David Goldberg, a professor of history at Cleveland State University, discusses the May Day Riot in Cleveland as well as socialism in Cleveland and the US. Goldberg also discusses Little Italy, Italian stone masonry, and the Karamu House, a settlement house in Cleveland.
Goldberg, David (interviewee)
Ferraton, Matthew (interviewer)
Matthew Ferraton [00:00:03] OK. Today is August 1st, 2008. My name is Matt Ferraton with Cleveland State University, working on the Euclid Corridor project. And today, I'm here with Dr. David Goldberg with the Department of History at Cleveland State University. Dr. Goldberg, I'd like to talk a little bit about the May Day riots. What exactly is May Day?
David Goldberg [00:00:24] May Day is a socialist holiday mainly established by socialists in Europe and the late 19th century and celebrated on May 1st as a workers holiday. And the idea of celebrating May 1st as a socialist and workers holiday had been adopted also by socialists especially, but also by some other trade unionists in the United States as well by the late 19th and early 20th century.
Matthew Ferraton [00:01:01] And for the socialists, why why would a socialist come to or establish themselves in a city like Cleveland?
David Goldberg [00:01:10] At the time in the early 20th century. There had been, some might say, a rather significant Socialist Party and movement in the United States. It was never that strong. But their candidate for president, in fact, Eugene Debs in 1912 had received six percent of the vote. The Socialist Party in the United States had dual roots. It had support among some, you might say native born workers, but also had received some very considerable support from some of the immigrants, who had brought socialist ideas with them to the United States when they had emigrated from Europe?
Matthew Ferraton [00:01:55] And for a city like Cleveland did it have a large immigrant population during this time?
David Goldberg [00:01:59] Well, Cleveland at this time in the early 20th century, around the time of the World War I was a very heavily immigrant city, difficult to give exact statistics. But if you added together, both those who are immigrants and the children of immigrants, they probably comprised over half of the population of the city from very diverse groups.
Matthew Ferraton [00:02:24] And what many of these immigrants that they came to, cities like Cleveland or Cleveland, specifically, what what type of jobs would they have typically? Was there any any type of industry or any jobs sector that you would find many of them working in?
David Goldberg [00:02:40] Most of the male immigrants who arrived in Cleveland at this time worked in heavy industry. And there were a variety of heavy industries in Cleveland including the iron and steel industry, just emerging automobile industry, the electrical industry, machine tools and a whole series of other basically what you would call heavy industry, which dominated Cleveland at the time. Women tended to work more in the clothing, the garment factories. Also, there was one very large textile factory in Cleveland. Also did, of course, often work as domestics in other people's homes. So there was a difference between the jobs that male and female immigrants were doing.
Matthew Ferraton [00:03:30] Did the Socialist Party in Cleveland include both men and women or was it predominantly men who would join or be affiliated with such a party at this time?
David Goldberg [00:03:38] Well, at this time, still a woman cannot vote and women didn't receive the right to suffrage until 1920. But certainly, there were women who were active in the Socialist Party, though most of its leaders were men. But there were some woman were also active in the party as well.
Matthew Ferraton [00:03:55] Now, for the May Day riots in Cleveland. What exactly if you could for a few minutes describe what exactly happened started the May Day riots?
David Goldberg [00:04:06] Well, I couldn't begin to describe what happened in may day riots until you talk about the impact of the World War. The World War had begun in 1914, but the United States did not enter the war until April 1917. When the United States entered the war, the Socialist Party voted to oppose the war. They felt that Wilson had used duplicitous measures to get the U.S. involved in the war and Socialist Party very explicitly in a convention - what they called an emergency convention - voted to oppose the war. Hence, after that, the federal government at Wilson's urgings, I should say Congress, passed an Espionage Act in 1917, amended that with the Sedition Act in 1918, and there was very severe repression of those who opposed the war, mainly through indictments by federal authorities and also through various raids. Most of these indictments and raids were aimed that the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World that was known as the IWW. So both of these left wing organizations suffered greatly during a war. This included the imprisonment of two socialists in Cleveland who had been members of the Cleveland Socialist Party and been on the Cleveland School Board. In support of these members who had been in prison, Eugene V. Debs who was the leader of the Socialist Party, had come to Canton, Ohio, and due to his speech that he made in Kent, Ohio. Debs himself had been indicted and then put on trial in Cleveland. So there's quite a bit of ferment in Cleveland and opposition to the war and again, subsequent repression. And of course, adding to all of this was the Bolshevik revolution that occurred in Russia in November 1917, which had led Russia to pull out of the war, which disturbed all of those who favored the war in the United States. But there was some significant support for the Bolshevik revolution among socialists at this time, some of whom will become members of the early Communist Party. So coming out of all of this ferment, then you had the background to a demonstration held by those who were socialists and also those who were supporters of the communist revolution on May 1st, 1919, about six months after the war had ended.
