon the new housing development, he argued, Lee-Seville residents deserved something for their tax dollars "now," not later.12

 

10. Cleveland Press, 3 July 1968, 8 July 1968, 9, July 1968, 10 July 1968, 16 July 68; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 19 July 1968; "Chronology of Events Concerning Lee-Seville," Container 32, Folder 578, Stokes Papers; Linwood J. Smith to Carl B. Stokes, 30 September 68, Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers.

11. Call and Post, 20 July 1968.

12. Sydney Spector, Administrative Assistant to the Mayor to Director Ralph Tyler, Utilities Dept., Spector to McManamon, Safety Director, Spector to Edward Baugh, Director of Public Properties, Spector to Richard Green, Community Development Director, Linwood Smith, Administrative Assistant, Community Dev., to Carl B. Stokes, Joseph McManamon, Safety Director to Stokes, all in Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers.


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The opposition by Councilmen White and Thompson was significant for several reasons. From Stokes's perspective it confirmed his previous belief that the city's black councilpersons were more interested in receiving patronage for their respective wards than working collectively to solve the problems of the black community; it also helped explain why the bulk of black residents saw little change in the conditions of their community, although their were at least eight African Americans on city council since the late 1950s. Their resistance was significant in that it was the first time that any of the city's black council representatives had openly opposed any of his proposals. In the past while they may not have agreed with his recommendations and policies, pressure from the black community generally convinced them that it was in their best interest to publicly support Stokes out of fear of being labeled "sell-outs." In any event, their resistance gave City Council President Jim Stanton and his supporters on city council an opportunity to defeat a Stokes proposal. Although this was purely an issue involving the city's African American community, Stanton and his followers saw it as a convenient opportunity to enforce an informal council rule: that city council defer to the wishes of those who represented the ward. Despite the support of the Stanton bloc, White and Thompson received little support from the remaining eight black councilpersons who, realizing that the housing development would lessen congestion and overcrowding in their respective wards, logically supported the mayor. Nonetheless, faced with White and Thompson's vociferous objections, Stokes faced an uphill battle in his efforts to provide the black poor with quality housing.

Although White and Thompson claimed to be speaking for their constituents in opposing the project, the mayor felt otherwise. At an emotionally charged town hall meeting Stokes's supporters presented the two conservative Democratic councilmen with a petition, supposedly signed by more than 500 area citizens in an effort to illustrate community support for the proposal. But White and Thompson were not convinced that these Were legitimate signatures from actual Lee-Seville homeowners. When White, believing the signers to be from outside the community, questioned the source of the signatures, he was asked to sit down by the pro-Stokes moderator. A visibly upset White then stormed out of the building. Next, CMHA Executive Director Irving Kriegsfeld addressed the community's overcrowding problem by promising that city services would increase, and that property values would not decline, an unmentioned yet obvious concern of White and Thompson. Kriegsfeld also remarked that the petition was proof that the local citizenry were in favor of the project.13

 

13. Call and Post, 13 July 68.


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At a special council meeting in September, Stokes nominated Kriegsfeld to the city planning commission, hoping to broaden his base of support for Lee-Seville. Chaos soon erupted in council chambers as Thompson, upon learning of the nomination and without waiting for discussion, convinced the Stanton bloc to reject it on the grounds that Kriegsfeld's appointment to the commission represented a conflict of interest. Stokes's supporters replied to the rejection by pointing out that longtime CMHA head Ernest Bohn had served as chair of the planning commission for an entire decade. However, Thompson stood firm: "My stand is for the taxpayer in my ward. The taxpayer must be represented. There are many others who could be put on the planning board." Mayor Stokes, irate because of the lack of discussion, stated: "The community is concerned and wherever there is an issue where the community is concerned there should be some discussion from the Council floor." The manner in which the nomination was handled convinced Stokes that the issue was bigger than Kriegsfeld. "This was not a vote against a man, but what he stands for, low income housing for all of the people who need it in the city of Cleveland," said Stokes. The council denial of Kriegsfeld was a "blow" for city planning and for low-income residents across the city.14

