By Lisa O’Brien
The city of Cleveland was founded over 225 years ago, and from the beginning, African American history has been an important part of the city. Cleveland has been a place for African American art, sports, news, and culture to flourish. This article highlights ten historic African American landmarks. All are located in the Cleveland area and are over fifty years old. Most of these locations can still be visited today with the exception of Leo’s Casino which is commemorated by a plaque.
- 2355 E. 89th St, Cleveland, OH 44106
Though Karamu House was established in 1941, the historic African American playhouse has even deeper roots in the city. The playhouse settlement was originally founded in 1915 by Oberlin College students as a space to promote interracial theatre and sponsor their own drama club. As it gained members, the name “Karamu House” was adopted from the Swahili word for “a place of joyful meeting.” Since its founding, Karamu has had over one hundred seasons which feature six plays each. Notable alumni include Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansbury. Karamu House continues to serve the Cleveland community by offering educational summer programming, after-school classes, a community outreach program, and spaces to help African American artists cultivate their talents. Be on the lookout for their production of Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor which will take place this May.
- Originally: East 49th Street and Central Avenue, Currently: Historical Signage at 75th off Euclid
- Jazz and R&B have long been a part of Cleveland’s history, and Leo’s Casino was the top spot for musicians in the fifties and sixties. Established in 1952 by Leo Frank, Leo’s Casino welcomed musicians from far and wide to play at the club. The casino became a popular stop for Motown artists and had a diverse audience, which was uncommon during the years of segregation. The club was a place for African American musicians to play for white and Black audiences alike, spreading the popularity of jazz and R&B music to the city. Unfortunately, the club was shut down in 1972 due to financial strife, but, thanks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there is a historical plaque marking where Leo’s once stood.
Angie’s Soul Café
7815 Carnegie Ave, Cleveland, OH 44103
- Though the physical restaurant of Angie’s Soul Cafe was established in 1986, the dream and delicious recipes, inspired by South Carolina soul food, began in the Carnegie Hotel in the 1970s when the restaurant’s founder Angie worked there. Angie’s Soul Cafe has been a longtime favorite of the community, and you can get your fixings of southern home-cooked classics such as fried catfish and cornbread. There are now three locations in the Cleveland area and a spin-off restaurant called Zanzibar in Shaker Square.
African American Museum
- 1765 Crawford Road, Cleveland, OH 44106
- In 1953, historian Icabod Flewellen had a dream of creating a space to share the history of African
Americans. He established the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Society to collect stories and artifacts of African American history. In 1968 he was given a building to store his collection which became the nation’s first nonprofit African American museum in the country. The museum continued to grow and expand, working with organizations such as The Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and NASA. The museum now operates entirely on a volunteer basis and is open every Saturday from 12-4 pm.
6601 Lexington Ave, Cleveland, OH 44103
- Built with wood in 1891, then in steel in 1910, League Park has been a center for Cleveland baseball for over a century. The field has been graced by the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Spiders, and even the Cleveland Browns when the NFL used the field in the 1930s. League Park has a special place in African American history because it was the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes, one of the most successful integrated baseball teams. Frank Robinson, the first African American manager in the MLB made his debut at League Park. The park was named a historic Cleveland landmark in 1979. There is an exhibit produced by the Cleveland Historical Society.
Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
- 8712 Quincy Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106
- The Olivet Institutional Baptist Church began in 1931 and was originally called New Light Baptist
Church before gaining its current name in 1933. The church was founded to cultivate the African American religious experience, especially during the northern migration of African Americans during the Depression. The church continues to serve the Cleveland community, with over 4,000 members in the Cleveland area. Olivet has been involved with University Medical Center, President Carter’s Camp David, and President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership Council. The church proudly houses an intergenerational congregation and seeks to further spread its gospel to the Cleveland community and beyond.
Call and Post
The Call and Post is Cleveland’s longest-running African American newspaper. Established in 1916 by Garrett Morgan.
- The Call and Post merged with The Cleveland Post in 1929 to become the newspaper it is today. The newspaper became the leader in African American news for all of Ohio. It was also the first newspaper in Ohio to begin offset printing. In 1998, the Call and Post was bought by boxing promoter Don King who now serves as publisher. The paper reports local and national news alike and continues to publish today. Their website features a community calendar where events in the Cleveland area are posted.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
- 2600 Church Ave. W. 26th St, Cleveland, OH 44113
- The oldest location on this list, St. John’s Episcopal Church was established in 1834. The church was a popular stop on the Underground Railroad as it was one of the final stops before reaching Canada. Fugitive slaves would hide under the bell tower and were protected by members of the congregation. The church is also the oldest consecrated building in Cleveland. Every year the church puts on a multi-media artistic event called “Station Hope.” The event uses visual and performance art to tell the story of St. John’s involvement in the underground railroad. The church still has regular services on Thursday nights open to the community.
Phillis Wheatley Association
- 4450 Cedar Ave, Cleveland, OH 44103
- The Phillis Wheatley Association, named after the first published African American poet, was established in 1911 by Jane Edna Hunter. The organization began as a center for African American women, providing housing, music classes, dance lessons, and community programming. It was soon coined the “Black YWCA” according to the organization’s “About” page on their website. The association opened a summer camp called Camp Mueller in the 1930s that continues to operate today. The PWA has now shifted its focus to serve as a neighborhood center where they focus on community programming for children, adults, and seniors. The association awards several scholarships for women looking to continue their education, and they regularly accept donations to help fund these scholarships and events.
Eliza Bryant Village:
- 7201 Wade Park Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44103
- Established in 1896 by Eliza Simmons Bryant, the Eliza Bryant Village is one of the oldest African
American senior living facilities in the country. Originally called The Cleveland Home For Aged Colored People, the Eliza Bryant Village has been serving the Cleveland African American Community for over a century. The facility expanded since its founding to offer senior outreach services, adult daycare, senior living, nursing and therapy, and dialysis treatment. The facility cares for over 1,000 patients today. In March 2022, the Eliza Bryant Village made the announcement that they would be closing their skilled nursing facility, citing on their website that “our current business model is just not sustainable.” They will continue to offer senior living and care and promised to help current patients find treatment at other facilities.