FutureHeights inducts 13 to Innovator's Circle
At its annual meeting on March 20, FutureHeights inducted 13 new members to the Innovator's Circle, an honorary group that recognizes the actions and dedication of individuals who give their vision and energy to make the Heights the best communities they can be.
“This year, FutureHeights chose to recognize leaders in the movement to ensure that Cleveland Heights remained a vibrant and integrated community,” said Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of FutureHeights. “When African Americans began moving into the Heights in the 1960s and 70s, there was a lot of fear that our community would become resegregated and that our housing stock would deteriorate. These individuals, and many others, organized to work against fear and prejudice. It is through their efforts that we have the wonderful and diverse community that we have today.”
Although there were many individuals and groups involved in these efforts, and further research is needed, FutureHeights recognized the following individuals this year:
- Suzanne Nigro, Lana Cowell, Jeanne Martin Diamond, Nancy Cappelletti and Linda Johnston, who led the Saint Ann’s Social Action Housing Committee to conduct an audit of real estate practices in the Heights. The group’s grassroots study proved what many had suspected, that 10 real estate companies operating in the Heights were discriminating against African Americans and that seven of the 10 were steering African Americans to only certain Heights neighborhoods and whites away from all Heights neighborhoods. The results of the audit caught media attention, and focused more community efforts on integration and fair housing.
- Harry Fagan, who was a member of the Commission on Catholic Community Action, which supported the audit, and a member of the Carmelite Group, a group of religious leaders, dedicated to social justice, who met in the basement of the Carmelite Monastery at the corner of Lee Road and Fairmount Boulevard. The Carmelite Group was the forerunner of the Heights Interfaith Council. Fagan was the first director of the Heights Community Congress, a community group dedicated to fair housing.
- Bernice Lott, Betty Nelson and Doris Allen, who founded the Committee to Improve Community Relations, a group of African Americans that worked to educate the public, the city and the school district about African-American youth. The committee was formed after an incident at the YMCA/YWCA on Lee Road, during which white youths assaulted a group of African-American teens with metal poles. The police responded and disrupted the assault, but returned the weapons to the perpetrators. Allen volunteered as a tester for the Saint Ann’s Audit. Lott became president of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education.
- The Reverend Ned Edwards, a former pastor of Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian, who was a founder of the Heights Interfaith Council; a supporter of the Forest Hill Church Housing Corporation, which later became the Home Repair Resource Center; and the second president of the board of directors of Heights Community Congress.
- Charles Ault, who was the first president of the board of the Forest Hill Church Housing Corporation, and brought his knowledge of financial institutions to bear on the efforts to create programs to keep Heights housing stock in good repair.
- John Boyle III, who was the mayor of Cleveland Heights when the city adopted its Nine-Point Plan, which institutionalized many of the recommendations of the Saint Ann’s Audit report. This included a preferred real estate program, a Heights housing service, and the enforcement of the fair housing law.
- Susanna Niermann O’Neil, who began her career as a staff member for the Heights Community Congress’s housing services. Niermann O’Neil said that, in 1976, Harry Fagan convinced her to join the staff at Cleveland Heights City Hall, where “she might do some good.” Niermann O'Neil continues to lead the city’s community relations department and is now assistant city manager.
“The Heights is a unique place, home to many dedicated and talented individuals. The challenges that our community faces now may be different from the challenges we faced in the 1970s,” said Bremer Fisher, “but those who came before us have shown us the way. I’m confident that we can overcome our difficulties and remain a vibrant, integrated and sustainable community far into the future.”
To learn more about this era in Heights history, visit www.chhistory.org/FeatureStories.php?Story=StruggleForFairHousing. FutureHeights and the Cleveland Heights Historical Society are continuing to research this subject. If you have information or would like to be interviewed, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-320-1423.
Chris Hanson is a senior in the Urban Studies program at Cleveland State University, a consultant at www.urbancashcows.com, and an intern at FutureHeights.