Part 1: Manuscript Collections Part 2: Institutional Records Part 3: Photographs and Newspapers

By Samuel W. Black
Associate Curator for African American History
The Western Reserve Historical Society

In addition to the many manuscript collections, those that I have mentioned also have companion photographic collections as well. The individual collections have family images and portraits of individuals and groups.

The George Myers photographs contain images of the Hollenden Hotel Barbershop. Noted are photographs of the exterior of the shop and an interior image of the 17-chair establishment. The photographs of Charles W. Chesnutt include family images and portraits. Likewise, John P. Green photographs include images of his sons and portraits of Green. The Garrett A. Morgan collection has a sizeable photograph file including family portraits, portraits of Morgan as well as publicity images for his inventions, and images from the 1916 Lake Erie crib incident. The organizations and institutions listed contain companion photographs with the largest and most impressive being the Karamu House, Inc. photograph collection. This collection contains over 1,300 prints of various sizes and formats. The collection ranges from 1915 to 1972 and includes images of the early buildings to house the settlement as well as its theater.
Equally important for the study of Clevelandís African Americanís from 1900 to 1915 were the newspapers. Included are the Cleveland Gazette (1883-1941), Cleveland Journal (1903-1910), and the Cleveland Advocate (1915-1920). Each paper had its own constituency and focus. The Gazette was published by Harry C. Smith a former state representative and businessman who participated in a number of national organizations including the Afro-American League (1890s), the Niagara Movement (1905), and various local political clubs. In the Ohio House between 1894 and 1896, Smith presented legislation for Ohioís Civil Rights and Anti-Lynching Bills. The Gazette was a "race" paper with strong republican political tones. The Cleveland Journal was published by a group of men from a younger generation than Harry C. Smith. Thomas Fleming, Nahum Brasher and Welcome T. Blue were partners in the Journal Publishing Company. Their papers espoused the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and often advocated for self-help and support of black owned businesses and people. The increase in local organization development was followed very closely by the Journal. The paper is invaluable for an understanding of African-American political and business development during the first decade of the century.
Between 1910 and 1915, African Americans migrated to Cleveland from various points south, east and west. Mostly southern migrants came in search of jobs, a better living, and to escape the clutches of Jim Crow Segregation. In 1915 Barbadian immigrant Ormonde Forte established the Advocate and reported a great deal on migration issues facing Cleveland on a daily basis. He also reported the War in Europe and the U.S. involvement after 1917. Particular in this paper were the advertisements for hair straighteners, skin lightners, and other products to change the features of African Americans. These products were increasingly on the consumer market and made for advertising sales for the Advocate and other papers. Harry C. Smith for years refused to use these advertisements until financially he could not afford to deny. The interesting note with these types of advertisements is that many African Americans used these products in belief that the oppressive and racist issues in America would be alleviated if they could "whiten" their appearances. These sources offer a great study of racialism and its psychological effects upon African Americans.
The African American Archives contains some one hundred and fifty manuscript collections that are available for research and study. In addition, the Archives has available rare and special books written by or about Africans and African Americans. For a study of Cleveland African-American community from 1900 to 1915, the collections mentioned here are vital and could lead to a greater search of topics and subjects within that period. Although these collections tend to focus a great deal on Northeastern Ohio, their relevance to the greater world is vital. Scholars and students have the opportunity to utilize the African American Archives for study, these, and dissertations.
The Western Reserve Historical Society is located in University Circle and is open everyday for the Museum and Tuesday through Sunday for the Library.