Cover for KUSMER: A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930. Click for larger image

A Ghetto Takes Shape

Black Cleveland, 1870-1930

In 1865, the Cleveland Leader boasted that "an indication of the civilized spirit of the city of Cleveland is found in the fact that colored children attend our schools, colored people are permitted to attend all public lectures and public affairs where the fashion and culture of the city congregate, and nobody is offended." Yet, by 1915, the Central Avenue district of town, with its cheap lodging houses, deteriorating homes, and vice, housed a majority of the black population under conditions that were decidedly inferior to those of most of the rest of the city.

Tracing the development of Cleveland's black community from its antebellum beginnings to the end of the 1920s, Kenneth Kusmer systematically surveys and analyzes the emergence of the ghetto in the city where, prior to 1870, blacks were "almost equal" to whites. This volume deals in a comprehensive way with more aspects of black life - economic, political, social, and cultural - than any previous study of an urban community and presents the most detailed analysis of black occupations available. It is also the first work to make extensive use of manuscript collections of local black leaders and organizations.

Of particular value is the comparative framework of the study. Kusmer compares the position of blacks in the social order with that of immigrants and native whites and places the development of the ghetto within the context of urban history. In addition, by contrasting Cleveland with other major cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Boston, Kusmer shows that there were important differences among black communities, especially before 1915, and proves that the causes and effects of the emergence of black ghettos are more complex historical problems than previously recognized.

The consolidation of Cleveland's ghetto took over fifty years, and it left the average black citizen more isolated from the general life of the urban community than ever before. Yet, ironically, Kusmer concludes, it was this very isolation, and the sense of unique goals and needs that it fostered, that helped unify the black citizenry and provided the practical basis for the future struggle against racism in all its manifestations.

"Kenneth L. Kusmer has written the best book yet on the formation of a black urban ghetto. It stands as a tribute to the blend of urban and Afro-American history."--Howard P. Chudacoff, American Historical Review

"What makes Kusmer stand out among books on blacks in the urban North is the breadth and sophistication with which he conceptualizes his study. . . . The grace and intelligence of Kusmer make his book the single best study of the shaping of modern black ghettos. . . . Should be greeted warmly by historians of blacks and of urban America."--Nancy Weiss, Reviews in American History

"Drawing upon a variety of statistical and literary primary sources . . . Kusmer presents a richly documented case study. His felicitously lucid and comprehensive analysis of the growth of one black ghetto promises to provide a model for future historians of the second major chapter in the Afro-American experience. In my view, Kusmer's multifaceted historical analysis of black Cleveland represents the finest case study of an urban black community to appear in the past decade."--Marion Kilson, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Instead of fixing upon the pathological aspects of the ghetto or the racial discriminations of the white majority he finds his unifying theme in the leadership and decision0making within the black community. This is a richly detailed and thoughtfully constructed book."--Louis R. Harlan, Journal of American History

Kenneth L. Kusmer is assistant professor of history at Temple University, where he teaches urban and social history. He was born in Cleveland and grew up on the east side of that city. He was educated at Oberlin College, Kent State University, and the University of Chicago. He received the Louis Pelzer Award of the Organization of American Historians in 1973.

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