African American culture is deeply woven into the fabric of Cleveland's history. Whether it's the accomplishments of figures like Olympian Jesse Owens, inventor Garrett Morgan, the brilliant work of actress and activist Ruby Dee or even the political triumphs of Carl and Louis Stokes, it's clear to see that Black Clevelanders have left an indelible mark on the world. The city is filled with plenty of places to visit that connect Cleveland's past to the present, and point from the present to the future.
(NOTE: Please be sure to check hours and operating procedures prior to visiting.)
Unbar Cafe is more than just a great place to start your day with coffee and fresh, delicious baked goods. The cafe, meant to be a kind of "bar alternative" comes alive later in the day serving delicious snacks and sandwiches with vegan options, healthful smoothies and hosting live entertainment in this essential Larchmere gathering place.
The Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center at Cleveland State University frequently features exhibitions and holds gallery discussions throughout the year. Tours are available but they must be requested in advance.
Head to the Gateway District in Downtown Cleveland for an afternoon soul food experience at Zanzibar, a casual full-service restaurant that features southern-style cuisine and a drink menu with more than 50 specialty drinks. Try the walleye cakes, smothered steak and, of course, the peach cobbler.
Afterwards, treat yourself with a midday snack from Cathy's Creamery in the Old Arcade off of Euclid Avenue. They specialize in sweet treats like ice cream sandwiches on fresh-baked cookies, sundaes and milkshakes. They serve hot coffee and ice cream pints to go, as well.
Continue the day in Downtown Cleveland with a visit to the world-renowned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock Hall opened its doors in 1995 and features many notable African American artists including Cleveland's own Bobby Womack. Tours are available daily.
In the Hough neighborhood, there is an obelisk that was erected in 1989 to honor the life and perseverance of the neighborhood in its journey to overcome the riots that took place there in the 1960s. Check out Chateau Hough, an urban vineyard that offers tours and tastings of its vineyard and biocellar (visitors should call ahead to schedule tours). Also nearby is League Park, the first home of Cleveland baseball (the Spiders, as they were called then), as well as the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League. Tours are offered on Saturdays for a nominal fee by appointment.
Zoma Ethiopian on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights serves traditional food from one of the oldest countries in the world. Ethiopian music plays as you enjoy your meal and, in true Ethiopian fashion, you use your hands to eat. Dive right into authentic dishes like their vibrant combo platter that includes kale, roasted veggies, spices, beef, chicken and more.
Heading back east, Karamu House is the oldest African American theater in the United States. Shows at the newly renovated venue typically run between Thursday and Sunday. It's best to check online for ticket costs and showtimes.
Karen Ross has always had a love of coffee. Her latest venture, Cleveland Cold Brew Coffee, started small stocking local cafes with her signature drink, but has grown so popular that she opened her own cafe in GlenVillage shopping district. Stop in and start your day with some of that crisp, refreshing cold brew and a hot breakfast sammy.
The Langston Hughes Branch Library features the complete works of Langston Hughes (as well as an autographed copy of Hughes' high school yearbook), along with work from other prominent black authors. Call ahead to check on tour times.
Make way to one of the four locations for Angie’s Soul Food Café (there’s one conveniently located in Midtown) where the soul food runs deep. They’ve got the basics like baked barbeque chicken and deep-fried catfish, but it’s the sides like mac & cheese, collard greens and candied yams that top-off the whole experience. Don’t leave without a slice of sweet potato pie.
Head over to University Circle to the Cleveland History Center, which showcases Greater Cleveland's past through exhibits, collections, archives and an extensive research library. Throughout the year, the museum frequently has exhibits dedicated to important contributions by African Americans to the growth and prosperity of the city.
Be sure to check out the “Cleveland Starts Here” exhibit, which showcases many of the city’s most notable events and people (including LeBron James’ size 16 Nikes). And, explore the “Carl & Louis Stokes: Making History” exhibit, which honors Mayor Carl B. Stokes and his brother, Congressman Louis Stokes. You might also take some time in the African American Archives, which offers books, historical documents and genealogy information on black history in CLE.
In the Waterloo Arts District, Callaloo Cafe features both traditional Jamaican dishes and American meals with a twist. The venue also hosts an open mic and showcases live music.
Just a short walk up the street, you’ll find the iconic Beachland Ballroom. On any given night, there's no telling who'll be performing. The building is actually comprised of two connected venues — the ballroom and a tavern. In the past, acts like Charles Bradley, GZA from Wu-Tang Clan, Snarky Puppy and Wesley Bright & The Honeytones have all graced the stage.
Black History in CLE
Visit our Black Culture page and immerse yourself in Cleveland’s Black history.