Protestors in the 1964 Cleveland School Boycott
The 1963 Chicago Public School Boycott was part of a wave of community activism to desegregate schools across the country. On April 20th, 1964, students in Cleveland Public Schools also boycotted for equality. Howard Emmer, today an education activist in Chicago, contacted us with his story of the ’64 Cleveland Boycott:
I am currently involved in the Chicago “education justice” group, Parents 4 Teachers. As a 17-year old white high school student I participated in the April 20, 1964 school boycott in Cleveland, Ohio that was led by Cleveland Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). I grew up in Cleveland. I did not attend school that day at my suburban high school, Cleveland Heights High School, and instead I attended a Freedom School in a church in the Black community. I learned for the first time about Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and other aspects of Black History that day. When I returned to school the next day I handed in a form I had been given at the Freedom School that said I was out sick, “sick of segregation”! The school did not consider that an excused absence and I served a detention. That was the first time I was sanctioned for standing up for what I believed in.
The 1964 Cleveland school boycott mirrored the 1963 school boycott in Chicago. I have lived in Chicago for the past 31 years and am a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher. Chicago Public School policies of today perpetuate the racism I fought against almost 50 years ago. Today, schools are closed in high poverty communities of color, primarily the Black community. Most neighborhood schools are underfunded, suffer from large class size, and a two-tiered system that favors a few elite schools has emerged, due to CPS policies.
Howard Emmer today.
Thanks Howard! We did a little cursory research on the Cleveland Boycott and found this write-up on Metropolitan Community Church’s website. Read the whole article here and an excerpt below:
On April 20, 1964, an estimated 60,000 black children stayed away from district schools in a boycott organized by a group of ministers and civil rights activists known as the United Freedom Movement. That represented about 85 percent of black students in a district that then had more than 150,000 students overall.
Between 35,000 and 45,000 boycotting students — roughly the size of the entire district today — attended special schools set up by the UFM that day in churches, homes and community centers. They received lessons on the achievements of black people in government and the arts and lessons on the importance of education, all taught by volunteer housewives, social workers and former teachers from other districts.
“A loud voice representing hundreds of thousands of Cleveland citizens today shouted, ‘Segregated schools in Cleveland must go,’” UFM coordinator Harold Williams told The Plain Dealer at the end of that day.
The UFM’s most immediate complaint may strike many as odd today: the district’s plan to build new schools in black neighborhoods. But the group viewed that as a way to keep schools segregated.
The district ran neighborhood schools, so segregated neighborhoods had segregated schools. In some cases, black students at overcrowded schools were bused to other neighborhoods. That drew complaints and led to voters approving a school construction program in 1962.
The UFM protested construction of the new schools since that would prevent busing and integration, according to Plain Dealer accounts.
Two weeks before the boycott, the Rev. Bruce Klunder, a Presbyterian minister, had been killed when he tried to block a bulldozer with his body at a school construction site in Glenville.
Because of these and other protests, the school board agreed to bus black students to promote integration, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. But the disputes over busing and integration led to federal court oversight of the district, which did not end until the 1990s.
If you have any stories to share about the Chicago Boycott, the Cleveland Boycott, or any other school protest for that matter, please share your story with us!