Matthew Ferraton [00:06:45] You mentioned two members that were running for the school board that were part of the socialist party? Do you recall their names?
David Goldberg [00:06:51] I don't remember their names.
Matthew Ferraton [00:06:54] So on May Day, they're having this parade, what exactly what got the riots started?
David Goldberg [00:07:02] On some of the accounts, what got the riot started are a bit murky, but it seems to be very little doubt, first of all, that the rally in Cleveland that attracted thousands of people, some estimate about 20,000 marchers on May Day. Many of them were carrying American flags along with red flags. Again, a red flag was a symbol both of socialism and to many people, a symbol of their support for the Bolshevik revolution that had taken place. There's a great deal of militancy at this time. 1919 will be a year of tremendous labor and almost, you might say, revolutionary ferment. And those who oppose the leftist radicals who are demonstrating according to most accounts, including the police and World War veterans, attacked the marchers. And that led to a melee that encompassed much of the downtown area. Including public square. Two people were killed. Hundreds were probably injured and arrested and receive very considerable national publicity. So there were national headlines at the time about Cleveland's May Day riot. There were some similar incidents, but nothing as large as in other cities at the time, and all became part of what became known as the Red Scare of 1919.
Matthew Ferraton [00:08:31] You mentioned that. There's well, no one really knows for sure what exactly how the riots got started, but you did mention that some speculate that some veterans had gotten involved and perhaps even started the riot. Do you think, in your opinion, that part of that the veterans possibly getting involved had anything to do with the fact that the Socialist Party had opposed World War One?
David Goldberg [00:08:56] Well, there's no doubt that veterans hostility to the marchers was increased by the explicit opposition to the World War, by the Socialist Party. So that helped generate the tensions. And of course one has to remember that support for the Bolshevik Revolution meant they supported Russia's withdrawal from the war, which had potentially hurt the U.S. cause when that occurred, it turned out that it did it. But that was an issue many people in the United States were making a claim that somehow Germans had paid money or Germans had worked with the Bolsheviks to get them to withdraw from the war. That wasn't true. But that accusation actually had been quite common at the time. So the anti-war position as socialists certainly played a major role in engendering hostility to them from veterans and other patriotic, loyalty-oriented groups in the United States.
Matthew Ferraton [00:09:56] For the socialists opposing the war, did they have a history up to this point of opposing wars in general. Or was this just the case of Russia withdrawing from World War One in Europe?
David Goldberg [00:10:09] Well, the socialist movement itself had held a series of meetings as part of what had been known as the Second International and the Socialist Parties had said they would oppose any war that might occur. But when the war broke out in 1914, the French and German socialists had supported their nations at war. As far as I can tell, only the Italian Socialist Party and U.S. Socialist Party actually backed up the pledge they had made before the war to oppose a war of this type.
Matthew Ferraton [00:10:45] You mentioned that at this time there was a lot of militancy within the Socialist Party and these type of organizations in general. For a city like Cleveland, why why would an organization such as the Socialist Party be militant? Were there any conditions that existed or. Well, were there any conditions that existed that would perhaps lead them to militancy?
David Goldberg [00:11:11] Well, leading to the military of the Socialist Party, probably a couple of factors. One is there's no doubt this was an accusation at the time, but it's true. But many of those who emigrated and who became socialists had been influenced by socialism before they arrived in Europe. That was an accusation made against them. But in fact, it was true. And they arrived with a socialist ideology. There also were some indigenous again, you might say American born who also were socialist. Now, contributing to this were some of the rather brutal working conditions that existed in American factories at this time. Employers very fiercely opposed unionization. And so the union movement was relatively weak, though, in Cleveland, in the AFL, which was the dominant labor federation at the time. The AFL had managed to organize some of Cleveland's industry, including the most skilled workers. So a lot of the fervor for socialism had been fed by socialist anger at what they viewed as rather ruthless exploitation in factories which had been increased during the war when there had been pressures to produce more and more when there had also been a high inflation rate. So the wartime conditions had a led to say increased animosity on the part of socialists and trade unionists toward some of the industrialists. So that very much fed much of the unrest as well.
