James Lanese discusses growing up in Lyndurst and attending private school in Cleveland. Lanese also shares information about his teaching career in a vocational program, and his involvement in the desegreation of Cleveland City Schools.
This interview was led by Carol Malone with the assistance of her students, Markita, Angela, Thomas, Debreonya, Jamaal, and Kjimmy.
Lanese, James (Interviewee)
Malone, Carol (Interviewer)
"James Lanese Interview, 25 February 2013" (2013). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 131004.
Markita [00:00:02] Hey, good morning.
James [00:00:04] Good morning.
Markita [00:00:05] Actually, um.for the record could you state your name.
James [00:00:06] My name is James Lanese.
Markita [00:00:16] Well, I'm Markita
Markita [00:00:20] Jamaal Perkins, Debreonya Irving, Angela Lee and Thomas Anderson, and Kjimmy Young.
Markita [00:00:31] I'm going to be interviewing you about why you come into this neighborhood and how you grew up and different things, but. How was it living in this neighborhood?
James [00:00:46] OK, let me start. I'll give you a little bit of background as far as growing up in the Cleveland area. I did not grow up right in Cedar Central. I grew up east of Cleveland in Lyndhurst, Ohio.
James [00:01:01] I was born in 1948 and grew up and attended grade school in Lyndhurst, Ohio, at a local Catholic school, St. Claire's. I after that, I attended Cathedral Latin High School, which is in Cleveland. I if you know where John Hay High School is out on 107 Street Cathedral, Latin School was their direct neighbor across the street I say was because the school no longer is standing there. It was on the site of what is now the W O Walker Center. That's a shared medical facility between Case Western Reserve and the Cleveland Clinic. After attending Cleveland State I'm sorry. After attending Cathedral Latin, I went to Cleveland State University as an undergraduate and obtained a teaching degree and a business degree, at which time I was hired by the Cleveland schools. I as a business teacher. So my connections are a little bit indirect with Jane Addams in some respects. Back when I was first hired in Cleveland, most all schools had a business program. It was called Vocational Business Education. And one of the things that I taught originally was some of the work that was done on machinery that preceded computers. Nowadays we call it unit record equipment used to punch cards, program machines and teach students how to use that equipment, which was prevalent in business in those days. I taught at John Adams High School for about eight years and after that time the desegregation suit was filed pertaining to the Cleveland School District. I believe the suit was first filed in 1973 and I had started teaching in 1971. By 1976 the court decision came down that found the school district guilty of segregating students in schools and ordered that a remedy to this situation that existed in the schools be completed. OK, so in 1976, that decision was made by the courts and the district had to initiate a process by which they were going to now work to integrate the school district. That took a couple more years to sort of get organized and ready to go. By 1978, I was transferred from a teacher in high school, at John Adams, to work in the desegregation office at school headquarters.
James [00:04:20] And I spent about 20 years in various capacities working with 'deseg'. We can talk more about that later. I'll let you ask more questions.
Markita [00:04:31] OK. What sort of work did you and your family members do?
James [00:04:33] While I was growing up, my dad worked for General Electric at Nela Park, which is in East Cleveland, right on the Cleveland border there near Collingwood. And he was a bricklayer, plaster worker. So he was like a tradesman who worked on the grounds of Nela Park. Maintaining Nela Park is sort of like a campus type setting. It's got a lot of buildings and things like that. And he had a whole crew of people that worked to maintain the buildings and the grounds in Cleveland. So he worked there. My mom was actually a school cafeteria lady. And she worked in the school district there in South Euclid, South Equal Lyndhurst. She worked at Brush High School and in that cafeteria. And growing up, I was a paper boy. I delivered the Cleveland Press, which was the afternoon newspaper at the time, and The Plain Dealer was the morning Plain Dealer. So we had paper boys that worked early in the morning and later in the afternoon until the press kind of folded up. And now we just have the Plain Dealer and we're glad we have them now. And I also, as once I got into high school and turned 16 and I guess back in my day, you had to have a you had to be that age to start other types of jobs. I got a job in a grocery store and we had a grocery chain in the Cleveland area called Pick and Pay. And so I went to work as a stock boy and bag packer and cashier and you name it, everything in the stores I worked. Did that kind of work during high school. And even while I was in college, I continued to do that. And even when I first started teaching, I still had a job in a grocery store working nighttime. So I teach during the day and then on a few nights a week, go and still work in the grocery store. So I was involved with that for a while.
