The URBAN LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND, an interracial organization incorporated on 17 Dec. 1917 as the Negro Welfare Association of Cleveland, confronts racial barriers to economic opportunities. It has supplemented its early focus on employment with an emphasis on housing, education, and research. The organization was created at the behest of the Welfare Federation of Cleveland to aid the adjustment of African American workers coming to Cleveland during the Great Migration after World War I. The Negro Welfare Association was set up to absorb the culture shock resulting from this move, filling a gap in services. WILLIAM R. CONNERS was the group's executive secretary, directing it from 1917 until his retirement in 1940. The organization worked to acclimate the new arrivals to the city and the factory, to gain acceptance for AFRICAN AMERICANS among employers, and to help newcomers find housing. By the 1930s, improved housing was a primary goal of the association. Affiliated with the National Urban League since 1930, the Negro Welfare Association changed its name to the Urban League of Cleveland in 1940. The organization concentrated on wartime labor relations, and local employers looked to the league for qualified workers. After the war, the group emphasized vocational counseling for youth.
In the 1950s the league appealed directly for racial harmony through conferences and community planning. It concentrated on housing and on opening public contact jobs to blacks, in such places as department stores and banks. Although considered a conservative body, the league participated in Operation Black Unity, the 1960s boycott against McDonald's restaurants to protest blocks to African American franchise ownership. It set up a skills bank with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Labor, organized Operation Equality (1966-75) to facilitate integration (see FAIR HOUSING PROGRAMS), and worked for fair-housing laws. The league also opened a street academy for youth disaffected by public education. The Urban League sponsored the Annual Conference on the African American Family and in 1995 implemented the Job Readiness Lab in cooperation with CUYAHOGA METROPOLITAN HOUSING AUTHORITY. In 1995, with offices at 1255 Euclid Ave., the Urban League offered programs in the areas of education, employment, business development, elderly services, and housing. Membership stood at 230.
The Urban League of Greater Cleveland worked to advance economic prosperity, social inclusion, and equal employment opportunities for minorities by providing a broad range of programs, including job and personal-finance training, employment services, small-business development, student tours to historically black colleges, and GED and computer training. It also hosted the annual Equal Opportunity Day Luncheon, bringing together Cleveland's business professionals and community leaders, and honored prominent local figures with the Whitney M. Young Humanitarian Award. In 2008, the local chapter of the Urban League received a $400,000 grant from AT&T Inc. to support its Project Ready Program which provided services aimed at keeping youngsters in school, helping them prepare for college and the workforce, and sponsoring corporate job-shadowing.
The Urban League of Greater Cleveland announced that it would close its doors on May 29, 2009 owing to a debt burden and declining annual revenues. The purchase of the agency's $1.7 million headquarters on Prospect Avenue in 2001 plunged the local Urban League into debt since its capital campaign raised only $660,000 of the purchase price. Also, the revenue sources the agency relied on for many years, both governmental and private, slowly diminished or disappeared in recent years. The National Urban League (NUL) intervened to keep the offices of the local chapter open, with a reduced staff, while working to secure the necessary financial resources to stabilize operations. A reorganization plan drawn by the national office in cooperation with local leaders to place the venerable agency on a more sound economic footing was approved by the league's board of trustees in August 2009. As a smaller, more focused social agency, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland pursued youth and education programs with solid funding, such as tutoring and mentoring, and relinquished its work in job training and job creation to other local organizations. The Small Business Development Center, a one-stop site for business assistance for owners and would-be owners, relocated to the Corporate College East in WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS and the Rising Tide fatherhood initiative, a pre-employment program that offers training, networking, and job leads to unemployed men, was picked up by Cuyahoga County. The reorganization plan also eliminated the position of CEO and trimmed the staff to six.
As of 2009, Marsha Mockabee served as the executive director of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and was responsible for the day-to-day operations. The offices of the league were located at 2930 Prospect Avenue.