Title Reviewed:
A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870–1930

Author Reviewed:
Kenneth L. Kusmer

Ronald M. Johnson


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 68-70

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870–1930. By Kenneth L. Kusmer. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976. Pp. xiv, 305. Notes, tables, figures, maps, illustrations, appendixes, bibliographical essay, index. $12.95.)

Rare are those studies which successfully bridge the varied specialty areas in American historical research. Kenneth L. Kusmer's A Ghetto Takes Shape is such a book. It is a valuable study on a city long neglected by urban historians. At the same time it makes an important contribution to the field of black history. Following the approach established by Allan Spear in Black Chicago (1967), Kusmer develops a broad comparative framework within which he clarifies the origins and rise of Cleveland's black community. He retains, however, a sharp focus in discussing the details of that story.

After a brief introduction to pre-1870 black Cleveland, Kusmer divides his book into two large sections. The first, entitled "The Black Community in Transition, 1870–1915," explores such key topics as residence, occupation, income, and civil status among black residents during a period of growing uncertainty. By tracing shifts in black leadership, Kusmer illustrates how changing economic conditions and social attitudes on race undermined the traditionally conservative and assimilationist Negro middle class of Cleveland. By examining closely the important members of the old elite, such as Charles W. Chesnutt, John P. Green, and Harry C. Smith, Kusmer illuminates the values and tactics of this earlier leadership group. He shows how these individuals were then "challenged by a new group of black businessmen and politicians who relied primarily upon Negro patronage for their success" (p. 140). The newer leaders, whose actual differences with the older leadership were not that great, nevertheless accepted the emerging social and cultural separatism forced on the black community by deepening white hostility.

In the second half of the book Kusmer documents the impact of black southern migration on black Cleveland. The vital socioeconomie statistics are again analyzed, but this time they are examined in relation to a period of rapid population growth and expanding neighborhoods. In a final chapter Kusmer discusses the question of leadership in a ghetto, which is what the Cleveland black community became after fifteen years of demographic and residential consolidation. He concludes that the new conditions represented a paradox for black Clevelanders: greater group solidarity in the midst of broader social and cultural isolation.

This work has many attractive features. Kusmer provides extensive comparisons between blacks in Cleveland and other cities. He also compares similarities and differences between ethnic and black Clevelanders. Twenty-eight statistical tables, largely dealing with occupational data, and a bibliographical essay further strengthen this book's claim for serious attention by all those interested in the black urban experience.

Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Ronald M. Johnson

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.