Sunday, June 12, 2011
An Ohio Reader: Reconstruction to the Present
An Ohio Reader: Reconstruction to the Present
Edited by Thomas H. Smith
To properly understand and study history, one must occasionally disengage from the research and writings of others and examine primary sources of information -- documents, reports, and newspaper accounts -- authored by participants or contemporaries of those events. Ohio history is a passion of mine and this books documents Ohio's post Civil War history through various means. It relies too heavily upon statistic laden reports and would have been better served by providing more anecdotal illustration. Nonetheless, it provides some insight into how Ohio developed and confronted many problems on a state level years before those problems became national crises.
Thomas H. Smith, who, at the time of this book’s publication, was director of the Ohio Historical Society, compiled various documents, speeches, and historical writings that chronicle Ohio’s history from the period immediately following the Civil War, to the present.
Smith selects documents that reflect three schools of thoughts by Ohioans during the post Civil War era known as Reconstruction.
The first is an exchange of letters between abolitionists who now want to see blacks be enfranchised through the right to vote and the gubernatorial nominee of the Union Party, Jacob Cox. Cox was a nominal Democrat who migrated to the Union Party because he supported preserving the union. He was a general through the entire Civil War. Supporting the union did not necessarily translate into supporting suffrage for blacks, which he rejected. In a long, convoluted explanation, Cox theorizes that blacks and whites will never be able to live together in harmony and as equals. To give the black man the vote will promote further disharmony and hatred.
Cox would go on to serve one uneventful term as Ohio’s governor and tried for the Republican nomination in 1866, but his support for Andrew Johnson’s soft Reconstruction polices cost him the nomination. He would go on to serve as President Grant’s Secretary of the Interior where Grant came to loathe him.
The second document is a series of excerpts from a Rutherford B. Hayes campaign speech entitled “Waving the Bloody Shirt.” In this speech, Hayes advocates for careful and deliberate policies on Reconstruction – more deliberate than President Johnson was considering and supported enfranchisement of blacks, metaphorically waving the bloody shirt of the blacks who served and fought in the Union Army.
The third document is a series of Democratic platform proposals put forth by U.S. Representative Clement Vallandingham of Cincinnati. Vallandingham was an ardent supporter of states rights and was opposed to the Civil War, the policies of Abraham Lincoln, and thought the Johnson’s soft Reconstruction policies were too hard. Realizing that he was fighting a losing battle against victory in the Civil War, he launched what he called “A New Departure” which was a quest by Democrats to continue the fight for states rights and to leave the Civil War behind for historians to analyze.
Social Growing Pains
Ohio emerged from the Civil War with cities that had grown rapidly during the conflict. They were wholly unprepared for the mass urban migration and this chapter talks not only of the environmental and health concerns of this influx of population, but the demands placed upon rural Ohio to meet the needs of the population and the lack of conservation in the state.
President Garfield writes a letter to the Ohio Secretary of State General Isaac Sherwood documenting the unprecedented urban growth in Ohio in the 19th century and worries about cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Youngstown and what they will do with all those people, many living in squalid conditions.
In the Second Annual Report of the Ohio Forestry Bureau, its director states that the rapid deforestation of Ohio needs to halt. That once upon a time, a woods was a thing to be conquered. At that point, it was something to be conserved. He discusses the death of several cities in Ohio that went belly up when the wood that powered their smelting furnaces was depleted.
H.J. Sharp of the Ohio Department of Health chronicles the problems of those who lived along Darby Creek in Madison County in the 1870s. A paper mill upstream in Plain City was dumping its toxic waste into the stream which served as the source of drinking water and water for the livestock for several farms down stream. Families were becoming ill at an alarming rate and one man had died of the poisoning.
An Ohio agricultural report documents the plight of Ohio farmers who have not shared in the post war economic boom that was being enjoyed in the cities. While wages and profits were both on the increase, farmers had not seen a raise in their income in more than two decades.
The Ohio Board of Charity reports the deplorable conditions that existed within Ohio’s overcrowded prisons. They also document the atrocities of several county jails where young boys are incarcerated with hardened criminals in cells with no ventilation. It also discusses what it calls infirmaries which were hospitals for children with disabilities. Children of that era in Ohio history were locked away and left to die in squalor.