Markita [00:06:48] Take us back to your first neighborhood. What did it smell like? What did it look like and sound like?
James [00:06:55] OK, I'll respond in a couple of ways. Living out in Lyndhurst, when I was growing up, that community was still growing as a suburban area in Cleveland. The suburbs began to develop mostly after World War Two in the 50s. So that's when I was a young child. And I remember on my street there were a lot of very similar houses, small brick bungalows that were built in the 40s that my parents moved into. I was actually born in Cleveland in the Collingwood area. And when I was still a baby, my parents bought a home in Lyndhurst and moved up there. But what I do recall about my street is there were old. There was a lot of space where homes were still not built on the street. So I lived across the street from an area that just was like a big field and a lot of dirt bulldozed around because they were still building houses across the street. So I always kind of recall that scene. The home next to me was formerly a farm and behind our house, behind our backyard was still a wooded area. And we had apple trees and things like that back there that were still, that were leftover from that farm. But that farm, I guess, was sold off to the developers. And so it wasn't an active farm, but there were still remnants of what was growing there. I guess, back in the day. So I recall that from growing up on Sunview Road in Lyndhurst. When I started to come into the city more often for high school and that it was quite a difference. OK, a densely populated area. Got into the University Circle area where Cathedral Latin, my school was. And that was quite a bit different to me as far as a lot of buildings that I didn't get much into the neighborhoods there.
James [00:09:14] But I met a lot of fellow students who came from all over the city. That was the advantage of a school like that. So we met friends who lived in the suburbs right in the central city around the school from many different areas.
Markita [00:09:42] Tell us about the restaurants, churches, neighborhood institutions that you and your family attended.
James [00:09:42] OK. Well, I mentioned I went to St. Claire School and that was our our church as well, Catholic Parish that was founded in Lyndhurst in probably about the time I was born in the late 40s.
James [00:10:01] But it was a rapidly growing parish. So there was a lot of students in the school, a lot of people in the church. And it was connected to St. Gregory Parish, which was in South Euclid and St. Pascal Parish, which later started and grew up to the north of us in Highland Heights.
James [00:10:27] Restaurant wise, we didn't go out all that often. But I do remember that the big treat was to go eat dinner on Fridays at the Howard Johnson's. My dad used to like fish fries. There aren't too many Howard Johnsons around anymore, at least in the Cleveland area. I think they might be elsewhere in the country. But the big thing to me, the big treat was that Friday afternoon dinner and getting to go to a restaurant and getting to pick something off of a menu, which was kind of a big deal when you eat at home all the time. As you're aware, you get what mom cooks, you know, but that was that was quite a big deal to be able to go and just pick something, anything you wanted off of a menu and have it.
Markita [00:11:20] Where did you or your family find entertainment?
James [00:11:24] Well, I remember again, out in our neighborhood in Lyndhurst, there were two movie theaters, one a little further east in Mayfield Heights called the Mayland Theater and one a little further west of where I lived near Richmond Road called the Richmond Theater.
James [00:11:45] And those were both favorites as far as someplace we could get to even I could walk there with my friends.
James [00:11:55] So I remember on Saturdays we used to be able to take a quarter, go to the show and see a movie for 25 cents and all that that entails. So movie theaters are my first recollection of entertainment opportunities. When I was growing up, television was getting expanding rapidly, so we found a lot of time, we would spend a lot of time watching television variety shows and things like that.
Mark [00:12:41] OK, Um, do you have any questions? Sure. I'll ask a few questions. you mentioned that you came down to Howard Johnsons. Which Howard Johnsons, or was there was there only one?
