Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER TWELVE: The Long Strike: 1962-1963
Cleveland's characteristic volatility seemed suspended in the late fifties and early sixties. There had been a brief business recession in 1958, people tightened their belts some, quit living so high on credit, bought more used cars than new ones. It didn't last long, but it continued long enough to help John F. Kennedy get elected president over Richard M. Nixon. Cleveland went for Kennedy, though Nixon carried Ohio. Tony Celebrezze was still coasting along as the people's choice for mayor; Louie Seltzer was still the boss, and Tony was reelected for his fifth term in 1961. In the summer of 1962, things began to change.
On the surface the Yo-Yo seemed to be still going up. Business was better, although the effects of the William Taylor and Bailey stores closing were being felt on lower Euclid Avenue. They hadn't been getting their share of the retail business for some time, so their closing was accepted as inevitable. But it had ominous connotations; no new department stores moved into their buildings. The Taylor store was cut up into several shops, and the Taylor Arcade was closed as a walk-through to Prospect. The Bailey quarters were turned into a garage for the May Company. The newspaper advertising managers wondered how long Sterling-Lindner-Davis could hold out.
In May 1962 an important changing of the guard took place at the Plain Dealer. Sterling Graham, having reached the age of seventy, was required to retire, and Thomas V. H. Vail, great-grandson of the old millionaire, L. E. Holden, took over Graham's office as publisher, with the title of vice-president. Previously F. William Dugan had been promoted to general manager. Knowledgeable insiders at the Plain Dealer could see this coming for some time, because Vail for the previous year had been Graham's executive assistant, and Dugan had been leap-frogged over John A. Van Buren, the business manager for the last twenty years, who was usually at odds with Graham. (Graham was promotion-minded, and Van Buren extremely conservative with a nickel. They maintained a surface cordiality, but the friction was evident.) Changes in the editorial department were also anticipated, and they began in September, when Everest P. Derthick retired as managing editor and went to Ohio State University School of Journalism to teach for a year. Philip W. Porter (myself), who had been Sunday and Feature editor for nine years, was appointed managing editor, but with full jurisdiction over both the Sunday and news departments. Both divisions had been operated for forty years as separate baronies, and there was even a Chinese wall of lockers between the two. This came down at once.
It was the beginning of a long series of changes and a complete reorientation of policy at the Plain Dealer vis-a-vis the Press. Vail was the only one of the Holden descendants who had consciously prepared himself for bigger things by working in all departments of the paper. (Peter Greenough, his cousin, had worked in the PD editorial department but not the business office.) After navy service during World War II and graduation from Princeton, Tom began as a police reporter on the News, covered suburbs and courts and at a very early age became political writer and legislative correspondent. That was his last editorial experience. Before he had a chance to work on an editorial desk, he switched to the business office, became an ad salesman in
classified and display, and put in some time in accounting and labor relations.
It was obvious while Vail was going through this training that he was being groomed for the top job, and that the Vail branch of the Holden family was now in the saddle. Tom's father, Herman L. Vail, had become president of Forrest City Publishing when Graham retired (Freiberger remained chairman of the board). It was now going to be possible to go to only one top executive for decisions, rather than have them sift down through a board. Things looked bright for a new day at the Plain Dealer, and Porter soon reorganized the top editorial positions. William M. Ware became Sunday and feature editor, Russell H. Reeves night managing editor; both had been assistants to Porter previously. Thomas R. Guthrie was named news editor, a new position and because James W. Collins decided to retire as city editor after thirty-eight years, Ted Princiotto was appointed city editor. The new team was raring to go, just in time for the Cuban missile crisis and the November election.