Matthew Ferraton [00:12:44] As far as the working conditions at this time, many, many cities across the US have these brutal working conditions. They often had to work long hours. Was this something that was common in Cleveland as well?
David Goldberg [00:12:57] Yeah, it's rather – despite maybe some historians being a bit simplistic about this – working conditions varied. Some employees had a more paternalistic attitude or made more efforts at protecting workers on the job. It's very dangerous to make a kind of uniform generalization about working conditions because they could vary depending on employer and industry. Probably certainly the worst were in the steel industry, which is almost inherently a brutal industry, maybe not quite as bad in some of the other metal working industries or in some of the other shops in Cleveland. So it could very much depend on the type of work being done and the attitude of the owner. Well, what we know actually, some of the most probably those who suffered under the worst working conditions were not necessarily those who engaged in the protest or supported the socialist movement. A critical factor was the socialist tended to attract those who were anti-clerical - hostile to the church - and that that played a role also in who became part of this movement as opposed to those who did not.
Matthew Ferraton [00:14:02] Following the riots, after they had taken place, and the dust settles, so to speak, was there any long term impact in Cleveland from this as a result?
David Goldberg [00:14:13] I don't get the impression there is any long term impact in Cleveland of the May Day riots. From what I can tell from a national perspective, though, the Association of Immigrants with Radicalism and with this order that continued to build in 1919 did play a role in the passage of immigration restriction legislation, first in 1921 and then in 1924. So it probably had more, again, part of a larger national picture, more than anything that occurred locally.
Matthew Ferraton [00:14:55] I'd like to switch topics a little bit and talk about Little Italy for a few minutes. What exactly is Little Italy? Why is Little Italy called Little Italy?
David Goldberg [00:15:05] Little Italy is a name for an Italian neighborhood, mainly between East 119th and East 125th Street, comprising mainly Murray Hill and Mayfield? Now, at this time, in the late 19th and early 20th century, for some reason, Italian neighborhoods became known as Little Italy. So there is a Litle Italy, in New York City, there's a Little Italy and Boston and other cities as well. So that term was often used for Italian neighborhoods. In Cleveland, actually, Little Italy may be an appropriate phrase because the largest Italian neighborhood was in the area were today Tri-C Metro is near Orange and Woodland it was much larger in composition of the Italian population than actually the area that was known as Little Italy. So the area near where the post office Tri-C Metro is was known as Big Italy. And then you had a Little Italy in this area of Mayfield and Murray Hill.
Matthew Ferraton [00:16:09] Just to jump ahead a little bit. Do you happen to know why, for example, there was another Little Italy where Tri-C is now? Obviously, it's all gone. Do you know why the Little Italy that we know today is still there and still survives versus the much larger Little Italy which is no longer in existence?
David Goldberg [00:16:31] A question of survival of Little Italy is a bit difficult to say. Remembering that today it is probably only a very small Italian population in the area that we know as Little Italy. I think I should point out that it became an Italian area because it was the location of the Joseph Caraballi marbleworks and many stone cutters had been attracted to live there. But it did become an area where there were many Italian oriented stores and restaurants as well as a church. It is not unusual in the United States, in other cities, for Italian areas, even though the population has mainly moved to the suburbs to retain that flavor. And I think that's true in the Little Italy and Cleveland as well as other Little Italies in the United States.
Matthew Ferraton [00:17:32] You mentioned the stonecutters. What was the name of the stonecutters again? I'm sorry.
David Goldberg [00:17:35] The name of the individual who established a company. His name was Joseph Caraballi. And he was a stone mason. Many of the Italian immigrants who arrived, had previous experience as stonecutters or doing marble work. This is true in many other areas of the United States. And he had established his business in the area of Mayfield and Murray Hill for a very clear reason, because it was adjacent to Lakeview Cemetery. So much of the beautiful stone cutting marble work that one sees in Lakeview Cemetery was done by Italian stone cutters who lived in the adjacent area of Little Italy. So there's a very intimate, intimate connection between Little Italy and Lakeview Cemetery and the Carabelli marble works.
