In a time of national awaking around racial justice and social equality, the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) is quietly moving ahead with building an African American Civil Rights trail—selecting 10 sites in Cleveland for bronze, Ohio-shaped markers that observe the struggle for civil rights for African Americans between 1954 and 1976.
The restoration society last October was awarded a $50,000 African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service for its project “In Their Footsteps: Developing an African American Civil Rights Trail in Cleveland, OH.” to preserve and highlight stories related to the African-American struggle for racial equality in the 20th century.
To choose just 10 sites in a city that played a significant role in the movement is a tough one, says CRS president Kathleen Crowther, so the organization is asking the public for input in choosing the sites.
“We really have just begun the project and we have a wonderful team of scholars involved with us,” she says. “We thought it would be appropriate for people in our community to share their viewpoints on where they think the most important sites are in their time.”
So, CRS put together a survey to gain input on certain marker candidates. Nine sites from the Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1964) and 10 sites from the Second Revolution (1964-1976) are listed in the survey.
Respondents simply view the selected sites and histories, then rate each one as “least significant,” “significant,” or “most significant.”
Survey sites from the Modern Civil Rights Movement include Cory United Methodist Church, where both Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X spoke many times; The Ludlow Community Association, an organization founded in 1957 to preserve the quality and diversity in the Cleveland-Shaker Heights Ludlow neighborhood; and the United Freedom Movement, 2206 Murray Hill Road, the site of 1964 riots over Black students being bussed to Little Italy schools.
Survey sites from the Second Revolution include the home of Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major American city; the 1968 Jomo Freedom Kenyatta Club on Superior Avenue, where local militant groups advocated for a more uncompromising and community-based position for civil rights legislation and empowerment; and Isaac Haggins Realty office on North Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights, which in 1968 became the first Black-owned realty office in a Cleveland suburb and was bombed in 1969.
Crowther says the sites listed in the survey (and not all of them are physical landmarks) do not make up a comprehensive list of possibilities. She says CRS welcomes additional suggestions.
“This survey is meant to get a temperature read from the community and identify potential sites we may not know of,” explains Crowther. “History is about those that write it, and often times there’s no one consensus or right way to interpret history.”
Additionally, Crowther stresses that civil rights movement is still occurring in Cleveland and the rest of the country (although markers will be limited to events and places that occurred at least 50 years ago).
“The struggles are with us still today, and the civil rights era is not something that ended in the 70s,” she says. “It’s going on today. I’m really stunned how relevant it is today. This is our history, and we want to embrace our history.”
When completed, the 10 Ohio Historical Markers—there are a total of 707 bronze, Ohio-shaped markers across Ohio, which are 42 inches wide by 45 inches high, and stand seven feet tall—will be installed at the chosen Cleveland-area sites associated with the struggle for civil rights for African Americans.
Crowther says, according to her research, there is no other civil rights trail in the North. Since this will be the first northern trail, she says its important to solicit feedback from the community and choose the 10 sites accordingly.
“We are doing this because we do ant people to take the survey and voice their views,” says Crowther. “It gives us whatever information they have that we might not have.”
The survey is available through this Sunday, Aug. 9. Click here to participate.
In addition to the markers, Crowther says CRS is working on a website campaign that will include more detailed information about these historical places and events. “Because this is an issue that is happening today—it didn’t just happen in the 50s and 60s,” she says. “Civil rights and human rights remain a central issue.”