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" is an essential Larchmere gathering place. It comes alive later in the day with live entertainment, serving delicious vegan-friendly snacks, sandwiches and smoothies.
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 an extensive drink menu. Try the catfish fingers, shrimp and grits ... and, of course, the peach cobbler.
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. Then check out Château 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.
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, but t's best to check online for ticket costs and showtimes.
KafeLA brings the essence of L.A. to the heart of Cleveland, offering everything from food and coffee to plants and ice cream. Enjoy the atmosphere where the good vibes are free, and start your day with a selection of Sunset Blvd Breakfasts (try the Shrimp & Grits or Breakfast Tacos) and smoothies made with love, all of which have vegan options available.
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 three 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). Explore the “Carl & Louis Stokes: Making History” exhibit, which honors Mayor Carl B. Stokes and his brother, Congressman Louis Stokes. And "A Place for All People" is another addition to the Center, with artifacts that showcase the Black experience — pain, success and everything in between. 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 nearby East Side suburb of Euclid, devotees of Irie Jamaican Kitchen swear by chef Omar McKay’s traditional and fusion Jamaican dishes, delivered in bowls and wraps. Try the stew chicken for true “Jah-potle” goodness.
Just a short drive away, 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.