Evans, Fred “Ahmed” (1931 - 27 Feb. 1978) was convicted on seven counts of first-degree murder for his role in the Glenville Shootout. Evans was born in Greenville, SC to John and Ora Evans. The Evans family moved to Cleveland in 1948, seeking a better life. Often ridiculed by his classmates, he dropped out of Rawlings Junior High School to work a number of odd jobs before enlisting in the Army in 1948.
Evans was sent to Korea where he served with distinction as a combat engineer. He suffered back, shoulder, and head injuries from a bridge collapse while he was there. He was honorably discharged in 1952 and returned to Cleveland to work as a bus driver. Following the accident, Evans complained of headaches, loss of vision, paralysis and periodic blackouts. Evans reenlisted in the Army in 1954. By this point his behavior had changed; he was court martialed for hitting an officer. Army doctors diagnosed Evans with “psychomotor epilepsy” and a “paranoid-type personality”. They also described his behavior as “hostile” when under stress. He claimed that it was during one of these blackouts that he assaulted the officer. He served 7 months of a two -year sentence and was undesirably discharged from the service.
In 1955 Evans returned to Cleveland after his release from military confinement at Fort Crowder, MO. He took a job working for the Pennsylvania Railroad for the next decade. By the early 1960’s, Evans became fixated on the paranormal and the supernatural; he even claimed to have seen an unidentified flying object over E. 79th street and Kinsman Ave. Evans became a disciple of an astrologer named Emmett Cobb. When Cobb was institutionalized at the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Evans stepped in to fill the leadership void.
By the mid-sixties Evans began wearing Afrocentric clothing and plying the rhetoric of black nationalism. Although most young, black leadership brushed him off as an eccentric, many young men in the Glenville neighborhood became followers. Evans advocated for the use of violence to exact retribution for white oppression. Viewed in the context of the place and time, this was certainly an attractive message to some of his followers.
Racial tensions had been growing on the city’s east side at this time. There were dozens of skirmishes between east side black residents and the white residents who fiercely defended the racial makeup of their mostly white, ethnic enclaves such as Little Italy and the Superior - Sowinski neighborhoods. This was embodied in a pattern of like-for-like, retaliatory violence between white gangs who escaped police prosecution and blacks who, in the absence of police protection, felt forced to defend themselves. Furthermore, black residents of Hough and Glenville not only had to live under extreme poverty, but they also had to contend with price gouging from local shopkeepers. This created a powderkeg environment that finally exploded in Hough on July 18, 1966. The riot started because a white bar owner refused to serve water to a black patron, but it carried all of the underlying tensions that had been building throughout the decade. The riots raged for six days, destroying most of the commercial strip of Hough Avenue between East 73rd and East 91st streets and killing four.
After the chaos of Hough, political leaders, the media, law enforcement, and even Evans himself predicted that 1967 would bring even more violence. However, as Detroit and Newark endured severe rioting, Cleveland emerged from the so-called “long, hot summer” unscathed. One explanation for the quiet summer of 1967 was that the mayoral campaign of Carl Stokes, gave the city’s black community a chance for representation. Or, perhaps, that his campaign symbolized a new era of racial reconciliation. It was in this environment that Evans adopted the first name “Ahmed” and opened the Afro Culture Shop and Bookstore at 11105 Superior Avenue. The shop became a gathering space for the city’s burgeoning Black Nationalist community. Afro Culture was targeted by Cleveland Police for sanitary violations three times. He eventually received a grant through Cleveland: Now! to renovate a storefront on Hough intended to be the new home of Afro Culture but his attempt to relocate failed because after completing the renovation the landlord forbade Evans from using the property for its intended purpose.
The proverbial other shoe that was expected to drop in 1967 would fall the following year and Evans would be at the center of it. While other cities experienced eruptions of violence following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, Carl Stokes managed to abate the city’s anger. In July of 1968, the FBI received a tip that Evans’ followers, the Black Nationalists of New Libya, were stockpiling arms and planning an attack for Cleveland on July 24, however the veracity of the tip and the credibility of the informants has been called into question. According to the FBI report, the targets of the attacks were Mayor Stokes, Councilman Leo Jackson, William O. Walker, and two others including James Payne, a black police officer who Evans was previously convicted of assaulting. On July 23, police set up surveillance near Evans’ apartment on July 23. Pressures began to mount on Evans: He had been repeatedly harassed by police, his bookstore venture failed, he was being evicted from his apartment, and now he was under police surveillance. For Evans, already a man with a history of paranoia and bitterness, everything came to a head. The accounts of what happened next vary with police claiming they were the victims of a coordinated ambush and the Black Nationalists claiming the police fired first, but, what is certain is that Evans and his men engaged in a bloody shootout with police on Beulah Avenue that raged for an hour leaving four dead and 15 wounded. The Glenville Shootout precipitated large scale riots in Glenville which lasted three days, damaging 63 businesses and costing $2.6 million.
Evans turned himself in to the police on July 24. On September 11, 1968, he plead not guilty to seven charges of first degree murder. Evans was convicted on May 12, 1969 by an all white jury on all seven counts and sentenced to death. The death sentence would be commuted to life in prison in 1972 when by the case of Furman v. Georgia ruled that the death sentence was unconstitutional. Evans died of cancer in prison on February 25, 1978.
- M. Chasney