CENTRAL is a Cleveland neighborhood located roughly between Euclid Avenue to the north, Woodland Avenue to the south, and between East 71th to the east and East 22th to the west. The neighborhood is named after Central Avenue (once Garden) that runs through its center. Although Central's population in 2000 was over 90 percent African American, the neighborhood once housed the city's largest population of and Jews (see JEWS & JUDAISM), and was home to an ethnic cluster of HUNGARIANS, GERMANS, and CZECHS.
During the early nineteenth century, the area that currently encompasses Central was split between Cleveland and the NEWBURGH Township, but by 1873, had been completely annexed by the city of Cleveland. During the 1830s, a number of Germans settled along Garden Street (now Central). Due to its proximity to downtown and its extensive street car services, Central quickly developed and became home to clusters of Hungarians, GREEKS, ITALIANS and Jews. Such clusters have often been referred to as separate neighborhoods with their own titles like "BIG ITALY," or "Woodland." Central was also home to the city's largest concentration of AFRICAN-AMERICANS.
Prior to World War I, institutions in Central were fairly integrated. Students of all ethnic backgrounds attended EAST TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL and CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. African American writer LANGSTON HUGHES recalled that when he attended Cleveland's Central High during the late 1910s, it was "nearly entirely a foreign-born school," and that "we got on very well." His best friend was Polish and had "lots of Jewish friends" and went to the symphony with a Jewish girl.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Central had a disproportionately retail-based economy for its era. Numerous bakeries, grocery stores, and other businesses lined Woodland Avenue, East 55th Street, and Central Avenue. Still, the neighborhood was generally marked by poverty at this time. After World War I began in 1914, European immigration waned, which motivated many Cleveland factory managers to drop their policy of excluding African Americans. As a result, Cleveland's African American population rose from 8,448 in 1910 to 34,451 in 1920. Most these newcomers settled in the Central neighborhood.
From 1917 to 1925, most of Central's Jewish population had moved out of the neighborhood, while its African American population continued to increase. Other ethnic whites left at a slower, but steady pace throughout subsequent decades. Much of this flight occurred because ethnic whites in the neighborhood could now afford to leave the over-crowded and impoverished housing in the area. However, African Americans, remained concentrated in Central for many decades because they were generally newer to the city, and faced greater discrimination in both the housing and employment sector. After Congress restricted immigration to the United States in 1921, newcomers to Central were almost entirely African American. This demographic shift has led many historians to refer to Central as Cleveland's "ghetto." Still, the neighborhood retained a significant ethnic white population until 1960, and many others continued to run businesses in their old neighborhood well into the 1970s.
Beginning in the 1930s, a number of PUBLIC HOUSING projects were constructed in Central, which significantly altered its landscape. From 1935-1937 the New Deal Public Works Administration created Outhwaite and Cedar-Central projects. In 2011, Central was home to the Cedar Ext High Rise, King Kennedy North High Rise, Carver Park, Cedar Ext Family, King Kennedy South Family, Olde Cedar, Outhwaite Homes, and Phoenix Village housing projects.
Despite (or perhaps because of) these projects, the population of Central decreased dramatically. During the 1960s segregation lessened across much of Cleveland's East Side. This broadened residential options for African Americans; and Central's population declined sharply from 52,675 in 1960 to 27,280 in 1970. By the early 1970s, after the nationwide influx of African Americans to northern cities (the Second Great Migration) subsided, Central was unable to replace outgoing migration with new residents. In 2000 the population of Central was only 12,107. However, recent Census tract data shows that some sections of Central are gaining population, especially west of East 55th Street, where hundreds of new homes have been built. The most recently available data show Central’s population as 11,576. Central remains almost solely African American and, at 71.5 percent, its poverty rate is the highest in the city.
Central remains home to CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, the NORTHERN OHIO FOOD TERMINAL, and a number of 21st century single family housing developments. The neighborhood is also home to such historical sites of interest as WOODLAND CEMETERY, SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH (formerly B'NAI JESHURUN), and the PHILLIS WHEATLEY ASSOCIATION building.
Updated by Christopher Roy
Last updated: 2/8/2019
Baden, John. "Residual Neighbors: Jewish African-American Interactions in Cleveland from 1900 to 1970". Masters Thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 2011.
City of Cleveland, Ohio. "Cleveland Neighborhood Fact Sheet." City of Cleveland, Ohio. (accessed May 6, 2011), http://planning.city.cleveland.oh.us/census/factsheets/spa19.html.
Hughes, Langston (Introduction by Joseph McLaren). Autobiography: The Big Sea (University of Missouri Press, 2002).
Kusmer, Kenneth L. A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930, Illini Books ed., Blacks in the New World. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978).
Levy, Donald. A Report on the Location of Ethnic Groups in Greater Cleveland. (The Institute of Urban Studies, 1972).