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The Negro in Cleveland

 

The Negro in Cleveland

[illustration]

CHARLES W. CHESNUTT

". . . race problem . . . not acute. . ."

THERE are in Cleveland, according to the best available information, about 75,000 persons of African descent, classed as Negroes, though they vary in blood from one thirty-second to full Negro, and in color from ivory or pale pink to ebony.

They reside, for the most part, in the district lying between 14th Street on the west and 105th Street on the east, and between Cedar and Woodland Avenues; with some extension to the south, from Woodland, and to the east from 105th, and quite a number out Kinsman way, in what is known as Mt. Pleasant. In these districts they can purchase or rent and occupy property without objection, and many of them own their own homes. Other residential districts are resistant to their advent, sometimes by intimidation or violence, but there are quite a few scattered in the district between Superior Avenue and the lake, in the vicinity of East 105th Street.

FORBIDDEN GROUND

THE whole Heights development is practically closed to them, though a few families not obviously Negroid have secured a foothold. It is about as difficult for a Negro to buy property on the Heights, except in one village, as it is for the traditional camel to pass through the eye of the traditional needle. This exclusiveness is maintained by care in sales, and by restrictive clauses in deeds, the legality of which is doubtful and has never been thoroughly tested. The objection to their proximity does not include servants, so that Negroes in fact live all over the city.

Negroes as a class live on a low economic plane. Most of them are poor, some of them very poor; many of their children go to school undernourished and insufficiently clad. They have no rich men, measuring wealth by a very low standard, although their aggregate possessions would reach a very respectable figure. Of the upper tenth, a few own handsome, well-furnished homes with many evidences of taste and culture. The majority live in drab, middle or low class houses, none too well kept up, or in the moderate priced apartment houses which are found in their neighborhoods; while the poor live in dilapidated rack-rented shacks, sometimes a whole family in one or two rooms, as a rule paying higher rents than white tenants for the same space.

The first and fundamental concern of all men is the supply of their physical needs–food, clothing and shelter. To meet these simplest wants on the lowest plane demands money, and to get money one has to find work. Much of the Negro labor is common labor. The restriction of immigration, by lessening competition has helped the Negro in this field, though the multiplication of machines has been a strong counteragent. Odd jobs are the least dependable form of employment, and many colored people have no other source of income. Domestic service, skilled or unskilled, supports many others.

When such numbers of them came North during and after the war, many were employed in the mills and factories at high wages, but the return of the white soldiers and, later, the financial slump, reduced this employment materially. There are many colored men in the building trades, especially in the rougher and harder work. They are received in most of the building trades unions, the notable exceptions being the electrical workers, the plumbers and the structural iron workers. But in the distribution of work through the unions, they are generally the last to be considered.

In spite of liberal resolutions passed from time to time by the American Federation of Labor, many unions, including most of the railroad unions, exclude Negroes from membership.

The waiters', waitresses' and cooks' unions do not admit colored members.

Due to the disappearance of the old-time system of apprenticeship, it is hard for a colored youth to learn a trade, and the trade schools conducted by the Board of Education are so tied up by rules and regulations, largely dictated by the labor unions, that it is difficult for a Negro boy to acquire a trade in them. He cannot study unless he secures in advance the promise of a job where he can do practical work on part time during his studies, or where he   will be permanently employed at the end of his course. The difficulty in placing them has caused the officials to discourage the attendance of Negro students. A colored youth can take elementary training in the East Technical High School, but practical training in many trades can only be acquired in factories which discourage or limit the number of apprentices and especially Negro apprentices. The advantage of labor unions to the Negro lies chiefly in the advance in wages secured by the unions, which is reflected in the wages paid for common and non-union labor.

GAINING A FOOTHOLD

THE thousands of places as clerks and salesmen in the great department and chain stores are closed to them with very few exceptions. Recently one of the chain store companies has had a store in a colored neighborhood with an entire Negro personnel.

There are no Negro conductors or motormen on the Cleveland Street Railway. In Detroit, where the street railways are city owned and operated, there are about one hundred. The East Ohio Gas Company, the Ohio Bell Telephone Company, indeed none of the great public utilities, employ colored people in anything but the humblest positions. In many of the industrial plants they are employed for the harder kinds of labor but have suffered disproportionately by the recent industrial decline, being generally the first to be let out when the force is reduced.