The Developing Urban Crisis – 19th Century
The squalor of urban Ohio is chronicled in this chapter along with political bossism – dubbed Coxism after Governor Jacob B. Cox, a heavy handed Republican.
The descriptions of the slums of Cleveland and Cincinnati documented in the Cleveland Leader are beyond our ability to comprehend. People dumped their chamber pots into the streets and over embankments in the neighborhoods. They tossed their garbage over hills, making poor neighborhoods unbearable for the reporter.
Entire families of six lived in 10’ X 12’ rooms with no real ventilation. In Cincinnati, the tenements were built so closely together that the backs of buildings nearly abutted, blocking out not only air, but natural light from the one room, one window tenements. Sewage, garbage, and dead animals littered the streets of Cincinnati’s 19th century slums.
The 1902 small pox epidemic is documented. The strain that year was particularly virulent and contagious. It went through the urban slums and literally slaughtered a good portion of their population.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer recounts the run of political bosses in Toledo. In the 19th century, Toledo’s political operations were run out of Canton Ave. saloons. Canton Ave. – all but desolate today – was a hive of gambling and saloons in the 19th and early 20th century.
Detailed in this chapter are the plights of various laborers working in Ohio’s cities and rural areas.
An Ohio labor report details the difficulties encountered working as a coal miner in the 19th century. They were paid by the ton rather than by the hour. They had to buy their own tools and there was that notorious Company Store made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Also included is an Ohio senate inquiry into a strike at the Hocking Valley coal mine in Buchtel, along the Hocking – Athens – Perry County border. A minister and former coal miner testifies to the physical and mental hardships endured in the trade of mining. He also describes a system of pay that makes it impossible for the miner and his family to save and forces them further into debt. However, John Buchtel, owner of the mine and president of an Akron iron company testified that the prices in his company store were just as fair, if not cheaper, than in the stores in Nelsonville and that his wage scale was on par of that of other coal miners.
Also documented in government reports and newspaper profiles are the trials faced by the women who sewed garments for a living. Rather than operate sweatshops, clothing manufacturers in Ohio encouraged the women to work at home. The provided the women with sewing machines that they had to pay for through payroll withdrawals. The women were given orders to complete a certain number of garments and then were paid on Saturday when they brought the garments back to the factory. If they did not complete their entire order, they were often sent home without any money, but with a new order that was to be completed on top of the uncompleted order. Many women were forced to work up to 20 hours a day to meet orders. Ohio’s war widows who relied on this type of work to raise families deserved better.
The state of Ohio was at the forefront of the Progressive Movement which started at the turn of the century and died on the shoals of the Great Depression. Around the turn of the century, Progressivism found its strongest advocates in the cities with mayors such as Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones and Brand Whitlock of Toledo fighting utility and streetcar monopolies and Mayor Tom Johnson of Cleveland leading a broader fight for reform in Columbus.
This chapter opens with an article written about Cincinnati’s corrupt political machine led by the city’s mayor, Cox. While Toledo and Cleveland were becoming more progressive, Cincinnati held firm to its system of tightly controlled fiefdom’s under the rule of political bosses.
An article for McClure’s magazine in 1911 chronicles the wide spread vote selling that typified rural political bossism in rural Ohio where it was easy for political bosses, controlling smaller populations that bought votes stayed bought.
In a message to Toledo’s city council, Samuel Jones decried the resistance of party bosses to relinquish some control of the city’s utilities to government control for the good of all people. He also made the case for the poor who inhabited that county’s workhouse for no other reason than they were too poor to pay their fines ( a condition of the American judicial and penal system that still exists today).
Cleveland mayor Tom Johnson makes an eloquent and well reasoned plea for home rule of cities. At that time, cities laws and statutes were debated and enacted by the General Assembly. Cities had no control over how they could administer their own government. Eventually, the home rule advocates would when as slowly, state government allowed cities to draft charters that spelled out municipal codes that afforded some control of local government.
Debates over issues such as home rule, women’s suffrage, and initiative are chronicled here as well.
The War Years and After
This chapter is an examination of the later period of Progressivism when, after having won hard fought victories at the state constitutional convention in 1912 that gave voters the rights of initiative, referendum, and recall, Progressives sought women’s suffrage and the more ideological moved toward temperance and prohibition.