Kriegsfeld's rejection inflamed William 0. Walker, editor of the city's black newspaper, the Call and Post. Walker blasted the actions of city council in an editorial entitled, "City Council Taking A Dangerous Road." In what amounted to a harangue, he stated that "prejudices of all kinds" were involved in the rejection, and that Council President Stanton and other white councilmen "who don't want Mayor Stokes to succeed because he is a Negro" were guilty of racial prejudice. Sectional bias was as evident because a number of councilpersons "are against any housing program involving Negroes if it isn't confined to the already established ghetto areas." He added that class prejudice was also involved because it was mainly middle-income blacks leading the opposition." According to Walker, Kriegsfeld's only fault was that Mayor Stokes appointed him. In his opinion, "this was sufficient for Council's bigots." In closing, Walker told his readers that the City of Cleveland's efforts to develop quality housing should not suffer because of the "petty prejudices" of Council members. He warned the opponents of the project that it was time for Council to end these tactics before "this town really erupts."15

As the controversy continued, Stokes resorted to confrontational and heavy-handed politics to win support for his project. In October, he

 

14. Call and Post, 21 September 68.

15. Call and Post, 28 September 1968.


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stated publicly that there were African American councilmen who were unconcerned about the welfare of the black poor. The dispute became uglier when Stokes labeled opponents of the project "black-bigots." He explained: "If you permit bigoted black middle-class persons with a bigoted black public official representing them to stop the utilization of unused land in Lee-Seville for housing . . . you will have failed to support everything we want to do with housing in this city and you will have struck a blow against expanding opportunities for all persons to live anywhere in the city and in the greater community." Stokes also accused the foes of Lee-Seville of adopting tactics similar to those white suburbanites utilized to exclude blacks from their communities.16

Councilman Thompson responded to these accusations by stating that he "deplored" Stokes's comments. "To be called a black bigot I don't like, I am not a bigot, this is sickening." Thompson went on to stress that although he was indeed concerned about the black poor, he and his family had "worked hard" for everything they attained. Thompson then argued that the community infrastructure would not be able to handle the 277 single-home development. " A street at the end of my street is a dead end. There are 47 acres of land owned by the Metropolitan Housing that have no storm sewers, water backs up in my basement. This is why people in Lee-Seville oppose the development." Councilman White added his sentiments to those of Thompson: "It takes a lot of struggle to get the good things in life, you don't get them by having someone else give them to you."17

White and Thompson's constituents shared similar views. "I had to work 14 hours a day and seven days a week to earn the down payment on my house, why should I say 'Come on Charlie you can have it all for free," remarked Lee-Seville resident Fred Butler. While some residents saw public housing as a handout, others feared the decline of property values. "I don't want them up there because of my home. You put life savings in a home and I think it would depreciate my property. I rented to some of their type ... and I know how destructive they were," said one anonymous homeowner. Another area property owner who wished to remain anonymous equated lack of home ownership with lower-class values, saying "if they can't afford to build homes of their own like ordinary people, how are they going to keep up the homes they propose to build for them." Sherie Guilford feared that the newcomers would not paint their homes, mow their lawns, or place trash in garbage cans, while another Lee-Seville resident remained unconvinced that the proposed

 

16. Call and Post, 12 October 1968.

17. Ibid.


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homes were any different from other CMHA properties. "First thing you know it will be another ghetto, even though they plan to make it leaseown developments. Those pictures look like plain old projects. Only difference they have added is, what looks to me as far as I'm concerned, a board in front." Yet another concerned resident stated that the controversy was simply an issue of "homeowners vs. renters." Apparently, then, many of the established renters reflected a typical middle-class fear of public housing being built near them.18