The development of business among Negroes in Cleveland has been backward, for obvious reasons–the lack of capital, experience and inherited business aptitude. Nevertheless, there are many kinds of business owned and operated by them. There are ten undertaking establishments, many small groceries, drug stores, restaurants, barber shops and pressing shops, and at least two small factories which manufacture brass specialties and metal grinding materials. There are few partnerships and no commercial corporations. They operate a number of gasoline service stations, including a chain of seven. There are colored photographers, caterers, music and furniture dealers; they conduct several hotels and various other business enterprises.

The number of Negro newspapers varies from time to time. At present there are two. They publish news of special interest to their group, including in every issue a list of lynchings and other outrages, as well as a chronicle of successes.

The Negroes of Cleveland are well represented numerically in the learned professions.

There are about thirty-five colored lawyers practicing in the courts of the city and county, mostly in the Municipal and Police Courts. They have little commercial business, because most of their clients are of their own people, who have no large commercial or manufacturing business, for which reason a Negro lawyer is never appointed receiver or referee in an important case, though they are often appointed by the judges to defend criminals, the county paying their fees. Several of them have been recommended and others declared qualified by the Citizens' League and the Bar Associations when they run for office, and are well spoken of by the white lawyers and judges.

In the medical profession the Negro fares even better. There are fifty Negro doctors practicing in Cleveland. Six are attached to the staff of Lakeside Hospital, the main teaching unit of Western Reserve University, which has been very generous toward the Negro physician. One of them, who has been in the Department of Pediatrics for nine years, was sent to Harvard last year by the Department of Surgery for special study under a famous specialist. There is one in the Ophthalmological Department and one in the Department of Neurology.

Charity Hospital, a Catholic institution, has a Negro physician in the roentgenological department. The Salvation Army maternity home and hospital for colored women has an all-Negro staff, with the exception of a white chief-of-staff, and for years there has been a colored physician on the courtesy staff of Charity Hospital in minor surgery and medicine.

A LUXURY

THERE are several dentists, but dentistry is one of the decorative arts and does not thrive among poor people in hard times, although in the boom years following the war the amount of gold used by Negro dentists must have seriously depleted the gold reserve of the nation.

There is a widely varying attitude toward the Negro in the social service agencies, embracing in the term those supported in whole or in part by the Community Fund.

The Y. M. C. A. and the Y. W. C. A. do not admit colored members, though colored students are received in the Y School of Technology and the Y. M. C. A. branch at Cedar Avenue and 77th Street is open to all young people without discrimination. The executive secretary in charge of the branch was captain in a colored regiment of the A. E. F. The Phillis Wheatley Association for colored working girls, probably the most widely known of the Negro welfare agencies, occupies a large and commodious building, erected by popular subscription, at 40th Street and Cedar Avenue, where it furnishes rooms for young women and conducts an employment agency and a restaurant which is open to the public. It conducts training classes in domestic service and home economics, presents pageants and plays, and has an auditorium which can be rented for meetings. It also has a branch on East 105th Street.

The Neighborhood Settlement, on 38th Street, long known as the "Play House," serves colored and white children on equal terms, and has long been doing a great cultural service for the Negro. Its very capable dramatic club, the Gilpin Players, has a small theater on Central Avenue, and it has also presented plays in the Little Theater at Public Hall.

FOR THE RACE

THE Negro Welfare Association is performing a very useful service in opening up new fields of employment for Negroes, in probation and Big Brother work and other welfare activities. The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People concerns itself with racial discrimination of all sorts.

No colored children are received at any Cleveland Orphan Asylum, though Negro orphans are looked after very thoroughly by the Cleveland Humane Society. None of the "old folks' homes," male or female, are open to Negroes, except the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored Persons on Cedar Avenue, near 40th Street. This institution was founded and is managed by colored people and has places for sixteen inmates, all of which are taken.

The Salvation Army conducts a rescue home for colored women on Kinsman Avenue. Its other ministrations seem to be extended to the colored poor impartially, though it does not furnish lodging to the Negro "down-and-out."

