CLE Black History
African Americans have long shaped Cleveland's history
By Lexi Hotchkiss, Photo Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society
During this Black History Month, take a moment to memorialize and make tribute to those African American Clevelanders who helped to create positive change and innovation in the city and beyond.
It all started in 1809 with Cleveland’s first black resident, George Peake. Later, the city was home to many important black leaders including social worker Jane Edna Hunter, political leader Madison Tilley and Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
And, the critical keystones that make Cleveland what it is today would not be possible without the legacy left to us by brothers Louis and Carl Stokes--long-time Congressman and the first black mayor of a major U.S. city (respectively).
During this Black History Month, we encourage visitors of all races, background, ethnicities and creeds to explore Cleveland’s rich diversity:
• Click here to view Cleveland Historical’s African American tour through Cleveland
And, take some time to get to know these two famous Clevelanders:
Ever wondered who invented the gas mask and the electric traffic lights? That would be Clevelander Garrett Morgan.
Although born and raised in Cincinnati, Morgan found his way to Cleveland in 1895 and later began a career in the sewing machine business. While learning the ins and outs of the industry, Morgan invented a sewing machine belt that he sold for $50. And, so launched his focus on innovation.
Later success had him owning/operating at tailoring company that employed 32 people to manufacture clothing. But it was after witnessing a tragic carriage accident at a busy intersection that led to the invention of the first electric traffic signal, that included a light to warn drivers that they’d need to stop.
In addition to the traffic signal, Morgan invented something he called a “safety hood,” which was essentially a breathing mask that helped people to get oxygen when they were exposed to large amounts of harmful fumes, smoke or pollutant. His product was the prototype to the gas masks used during WWI combat.
And, to think, these were just some of Morgan’s inventions.
If you’re visiting Cleveland, make your way to the Cleveland History Center, where the Setting the World in Motion exhibit is dedicated to Garrett Morgan’s inventions.
Defying Hitler’s Aryan race theory right in Nazi Germany’s very own backyard? If you were Jesse Owens, you already accomplished this by age 23.
Backtrack to 1928: The young Jesse Owens was a star track athlete in his home of Cleveland--clearing six feet in the high jump and leaping almost 23 feet in the broad jump. To say he was a superstar would be an understatement.
By 1935, he elected to run track at the Ohio State University, where he became the very first African American varsity team captain. Unfortunately, because Owens was black, he was not permitted to live in campus dorms.
That same year, Owens competed in the Big Ten Championship in Michigan. Just a few nights before, he’d injured his back--making it nearly impossible to bend in half. Despite this, Owens fought through the pain.
The result: He set world records in the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash and the 20-yard low hurdles and then he exceeded the world long jump record by almost six inches. And he did it all in a matter of about 45 minutes.
It was that very feat that helped him earn the confidence to enter the 1936 Summer Olympics. Great, right? Well, the 1936 Olympics were scheduled for Nazi Germany under Hitler’s rule. In fact, Hitler made it clear that the Olympics would support his claim that the Aryan race would reign most successful.
Owens gave Hitler the ultimate FACE by dominating the Olympics and winning four gold medals. He returned home to a ticker tape parade and national notoriety.
If you’re in Cleveland, make your way to the corner of West 3rd Street and Lakeside Avenue to Fort Huntington Park. There, you’ll find a memorial for Jesse Owens, as well as other Cleveland heroes.