JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES probably arrived in the Cleveland area in the late 1800s, as traveling speakers sent by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The ministry understands the Bible to prophesy that Jehovah will soon replace the present political system with a divine government under the rule of Jesus Christ, a paradise on Earth. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in political neutrality, refuse to salute the American flag, and refuse blood transfusions. The early Watchtower Society speakers presented free public talks in Cleveland on the "Good News of the Kingdom" and the scriptures; later, missionaries made follow-up calls. Local Witnesses first held weekly meetings in scattered private homes. By the 1920s Bible students met as a single congregation in the BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS building on St. Clair Ave., the Masonic Auditorium, and the Whitely Printing Co. Local congregations formed during the late 1930s, meeting in rented or purchased buildings, renovated into Kingdom Halls. The Lakewood Congregation was the first to organize in 1938, while the Brooklyn Kingdom Hall on State Rd. was the first in Cleveland to be built as a Kingdom Hall in 1946. In 1946 the Witnesses held their "Glad Nations" Intl. Assembly at the CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM. Prior to 1971, they held circuit and district assemblies in various area private and public auditoriums. In 1971 the Witnesses purchased the Vine St. Theater in Willoughby and renovated it into a 1,600-seat auditorium.
The distinguishing feature of the Witnesses has been their zealous preaching of the Kingdom, especially from house to house. Early local witnessing work was accomplished through streetcorner distribution of magazines and tracts and the use of testimony cards door-to-door. Later, sound cars and portable phonographs presented recorded messages. Although the Witnesses in Cleveland were not subjected to the violence experienced elsewhere, local draft boards denied status as ministers to many Witnesses during World War II and convicted some of draft evasion. In 1995 there were over 20 Jehovah's Witness congregations in the Cleveland area.
See also RELIGION.