Councilman Thompson came under intense scrutiny and pressure to support the project because he was not only opposing the mayor but was also publicly objecting to an initiative to help the black poor. But perhaps in an attempt to deflect black criticisms, Thompson and his supporters lashed out at "blue-eyed liberals" and white "suburban guardians of the poor." On several occasions they challenged white suburbanites to make arrangements with the CMHA to place the proposed homes in their communities and put them, the "black bigots," to shame.19

Despite the considerable opposition to the housing proposal from area homeowners, Stokes did receive support from a small contingent of area residents who looked beyond the rhetoric of overcrowding and declining property values. When asked why he favored the development, one LeeSeville homeowner responded "because, everyone needs a decent place to live," while another answered that there was a "need for more housing for low-income families." Harry Powell, area grocer, stated that he could not object to the project because "we've been kicked around so much we can't afford to kick anyone else." Local black nationalists such as Baxter Hill were adamant about constructing the much-needed housing: "we are going to build these houses, even if we have to tear down Lee-Seville to do it."20

As the necessary legislation remained stalled in committee, Stokes received considerable community support. The most active of the groups supporting Stokes was the Community Fighters for Large Families, a grassroots working-class organization which focused on the needs of the black poor, and whose members distributed literature attacking White and Thompson for feeling "that people in low-income homes should not be provided decent housing in neighborhoods where middle-income

 

18. "Quotes on Lee-Seville Housing Proposal," Container 84, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers; Call and Post, 12 October 68.

19. Southeast Newsletter, May 1969, Container 88, Folder 1735, CBS Papers; Harold D. Brittain to Clarence Thompson, 8 January 1969, Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers.

20. Ibid., New York Times, 5 September 1968; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7 January 1969, Cleveland Press, 7 January 1969.


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people live." Throughout December and January the Community Fighters attended council meetings at which they demanded that Thompson bring the legislation out of committee for a hearing.21

The controversy reached the showdown stage in January 1969 when the City Planning Commission held hearings on the proposed development in city council chambers. Throughout the evening the partisan crowd heard members of the Stokes administration answer critics of the project. The mayor's cabinet members spoke of a "dream community" with radial streets, underground wires, improved police and fire protection, and a well-equipped park. Cleveland Public Schools Superintendent Paul Briggs promised to build new schools, and a City Transit Service representative told residents that new bus routes would be added to handle the enlarged population. Stokes's supporters, who wore large lapel badges reading "BUILD IT," applauded and cheered after the administration made its presentation. After listening to these promises, Councilman Thompson responded by shouting "do something now!" He argued that the improvements should be made before the new housing was built, not after. Councilman Albert Pottinger of neighboring Ward 1 3 drew applause when he informed the crowd that the new homes would be inferior to those already in the community in that they would be without a basement and a garage. He further provoked cheers and jeers when he remarked that the low-income residents would be unable to make necessary repairs. But Stokes supporters did not let these attacks go unanswered. In reply, one supporter of the development received wide applause when he told Councilmen Thompson and Pottinger that "you don't have pretty houses out there, anyway."22

At the end of the volatile hearings, the City Planning Commission approved the plans for the proposed 277 single-home development. The Planning Commission's stamp of approval was critical because it guaranteed Lee-Seville homeowners that the city was planning to make the requisite improvements to accommodate the subdivision. Now the issue was clearly in the hands of the city council. Although CMHA had the permission to build the development, it could not begin construction until the city council passed the legislation necessary for the requisite

 

21. Call and Post, 2 November 68, 11 January 69, 31 May 69; Arthur LeMon to Stokes, 27 January 1969, Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers; Cleveland Press, 27 January 69; "Chronology of Events Concerning Lee-Seville;" Kenneth Johnson, The Lee-SevilleMiles Economic Development Corporation, to Stokes, 3 1 December 1968, Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 31 January 1969; Cleveland Press, 27 January 1969.

22. Cleveland Press, 31 January 1969, 1 February 1969, 4 February 1969, 7 February 1969, 10 February 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 31 January 1969, 1 February 1969, 4 February 1969.