The increasing air of euphoria at the Plain Dealer seemed to be spreading to the rest of the community, too. The Plain Dealer had made an agreement with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to put on a Space-Science Fair at Public Hall, bringing to Cleveland the original space capsule in which John H. Glenn had made the first three-time-around orbit of the earth, in addition to many scientific displays and gimmicks that had been on display at the World's Fair at Seattle. The federal government was anxious to bring school children in from all over Ohio to see this. The Plain Dealer arranged for thousands of them to come in buses, and get in free. It was scheduled for the last weekend in November. Joseph F. Guillozet, the promotion manager, had made all the arrangements, after he and Porter had completed the deal with Abe Silverstein, general manager of NASA. A black-tie banquet with many bigwigs present was scheduled for Sunday night.
Then came the blow (in the midst of the Space-Science
Show) that set Cleveland back on its heels for the next year, the longest local newspaper strike in history. It began suddenly Thursday, 28 November, and lasted till 8 April 1963. It disrupted the city economically as badly as a tornado would have, and set the Yo-Yo spinning downward. Its ramifications were much worse than the two previous strikes, 1946 and 1956, which each lasted four weeks, because it came between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busiest season of the year for department stores, which always scheduled their heaviest advertising of the year then. It is almost impossible to total the losses and the consequences that spread through the community. It gave a clear picture of how many different kinds of businesses depend on newspapers to keep going.
The strike came so suddenly that nobody, either in management or staff, was prepared for it. Negotiations with the Guild had been dragging along as usual, but none of the other ten unions had shown any sign of being unusually tough. The teamsters in particular had given no cause for worry. So when they suddenly put a picket line around the Plain Dealer delivery dock just before the first edition was run off, it was believed to be a temporary aberration, which might make trouble for a day or two. But it became all too clear, after several days' fruitless effort to get things going again, that some shrewd boys in the Guild, who really wanted a strike to achieve the Guild shop, had conned Tony DiPalma, business agent of the teamsters, into pulling a quick strike, so that after the two plants were shut down, the Guild could keep them closed until it got the union shop.
The newspaper managements and lawyers did some fancy backstage work with the teamsters' national hierarchy in Washington, who overruled DiPalma, and the teamsters did return to work after ten days. This unmasked the Guild as the real force behind the strike, and bloody fist fights took place between Guild pickets and the returning teamsters. After a week on the payroll, the teamsters walked out again, since there were no papers to deliver. When the strike continued past Christmas, it became an endurance contest, for
midwinter is always a poor business season for newspapers, and since they had already lost the big Christmas advertising, the publishers had no incentive to make further concessions to the unions. The Plain Dealer and Press had both been shut since the first night. Notices had been posted in the production departments, saying there was no work for the printcrafts, who were not trying to cross the picket lines anyway.
The business office staff at the Plain Dealer, which was not unionized, remained on the payroll, with little to do. A half-dozen top editors, who had quit the Guild, also came to work to keep a news summary up to date against the far-distant date when publication might resume, and to answer the phones (the public continued to call in with silly questions and complaints). The Guild tried to shut the plant down completely by pulling out the telephone operators, but an emergency male nonunion force had prevented that. In January, everyone still on the payroll took a 20-percent pay cut.
The newspaper strike coincided with the worst winter in forty years. Snow, which began to fall 5 December, covered the ground till 15 March. A half dozen times the temperature went below zero for several days in a row, and on 26 January, it sank to nineteen degrees below, the coldest in Cleveland's history.
The daily scene outside the newspaper offices was dismal. The guildsmen were not allowed to draw strike benefits unless they did a daily two-hour stint of picketing some time during the twenty-four hours. In late January, the printers declared themselves officially on strike, and at one time there were five sets of pickets in the snow carrying signs, muffled to the eyeballs in masks, high snow boots, ski pants, and fur gloves.
Some of the guildsmen got jobs with local TV and radio stations, which tried, not very effectively, to step up their coverage of local news. Some went out of town to work on other papers. Quite a few of the most able men went to work for the weekly Heights Sun Press, whose editor, Harry Volk,
a former News reporter, had hired a half dozen copy editors in 1956, and who expanded his paper to two editions a week. Some worked for the election board or at brokerage offices.
