The Cleveland, Ohio, Riot of 1966 occurred in the Hough, one of the nation's most economically depressed African American communities. The civil unrest began on Monday, July 18, and continued for several days until the National Guard and local police combined forces to bring an end to the protests, looting, burning, and violence. In the wake of the riot, four people were dead, many others were injured, and area businesses and homeowners had suffered more than $1 million in property damage. Although some written accounts charged that the riot was started by communists and Black Nationalist instigators, many others concluded that deteriorating housing stock, overcrowded living conditions, high unemployment, and the lack of city services, among other things, added to the level of frustration for Hough's African American residents and eventually sparked the violence and fanned the flames of discontent. Hough came to symbolize everything that could go wrong when city leaders failed to address legitimate concerns about discrimination and social ills and the challenges faced by those who dared travel the long and difficult road to rebuilding a riot-torn community.
Numerous government-sponsored and scholarly studies document the problems leading up to the explosion of violence in Hough. On the eve of the
A suspect found with thirteen bottles and the makings for ''Molotov cocktails'' in his car was arrested during a relatively calm night in the riot-torn Hough Avenue area. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hough riot, the community had already been identified as an area deserving of special attention based on a number of social indicators. Median family income in Hough, for example, declined from $4,637 in 1960 to $4,050 in 1965. The comparison income figures for all families in the city were $5,935 in 1960 and $6,895 in 1965. Not only did Hough residents lose ground in the income category, similar losses also occurred in the workforce. In 1965, Hough's 15 percent unemployment rate was more than double the 7.1 percent rate for the city.
In addition to these disparities, racial segregation in the city's housing market and schools had long been a concern for government and grassroots leaders alike. Throughout most of the twentieth century, Cleveland remained one of the nation's most segregated cities, with the lion's share of the city's African American population concentrated on the east side of the city. Even as many barriers to social integration began to fall during the decade of the 1960s, residential segregation and overcrowding in Hough became more entrenched. By 1960, the percent of housing reported as crowded in Hough was more than double the rate for the city.
Since the era of the Great Depression, similar concerns had also been expressed about conditions in the public schools serving African American students. When school officials tried to relieve overcrowding in Hough by busing African American students to an underutilized building in Murray
Hill in 1965, residents in the largely Italian-American community responded with what has been referred to as the Murray Hill Riot. Given these and other conditions in Hough, it is not surprising that in the 1960s civil rights advocates and others described the community as one of the nation's worst ghetto communities, in terms of the poverty, vice, crime, and inadequate social services there.
The incident cited most often as the initial spark for the rioting occurred at The Seventy-Niner, a popular white-owned bar located at the intersection of East Seventy-Ninth Street and Hough Avenue, the symbolic heart of the community. Newspaper accounts suggest that an African American woman entered the establishment to solicit donations for the children of a deceased prostitute. A verbal disagreement ensued between the white owner and the woman, who eventually left the establishment. Later that day, an African American man reportedly made a take-out purchase of a bottled alcoholic beverage and then requested a container of ice water. When his request was refused, he also exchanged angry words with the white owner. After he left the bar, a handwritten sign was posted on the establishment's door: "No water for Niggers.'' When a crowd of angry patrons and neighborhood residents gathered outside the bar, the owners called the police. When the armed policemen arrived, the violence erupted at this point of confrontation.
Looting and burning of area businesses, confrontations among police, firemen, and rock-throwing youths, and sniper fire characterized the first day of rioting. Although the majority of those arrested for participation in the riot were teens, many adults participated in the riot. A twenty - six-year-old African American mother of three was the first person to die in the rioting. Caught in the crossfire between police and snipers, she was shot in the head as she stood in the window of an apartment building.
On July 19, Cleveland's mayor, Ralph Locher, a white male who was accused by many local African Americans of being out of touch with the needs of Hough's African American residents, requested and received backup from Gov. James Rhodes, who ordered the National Guard to report for duty and help restore order in Hough. Between July 19 and July 31, when the last troops were withdrawn, approximately 2,000 guardsmen patrolled Hough with rifles and bayonets, guarding buildings, directing traffic, and riding escort with local police and fire units. In the wake of the rioting, four people were dead, dozens were injured, and widespread property destruction had displaced residents and business owners alike.
Although a grand jury report suggested that communists and radical militants had instigated the riot, scholars, African American community leaders, and reports from undercover policemen agreed that no conclusive evidence was found linking the riot with any organized group. There was abundant evidence, however, suggesting that the rioting could be directly linked to existing social conditions and the benign neglect of Hough at all levels of government; a fact that would be reiterated later in the Kerner Commission Report.
In the decades since the rioting, grassroots leaders, long-time Hough resident and Cleveland City Council representative Fannie Louis, and private investors have joined forces to lead efforts to rebuild Hough. Several new housing developments, including one at East Seventy-Ninth Street and Hough Avenue, the flashpoint for the rioting, are partially responsible for the many new housing units built in Hough since 1966. Interestingly enough, the building of many upscale houses and mansions in Hough was made possible by the availability of land due to the property destruction during the rioting and generous tax incentives in recent years.
Even with these new units, Hough is a long way from replacing the number of units. Census information obtained from the Northern Ohio Data and Information Service at Cleveland State University suggests that Hough had 22,954 housing units in 1960, but it only had 8,409 units in 2000. Hough's population in 2000 was 16,294, a far cry from the 1960 population figure of 76,738. Income levels in Hough remain low. In 2,000, the median family income in Hough was $13,630, while the comparable figure for the city of Cleveland was $30,286. It appears, then, that this once riot-torn community has yet to address some of the issues that led to the rioting two generations ago. See also Black Nationalism; Long Hot Summer Riots, 1965-1967.
Further Readings: Cho, Yong Hyo. "City Politics and Racial Polarization: Bloc Voting in Cleveland Elections.'' Journal of Black Studies 4 (June 1974): 396-417; Kerner, Otto. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. New York: Elsevier-North Holland, 1968; Lackritz, Marc E. "The Hough Riots of 1966.'' Senior thesis, Princeton University, 1968. E-book available at Cleveland State University, Library Special Collections, Http://web. ulib. csuohio. edu/hough/; Richan, Willard C. Racial Isolation in the Cleveland Schools. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University, 1967; Stokes, Carl B. Promises of Power: Then and Now. Cleveland: Friends of Carl B. Stokes, 1989; Upton, James N. ''The Politics of Urban Violence: Critiques and Proposals.'' Journal of Black Studies 15 (March 1985): 243-258; Williams, Walter. ''Cleveland's Crisis Ghetto: Causes and Complaints.'' In P. H. Rossi, ed. Ghetto Revolts. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1973.
Regennia N. Williams
No comments to “Cleveland (Ohio) Riot of 1966”
Leave a Reply