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street improvements. In February 1969, Stokes introduced bills for new sewers, roads, a fire station, and other improvements for city council's approval.23

Despite the City Planning Commission's approval, the bills, fourteen in all, became stalled in council committees. To Stokes's dismay all fourteen were locked in committees chaired by Stanton allies. Councilman Michael Zone and George Blaha chaired the Real Property Committee and the City Planning Committee, respectively, while Councilmen Richard Harmody headed the Public Development and Service Committee, and John Cimperman the Air and Water Pollution Committee. Although they claimed to be abiding by the informal rule that council representatives defer to the wishes of the "home" councilperson, Stokes suspected otherwise. He felt that the Stanton bloc had little concern for the affairs of the black community, but was instead actively seeking to discredit the Stokes administration by opposing any and all of the mayor's proposals.24

While Mayor Stokes and Councilman Thompson were sparring in council sessions, factions developed within the Lee-Seville community itself. Strongly in favor of the project was the newly formed Lee-Seville Development Corporation (LSDC), under the direction of Kenneth Johnson and John Barnes, both Stokes allies. The LSDC, which was primarily a two-man operation, was Stokes's eyes and ears inside the area. Throughout the controversy it mounted a massive public relations campaign to publicize the mayor's side of the housing proposal. However, much of the campaign was unsuccessful because Thompson and Stanton countered with an aggressive marketing campaign of their own designed to exploit the fears of Lee-Seville residents. To carry out their plans, Thompson and Stanton enlisted the support of Jack Oliver and Jean Murrell Capers, two of Stokes's most vociferous black critics. Although Oliver had once served as Stokes's political mentor during the 1950s, he was now a staunch supporter of James Stanton. In fact, when Stokes entered the mayor's office in 1967, Stanton rewarded Oliver's dedication by giving him a job with city council. Oliver, whom Stokes later referred to as Stanton's "black toady," was quite visible in the LeeSeville area as he sought to manipulate fears by telling residents that their beloved community would turn into a slum if they allowed the 277 single-home development. Likewise, Capers was also a foe of Stokes. Her bitterness toward the mayor dated back to his initial campaign in

 

23. Call and Post, 8 February 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8 February 1969; "Statement by Mayor Carl B. Stokes," Container 88, Folder 1734, Stokes Papers.

24. Call and Post, 24 May 1969.


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1965 when she was part of the machinery that convinced him to enter the mayor's race that year. However, once on the campaign trail he quickly disassociated himself from the former councilwoman whose political career ended in controversy. Capers became an active foe of the LeeSeville development when she became lead counsel for the infant LeeSeville Homeowners Improvement Association (LSHIA).2255

Organized in 1967 in response to plans that the vacant land in Lee Seville was to be used for public housing, then reenergized in 1968, the LSHIA was determined to "maintain and to perpetuate a high standard of community stability" in what it considered to be a "model residential community." The association was particularly concerned about LeeSeville residents having the right to exercise "Neighborhood Determinis," the ability for homeowners to determine the fate and future of their community. The LSHIA emerged as the chief organizational vehicle dedicated to blocking Stokes's proposal.26

Members of the LSHIA issued a three-page manifesto publicizing their objections to the mayor's proposal. They began by arguing that public housing units never met the moral, spiritual, and inspirational needs of their tenants, "regardless" of their design and intent. Rather, the development would merely be perpetuating an awful system. After presenting concerns about overcrowding, the manifesto declared that the LSHIA did not want the black poor "colonized" and "stereotyped" in a public housing ghetto, since, in its opinion, CMHA public housing units tended to create all-black high-density areas. In closing, the LSHIA stated that it was more concerned with the future than reliving the past. "Most of us are well aware of our origin but we do not want to go back to public housing days ... we could not do better in those days, now we can."27

Since CMHA had the authority to build public housing units throughout the entire county, LSHIA members wondered why Stokes was so determined to construct the units in their community. They did not consider their position to be one of "black bigotism," just an attempt to maintain a "first-class community." Lastly they argued that the development would lead to increased residential segregation, when they

 

25. "Housing in Lee-Seville: Facts You Should Know" Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers; "Statement of the Lee-Seville Homeowners Improvement Association," Container 32, Folder 579, Stokes Papers; Stokes, "Promises of Power," p. 134.