James [00:13:07] I recall around he city there were a handful of them. One and I'm going to take the lead from Carol Malone, who brought it up a little earlier today, I. There was a Howard Johnson's literally on the corner of where my high school was, on the corner of 107 Street and Euclid Avenue. Sort of like right next to where John Hay is if you ever drive by. John. Hey, did you notice the children's museum there? OK. Literally right where that building is used to be a Howard Johnson's. However, that's not the one my family visited. There was one further east on Mayfield Road near the Green Road intersection. There is a small shopping center there and some gas stations and things across the street. And there was our Johnsons there. I recall going to that one for our Friday night outings. And there was also a Howard Johnson's that was part of a large hotel complex with a restaurant in it right on the lake near Fifty Fifth Street.
James [00:14:15] In fact, that building sat there vacant for a long, long time until probably just a couple of years ago when it was finally condemned by the city and torn down. But that was also a another popular location. Going back to the 50s and 60s, when Howard Johnsons were much more popular, and not only did they run restaurants, but they also ran a chain of hotels that were built around in this area and around the country. Those are the ones that I recall. On the east side of Cleveland, don't know much about the West. We never got that far.
Markita [00:15:04] Do you have anything to add?
James [00:15:06] One of the things that I again, thinking back to my childhood days. Shopping occurred downtown. There weren't malls, the shopping centers like East Gate and Golden Gate and South Gate, and those style of shopping centers were just being built and weren't too prevalent.
James [00:15:38] So when it came time to go shopping on occasion, Mom and I would get on a bus and come downtown. We didn't have RTA back then. We had CTS. It was called the Cleveland Transit System and it only ran so far in and out of the city. CTS stopped their lines at Green and Mayfield Lyndhurst was further out. So Lyndhurst had its own bus service called Redifer. So you have to take the Redifer bus if you were coming in to town. And Redifer, it was kind of interesting because the Redifer bus was not allowed to pick up people that lived in the CTA zone. So I'd get on a Redofer bus in Lyndhurst and ride downtown with people just from Lyndhurst and beyond. Because if you lived in South Euclid, you got on CTS instead. And same thing going back out of town, you had to make sure you got on the right bus, otherwise you wouldn't get to where you wanted to wind up. But downtown shopping was cool. We had the department stores, which you've probably heard about, Higbee's, May Company, so forth. That's Higbee's is where the casino is now. May Company is literally across the street from it where the Cadillac Grille is right now. But these were two large department stores and my recollection was I, like you, probably experienced as well follow mom around while she did the shopping and bought the stuff she wanted. The big treat for me was there was a cafeteria type restaurant also across the street from those two department stores called the Mill Cafeteria.
James [00:17:41] And just like Howard Johnson's was a unique experience for me. The mill was even a different experience because you got your tray and you went through the line and you got to pick right off the counter what you wanted for lunch. And I just thought that was spectacular. So the big treat coming downtown was to shop the department stores, stop for lunch, get another treat, maybe a candy or something like that to bring home and get back on the Redifer bus and go right back home.
James [00:18:19] And again, growing up. That's that's how we accomplished buying everything but groceries. Fridays were grocery shopping days, too. And I recall the whole thing for for us was I would my mom and I would take the bus after school to get to the local grocery store, which is was over by Green Road. We do the shopping. And then my dad would pick us up because he had the car to go to work. So on the way home from work, he'd stop, pick us up, carry all the groceries home and then. So different ways of doing business back then as far as maintaining your your household and things like that.
Markita [00:19:11] Your childhood was very interesting. Does anyone have any comments or questions?
Debreonya [00:19:26] So do you think that modern education has changed from the way you were brought up in school?
James [00:19:35] Wow. Fantastic question. And especially from the perspective of being a teacher, I can answer that this way. When I trained as a teacher at Cleveland State. OK. The skills and strategies and teaching techniques that that we learned were much the same as what I had experienced in high school, which was just a year or three before that time.
James [00:20:14] So when I first began teaching and in the Cleveland district, we pretty much did things in a classroom the way we saw them done for us. OK. I and I didn't notice that much different difference. In a classroom at John Adams, in a business education setting the circumstances that I found as far as the students that were there and the programs that we were teaching and the methods we were using were very similar to what I had experienced while I was growing up. The big difference, however, teaching in a vocational program. We had equipment in the room, so a big part of the teaching process not only involved some lecture and note taking and learning various subjects like we still do nowadays, but a large portion of the time and my class would meet for like a four hour block. So no, you didn't have to listen to me talk for four hours or take notes for four hours. I would do some of that and then we'd stop and we'd spend time working on the machinery that was in the room. As I mentioned, this was the stuff that preceded computers of nowadays. So we'd have students punching cards, programing machines, running their programs, learning how to use those machines with the idea being that they would finish the program and it was a two year type of thing. You took the class as both a junior and a senior in your high school term. And be ready to take a job literally walking right out the door with your diploma.
