- Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900–1980 by Todd M. Michney
Todd Michney's Surrogate Suburbs is a very well-written and insightful book that covers the history of Cleveland's African American middle class's fight to integrate the city's outlying neighborhoods during the early to mid-twentieth century. His detailed account enables the reader to understand the amount of resistance the black middle class faced when moving into these previously all-white neighborhoods and the steps they took to fight discrimination in places such as Mount Pleasant, Hough, and Glenville. While the author asserts that blacks in cities like Detroit may have faced more intense violence when integrating their city's middle-class neighborhoods, blacks in Cleveland also faced intimidation, vandalism to their properties, and even discrimination when attempting to use the neighborhood swimming pools. The reader learns that they fought against discrimination by forming organizations and alliances with sympathetic whites and by taking their grievances to city leaders.
During the early part of the twentieth century, many of Cleveland's black middle class were first-generation migrants from the South who learned trades and created businesses in Cleveland, which enabled them to achieve middle-class status. Many of the homes in the neighborhoods in which they lived when they first arrived were run-down and dilapidated, so those who could afford to move out of these neighborhoods looked for homes in the outlying areas in Cleveland, which were predominantly white. When they [End Page 73] first began to look for homes in these neighborhoods, many of the city's banks refused to give them loans, so they resorted to other means to secure loans, such as borrowing from black funeral-home owners.
Although by most accounts the homes bought by African Americans in these neighborhoods were well kept, the influx of African Americans led to an exodus of whites or what some refer to as "white flight" from these neighborhoods and increased tensions between blacks and the remaining whites who continued to live in these neighborhoods. During this period, some blamed the greed of black and white realtors for whites leaving these neighborhoods so quickly and in such large numbers because they feared that their property values would decline and crime would increase as more blacks moved into their neighborhoods.
There were some fights between black and white youth in the neighborhoods, but many who were interviewed by the author for the book insisted that overall, most people got along with one another. A great deal of conflict occurred because whites did not want blacks swimming in the same swimming pools that they utilized. Whites used methods such as intimidation, threats, and sometimes violence to stop African American residents from using the neighborhood swimming pools. African American leaders in the city, along with organizations such as the Future Outlook League, took their concerns to the mayor of Cleveland to voice their displeasure over blacks being denied access to city swimming pools. The mayor placed more police at these swimming pools and stated that the swimming pools were available to all the citizens of Cleveland.
Historians who study urban history should definitely read Michney's book. The author did an excellent job in revealing how these neighborhoods transitioned from predominantly white to predominantly black neighborhoods, and from middle-class neighborhoods to neighborhoods that are now in economic decline. During the early part of the twentieth century, these outlying neighborhoods not only offered clean, well-kept, and beautiful homes, they also had businesses where residents could shop. By the end of the period, not only had most white residents moved out of those neighborhoods but also many of the businesses that had served these neighborhoods for many years had also moved away. Although by the end of the period these outlying neighborhoods were in decline, there was hope that the decline would be reversed. [End Page 74]