A lesson in urban geography and sociology:
It has been reported, yesterday evening, in the local Cleveland news, the ending of a crime campaign in a Collinwood neighborhood. Seventeen houses were broken into, and seemingly all done by a thirteen year old, eighth grader. All the houses targeted were between the tracks of the old New York Central (now Amtrak and Conrail) and the Norfolk and Western railroads, from Saranac to Mandalay Avenues. The northeast terminus was Spellacy junior high school. St. Clair Avenue splits the territory in half. The northerly half is about Saint Mary's, and the southerly about Holy Reedemer, churches. The two areas had been pre-dominately slovene, and pre-dominately italian. It was a rough, working class neighborhood in its vibrant days, and not particularly welcoming to anyone.
Now, it must be understood that Cleveland had been very segmented by turf, very much the Chicago model in patterns of settlement distribution. Before the first world war, there was very few negroes in the city. During the second world war matters changed. In the 1950s and ’60s black migration from the southern states became very significant. From an area around Central Avenue black population expanded on the east side. Formerly white neighborhoods became black quickly.
There was resentment, and there still is. The general sociological, economic, and political events that took place in the US, and especially what happened to the industrial, now rust belt, was quite true for Cleveland.
Banks, and the normal mortgage companies, did not want to deal with the blacks. They had to have some quarters. Previously, for the negroes who worked on the trains, the railroad owned houses, and this was prior the big migration. So other than tenamentised apartments owned by landlords, there came housing contracts, in which the new owners, and the old neighbors were badly treated. Blacks would ‘buy’ houses at, even, a multiple of their old worth. To keep these houses, they often, had to make each payment on time, or the house would be forfeit. So, in response the houses would often be overcrowded, and not kept in repair. These unscrupulous blockbusters, made much money as they, destroyed neighborhoods. They would buy low, after the initial entrance, and sell high and collect, and often recollect. Sometimes they would double as lawyers, accountants and realtors, not always transparently.
It became apparent to white residents, that, blacks would ruin a neighborhood. At the current time, there are twenty one wards in Cleveland; wards one to ten have been (virtually) all black for most of this time. Ward 11, in the northeast corner of the city, is most of Collinwood. Wards 1 through 10 have always had black councilmen.* Ward 11 has a white councilmen, Mike Polensek. He has been a councilman for nearly a generation†. For a short time the barrier to black settlement was at East 140th Street, it fell as did others. East 152nd Street held as a barrier, it also fell; but the area west of 152nd has been virtually all black for a generation, the area east still has some white residents.
Two summers ago it came public, that Polensek had been writing angry letters to black, juvenile, criminals, whom were engaging in crime in Collinwood, and lived outside of Collinwood. For a couple of days he was called a racist. Well, all these break-ins happened in Ward 11, in the area bounded by East 152nd, Spellacy (that is another tale of urban geography and politics within itself), and the two railroads. The burglar has not been publicly identified. He is a resident in Polensek’s ward.
This is emblematic of a lot of the resentment white people, here often white ethnic groups, have for black people, and especially black juveniles. Here it has not been stated, his race or name, which, by past practice, highly suggests his race. The remaining, often elderly, some immigrants from the old country, have felt besieged and endangered for decades; for when the neighborhood changes, the new residents, especially, the young have no respect for the old. Blacks often find this as fuel for their resentments.
This is part of the scenery, along with declining job opportunities for all residents in the area, the demographics, the family patterns, racial attitudes, the busing and desegregation of the public schools in 1975, the riots in 1966 and 1968. Both, black and white, have been victims of bad economics. Blacks have suffered from their american experience in totality, and white clevelanders (and others) have suffered from the resultant black sociology.
*prior to 1982 there were 33 wards, soon there will be 19
†a generation is 33 years, three in a century. Polensek has been in council since 1977.