James [00:22:17] So the idea was I get all the skills you needed to run those machines and be able to walk into a business that use that machinery and start working right away. And it worked very well. So that's how I started. Now, what happened when I was I mentioned that I taught for about eight years at John Adams. Then I worked downtown for the desegregation efforts in Cleveland for another 20 years. And then then I went back to the classroom. After those 20 years. And by that time, I was assigned back to John F. Kennedy and South high school and I wound up teaching back in a classroom. This time it was full of computers. So.
James [00:23:21] I saw quite a big change during those 20 years that went by mainly because of, again, the technology and the equipment that became prevalent over that period of time. We were still doing a lot of the same things as far as students gaining experience on the machinery. The style of teaching. What I what I did note is quite a bit of difference as far as the nature and style of students that I encountered from the 1970s through the early 2000s. The challenge to the teachers I think changed considerably. Dealing with. Different behaviors, different styles, I thought was the bigger challenge. More so than the material and the equipment and the kinds of things we were working on. But the education program, I thought, remain quite consistent as far as the objectives that we were trying to complete and the the roles that we were carrying out as far as the education is concerned.
Mark [00:24:53] That's one more question. You mentioned that you were involved here about 20 years in the desegregation effort, which started in 1976 and it ended around 96, I guess. Can you tell us a little bit more about kind of the path that took? And I'm especially interested in how it ended and what you think the result has been after it ended. I'm talking about busing.
James [00:25:22] Well, the as I mentioned, the desegregation finding occurred in 76. It took a couple of years to organize within the school district in order to satisfy the court's demands or requirements under their finding. What the court did is outline a rather comprehensive plan. It didn't just include sending kids to different schools and putting them on buses. It also included elements of programs related to reading cooperation with local educational institutions like the universities, cultural related activities, you name it. It was a very far reaching type of court order that required a lot of reform in the schools, not simply switching students. However, the the biggest aspect of the whole order was moving students around in order to racially integrate the district. And as you know, Cleveland, the city was primarily racially isolated as far as east and west sides of the town were concerned. So on the west side is where most of the white folks lived. And on the east side of Cleveland proper is where most of the African-American students lived. Back then, by the way, and by the court's language itself, we referred to students as blacks and whites. That's was the language of the day and the common referral terms that we used, the role I was involved with, the early planning of how those schools would be matched up or paired up, if you will. And then consequently, how students would be mixed together givien those pairings. So, for example, one of your closest high schools here was is East Tech and East Tech was paired with. South. East Tech at the time of the desegregation finding was primarily black student, South for whatever reason, and how that worked was primarily white students and all the schools that sort of belonged to those high schools, meaning the elementary schools and the junior high or middle schools that went along with them were all part of that pairing process. So we would do is take a look at the students that lived in the neighborhoods that were traditionally served by the East Tech Group in the South Group and figured out a way where we were literally just going to mix kids half and half. In order to accomplish integrated schools in both neighborhoods and then once we were able to identify what neighborhood parcells would be paired together. Then we figured out what bus had to go and get these kids here to move them to school over here and vise versa. So for a couple of years that planning took place and in I think, 78 was the first time that we actually put kids on buses and started a couple of pilot areas in the city. Saw how it worked. There were some problems that occurred that we then had to work through and so forth. So the city wide desegregation effort or integration effort did not really commence ultimately until 1980. But starting in 1980, and that's at the time the school district had upwards of 80 some thousand students attending is when we did a full scale busing program, which means we were moving 40,000 kids a day on buses from one side of town to the other in order to integrate schools. And that process continued throughout the 80s and 90s.