26. "Statement of the Lee-Seville Homeowners Improvement Association," Container 32, Folder 579, Stokes Papers; Cleveland Press, 13 February 1969, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 14 February 1969.

27. "Statement of the Lee-Seville Homeowners Improvement Association," Container 32, Folder 579, Stokes Papers.


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wanted their community developed along lines of racial, social, and economic "inclusion" rather than "exclusion." The position of LSHIA was that instead of the concentration of families in a particular area, that CMHA should utilize the "scattered-site approach," and spread public housing units throughout the entire metropolitan area. This was a valid argument. Although blacks represented only 47 percent of all public housing tenants, over 80 percent of them were concentrated in three East Side projects. Conversely, 99 percent of all white tenants lived in allwhite projects on the predominantly white West Side.28

Members of the LSHIA emphasized that it would be a mistake to view their stance as being against the black poor because they sincerely believed their position would actually enhance the "upward mobility" of the black poor by protecting them against the pressures of public housing and increased segregation. Despite these public statements the position taken by the LSHIA clearly reflected the class divisions in Cleveland's black community. This explains the fact that, although many of them had been raised in public housing, they were reluctant to give the present-day black poor a chance to improve their living conditions. Though never explicitly stated, the LSHIA had two major concerns: the loss of property values and status. Further, the thought of lower-class black residents being given new houses without having to work for them was a bit difficult to swallow.29

Stokes took the matter of Lee-Seville directly to the people with an hour-long television special. The mayor criticized Thompson and the Stanton bloc for keeping the legislation in committee, and he made a public appeal for them to set aside their individual concerns and work together for the "common good of this city." Stokes also remarked that it would be politically expedient for him to drop the issue since it was really CMHA's fight anyway, "but I have made Lee-Seville my fight and I bring this controversy to you tonight because this city cannot afford to lose this battle."30

When the TV special failed to convince Thompson to act, Stokes then publicly predicted that racial unrest would occur were the housing development not constructed. Speaking at Yale University, he told the audience about his inability to get council approval for his housing proposal and warned: "If trouble comes in Cleveland this Summer it could well be over City Council's failure to approve housing for the LeeSeville area." He further declared that if riots did occur, then the entire city would be held responsible for failing to respond to the needs of the

 

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid; Southeast Newsletter, May 1969, Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers.

30. Call and Post, 18 April 1969.


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black poor. Stokes was determined to get the units built because he saw the long-term effects should the homeowners in the Lee-Seville manage to block his housing package. "If we can't get council's approval for the Lee-Seville project, is there any reason why Bratenahl or Shaker Heights should be more progressive? This is why the fight is so important, we can't go to the suburbs with such a plan if we can't demonstrate we can do the same thing in Cleveland." Stokes also pushed for Lee-Seville while speaking at a local Martin Luther King celebration. Halfway through his address Stokes remarked: "Some of you are from LeeSeville, I want to make it clear. Don't you people sit here and remember Martin Luther King, Lee-Seville is what Martin Luther King was all about-giving people a chance to live in dignity." Despite Stokes's tactics, his opposition held fast.31

In hopes of calming neighborhood fears, Stokes and Kriegsfeld decided to construct seven model homes on the site to give residents on both sides of the controversial issue an opportunity to see exactly what type of homes would be constructed. The model construction did not require council approval because developers would be able to use the existing streets, sidewalks, and utilities. But shortly after Stokes announced the plans, Jean Capers filed a class-action suit on behalf of the LSHIA in Federal District Court asking for a preliminary injunction to stop the construction of the model homes. Capers argued that CMHA selected the Lee-Seville location because the community was 99 percent black, and therefore the new development would maintain a longstanding policy of segregation. The LSHIA focused on segregation because throughout its history CMHA had intentionally segregated its tenants to preserve the city's historic pattern of segregation. However, the injunction was refused by Judge Ben C. Green on the grounds that it was outside of his jurisdiction since a similar injunction had already been filed.32