The chapter opens with two senate floor speeches by Senator Atlee Pomerene of Ohio. Pomerene was a giant among the Democrats of his day and would later go on to hold the honor of becoming the nation’s first “special prosecutor” appointed by Calvin Coolidge to investigate and prosecute those involved in the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding adminstration. Pomerene spoke against prohibition and temperance, claiming his state’s voters – at that time, all men – did not want prohibition and resisted the temperance movement as evidenced by failures of statewide initiatives. He also came out against women’s suffrage, pointing out that women did have the right to vote on school questions in Ohio, but few exercised the franchise. History puts Pomerene on the right side of prohibition and the wrong side of women’s suffrage. However, the latter came to pass and the empowerment of women at the polls brought the former into law. Women did not forget Pomerene’s views on their pet issues and he was soon voted out of office – replaced by temperance men.
Rep. Isaac Sherwood, an Ohio congressman from Toledo explains his vote against American entry into World War I, invoking Washington’s farewell address to the country and the long history of hostility between the U.S. and Great Britain and the valuable assistance provided by Germany during the Civil War.
Ohio Senator Simeon Fess defines what became a strong American sentiment during the years of World War I which was an antipathy against all things not American. Not only were German and subversive pro-German forces to be feared within our borders, but also communist and Bolshevik forces that would undermine our capitalistic, free market economy. History has placed on its back pages the red scare of the 1920s, but Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s fight against communism was every bit as ruthless and sweeping as that of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the red baiters of post World War II.
Not to be outdone in fear of German influence was Ohio Governor James M. Cox whose message to the General Assembly chronicled how subversive German sympathizers were indoctrinating Ohio school students with pro-German school books, lessons, and language instruction. In his shrill, xenophobic plea to the state legislature, he asks for legislation banning the teaching of German to children in grades lower than eight.
In a shameful episode in Ohio history, socialist and former chairman of the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1912, Herbert Bigelow, tells the federal government of his abduction from a Cincinnati hotel. He was taken across the river to Kentucky where he was stripped and horsewhipped for his efforts to break the streetcar monopoly in the city of Cincinnati. It also appears that he was being set up to be murdered, but the clever Bigelow figured out the ruse and was able to escape back to Ohio with his life.
The fight over race equality in Ohio is chronicled in two essays. One is written by the Grand Wizard of Ohio’s new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan never gained a foothold in Ohio during Reconstruction because most Ohioans were anti-slavery and favored black suffrage. But the migration north of blacks looking for work in Ohio factories and their willingness to work for lower wages turned the tide in the Klan’s favor. Also working to strengthen the Klan in the Buckeye state was the arrival of numbers of non WASP peoples who fled the political instability and war that ravaged Europe. The Klan in Ohio was different than that of the south. They certainly targeted blacks, but were just as wont to target Catholics and other non WASPS.
A magazine article for The Independent magazine describes the hard core segregation that existed in Cincinnati in the early 20th century. Cincinnati was one of Ohio’s river cities which still harbored many pro-southern political views and culture. More than any other Ohio city, Cincinnati disenfranchised blacks by not allowing them to practice professional services and assuring that they did not rise in economic stature.
B.F. McDonald, Ohio’s Prohibition Commissioner documents for his superiors the nearly impossible task of enforcing Prohibition. Money and manpower, although plentiful, was simply not enough to stop the manufacture and importation of illegal liquor into the state. McDonald’s short report is illustrative of how futile the prohibition efforts were. We watch today as the same type of moralists fight the fight against tobacco. . .
The Depression Years
The Great Depression hit Ohio harder than it hit most states for Ohio was perhaps the most industrialized state in the union in the Roaring Twenties. The problems and inequities of distributing relief to the poor are documented in this chapter.
Ohio’s Unemployment Commissioner, in a report to the governor, complains that unemployed families that have managed to hold on to a few assets are forced to liquidate those assets to qualify for food relief. Families were given the choice of parting with all they had in exchange for food from their government.
