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Black History Month: Notable African-Americans in Cleveland

Posted at 4:52 PM, Feb 09, 2017

The African-American community has made important contributions to the City of Cleveland. From educational to cultural institutions, the impact made by these individuals, along with many others, continues to this day.

Jane Edna Hunter (1882-1971) was a prominent African-American social worker who created the Phyllis Wheatley Association, a scholarship fund for African-American high school graduates. Hunter also founded the Women's Civic League of Cleveland. In 1911, she also organized the Working Girls Association in 1911 to help unmarried women acquire safe housing.

Zelma Watson George (1903-1994) was a woman who had many accomplishments in numerous fields ranging from a United Nations Diplomat to performing in operas in the historic Karamu House. George received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study African-American women in music. She wrote a musical drama based on her research, "Chariot's A'Comin!", which was telecast by Channel 5 TV in 1949. She served on various government committees and taught classes at Cuyahoga Community College.

Benjamin O. Davis (1912-2002) broke barriers as the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force. After retiring from the Air Force, he was appointed Director of civil aviation security at the Department of Transportation. His Cleveland claim to fame was his role as Cleveland's Public Safety Director for a brief moment.

Garrett Morgan (1903-1994) was born to two parents who were former slaves. He was very active in the affairs of the Black community. In 1909, he opened up a sewing shop on W.6th. Aside from being a businessman, he invented a helmet to protect against smoke and ammonia when he was producing a hair straightening product. These helmets were later used in the gas-filled tunnel beneath Lake Erie to rescue workers and retrieve bodies after the Cleveland Waterworks explosion. Morgan's other big invention, most impactful to today was the traffic light. In 1920, Morgan founded the weekly newspaper, the Cleveland Call.