On both sides of the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland has several storied communities. Glenville, located about four-and-a-half miles east of downtown and just a stone’s throw south of Lake Erie, is one. Yet, when most people think of this neighborhood, two things generally come to mind: that it’s the home of Superman or the shootout in the 1960s.
However, the emerging for-profit business Reframe History, founded by Shaker Heights native Shelli Reeves, is attempting to change the narrative of this community through its inaugural exhibit “The Rise of Black Glenville,” which features photos, stories and a mini-documentary about the neighborhood. The exhibit, which can be viewed online or by appointment, is housed at 3rd Space Action Lab, 1484 E. 105th St., until the first week of December.
“It’s the people, the people I continue to meet,” says Reeves, 26, when asked why she chose Glenville as her subject matter.
For an exhibit like this, Reeves believes its power lies in bringing together stories and art to express the history of Black people.
“I am a defender of Black history,” she says.
Reeves is a graduate of Shaker schools and Ohio Wesleyan University where she double majored in International Studies and Black World Studies and double minored in Women and Gender Studies and English. When she returned to Cleveland, her work at both Famicos Foundation and Cleveland Museum of Art put her in and around the Glenville area.
“I sat on porches and people told me stories.”
Through the lens of five longtime residents, Evelyn Davis, Darrell Branch, Fannie Allen, Cynthia Evans and Don Freeman, “The Rise of Black Glenville” takes a unique, first-person look at the neighborhood’s history as it began the transition from a Jewish to African-American community in the 1950s and 60s, an era that becomes the focal point of the exhibit.
Reeves used phone trees as her process to select those featured in the exhibit. “The phone tree kept coming back to the same people, particularly to Don Freeman and Evelyn Davis. They were ingrained in the community as people who embodied the topic.”
The physical exhibit includes two panels suspended from the ceiling and the documentary looping on a monitor. The front of the panels can be seen from E. 105th Street, through 3rd Space’s picture window.
A wooden table placed in the center of the room, adjacent to the backside of the panels, allows visitors to sit and chat with Reeves about the exhibit.
Reeves’ biggest surprise from her research were the different perspectives provided on the infamous Glenville shootout.
“Carl Stokes met with Black leaders and they decided to not allow police into the community for twenty-four hours. They decided the leaders would ‘community police,’” says Reeves. “I had no idea of the strategy and what happened from reading textbooks and newspaper reports.”
Reeves sees this exhibit, and Reframe History, as an opportunity to combat existing narratives by sharing stories that have been marginalized for a long time. “So many of the civil rights big names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were in [Glenville] at the time,” says Reeves.
She also learned why Blacks choose to move into Glenville. “They spoke of the houses being affordable and it being a great place to raise a family,” she says.
When Reeves approached Branch, who has lived in Glenville since 1955, he thought, “I would love to participate.”
His mom, who is 96 years old, moved to Cleveland from Mississippi and settled in Glenville. “I’m partial to the Glenville area. I’m a Tarblooder for life,” says Branch, a photographer and filmmaker himself. “To hear the stories would be a wonderful thing, I thought.”
According to Reeves, this exhibit is about capturing history that has already been lost and trying to restore it. She’s worked hard to present these stories in museum standards.
Michelle Jackson, while viewing “The Rise of Black Glenville” at 3rd Space Action Lab, says “I think it’s pretty amazing.” Jackson thinks its contribution to Glenville is connecting people together.
“What I love is that this is about a community. I hope everyone can come get a taste,” says Jackson, who didn’t grow up in Cleveland and doesn’t know a lot about the various neighborhoods. “As you look at the changes in the community, people will be displaced. This [exhibit] becomes even more important.”
Knowing some of the images were acquired from local archives and others from personal collections, Branch says the latter gives a sense of connection between the participants, showing what they were doing at the time. He’s impressed with the video as well.
“I thought the editing was nice, from a technical standpoint, but also the content. It has a good range of residents,” says Branch. The 99-year-old Evelyn Davis’ attitude about the changing community reminds him of this mother’s.
Reeves, who currently works at Ideamstream as a Community Engagement Specialist examining toxic stress on middle school children, says, “All of my work focuses on stories.”
“The Rise of Black Glenville” is the first of many Reframe History projects to come that will discover new approaches to examining Black history. “We make street corners our galleries and everyday objects become our collection,” says Reeves.
This exhibit, funded by Famicos Foundation and The Gund Foundation, was initially scheduled to launch in April at 3rd Space only but Covid-19 caused a pivot to include a website, www.blackglenville.com, as well. To set up an appointment to the view the exhibit in person, email Shelli Reeves at [email protected].
Rhonda Crowder is a freelance journalist, entrepreneur, author and literacy advocate. She is also the associate publisher of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland.
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