Martin Davey, one of Ohio’ most colorful and some say corrupt governors, lays out a defense of his conduct of Ohio’s relief efforts during the early days of the Great Depression. He chronicles the myriad of conflicting rules and regulations put upon the states by the federal government and the difficulty of adjusting to the constantly changing alphabet of abbreviations that came with FDR’s alphabet agencies that typified the New Deal. He also states that Ohio’s problems are not his fault, but the fault of Washington politicians who want to use federal programs to manipulate Ohio’s politics.
Another Ohio governor (this one a little more distinguished ) also argues that Washington interference has made the delivery of relief to Ohio’s unemployed difficult. Gov. John Bricker complains that too many young, college educated relief workers appointed in Washington are running relief programs. These college educated kids usually came from well to do homes and had no practical knowledge or experience in meeting financial hardship. The common man, the conservative Republican argued, imbued with both intelligence and wisdom earned through confronting hardship, was best qualified to administer relief efforts on the local level. He further argues for the empowerment of city and township officials to set policy for their own relief efforts. Bricker would go on to be a distinguished U.S. Senator and Wendell Wilkie’s running mate in 1944.
Government reports document the plight of Ohio farmers with falling prices for their products, yet their advances in soil conservation and crop rotation. Of all that came out of the New Deal, this government education of the farmer on crop rotation was one of the best things to emerge.
Along those same lines, Congressman Harold Claypool chronicles the success of rural electrification in his southern Ohio congressional district. This was another of the great successes of the New Deal.
The chapter concludes with a congressional debate over the Little Steel Strike that bedeviled the Mahoning Valley during the depression. Pro business advocates stated that while working men had the right to bargain collectively, all men had the right to work and he decried the tactics of strikers to keep “scabs” from entering steel mills to earn a living when so many were out of work. Meanwhile, pro labor advocates complained of the ruthless tactics employed by mill owners, and industrialists since the advent of manufacturing, for keeping wages low and workers subservient.
The Incredible Forties
Ohio’s industrial capacity was put to use in the war against the Axis in World War II and the worries of the Great Depression were quickly replaced. While the war years were prosperous for many, thousands of families lost loved ones in the second war to end all wars.
Writer James H. Rodabaugh provides a statistical analysis of the Ohio labor and manufacturing efforts during the war as well as Ohio’s contribution in the European and Pacific theaters. Singled out for mention of meritorious service was Co. C, 192nd Tank Batalion composed of men from Port Clinton and Northwest Ohio.
The magazine Communikay documents the prisoner of war camps established in Ohio. The largest was at Camp Perry, along the Lake Erie shore near Oak Harbor, OH. There were a mix of Italian and German soldiers housed there. Prisoners were relocated to a camp in downtown Defiance where they provided labor on farms in that area, harvesting tomatoes.
Another government report published in Communikay analyzed the War Department’s efforts to construct highways in Ohio to move the newly manufactured war materiel quickly and effectively out of the state and into the European theater. As we know, President Eisenhower used the idea of national defense to justify the creation of the Interstate Highway system.
An article from Business Week Magazine described social attitudes toward blacks working in war industries in Cleveland. According to their analysis, blacks who moved to Cleveland to get jobs in defense plants came from large cities in the south and adapted better socially than the white Appalachians who moved to Cleveland. Appalachians did not adapt well in the cities. Blacks generally worked well with whites in factories, but unions fought hard against admission to their ranks.
A New York Times article details Toledo’s Labor Management mediation program established by local government and administered by labor, management, and private citizens to broker deals to avoid strikes in postwar Toledo. This “Toledo Plan” was a great source of pride for the city and the plan’s founder, Michael V. DiSalle who would go on to be Toledo mayor and Ohio governor. Toledo was a city where blood had been shed in the early days of organized labor at the Toledo Autolight Strike in 1934.
A Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter chronicles the above board work of the Ohio Communist Party to organize and recruit in Ohio during the Red Scare. Communists in Ohio worked hard to recruit blacks and other minorities who experienced discrimination when returning whites came home from Europe at war’s end to reclaim their jobs. The communists as portrayed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer were open in their activities and bore little resemblance to the boogie men created by Sen. Joe McCarthy.
The chapter ends with a Cleveland Plain Dealer sports beat reporter discussing the potential of Cleveland Indian rookie, Larry Doby who was the first black player on the Cleveland Indians. He predicted that Doby’s career would be much like Jackie Robinson’s. Were Doby successful, his teammates would accept him. Were he a bust, he could count on little support from fans or teammates. History bore him out.
