Cleveland church honored for civil rights work

Cleveland’s Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church on East 105th Street was recognized with a special marker for its decades of civil rights and social justice work under Pastor, Rev. E.T. Caviness. The 95-year-old Caviness is credited with taking the lead in the civil rights movement in the city.
Cleveland’s Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church on East 105th Street was recognized with a special marker for its decades of civil rights and social justice work under Pastor, Rev. E.T. Caviness. The 95-year-old Caviness is credited with taking the lead in the civil rights movement in the city. Credit: Mark Naymik/Signal Cleveland

Cleveland’s Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church on East 105th Street was recognized this week for its decades of civil rights and social justice work.

The Cleveland Restoration Society unveiled on Thursday an Ohio-shaped bronze plaque on church grounds designating it a stop on Cleveland’s Civil Rights Trail, which includes nine sites around the city. The church’s pastor, Rev. E.T. Caviness, watched from a chair, beaming with appreciation and pride.

The church’s designation derives from the 95-year-old’s activism and his 62 years at the church. He is credited with taking the lead in the civil rights movement in the city and allowing the United Freedom Movement to use the church as its headquarters when no one else would. At the time, UFM, a coalition of 50 organizations founded in 1963, was a center for organizing and Black unity.

Caviness also was among the first faith leaders to take a role in shaping Cleveland politics that included helping elect Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major American city. I asked Caviness what he wants people to take away from the marker.

“I want them to understand that this community tried to help people understand what justice and equality is all about,” he said. “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

Shaker Square landlord lawsuit update

The City of Cleveland wants to get its lawsuit against a Shaker Square landlord moving again, now that Ohio’s chief justice has thrown out the landlord’s bias complaint against Judge W. Moná Scott.  

In a new legal filing this week, attorneys for the city asked Scott to order the landlord, Shaker Heights Apartments Owner LLC, to fix up its apartment buildings on Shaker Boulevard.  

The attorneys accused the landlord of delay tactics, first by unsuccessfully trying to move the suit to federal court and second by trying to have Scott pulled from the case.  

“Defendants have had more than half a calendar year to bring the Properties into full compliance,” Cleveland’s filing reads. “However, as of the date of this filing, The City contends that the Properties owned by Defendants remain far outside compliance with City code.” 

Scott has yet to rule on the city’s motion, and the landlord has not yet responded in court. The landlord’s attorneys have previously argued that their clients have spent time and money fixing buildings that were shabby when the landlord bought them.

Signal background

Forgiving utility bills

The city is halfway to forgiving $2 million in customers’ delinquent water and electric bills, Public Utilities Director Martin Keane told a City Council committee this week.  

Council slated American Rescue Plan Act dollars earlier this year to pardon utility debts that had amassed since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020.  

Cleveland credited the first million to delinquent accounts in late September and early October, Keane said. More than 1,500 customers were eligible. Keane said the city is now working to identify more customers for amnesty. 

New union complaint

The union trying to organize contracted security guards at Playhouse Square claims that the company that employs the guards illegally fired one of them a few days after the union demonstrated in front of the arts institution.

The demonstration took place last Friday to call on Playhouse Square to consider hiring “a responsible contractor” for security services. The guard was fired the following Monday, Oct. 30, said Camilo Villa, Northern Ohio coordinator for SEIU Local 1.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against PalAmerican Security with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the guard was fired for supporting unionizing. This is the fourth NLRB complaint the union has filed against PalAmerican since the summer, alleging that the company has retaliated against employees who support unionizing the security guards.

This is the second complaint to involve a firing. About 10 PalAmerican guards work at Playhouse Square.

“They called him in and they told him that he was reported to have been sleeping on the job, and that it was an automatic termination,” Villa said of the latest complaint. “They would not tell him when this allegedly took place nor provide the evidence.”

Villa said because of the guard’s work schedule, he wasn’t able to attend the demonstration. Still, the union sees a connection between the demonstration and the guard’s firing because of the ongoing labor dispute.

Signal Cleveland has not heard back from PalAmerican after seeking comment about the NLRB complaint. 

Signal Cleveland reporter Olivera Perkins recently reported on the union’s effort to organize 400 security guards who work downtown.

Signal anniversary

You might know that our name is a nod to Garrett Morgan, a Cleveland inventor and businessman referred to as the “Black Edison” who came to Cleveland in 1895. Among his many notable inventions was a fabric safety hood, which was warn by firefighters in the early 1900s

He also invented  the modern day traffic signal that introduced the concept of momentarily stopping all lanes of traffic to clear intersections.This month marks the 100 anniversary of his patent on that traffic signal (Nov. 20 is the exact date).

That’s one reason the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has published a detailed profile of Morgan’s life and inventions. You can read the story by historian Rebekah Oakes here. The story  also addresses the racism Morgan faced as an inventor, highlighting a quote in a 1916 article from The Monitor, a Cleveland African American-run newspaper: “I am not a well-educated man; however, I have a Ph.D. from the school of hard knocks and cruel treatment.”

This month also marks the first anniversary of Signal Cleveland, which includes this newsletter, on-line explainers, guides and news, as well as printed information for the community. Thanks for staying with us.

Check us out on election day

Signal Cleveland staff will be providing live Election Day results and analysis on our website and social media. We have specifically examined the impact of key issues and races on Clevelanders. You can find all of our coverage here.

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.