James [00:30:01] And at the same time, we were working on these other components of the court order that involved not only getting kids from one side of town into the school on the other side of town, and making or ensuring that white and black kids were attending school together. But other components in the court order at the same time demanded that programs within the schools were being improved and attended to in order to make sure that what was being delivered to the students that showed up at school was the best we could possibly give, and not in any way discriminatory as far as race, gender, any of those kinds of things were concerned. So. So it it it involved an effort on several levels within the school district to do that. We had routine responsibility, by that, I mean, every year we had to provide several reports to the court to in some way demonstrate that what we were doing not only satisfied the requirements that the court had laid out, but also was having an impact on the kids. So we did a lot of reporting related to educational outcomes, testing results, things like that, demonstrating as best we could that, yes, we met the requirement of integrating schools. And yes. Kids are showing some progress as far as their educational outcomes are concerned. It was tough going, but. But there was a lot of change going on in the schools. And most people community wise were. Not real happy with the notion of getting on buses every day to go to school. That part of it was the disappointing or disadvantage aspect of how we chose to integrate schools in Cleveland. On the other hand, the benefits were the integration was had its positive effects as far as social, I think and educational outcomes there were concerned. But as a result, I think the dissatisfaction with busing from the point of view of families and so forth ultimately led to a decrease in city population. Other factors were involved. But. I think that was. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of a desegregation effort. What ultimately happened was after several years of this concerted effort, by the end of the 1990s, the district was looking to be found in compliance with the court orders. OK, so they appealed to the court and says, hey, we've run an integrated school district now for 15, close to 20 years. We've demonstrated that we've complied with all of the educational demands and so forth that the court imposed way back in the mid 70s.
James [00:33:57] So now we think you should sort of let us alone. Kind of like we did our time, so to speak. And the court said. Well, we'll consider that. But we want to know that this is going to proceed OK in a suitable fashion. So the court then kind of struck a deal and it involved a lot of politicians along the way. The state was involved because they were also a defendant in the case, along with the Cleveland City School District and the city the city itself had an interest in, obviously, what was going on with the schools. So the federal judge got the state legislature and leaders at the state level with the leaders of the school district and the leaders of the city. In fact, Mayor Michael White at the time and drew up a large agreement that said, OK, if you guys work out a way to govern the schools and ensure that things are going to continue and improve from here on out, we'll step back and release you from liability.
James [00:35:21] So ultimately, that's what happened after a series of hearings and a lot of political wheeling and dealing that took place. This the court released the city and excuse me, the school district in the state from liability, which is now why the mayor technically is in charge of the Cleveland schools, not the school board, as was traditionally true. That was part of that agreement. And the state is likewise released from liability. So they don't have direct involvement as they did for 20 years during the course of the school district case. So the way that the schools exist nowadays while you're attending here is quite a bit different from it was 30 years ago. What's going on in the classroom may be quite similar to what always happened in schools, but as far as who is in control and how things are in fact accomplished, OK, was considerably impacted by the efforts. And I believe now and I'm not sure exactly to what degree we're sort of back to neighborhood schools. I'm not sure how thoroughly the school district is integrated now as compared to the 80s and 90s. I think the spirit is still there. I'm not sure that we're moving as many students as we had originally.
Markita [00:37:00] Were you an only child?
James [00:37:02] I was, kind of pick that up from my comments.
Markita [00:37:07] Was it wasn't like often boring? Did you get lonely sometimes?
Speaker [00:37:15] I guess they had never. I never got that that sense. The street I grew up on. There were a lot of families similar to my own. So there were a lot of kids around. So while I didn't have brothers and sisters in the house with me, I had friends literally two, three, four houses away all the time. And first thing out the door in the morning was either on my way to school or during the summer over to my friend's house with the kids in the neighborhood. So I always felt like I I had brothers and sisters around, even though they weren't directly connected to me.
Markita [00:37:59] Besides, your frienda around the neighborhood, did you like biologically want brothers and sisters?
James [00:38:06] I guess I always wondered why I was an only child. And yeah, I probably would have been fun to have a older or younger brother or sister. Never gave it that much thought though.
Markita [00:38:21] It was fun interviewing you. Thank you. Thank you for giving us your childhood memories and different things that went on around the neighborhood.
James [00:38:42] Thank you. Thank you. Did a nice job with your interview. Thank you.
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