Among my strongest and best memories are those of my friends who lived on a couple of blocks of our Parkgate Avenue, right across the street from the then-Miles Standish Elementary School. We received quality education in that school where about half of my class was Jewish kids of the neighborhood.
Glenville was still a predominantly Jewish neighborhood when my parents moved into the area of Northeast Cleveland. I don’t remember the time of our family’s move because I was a toddler. But I fondly recall our lives in the early 1950s. I realize nostalgia can often color memory, but I am certain I had a wonderful childhood growing up in the Glenville neighborhood. I remember the abundance of stores of all kinds on East 105th Street – the main north-south thoroughfare, which was an avenue of commerce. Within walking distance of our home were stores which sold all kinds of goods and provided a myriad of services.
I often bicycled to the stores with a shopping list from my mother. When the products I bought were too much for me to balance while riding a bicycle, my wagon, which I also used to deliver The Plain Dealer, would be used to handle the work. On big shopping days, dad’s car would be used to get us to Fisher Foods supermarket at the corner of East 105th Street and St. Clair Avenue. Although downtown Cleveland department stores were needed for large-scale purchases, especially during the holidays, much of our daily shopping needs could be found on East 105th Street. There was even a neighborhood movie theater, the Liberty, near East 105th Street and Superior Avenue. There were banks, night clubs and many other businesses. The neighborhood was commonly called the “Gold Coast.”
It was into this neighborhood beginning in the late 1940s that much of the black middle class had moved.
When my parents moved in to Glenville in 1947, they bought furniture from Mantel’s Furniture Store at East 105th Street. Because it was a major Jewish neighborhood, there were many synagogues in the area. Eventually, the buildings would be sold to Christian congregations. Many of the religious houses of worship still exist and original Stars of David can be seen carved into the old buildings or in the stained-glass windows.
We had Little League baseball with supervised playing fields at Gordon Park. There was actually a baseball league of teams with schedules of play during the summer months. I played for teams named after our favorite Cleveland Indians players. Five days a week during the summer, my friends and I would walk along Liberty Boulevard (now renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) to Gordon Park, where we would play baseball under the supervision of the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland Baseball Federation.
The area is still filled with green spaces. On hot and humid summer nights before air conditioners became common in homes, my parents, my sister and I might take a walk through the park, hoping to catch a cool breeze sweeping off Lake Erie which was about a mile away. It was a comfortable time when there was no fear of our becoming innocent victims in drive-by shootings. There was crime, but we rarely saw it in our lives.
The black middle class of doctors, teachers, architects, some businesspeople, postal workers, factory workers – many of whom worked in the companies not far away – lived in Glenville and other neighborhoods, too. In the decades before the Fair Housing Act, we blacks were not allowed in the suburbs yet. There was even difficulty moving to some Cleveland neighborhoods. But Glenville seemed open to the growing black population.
My parents, both children of the Great Depression who were college-educated in the segregated South were part of the great migration of blacks looking for better lives in the North and the West. Cleveland was clearly part of that migration. Older relatives of my mother and father had come to Cleveland as early as World War I for opportunities in the steel mills. Two decades later, my parents followed, living with aunts and uncles in the Central neighborhood before eventually venturing farther out to Glenville.
For us kids, one of the highlights every summer was the opening of the supervised playground at the elementary school across the street from where I lived. Two college students had summer jobs at the playground, which was sponsored by the Cleveland Board of Education and the City of Cleveland Recreation Department. I actually learned to play the ukulele at the playground.
It was a wonderful time to grow up. The neighborhood changed as the Jewish residents began to move to the Heights, and more of the black middle class moved in. Many of their businesses stayed as some black-owned businesses opened their doors. During this time, there was rarely an abandoned building.
It was during this time of my adolescence, I developed a passion for the radio. Using a long wire attached to my radio antenna, I was able to pull in broadcast signals from distant places. In the back bedroom of our house on Parkgate Avenue, I would lie in bed and listen to the baritone voice of announcers at the 50,000-watt radio stations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati. On nights when the atmospherics were good, I could pull in the radio station in St. Louis. Radio became my passion. So too, did television.
I was inspired by the broadcasts, and coupled with the advice of a sixth-grade teacher, I pointed myself toward a possible career in broadcast news. I realize I am painting a picture with a nostalgic brush dipped into a paint of wonderful memories. But in fairness, I must say all was not perfect in our world in Glenville. As blacks, we did not have all the rights we have today. Racism existed and it peppered much of our lives. My parents tried to shield me from the troubles of the world as long as they could and for that, I am thankful. I would later learn more of the true realities of life. But my parents also instilled in me an idea of always striving to help make a better world. I had dreams of better days.
And so too, did my parents who demanded quality education for children. I don’t think I could have had a better childhood. I had friends, good schooling, strong parenting, and dreams.
For me, it was a wonderful time to grow up. My family lived in the house for 17 years. Many times, I go back to the old neighborhood and look at the house which had been our home. The house is troubled now. Some of the aluminum siding has been ripped away. It looks as if the house is wounded. It is. No one lives there now. Records show the house went into foreclosure years ago.
There are both city hall and private sector movements to bring back the neighborhood and there are many successes. Several months ago, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who also grew up in Cleveland, and I walked an area of East 105th Street at Ashbury Avenue, where there is a new business development being built. The mayor said it can be an incubator for more business and development. In the area are completely renovated homes where buyers have invested not only in the neighborhood, but in their own lives. That is inspiring for me. Still, I recall those days of my youth when our neighborhood was lush with green lawns and squeals of children running across them at nighttime. We were innocent of problems. And it can be that way again, but it will take work and a deeper understanding of the importance of neighborhoods. Yes, I am looking forward and I am optimistic because there is no payoff in being a pessimist.
Still, I am nostalgic as I recall backyard barbecues, especially on summertime holidays when the men would gather and drink local beers while they watched the meat on the grills. The women would be bringing out other foods as families celebrated the Fourth of July. The men, only a few years from World War II or from the Korean War would talk about those days of a decade or a decade-and-a-half ago. The women would trade stories about raising the children. And we children would romp back and forth.
As we got older, we spoke of college and of dreams which would open for our realities as the civil rights movement got more of its foothold.
My boyhood friends and I would enjoy the times and talk of baseball and movies and girls. We all lived on a couple of blocks of the Glenville neighborhood. As we predicted decades ago, Carl Crew would become the medical doctor. Otis Howard joined Cuyahoga County and became a supervisor of the upkeep of downtown buildings. Richard Baker became a police officer for Cuyahoga Community College. Joseph Samuels became a college vice president and interim president for a college on the West Coast. Myron Moreland went into oil, working in an important facility which distributes oil through underground pipelines across the country.
John Moreland became a pilot for the aviation section of a major Cincinnati-based national corporation, flying their executives all over the world.
Virgil Brown Jr. followed his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer and now runs the insurance agency his father began.
Leon Bibb, the kid who listened to radio broadcasts from distant radio stations followed his dreams and placed himself in front of a microphone and camera which would send his voice and image through the air at the speed of light.
This is the story of two blocks of one neighborhood, where everyone was living in a time of significant change. Glenville is part of my root structure where the seeds of my life were deeply planted in fertile soil.