As the power struggle between Stokes and Thompson approached an impasse, Thompson's supporters showed their appreciation by sponsoring a testimonial dinner in his honor. With over 400 residents in attendance, Thompson was honored by his constituents as a "symbol of honesty and dedication" for not succumbing to the "powerful pressures" that had been exerted upon him. The keynote speaker at the dinner was

 

31. Cleveland Press, 12 March 1969, 1 April 1969, 3 April 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5 April 1969.

32. "Affidavits Filed by those in opposition to Lee-Seville Housing," in the Fifth District Court of the United States, 26 April, 1969, Container 32, Folder 579, Stokes Papers; Call and Post, 10 May 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2 April 1969, 19 April 1969, 1 May 1969, 13 May 1969; Cleveland Press, 1 May 1969, 12 May 1969.


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newly installed Municipal Court Judge George White, former LeeSeville area councilman. The appreciation dinner was designed to encourage Thompson to continue his fight against Mayor Stokes.33

Because city council was scheduled to recess on June 30, 1969, Stokes and his supporters decided to intensify the pressure on Thompson and Stanton. In mid-May Stokes sent letters to Stanton and to council committee chairs requesting that they hold public hearings on the legislation. They ignored him, with Stanton suggesting instead that residents in that area simply vote upon the housing proposal. "I believe that through the ballot box this difficult issue can be resolved. This is an attempt on my part to seek a solution," said Stanton. Stokes labeled Stanton's suggestions as a "clear evasion of his responsibility." The city Law Department later ruled that the municipal charter did not allow for a referendum.34

As the council recess date quickly approached, Stokes again took his appeal to the public in a guest editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He used the opportunity to draw a distinction between the Lee-Seville development and the generally accepted notion of public housing. "People remember the old days when public housing often meant stark high-rise developments that hurt property values by literally forcing large numbers of people into a neighborhood whose residents had little in common with newcomers." Lee-Seville bore no resemblance to that, he wrote. "The proposed development is totally in keeping with what the people there need and want." He then told readers that according to local realtors and insurance executives those property values would actually increase rather than decline. Stokes was firmly convinced that if the development were called "XYZ" housing as opposed to "public" housing, then "the public would be clamoring for it." The mayor closed the editorial by stressing that the opportunity for home ownership made this project critical. The Lee-Seville development would give the more than 25,000 Clevelanders living in substandard conditions and "never being able to scrape together enough money for a down payment" a chance to own their own homes. This, Stokes wrote, was the best way to combat the cycle of poverty.35

At a city council meeting on May 19, several black councilpersons took the floor and demanded that the requisite committees hold hearings on the fourteen pieces of legislation. Ward 17 Councilman Charlie Carr stated that in his twenty-four years on City Council he had never known a piece of legislation introduced by the mayor that had not gotten a

 

33. Call and Post, 24 May 1969.

34. Cleveland Press, 29 May 1969, 30 May 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 29 May 1969.

35. Call and Post, 17 May 1969.


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hearing. Supporting Carr were councilpersons John Armstrong, James Bell, Warren Gilliam, Carrie Cain, Virgil Brown, and George Forbes. Calling for hearings, Cain said, "We have an obligation to hear both sides, "My people are fed up with the 'councilmanic courtesy' routine. I'm fed up too."36

The following week, protesters from the League of Women Voters who supported the proposal greeted councilpersons. "This legislation must not continue to be used as a political football," said their president, Mrs. Henry Snead. Once inside council chambers, councilpersons confronted a full gallery there to support the mayor's Lee-Seville initiative. In spite of impassioned pleas for hearings by black council members, however, Thompson and the Stanton bloc stood firm.37

