Heights integration

My husband and I and our two small children moved to Cleveland from Chicago in January 1963. We wanted to be near excellent schools and in an integrated neighborhood. At that time, the only truly integrated neighborhood was the Ludlow area of Shaker, which was out of our price range.

We rented half of a duplex in Cleveland Heights, on Hampshire Road. We were so happy in the Coventry School area that when we looked for a house to buy a year and a half later, we looked at houses only in that neighborhood, and we found one where we were very happy.

Five years later, my husband and I happened to see an extraordinary house for sale two blocks away. While we hadn't been looking to move, we bought that house the next day! We were thrilled.

At that time there was a smattering of black families living in the area. Each of our boys had one black friend from Coventry. To our stupification, the families on either side of our new house, each with seven kids, not only shunned our boys, but targeted our house for vandalism.  

The first year we were living there, these kids and their friends did more than $2,000 worth of damage, including smashing a lovely Cararra marble statue that had been in the backyard for 40 years! This was because we had black friends who visited, and perhaps also because we were Jewish.

But before all of that, shortly after we moved to Cleveland Heights, we had become involved in Heights Citizens for Human Rights, which had hundreds of Cleveland Heights, University Heights and Shaker Heights members. Our goal was to bring peaceful integration to the Heights, and also to encourage Cleveland Heights City Council to issue a fair housing law. 

Many of us went to almost every Council meeting. One meeting became so crowded and heated that, after a fistfight in the stairwell, where some of the overflow crowd was standing, the meeting was moved across the street to Park Synagogue.

Among the things we did was escort black families looking for housing to the places they wanted to be shown. At that time, they might have an appointment to see a property, but too often when the agent saw that the people were black, suddenly “the door was broken and couldn't be opened.” Or, the property had “just been sold.”  So the white couple would go to the properties first and gain entry and ascertain that the place was, indeed, available, and then our "friends" would show up to see the place. 

We also sent out mailings advising our members of what was going on. This job was done at the home of a member who had the largest dining room table for us to work on. We also had a "telephone tree," where participating members had a list of 10 names of other members so that in an emergency we could notify the others.

On Mother's Day (I'm not certain which year in the 1960s) there were three bombings of homes in the Coventry area where black families were renting. I heard one of the bombs in the middle of the night from our home. At about 4 p.m, I received a phone call asking me to notify my members that there was to be a protest meeting at 7 at the Church of the Savior. Three hours later—on Mother’s Day—more than 700 people showed up at the meeting! The response was stunning.

We volunteered to survey every apartment building in Cleveland Heights (as would-be tenants) to find out the amount of the rent and the security deposit, whether children and pets were allowed, and how many apartments were available in the building. This information was filed so that after the Federal Civil Rights law was passed, it was virtually impossible for prospective black tenants to be turned away by lies.

My husband and I were not usually joiners, but we worked very hard for Heights Citizens for Human Rights. And a personal plus for us was that, as new residents, we made some fantastic friends. It was lovely to get to know people who we knew had the same values that we had and would work for them. It eliminated having to pussyfoot around to learn what people believed in.   

Our feeling right from the beginning of our life in Cleveland was that if this kind of movement couldn't succeed in Cleveland Heights, it couldn't do so anywhere. And much of our work forced the real estate sales people to really clean up their act and not frighten people into avoiding Cleveland Heights, where homes were reasonably priced, and encourage people to buy in more expensive suburbs. 

Needless to say, in those early years many of us from HCHR (and other Cleveland Heights residents) took it upon ourselves to personally welcome new black families moving into the area. HCHR became Heights Community Congress, and eventually our work, thankfully, was made redundant.

 Pat Pavlovich is currently a resident of the Alcazar in Cleveland Heights.

Read More on Heights History
Volume 3, Issue 7, Posted 3:06 PM, 06.10.2010