Drive north on East 55th Street, and after crossing Chester Avenue at the next light if you look at the street signs you’ll run into a bit of confusion: On the left, or west, side of 55th the street is named “Commerce,” and on the right side it’s named “Hough.” How did that happen?
Was the person in charge of placing street signs drunk that day? No, it wasn’t a mistake. Time was, the name “Hough” went all the way down to E. 40th Street. But back in the late ’60s, the city simply followed the wishes of the business owners (who were almost exclusively white) who operated between E. 55th and E. 40th and wanted the name changed so they would not be associated with the uprising (which some still persist in calling a riot) that took place in 1966.
But the black residents of Hough have never been ashamed of the name, just as the residents of Glenville are not ashamed of the name of their community because of the uprising (called the Glenville Shootout) that occurred two years later. We understand these disturbances were part and parcel to the process of throwing off the last vestiges of Jim Crow.
But now developers want to come in to “help” our communities — of course, out of the goodness of their hearts — and among the first things they want to do is change the names of our neighborhoods to something more palatable to their ears. The parts of Glenville that are desirable to be developed are to become “University Circle North” and likewise, parts of Hough are slated to become “Midtown North.”
We know these attempts at name changing — while appearing well-meaning — are the tips of the spears of the gentrification of our communities. If we no longer know the names of the communities we live in, then what do we have to protect?
Do we want to redevelop Hough? Of course we do. Do people in Glenville want redevelopment? Sure. But do we want to lose our identity in the process? Well, that’s another question entirely, and the answer is no.
Holding onto our past is critical to us black folk since our identities are so intimately tied up with the communities we inhabit. Many of us could have moved to inner or outer ring suburbs if we had so desired; we stayed because we want to create strong black neighborhoods and to serve as role models to our young people.
What we are eager to do is find a way to bring in development dollars without having to sell our souls, or our community’s names.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.