SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Ten Ohio Historical Markers will be installed at the “top ten” sites in Cleveland associated with the struggle for civil rights for Black Americans between the 1950s and 1970s as part of the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail.
Three sites were marked last year and the Cleveland Restoration Society has announced the next three locations that will receive markers.
They include the Ludlow neighborhood which straddles the cities of Cleveland and Shaker Heights, Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.
Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church served as the headquarters for the United Freedom movement and was essential in grassroots organizing under the leadership of Rev. Theophilus Caviness.
Olivet Institutional Church Baptist Church served as home base for Dr. Martin Luther King whenever he was in Cleveland.
The Ludlow neighborhood is being recognized for the formation and contributions of the Ludlow Community Association (LCA). The organization was formed in 1957, the year after a bombing at the home of John and Dorothy Pegg, a Black couple.
“We were totally stunned,” said Elinor Polster, who lived in the community at that time and helped form the association. “We all knew because the neighborhood had started to integrate that it was a racial incident. And those of us living there were astounded. And then as I say, we got angry because we had a wonderful neighborhood and we didn't want anything like that happening.”
The promise of a better education for their children drew Black families to Ludlow in the 1950s. Straddling the city of Cleveland and Shaker Heights, it is served by the Shaker Heights School District.
But some didn’t like the new changes. According to Case Western Reserve University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Ludlow was an all-white neighborhood made up of about 500 homes in 1955. Black families began moving in that year, which was unsettling for some white homeowners.
The year after the Pegg house bombing, Polster and others created the LCA.
“The residents of Ludlow were unique because they wanted to integrate where they were, they were not afraid of it,” said Crystal Montgomery, a trustee of the Cleveland Restoration Society.
With a steady flow of Black families still interested in the area, the association focused on pushing back against redlining which is a discriminatory practice where financial services like home loans are refused to someone because of the area they live in, usually associated with certain racial or ethnic groups.
They also worked to convince white families to stay or buy homes in Ludlow with an overall goal of integration.
“We ended up having housing parties. We would find several couples who were interested in moving into the area. We would show them the houses and then we would have a potluck supper at one of our houses, talking about the neighborhood, getting them to meet people,” said Polster.
It was a success—setting a nationwide example of a community coming together to support integration.
According to Case Western’s encyclopedia, by 1959, 80 to 90 families had moved into Ludlow, followed by nine white families moved in 1961, and by 1982, about 55% of the neighborhood’s residents were members of racial minority groups.
“We had bridge games together. We went to the movies together. We were good friends, our children were good friends. It was a wonderful experience,” said Polster.
Clarence Holmes moved into Ludlow with his family in 1959. He served as the president of the Cleveland NAACP in the early 1960s.
“Housing was very much segregated at the time,” said Holmes. “Some of the effects of housing segregation were also reflected in the school systems, especially in the city of Cleveland.”
Holmes joined the LCA, too. Though he didn’t agree with all of their strategies, he recognized the work they put in.
“Any effort to try to moderate discrimination and prejudice is to be applauded,” said Holmes.
That’s why Ludlow, along with Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church are the next three sites to receive markers on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail.
“It is known, I think, mostly all over the country, the work that they did, and how creative they were to make the integration happen. So they're in the history books,” said Montgomery.
These days, Ludlow has an 85% black population, and the LCA is still around with a new generation of people taking charge to enrich their community.
But even though it's not as diverse as it once was, Polster knows their efforts still made an impact in the long run.
“We did accomplish what we wanted to at that time, and, as I say, the accomplishment shows in the children and the grandchildren and not in what happens to the older people,” said Polster. “This is something that happened to us. It just happened. It's nothing that we sought out. But it's so enriched our lives. And I feel we're just lucky.”
Ludlow neighborhood, Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church join three previously announced sites on the trail: Cory United Methodist Church, Glenville High School, and the Hough neighborhood.
More information about the trail can be found here.
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