As the summer recess approached, the mayor sponsored a downtown rally to attract broader support for his housing proposal. Labeled a "Citizens Rally for Lee-Seville Housing," it attracted a crowd of several hundred who heard Stokes and other community leaders argue the importance of the housing at the event designed to be a pep rally for the evening's council session, one of the last before the summer recess. At the council meeting, Councilman James Bell blamed Stanton for stalling on the issue. "I saw thirteen pieces of legislation to make various improvements, lighting, sewers, sidewalks, streets, playground facilities, and a promise to build new schools and better recreational facilities. The legislation is not unreasonable. If the people of Lee-Seville don't want it, we do in our neighborhood," stated Bell. He continued, "I am concerned and sorry that such an important service to the people of Cleveland has been dropped into a struggle for power." Bell closed by telling council members that they should represent the "hopes" and "desires" of the people they serve and alleviate the "suffering" of the black poor. Councilman Edward Katalinas agreed by arguing that the only solution was for the issue to be resolved in council, not bottled up in committee.38

Stokes made one last appeal for his housing proposal when he hosted a town-hall meeting in the Lee-Seville area. In attendance were approximately 400 Stokes supporters and a minority of Thompson backers. Immediately attacked by opponents of the project who voiced their familiar criticisms, Stokes became visibly upset at what he saw as their failure to understand that the development would not cause community deterioration. The tension increased when area homeowner

 

36. Call and Post, 24 May 1969.

37. Cleveland Press, 3 June 69; Call and Post, 7 June 69.

38. The Task Force to Save Public Housing, "City Wide Lee-Seville Housing Rally," Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers; "(Station)WGAR Sidney Andorn Commentary," 3 June 1969, Container 88, Folder 1735, Stokes Papers.


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Henry Simon questioned Stokes's commitment to providing the necessary city services. Out of frustration Stokes immediately made it a personal issue by bringing up Simon's criminal background. To Stokes's detriment, the meeting thereafter featured mutual recrimination.39

At the last city council meeting prior to the summer recess, city council voted 20-13 not to bring the fourteen pieces of legislation out of committee. In denouncing the decision, Stokes claimed that the democratic process had been thwarted. In closing, Stokes made another plea to council: "Ladies and Gentleman of Council, from this point forward, the issue of public housing in Lee-Seville is entirely up to you. My responsibility as mayor has been fulfilled, and while I am open to suggestions on what more can be done, I must state candidly that I am at a loss to know what it could be." Stanton responded to the mayor's plea by stating that, "when two councilmen object as strongly as they did ... risking their political lives, I must stand by them. I make no excuses, no apologies." The last City Council session of the season recessed without a hearing on Stokes's Lee-Seville housing proposal.40

Stokes's inability to build Lee-Seville was a major disappointment for him and the city's black poor. Although he had encountered little opposition in building public housing in the crumbling inner-city, he had failed in his efforts to demonstrate that public housing outside of the ghetto might be a solution to the city's housing problems. After the defeat of the Lee-Seville housing proposal, public housing in Cleveland was effectively limited to the city's traditional lower-class slum areas.

The failure of Stokes's Lee-Seville housing proposal is important for our understanding of urban America. First it illustrates that white homeowners did not have a monopoly on the way they viewed black residential life. As this paper has revealed, middle-class black homeowners held similar views toward the black poor, and they were willing to go to lengths to keep them out of their neighborhood. This study also shows the unpredictable nature of black politics. Although the black middle class supported Stokes on racial issues, they did not hesitate to oppose him on class issues. Finally, this study uncovers the delicate nature of class conflict as it pertains to housing, public policy, and race. As scholars continue to examine the tensions over access to living space, they will likely discover similar dynamics in other cities.

 

39. Call and Post, 14 June 1969; Cleveland Press, 2 June 1969, 13 June 1969; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5 June 1969.

40. Call and Post, 21 June 1969.