Neighborhood of Cincinnati
Carmel Presbyterian Church, Avondale
Avondale (red) within Cincinnati, OH
92 percent of Avondale residents are African American and more than 40 percent are living at or below the poverty level. More than 77 percent rent housing. Two Cincinnati race riots began in Avondale in 1967 and 1968, which were part of the larger Civil Rights Movement and Black Power movement in the United States. The neighborhood is bordered by North Avondale, Evanston, Walnut Hills, Corryville, and Clifton.
During the 19th century Avondale was a rural suburb. Its residents were mostly white Protestants of the merchant class with English or German ancestry. It is claimed that the wife of Stephen Burton, a wealthy ironworks owner, began calling the area Avondale in 1853 after she saw a resemblance between the stream behind her house and the Avon River in England. It was incorporated July 27, 1864 by Daniel Collier, Seth Evans and Joe C. Moores.
Between the 1870s and 1890s, the community was plagued by burglaries, vagrants, public drunkenness, and brawling. Avondale was annexed by the City of Cincinnati in 1893, and the improved police and fire protection that Cincinnati provided significantly reduced Avondale's crime problem and made it a safer, more pleasant place to live. After streetcar lines were laid less affluent residents settled in the neighborhood; from 1920 until after World War II, 60% of Avondale was Jewish. It remained a mostly white neighborhood until the construction of the Millcreek Expressway in the 1940s, which displaced residents from the black West End neighborhood. At that time realtors only "permitted" blacks to move into neighborhoods which already had a black population, and Avondale had had black residents since the mid-nineteenth century.
After blacks began relocating to Avondale, it split into two increasingly distinct and separate North and South neighborhoods. The residents of North Avondale were able to maintain the value of their property and the character of their streets. The rest of Avondale became known for its rising crime rate, falling land values, and deteriorating housing. Absentee landlords neglected their properties and tenants often abused the buildings. By 1956, the city identified Avondale as blighted and tried to rehabilitate it, but the work from 1965 and 1975 benefited institutions such as the University of Cincinnati and nearby hospitals, not the residents. The city promised to improve housing, but widespread demolition for street improvements, parking, and institutional expansion reduced housing stock.
Riots of 1967
The 1967 riots began on June 12 and lasted several days. They were just one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the "Long Hot Summer of 1967". In May 1967 Posteal Laskey Jr. was convicted as the Cincinnati Strangler. Laskey was a black man accused of raping and murdering six white women, and the conviction was considered controversial. On June 11 Peter Frakes, Laskey's cousin, picketed with a sign that read, "Cincinnati Guilty-Laskey Innocent!" Frakes was arrested by police for blocking the sidewalk. Incensed black leaders held a protest meeting on June 12 at the Abraham Lincoln statue on the corner of Reading and Rockdale Roads. At some point the protest got out of hand.
In Avondale, a thousand rioters smashed, looted and attacked cars, buildings and stores. A witness reported, "there's not a window left on Reading Road or Burnett Avenue. The youths are doing it and adults are standing by and laughing. All ages are active. Women could be seen carrying babies." The rioting spread from Avondale to Bond Hill, Winton Terrace, Walnut Hills, Corryville, Clifton, West End, and Downtown. A white 15-year-old boy was critically wounded in front of a fire station that was being fired upon by a car of black rioters. According to an Avondale resident, rioting was over constant police harassment, lack of jobs, and shopkeepers "jacking up prices and selling bad products."
Governor James A. Rhodes ordered 700 Ohio National Guardsmen into Cincinnati to stop the rioting. The National Guard patrolled the streets in jeeps, armed with machine guns. They were ordered to kill if they were fired upon, but the rioters avoided the Guardsmen. By June 15, when the riot had been contained, one person was dead, 63 injured, 404 had been arrested, and the city had suffered $2 million in property damage.
Riots of 1968
Less than a year later the neighborhood rioted again. The 1968 riots were in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Tension in Avondale had already been high due to a lack of job opportunities for African-American men, and the assassination escalated that tension. On April 8, around 1,500 blacks attended a memorial held at a local recreation center.
An officer of the Congress of Racial Equality blamed white Americans for King's death and urged the crowd to retaliate. The crowd was orderly when it left the memorial and spilled out into the street. Nearby James Smith, a black man, attempted to protect a jewelry store from a robbery with his own shotgun. During the struggle with the robbers, also black, Smith accidentally shot and killed his wife.
Rioting started after a false rumor was spread in the crowd that Smith's wife was actually killed by a white police officer. Rioters smashed store windows and looted merchandise. More than 70 fires had been set, several of them major. During the rioting eight young African Americans dragged a white student, Noel Wright, and his wife from their car in Mount Auburn. Wright was stabbed to death and his wife was beaten.
The next night, the city was put under curfew, and nearly 1,500 National Guardsmen were brought in to subdue the violence. Several days after the riot started, two people were dead, hundreds were arrested, and the city had suffered $3 million in property damage.
Aftermath of riots
Avondale's flourishing business district along Burnet Avenue was eradicated by the riots of 1967 and 1968. Many of the damaged areas were left vacant for a decade. The riots helped fuel beliefs that the city was too dangerous for families and helped accelerate "white flight" to the suburbs. Between 1960 and 1970 the city of Cincinnati lost 10% of its population, compared to a loss of just 0.3% from 1950 to 1960. Cincinnati would continue to lose residents every decade afterwards. Many of the neighborhoods around Avondale experienced steep urban decline, including Avondale itself, which has never recovered from the riots.
The short-term destructive nature of the riots led to decades-long negative consequences for Cincinnati's black neighborhoods as poor black residents were further removed from regions of prosperity and safety. However, after the riots African-Americans were appointed to city boards and commissions—in 1967 all 69 members were white.
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