Saturday, March 29, 2014


Published 2006 for Gazette Newspapers, on 40th anniversary of that event

INTRODUCTORY NOTE--I have transferred this draft to my blog tonight so that a granddaughter can read about it. She got lost in Cleveland today, but hers was a light-hearted adventure, unlike this 1966 event in which I was caught up:

HEADLINE: The 60s, when 'Happy Days' turned to explosion

Tales of Cleveland's 1966 Hough riots were retold recently in a Cleveland newspaper. Some of you may be too young to remember the riots; some of you might not been born yet; and many of you who lived in the more sparsely populated Lake County at the time may have observed it from afar. As for me, I will never personally forget that summer night of July 18, 40 years ago, when social and racial unrest burst forth like a volcano. I was in my car, driving in that very Hough neighborhood when the riots began. It's a story about which, until now, I have never written.
In those days, before many homes (or automobiles) had air conditioning, we were sweltering through a hot summer drought. In city areas, the relentless heat sizzled up in white-hot waves from the concrete and asphalt. Humans suffered in hot apartments, and even the summer streets at night provided no cooling for relief.

At the time, my first-born son Mark was not quite five years old. He wanted to visit his Uncle Bill, my brother, who lived in Cleveland in an apartment near St. John's Cathedral. So Mark and I, as we frequently did, drove in to spend some time with Bill. In the city, the three of us enjoyed a leisurely walk, window-shopping among the downtown stores

Later, Bill wanted to "take a little spin" in my new Mustang, and he also offered to treat us to dinner in his favorite diner where, he said, the food was very good and the fellowship was even better. And yes, we did have a fine meal complete with dessert, and so many of the diner regulars engaged us in delightful conversations, the time got away from us. Daylight was already graying into evening, and that seemed to be of great concern to my brother.

"We'll take a short cut to my apartment," he decided. "You need to drop me off and hurry toward home before it gets darker." Where were we headed? I didn't ask; I simply followed his instructions; he knew the city well.

SUDDENLY AS WE turned a corner, we heard a roar like surf on a stormy ocean and found ourselves in the midst of a swarming mob. My ears rang with the sound; the anger was palpable, and it seemed to be aimed toward us. More quickly than I could have thought possible, the crush of people grew and swelled around us, and as far as we could see in any direction were dark, fury-filled faces---at our windshield, our windows... Soon we could see nothing at all as they pounded the car, swaying it forward and backward and side to side, shouting threats and profanities.

I shouted at my brother, "Close your window; lock your doors; toss Mark to the floor; cover him with your body... !" The noise was unbearable and frightening; I had no idea what had happened or was about to happen, or why. What was our role in all this? I swallowed fear and decided I had no choice but to press the pedal and move forward, whatever happened and whatever it took to get out in one piece.

Praying I wouldn't be killing anyone, or that we wouldn't be killed ourselves, I moved faster and faster, operating on pure instinct. At times, I wasn't sure our wheels hadn't been lifted off the ground... It seemed we were smothering among those faces and bodies, but soon I began to see bits of daylight, and I pressed forward faster. Soon we were moving out, free for the time being...

AWAY FROM THE neighborhood and out of the city we headed, without looking back. I gave my brother no options whatsoever as we left the city; he was going with us!

All the way home to Lake County---thankfully on the right road now---my arms and legs and hands trembled. I had clung so tightly to the wheel that my hands and arms and shoulders would be aching for days...

Later, I learned a racial incident in a bar had been the tinder that lit a neighborhood that had been seething with unbearable heat and deep-seated frustration. The news people believed the rioting began "around nine in the evening"---just about the time our car was turning the corner into the neighborhood.

For the next six days, Hough nights were filled with violence, arson, firebombs, shooting, looting... Police and firefighters entering the area were fought backward by gunfire. The National Guard was called in. Bars were closed, businesses boarded up, traffic outlawed, curfews enforced...

In this period of racial tension and social unrest, Cleveland was not alone. Such riots were breaking out in cities all across the country.

For a time afterward, Hough stood like a bombed-out war zone, with buildings destroyed or boarded up and sitting vacant until the Cleveland Clinic began buying up land for hospital expansion.

ABOUT FIVE YEARS later, I recall staying in a hotel near the Clinic while my youngest son was hospitalized. Each morning as I left at dawn to be with my son, I would be accompanied by a uniformed guard who walked beside me with a drawn gun. (If the truth were told, I was more afraid of that drawn gun than I was of the surroundings.)

Decade by decade afterward, the area improved and continues to improve. When I pass through these days, it's hard to imagine it could be the same place in which so many buildings were destroyed, so many people were hurt or killed, and in which my son and my brother and I faced such danger, on July 18, 1966.

As a teen in the mid-to-late 1950s, I could not have guessed that our "Happy Days" were a facade, hiding frustration and unrest for so many people. The riots were merely one harsh symbol of that, boiling to the surface and exploding to make itself known.

                                     ----Rose Moore---