Downtown … Or Poor is The New Black ?
While growing up in North East Ohio, I spent a lot of time in Cleveland visiting my cousins on the west side. They would take me into downtown Public Square to go shopping or see a movie at the big movie houses there on Euclid Av. I remember riding one of the last Trackless Trolleys downtown on Lorain Av, In elementary school we took a field trip where we road a train into Cleveland, which at that time still had a station in the Terminal Tower. Went up to the viewing area at the top, had lunch and then back.
Yes, at that time everything one might want to see and do was downtown.
Of course, there were shopping centers too, but the big stores were all downtown — May Company, Higbees, Hally Bro., a big Rexal Drugs with this big soda fountain and on and on. One thing you did not see very often, it at all, were blacks downtown and rarely on the buses and rapid transit trains. I do not ever remember see blacks on the Shaker Heights rapid transit and you never saw blacks in Shaker Square, even though Shaker Square was not part of the city of Shaker Heights.
Ohio had gotten rid of it’s Jim Crow laws a while ago, like most northern states, but before civil rights, businesses and public transportation could refuse service and most did. Pittsburgh and Phillie and most northern cities were the same. Blacks were highly segregated to black areas with black stores and black schools and black churches. The only reason black people went downtown was to work, which nearly always consisted of menial jobs as cleaners and janitors and maids, etc. Liberals like to think that segregation as mostly a southern thing, but northern cites were just as segregated if not more so.
It’s no coincidence that when the Civil Rights Acts got passed, white flight to the suburbs took off like gang busters. Whites stop going downtown to shop. Now the blacks and other minorities were there, it was now considered “too dangerous” and the suburban shopping malls began to appear. Nearly all of which were in the middle class and upper middle class white neighborhoods, replacing the downtown stores and the smaller shopping centers.
In Cleveland one of the biggest and most used was Parmatown Mall. With May company and Higbees and Sears and a megaplex theater and all the smaller shops one could imagine. One did not do Christmas with out a trip to Parma Town. Right in the heart of white middle classdum.
With the down turn in the economy which began in the 1970s, even the all white suburbs began to empty. The Fair Housing Act said you could not discriminate in housing, so blacks and minorities began to settle in the previously all white suburbs. That and the rising cost of maintaining those behemoth edifices of consumerism condemned the shopping mall to eventual demise, in all but the most wealthy neighborhoods. Suburban whites would fly even further out to even more upper crust areas, using housing price inflation to keep out those they did not want in.
Another aspect of this was that when the whites fled to suburbia, they took their tax money and federal grants with them. Even federal money that was supposed to help those left behind in the cities.
But legislation passed on various democratic governments put and end to that gravy train. It should come as no surprise then that the so called tea party is made up heavily of upper crust white folks who resent paying taxes and not getting it all back for their communities. That a good part of it has gone to help the inner city, which they left. So when the GOP now says they hate something like Obama care because it’s going to undeserving poor people, we should know exactly who they mean.
And when the GOP keeps pushing for privatization of schools and health care and parks and even roads, we should also know whom they are trying to keep out.
Even downtown Cleveland has an economic Jim Crow about it. Now a tourist type area with hight priced hotels, a casino, high priced eating establishments and on and on. All geared to wealthy white people, since there are few wealthy black people. An inequality that suites them just fine. This marriage of convenience between the GOP, tea party and conservatives suits them all to a tea.
This new segregation runs along class lines as well as racial, which also should come as no surprise either.
Long live capitalism, as long as the capitalists are not black or Hispanic.
Photo by Tony Fischer released under a Creative Commons license.