Matthew Ferraton [00:18:27] So we we we had the Carabelli marble works that establishes itself in the area of Little Italy, partly because a place like a cemetery where there is industry there available. But as far as the Italian immigrants, the workers that would go there... You said that that area attracted many of them. Why is that?
David Goldberg [00:18:48] Well, most immigrants to the United States at this time and still today settled as a result of a process, we know, as chain migration. So most of those who settled in a Little Italy were either Neapolitan from the area around Naples, but also in very large numbers from the area of Abruzzi bordering the Adriatic. And as occurred time and time again and again still today is in the past, if some people from this region of Abruzzi settled in a Little Italy, they would send letters back or they would make return visits. And as a result of chain migration, then people from that area, even though that even if they had no connection with the marble works, would then settle in that same area of the city.
Matthew Ferraton [00:19:33] Over time, you mentioned that Little Italy had undergone changes or maybe actually that got burned down, but did Little Italy begin to change over time? If so, why did it begin to change?
David Goldberg [00:19:46] Little Italy again was never that large a neighborhood. My impression is it was a rather stable Italian area in through the 1950s. Of course by the 1950s, you begin to see movement to the suburbs that occurred throughout the United States. So some of the Italians who had lived then by this time second and maybe even third generation and a Little Italy began to move out of the city along Mayfield Road so they might set on Mayfield Heights or communities again that stretch along Mayfield. But there were many who remained. And of course, the Little Italy became a major center of racial tension in Cleveland, especially during the 1960s and the 1970s, as many of those people who remained tended to develop a very defensive and racist attitude towards the African American community. So Little Italy in 1960s and 1970s became a center of considerable racial conflict during that period of time.
Matthew Ferraton [00:20:59] For Little Italy iself, when it's undergoing these changes starting in the 50s, was there any other new groups that began to move into the area?
David Goldberg [00:21:08] There doesn't appear to be any significant movement of any other group into Little Italy. Again, keeping in mind, this is a small area. Though again, what you had was very clear hostility to the idea of African-Americans moving into the neighborhood, but they don't seem to be... It was a trickle of other groups. And of course, near Western Reserve, what was then Western Reserve University and Case Tech, some students would live in the area and some other people as well.
Matthew Ferraton [00:21:39] I'd like to change the topic to the Karamu House. What is the Karamu House?
David Goldberg [00:21:49] Karamu House is a rather unique institution in Cleveland. Today it is located at East 89th and Quincy Avenue. Karamu House is still a very active institution. It's essentially a settlement house. The settlement houses had been established mainly by middle class progressives to serve the needs of immigrants and also African-Americans. In this case in the early 20th century. And it is a rather unique and being one of the few really remaining very active settlement houses compared to the numbers that once existed. Now, of course, it's best known for the theater program that has been part of its activities since the 1920s. Though it's engaged in many other activities as well.
Matthew Ferraton [00:22:42] What are what are some of the features or characteristics of a settlement house?
David Goldberg [00:22:46] Well, settlement houses varied, but essentially they were nongovernmental institutions generally established by those who had some sympathy for the immigrants and again, the African-American population living in the center of cities by those who wanted to provide services for them. So they generally recieved their funding from philanthropists and then would have a variety of activities and clubs that would be held at the settlements. Many of them also sponsored daycare or day camps as well, or week camps where people would go off to a country.
Matthew Ferraton [00:23:26] You mentioned that many of these settlement houses, including Karamu House often had... it was often established or run by members of the middle class. Why? Why did places such as Karamu House or settlement houses in general tend to attract those from the middle class?
David Goldberg [00:23:45] Well, it's only a small number of people from the middle class who became involved in the settlement movement. Many of them had been influenced by the social gospel and the progressive movement in the early 20th century. Most of them tended to be those that we would know today as the progressives. In the case of Karamu, there was a couple by the name of Rowena and Russell Jelliffe. They were graduates of Oberlin and then had studied social work and University of Chicago. And they came to Cleveland in what was known as the Roaring Third, an area right in the center of the city, and establish what – they didn't call it this at the time – but they established what became Karamu House in the year 1915.