The place where colored people get the best break is the public service. The reason is obvious–in Cleveland they vote, and they are learning, under an increasingly efficient leadership, to use their vote effectively. In certain districts the Negro vote is controlling, due to residence segregation, whether voluntary or forced. There are a colored Representative in the State Legislature, three members of the City Council, a member of the City Civil Service Commission and an Examiner in its office, and a member of the City Planning Commission. The Garbage Collection Department is entirely manned by Negroes, including the superintendency.

There are colored patrolmen and detectives, but no Negro firemen–perhaps for social reasons, since the firemen live in the stations. They are called for jury duty just as other citizens, though not accepted on juries quite as often. They have at least one clerk or deputy in each of the county offices, and have put forward candidates for the office of judge, so far without success. The supply of judgeships is so small and the [Continued on Page 24]   THE NEGRO IN CLEVELAND

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demand and salaries so large that a colored lawyer has small chance of election to one of them. There are several colored probation officers in the Juvenile and Municipal Courts.

In the Federal Post Office, where places are under the Civil Service, they hold many of the low salaried positions, as office clerks, postal clerks and mail carriers. Several of them are or have been employed as government meat inspectors in stockyards and abattoirs.

There has never been racial segregation in the public schools. A colored woman is a member of the Board of Education, elected thereto by popular vote, the majority of which was white. The office pays no salary and there is little opportunity for graft.

There are nearly a hundred colored teachers in the public high and grade schools, and colored teachers are trained in the Normal School. They sometimes claim they are discriminated against in admission to the Normal School, but perhaps they are unduly sensitive. The requirements for registration are very rigid, as to education, health and "personality," and many of the white applicants do not qualify.

The Quincy Avenue branch of the Cleveland Public Library employs one colored young woman, and the Sterling Branch Library has two, one being a library school attendant and working in the library on part time. Another, a college graduate, is working full time and attending Cleveland College. The library has five colored pages. The total number of professional librarians in the whole system is between three hundred and fifty and four hundred, besides others who work part time, so that the Negro is not over-represented.

There is a Negro underworld and there are many Negro criminals. But crime, under the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Law, has become a major industry, and ·Negroes do not conduct major industries.

ONLY PETTY CRIME

THERE are small bootleggers and drug peddlers among them, a great deal of policy and "numbers" gambling, an occasional gas-station or grocery holdup, with perhaps an incidental murder, but colored men as a whole have neither the money nor the organization to carry on big bootlegging and racketeering enterprises, nor the reckless daring which marks the bank burglaries and payroll hold-ups which fill so much space in our police records. They have small opportunity for embezzlement or official graft. The most conspicuous instance of alleged criminality in Cleveland along this line among Cleveland Negroes involved only two hundred dollars. Other racial groups have taken precedence over the Negro in the field of crime, in which he might cheerfully admit his inferiority.

Socially, in the narrow sense of the word, colored people in Cleveland are strictly segregated. There are a few, close to the color line, who exchange social visits with a few white people. I do not know more than one place down town where I could take for luncheon a dark-colored man. A few years ago the Chamber of Commerce had for its speaking guest a very prominent and very dark Negro. It secured accommodation for him at a leading hotel, after another hotel had refused to entertain the Chamber's guest except upon condition that his meals be served in his room.

With the exception of the City Club, which has several colored members, I know of only three clubs in Cleveland with club houses which have any colored members, and they have only two in the aggregate, both members of the same family and superficially white. I do not refer, of course, to colored clubs, of which there are two that own their club houses, but they do not conduct restaurants.

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There is a civil service law which forbids discrimination in public places, but it is difficult and expensive to enforce. One does not care to have to bring a lawsuit or swear out a warrant every time one wants a sandwich or a cup of coffee. A dark face may occasionally be seen at a hotel dining table, at some dinner given by a professional or civic organization of which he is a member, but almost never otherwise.

The church, in modern times, has become largely a social institution. There are a few colored members of white churches, but most of the Negroes belong to their own churches, of which there are more than they need, or can properly support. Some of them have pastors with a high sense of civic duty who are capable and earnest leaders.

