Black Girls Write Cleveland Stories?

A few months ago at Glenville Exchanges, I had an epiphany about neighborhood stories. Anyone with a history in Cleveland had one to tell. As I listened to a group of Glenville folks talk about the past and how much the neighborhood changed it made me think about Lee-Harvard, the neighborhood where I grew up and my stories too.

It turns out others are having these conversations around CLE, encouraging residents to tell their stories about Cleveland and its past.

Cleveland Stories, a place-based writing program for residents of Mt. Pleasant and surrounding neighborhoods, launched May 23 as a platform to “write their stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors.” About 20 people gathered at the Seeds of Literacy on Kinsman Road for an abbreviated history lesson about Mt. Pleasant, located on Cleveland’s east side, as well as an introduction to the program and the concept of place-based writing.


Cleveland History Lesson

Susan Hall, the Director of Community Relations and Curator at the Western Reserve Historical Society pointed out the importance of exploring archives - photos, maps, documents, and oral histories to understand neighborhood evolution and recognize their rich histories.

She also encouraged us to donate items to the Historical Society, an organization that “collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits possessions”, for research and other scholarly pursuits. The Historical Society accepts donations from anyone, not just “famous” Clevelanders, which is a common misconception. (Check out their Cleveland Starts Here  exhibit to view artifacts marking important milestones in our city’s past.)

Read about our visit to the Cleveland History Center during CircleFest.

I leafed through the books Hall shared - Black Americans in Cleveland From George Peak to Carl B. Stokes: 1796-1969, Memorable Negroes of Cleveland’s Past, and Through the Lens of Allen E. Cole: A Photographic History of African Americans in Cleveland, OH. I couldn’t help but be captivated by these images! 

I frequent Mt. Pleasant often, but I wasn’t aware of the historical markers placed around the neighborhood commemorating the Mt. Pleasant Heritage Trail. The markers capture the photos and stories of several influential African Americans historical figures such as Carl Stokes and Jim Brown to mention a few. The research involved in writing the stories for the markers intrigued me. I thought I heard they were written by residents as a way to foster community engagement about the past, but I still need to confirm this.

Place-Based Writing Lesson

I’d never heard of the method of writing before, a term used by Charlotte Morgan, author and CSU writing instructor. Morgan gave us a preview of how to write place-based stories that establish a sense of place, and according to her “...makes the place distinct from any place else.”

I immediately thought about the street where I spent my childhood, E.151st and what made it unique and special to me. Memories flooded my head for a minute as I quickly noted the fear we had as children if we ever stepped on the pristine lawns of one of the three neighborhood “witches”.

Listening to Charlotte Morgan share her stories about Glenville and soaking in the history of black Cleveland as told by Susan Hall, even if abbreviated, left me feeling nostalgic about my childhood. I’m curious to learn more about Lee-Harvard, Miles Village, Lee-Seville, and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods my parents, grandparents, and paternal great-grandmother chose to reside in decades earlier. I regret not capturing the oral legacies of my grandparents before they passed away, stories I heard growing up that I took for granted.

I’m also curious about the outcome of this project - the book to be published featuring stories written by the participants. I’ll attempt to join the remaining sessions so that I can witness what happens and maybe do a little writing myself in honor of my family.

Visit Cleveland Stories for details about the program, including dates and times of the upcoming sessions.

Cleveland Stories is a program offered by Literary Cleveland.