Matthew Ferraton [00:24:39] Given that the Karamu house is still there and it's still functioning, just briefly, is there any significant changes that Karamu House has undergone over the years or just over the past century?
David Goldberg [00:24:52] Karamu has gone through numerous changes. Again, originally it was located in the center of the city, Near East 38th Street. It did by the 1920s develop a theater program that was very unique. It included those who were known as the Gilpin Players. Gilpin Players were named after a very prominent African-American actor by the name of Charles Gilpin, who had viewed one of the performances at the Karamu - what became Karamu - in 1922 and given them his encouragement. What distinguished the Gilpin players at Karamu was probably the Jolliffe's philosophy is that they perform plays with interracial casts. They might have been the only place in the United States in the 1920s actively trying to produce plays with interracial casts and blacks and whites both being part of the activities at Karamu and especially a part of the theatrical program. So this is what in many ways stood out about Karamu. Though remember they had a very active print making program in the 1930s, a dance program and much else. By the 1970s and 1980s, not very surprisingly, there was some reaction against this idea of an interracial theatrical program and it tended to become more, you might say, Afrocentric. Today, though, it's still very much functions as a very active theater while, as well, again, carrying out these other activities.
Matthew Ferraton [00:26:40] You mentioned that, particularly during the 20s, they had these interracial theaters, which was very uncommon and perhaps in the case Karamu House, maybe perhaps one of the only ones where this took place. And however, over time that this began to change, especially in the 60s and 70s. Did black nationalism affect this in any way?
David Goldberg [00:27:03] Well, there was an impact of black nationalism on the theater program at Karamu House because it obviously was located in a primarily African-American neighborhood. And by the 70s and 80s, there began to be demands that African-Americans play a more predominant role in setting the direction for the various theatrical programs at Karamu.
Matthew Ferraton [00:27:31] I just want to move forward real quick. There actually is one more topic. Just maybe if you know something about it, do you know anything about Victor Schreckengost by any chance?
David Goldberg [00:27:45] Victor Schreckengost is, of course, a nationally known figure, who resided in Cleveland, involved in a variety of ceramics and other kinds of artwork. He got his start in industrial design and he's one of the most prominent industrial design people in the United States. But I'm not that familiar with his, you know, to be able to speak about him.
Matthew Ferraton [00:28:09] I kinda forgot about...
David Goldberg [00:28:11] OK. You're trying to get... Well, he's a prominant. Yeah. He's a... He's a very prominent individual, by the way, in terms of Little Italy you didn't ...
Matthew Ferraton [00:28:19] My next question... [crosstalk] was actually going to be given that we've covered these topics. Was there anything that I didn't ask that you would like to talk about either of these three topics?
David Goldberg [00:28:29] I should mention in Little Italy, there are two institutions that very much remain today that stand out. One is Alta House. That's a settlement house located on Mayfield in the center of Little Italy. It's called Alta House after Rockefeller's daughter, because Rockefeller provided the money, but the establishment of Alta House... And that, again, is a settlement house that became part of the Little Italy community. Of course, another major institution in Little Italy is Holy Rosary Church. And like many of the churches, especially that southern Italians attended, Holy Rosary became known for its feast there. And this would be a time and spot during August when those were members of a church would parade out of the church with images of the Madonna. People would pin dollar bills on the image of the Madonna and there would be parades out of the church, including a great deal of food and other kinds of social activities. There is still a remnant of that today. Though one should realize now what exists today - as again, the feast that is celebrated in mid-August - is only a remnant of the type of festival that southern Italians brought with them as part of their religious tradition and heritage.
Matthew Ferraton [00:29:52] Real quick, the Alta House is is that still there? Is this something that's still functional?
David Goldberg [00:29:57] Alta House still functions today.
Matthew Ferraton [00:30:00] Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you would like to mention?
David Goldberg [00:30:05] Think that's pretty much it. I had a bit more on – not that much more on – Karamu. I mean, my understanding is that Karamu had a really active – like in the 30s – printmaking program that the WPA sponsored.
Matthew Ferraton [00:30:23] Oh. Ok well thank you.
David Goldberg [00:30:25] Okay.
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"David Goldberg interview, 01 August 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 999069.