The reaction to the barrier of segregation which confronts the Negro almost everywhere has resulted, in Cleveland as elsewhere, in the effort to supply among his own people many of the opportunities which he is denied. A few days ago an insurance agent called on me to solicit automobile insurance. He stated proudly, as what he considered a fine selling point, that his company wrote no insurance for colored people or for anyone living between Cedar and Woodland Avenues.

INSURANCE AND BANKING

TO meet such discrimination, which is general all over the country, Negroes have organized their own insurance companies, of which nine have agencies or branch offices in Cleveland, all of which carry substantial amounts of insurance. They have no banks with checking accounts, but have three mortgage and loan companies, of which one expects shortly to meet all the requirements of the State Banking Department necessary to make it a regular bank. These institutions furnish employment for a number of young colored men and women, giving them the opportunity to learn by experience, sometimes, as elsewhere, at the expense of their stockholders, how to conduct financial operations safely and profitably. Several of the large banks in Cleveland have more capital, deposits and surplus than all the Negro banks in the United States. The Negro financial enterprises are small things, but as an index are not to be despised, and so far they have had no such catastrophes as have ingloriously terminated the career of so many of the much larger mortgage and loan companies of Cleveland. Fortunately, they have no stockbrokers.

The Negro has almost lost several of his ancestral occupations. The Italians   and Greeks, perhaps because they are better business men, have almost entirely taken over the shoeshining parlors, though Negroes are generally employed to do the work.

The jobs as hotel help had practically vanished until the recent walkout of the union workers resulted in the employment of several hundred Negro cooks and waiters who had formerly been crowded out by the unions.

The increase of white barber shops has almost put the Negro barber out of business, so far as white patronage is concerned, and the Barbers' Union, in which no Negro is admitted to membership, has been trying to complete their ruin by proposing a state barber's licensing law requiring examination and acceptance by a committee dominated by the union.

The denial to the Negro of membership in beneficial and fraternal societies has resulted in the formation among their own group of a similar organization for practically every such order, often with the same name, to the amusement of the social cynic, and often to the exasperation of the white orders. There have always been Negro Masons, but now there are Negro Elks, Moose, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Eagles, etc., ad infinitum. Why, asks the white Moose, indignantly or plaintively, do they not originate something of their own? They answer that what is good enough for the white people is good enough for them, and, moreover, that the white orders have used up all the worthy names in the fauna and flora, leaving only the skunk, the snake, the buzzard and the jimson weed for the Negro to choose from.

There is a Negro lawyers' club, though colored lawyers are freely admitted to the two other local bar associations, and there is a Negro Medical Association, though there are several colored members of the local Academy of Medicine.

There is a race problem in Cleveland, but it is not acute. From the Negroes' side it is mainly concerned with a fair living, a decent place to live, making his way in the world on equal terms with others, and living at peace with his neighbors. With these things, or any of them, denied to any material extent, that the problem might become acute is evidenced by the race riots which a few years ago convulsed Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. With fair play, the Negro makes a very good citizen. He vastly enjoys his small successes and considers himself a regular fellow. Abuse him and he becomes in his own eyes a martyr, and the martyr complex is not conducive to good citizenship. It might, conceivably, make the colored people a fertile soil for socialist or communist propaganda ; for whatever the weaknesses of communism, it teaches human equality, which makes an irresistible appeall to those who are denied it.

The greatest handicap which the Negro in Cleveland, as elsewhere, has to meet is his color, which he cannot change, and the consequences of which he cannot escape. Plausibly good reasons are given for any discrimination of which the Negro is a victim, but on analysis it all fines down to his color, which makes generalization in his case easy and exposes him to all the inherited prejudgments which have grown up about him. A white man can live down the lowest origin. The Negro's color is always with him.

The better class of white people in Cleveland are in some ways very generous toward the Negro, and can generally be relied upon to respond liberally, financially, to any call on their part for money for any worthy purpose. But they could render them a better service by cultivating fraternal or, if that be too much, at least friendly relations with them, not so much by way of condescension, as from man to man, thereby making their advancement easier along all lines. For they still have a long and hard road to travel to reach that democratic equality upon the theory of which our government and our social system are founded, not to desire and seek which would make them unworthy of contempt.