The Crime

Media Accounts and the Coroner's Inquest

Cleveland's African-American Community

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Sources

by Mary Demmy

 

 

Cleveland's African-American Community

The Hollenden Hotel Barber Shop, 1896The Hollenden Hotel was the location of one of the most prosperous and influential black-owned business in Cleveland. George A. Myers was the proprietor of the Hollenden Barber shop, which led to his connections with some of the city's most powerful business and political leaders. He even turned down political appointments by both William McKinley and Marcus A. Hanna in order to concentrate on his business. As was true even in the period before the civil war, barbering was one of the few professions open to blacks where they could accumulate capital and a modicum of prestige and most importantly be their own boss.

It's sad to note that in the years following the Civil War, while other groups such as the Germans and the Irish moved up the social scale, accumulated capital, moved into professions and gained varying degrees of political power, northern blacks remained frozen in lower end jobs. Although often they were educated alongside whites in the public school system, the majority were excluded from almost any work that would allow for substantial upward mobility.

The only witness to the murder who lived in the downtown area was Harry Davis, who shared three rooms with his wife at 1309 East 12th Street, one block from the notoriously seedy and vice-ridden Hamilton Avenue. Inez Williams, Edith Harris and Ludlough Burns all lived a streetcar ride away in the Central-Scovill neighborhood. In 1912, this area was still racially diverse and according to the 1910 census, contained a mixture of Eastern European and Russian Jews, Italian and Poles. However, over the next decade, this neighborhood was on the way to becoming exclusively black, as stated in Kenneth Kusmer's book A Ghetto Takes Shape.

Although no ghetto existed, the groundwork for future concentration had been laid. A definite trend toward the segregation of the city's black population was evident, and about 80% of black Cleveland resided within four well-defined areas of settlement. Most significant was the emergence of the Central Avenue district as a potential black belt. By 1915, this area -- with its cheap lodging houses, deteriorating homes and vice conditions -- housed a majority of the Negro population under conditions that were decidedly inferior to that of most of the city's residential sections.

Ludlough Burns lived at 3273 Scovill. According to Kusmer, between 1905-1915, this area was in the process of replacing Hamilton Street in infamy. He states, "a second, larger red-light district developed, this time in the vicinity of East 30th and Central in the very heart of the developing black community." Both Kusmer and Lane note that the political powers and the police basically forced the "vice districts to develop in Black communities" and as a result, "the association of blacks with vice amounted to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the white population."

During these years it was especially difficult for single black women to find decent housing. Both Inez and Edith had rooms near Scovill and 46th, which at this time was a predominately Jewish neighborhood. Inez lived around the corner from the Kenneth-Israel Congregational Synagogue. Jane Edna Hunter, the founder of the Phyllis Wheatly Association, arrived in Cleveland in 1905 and in her autobiography, A Nickel and a Prayer, chronicles the frustration she experienced in finding mostly substandard and overpriced housing. She comments on her female friends who "had to return...to dark, little room under the eaves; lumpy straw mattresses; dim gas lights, which had to be turned off at ten o'clock and surly land ladies to whom women lodgers were nuisances to be put up with."

Neither Inez nor Edith is found in the 1910 census or in the City Directory. Actually, none of the characters in this drama were able to be located in the census or the Directory, which speaks to the transience of their lives and jobs. According to the 1910 census, approximately two-thirds of this population fell between the ages of 15 and 54. This was due to the fact that many blacks had migrated to the city from other parts of the country. However, unlike many east coast cities, black women did not significantly outnumber black men. In his book The Black North, W.E.B. DuBois mentions that young blacks could not afford to marry and therefore stayed single years beyond the age they would have married in rural regions. This holds true for our characters as well who, with the exception of Harry Davis, were all single.

On the coroner's report, Inez's occupation is listed as H.W., which probably stands for housework. It is possible that she worked in private residence or at a hotel. At the inquest, Edith Morris was not asker her occupation, but only if she was related to Inez. Another interesting note on the coroner's report: Inez Williams' nativity is listed as African. She was 25 in 1912, so that it is extremely doubtful she was born in Africa. It would be hard to believe that they would put down a foreign nativity for a third- or fourth-generation white American. Since none of the witnesses were found in the census, it is impossible to say in which states they were born or estimate how long they had lived in Cleveland. However, a page from the 1910 census of part of 30th Street between Central and Scovill gives some inkling of the makeup of the black community. There was a fair representation from the nearer southern states such as Virginia and Maryland.

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