The Cleveland History Center does our city proud. Every exhibit — from “Cleveland Starts Here” to “Carl and Louis Stokes: Making History” — overflows with artifacts, memorabilia and thought-provoking stories about the most impactful Clevelanders thanks to the support of the George Gund Foundation.
For those looking to uncover Cleveland's rich Black history, the Center also provides a reminder of Cleveland’s place on the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement. Prepare to be impressed — and inspired.
(Please be sure to check hours and operating procedures prior to visiting.)
In 1965, Carl Stokes narrowly lost his first mayoral bid in Cleveland. But that setback proved to be no more than a bump in the road, as he broke through in 1967 to become the first African American mayor of a major city. When the Cuyahoga River infamously caught fire shortly after he took office, Stokes’ “Cleveland NOW!” initiative fulfilled his pledge to clean up The Land and improve the city’s image.
Like his brother, Louis Stokes rose from poverty to public service. After successfully arguing a Civil Rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, Stokes parlayed that triumph into a distinguished career as Ohio’s first African American congressman. He represented the 21st District with distinction for 15 terms, leaving a lasting legacy as one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. Check out Louis’ Washington D.C. desk at the Cleveland History Center.
This prolific Cleveland-based inventor had just one goal — to make the world a safer place. In 1916, Morgan bravely donned his newly-created safety hood to rescue several trapped miners from a gas-filled tunnel beneath Lake Erie. Above ground, he also debuted the three-position traffic signal, adding an intermediate step between stop and go. Yes, the world’s first “yellow light.”
Alonzo Wright paired a sharp business mind with genuine care for his customers and community. Cleveland’s first African American millionaire arrived with just six cents in his pocket. But a chance meeting with a SOHIO executive led Wright to lease his own service station, where he pioneered the practice of cleaning customers’ windshields as they waited for a fill-up. Later, Wright expanded his empire through real estate investment.
Amanda Wicker, a skilled dressmaker, moved to Cleveland in 1924 and opened the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design. What started with a single student led to over sixty years as a preeminent fashion teacher and mentor, and all in Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood. Beyond her contributions to fashion, Wicker was active in local and national groups like the NAACP, National Urban League and United Negro College Fund, among others. She was awarded the Sojourner Truth Award by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs for her service to the community and young people.
But, wait, there’s more…
The Cleveland History Center also shines a light on some lesser-known facets of local African American history:
- The "Celebrate Those Who Give Black" exhibit honors the many African American individuals and organizations leading the way in both traditional and informal philanthropy.
- Paul Simpson's exploits in the boxing ring earned him a spot in the Ohio State Former Boxers Hall of Fame, but this welterweight had a creative side, too. Simpson invented a toy scooter and wrote music, making him a true Cleveland renaissance man.
Any visit to the Cleveland History Center in University Circle brings our city’s storied history to life. Don’t miss out.
Black History in CLE
Immerse yourself in Cleveland’s Black history at ThisisCleveland.com/BlackHistory.