At Mid Century
This chapter could have been so much more interesting had it relied less on government reports. It is devoid of any anecdotal documents that tell real stories about real people.
The chapter documents the problems that came to Ohio’s cities and rural areas in the spread of industrialization during the 1950s. It documents the problems that came from the 1903 Hanna Amendment to the Ohio constitution that prescribed that every county should have at least one state legislator of their own. This gave disproportionate representation to the rural areas, making it difficult for urban legislators to move legislation vital to their constituents.
The problems and some of their solutions related to the environment are documented as well. One problem that they tried to address in the 1950s and still haunts southern Ohio today is the existence of so many abandoned and uncapped coal mines. Water leaches through them and is contaminated. As late as the 1990s, Ohio U.S. Senator Mike DeWine was attempting to get federal funding to fill and cap these mines to prevent further harm to the environment and to protect area residents who often had children who played in these abandoned mines.
Documented here are some of the observations of the Ohio Un American Activities committee who described a very different Communist Party than the one documented in the 1920s. These communists received their schooling directly from the Soviets. They were underground – not card carriers. They were subversive and government called on labor and management to block their efforts to infiltrate Ohio industry and government.
The Inconclusive Sixties
In this chapter, we can see the early beginnings of problems that still haunt Ohio today in terms of Appalachian poverty and state services for the elderly.
Also documented in this chapter by an Ohio bureaucrat is the “passive” discrimination that existed in Ohio in terms of accommodations for blacks. Ohio had no Bull Connor. Fire hoses were not used peaceful protesters. Dogs were not set loose upon them. What existed in Ohio was denial of accommodations.
Blacks were very often forbidden to stay in certain motels. While urban hotels were often non discriminating, suburban and rural hotels openly denied blacks accommodations. Restaurants and bars in these areas and particularly southeastern Ohio often restricted their patronage to white only.
However, the most riveting part of the chapter is the documentation of a 1967 race riot in Cleveland’s east side neighborhood of Glenville. Two reporters chronicle the events that led up to three days of riots that caused the deaths of two Cleveland police officers and more than 22 blacks in a 1966 riot.
The Hough riots that preceded the Glenville riots had occurred while Ralph Locher was mayor. An investigation of that riot concluded that black nationalists had been spurred to riot by communist infiltrators. It was hoped that the election of America’s first black urban mayor Carl Stokes, would quell racial tension in Cleveland, a city many in America was a power keg waiting to explode.
Many concluded that the riot started when black militants opened fire with carbine rifles on two tow truck drivers dispatched to haul away an abandoned car. Others claim that police opened fire on black militants who returned fire. The two tow truck drivers, one of whom died and the other was wounded, were caught in the crossfire.
What ensued was nearly as much of a police riot as a militant riot. Having abandoned the radios in their cars, the police had no central command authority. Some police officers fired wantonly at homes and businesses. Meanwhile black militants and unaffiliated black teenagers took to the streets, setting fires and looting stores.
The riots lasted nearly six days. Near the end, when black police officers were the only ones patrolling the neighborhood, the police department’s white officers were in near rebellion. White police officers with the help of the National Guard, controlled a perimeter around Glenville where a 7 PM curfew was established. With the help of Mayor Stokes and his allies in the black community, peace was eventually restored.
The primary conclusion drawn was that, no matter who fired first, Cleveland’s police department was woefully deficient in training to handle urban riot scenarios. No strategy existed to provide a central command authority and to establish a strategy to quell and contain the riots.
Cleveland was not the only Ohio city to experience racial tensions that exploded into riots during that time. Toledo had three race riots. Akron had a riot. Cincinnati as well. But Cleveland, the Ohio city that had experienced such a large influx of blacks from the south following World War II and who had elected the nation’s first urban black mayor, was the city upon which the nation’s eye turned that summer.
One might conclude this was the beginning of Cleveland’s precipitous fall in national reputation. It would not be long before the Cuyahoga River caught fire, bringing further embarrassment to the city. When the de-industrialization of the 1970s took hold, Cleveland disintegrated, never to return to its years of being one of the most prosperous big cities in the country.