The Cleveland public all this time was not only starved for news, but was affected economically as a result of the blackout. People desperately missed the classified ads. They could not find houses to rent or buy, could not report lost property, could not find out how the market was to buy or sell used cars, could not find out which movies were showing where, could not keep track of plays, concerts, or TV programs. Florists could not learn of weddings, engagements, or deaths. Employment agencies could not advertise job openings. Undertakers and pastors could not notify friends of the times of funerals. Everything normal was disjointed.
In the zero spells or unusually heavy snowfalls, many schools closed, but there was no certain way of notifying parents. Radio and TV stations tried their best, and citizens developed the habit of checking local news and the weather at certain times of day. But there were great gaps in the city's information. Out-of-town newspapers sent in only a few hundred copies a day, and these were always sold early.
No detailed stock market reports, or reports of dividends. No reports of late football, basketball, or hockey games, or baseball spring training. A new governor, James A. Rhodes, had assumed command in Columbus, with a new legislature, but this was unreported. A new sheriff and a new police chief took over in Cleveland. Prominent citizens died, and many of their friends did not know of it until days later. The Associated Press and United Press International teleprinters continued to tap out yards and yards of news from all over the world, but it simply found its way into wastebaskets, thrown there by frustrated editors.
After a couple of months of this, the strikers started putting out their own daily newspaper, splitting the income between the picketing unions. The public was so starved for both news and ads that it sold about one hundred thousand copies a day. Its coverage was sketchy, since it could not
begin to cadge enough world and national news, stock market, or sports news to do a good job.
The department stores resumed publication of the weekly Shopping News, and the TV and radio stations printed some flyers to tell about programs.
It was an agonizing, miserable endurance contest. The out-of-work employees borrowed money to eat on, let mortgage payments fall behind, postponed every purchase they could. The perplexed management executives met daily at lunch with their labor negotiators, but the impasse seemed to get worse. The Guild finally in February agreed to settle for the originally offered increase of ten dollars a week without the union shop, and the pressmen also agreed 1 March. It was 31 March before the printers, the last to settle, agreed to terms, and the last picket, a mailer, was removed. The way he finally left reveals something about the fetish of the picket line.
A group of us nervous executives were waiting in the Plain Dealer office when the word was flashed about 10:45 P.M. that the printers' union, which was tied in with the mailers, had ratified the agreement. Tony Disantis, the PD labor negotiator, went down to the sidewalk and found the lone picket, who hadn't been told the long strike was over. Disantis asked him to phone headquarters from the lobby to verify it. "Huh! You don't think I'm going to cross my own picket line, do yuh?" he asked indignantly. Disantis himself had to phone Noah Henry, the mailers' president, to get him to come down fifteen miles, from his home in Parma, to tell the persistent picket to pack up and go home.
The two newspapers took the padlocks off their composing rooms that night, but it was a week before they could get the staffs called back and machinery rolling to publish again. The first Plain Dealer came off the press Monday, 8 April. It was 80 percent advertising. The city of Cleveland felt good again, and the event was even publicized on the NBC "Today" show that morning. The next day's paper, Tuesday, contained a news summary of the entire 129 days, including all the death notices brought in during all that time.
Spring came in quickly and warmly once the strike ended; the weather seemed to coincide with the economic conditions all that winter and spring. With their ads back in the papers, the downtown stores did a good Easter business, and everyone's spirits perked up. The papers' circulation had taken a beating during the strike -- the Plain Dealer lost twelve thousand while the Press lost forty thousand. Many people had found a way to get along without newspapers, and the journals had to begin active promotion to sell themselves again. Soon the big battle between the two papers began and was the talk of the town for the next several years.
During the strike, it was known that Bryan would resign as PD editor soon after publication resumed. Vail had been wanting to direct editorial policy as well as the business office, so Dugan and Porter went out to Freiberger's apartment to persuade him that Tom was mature enough to handle the dual job. He needed a deputy to act in his absence, so Porter was made executive editor. Vail also had another old hand to act as grand vizier in charge of editorial page pronouncements -- J. Barry Mullaney, who had been managing editor of the News when it was sold, and was now assistant to Vail. Porter and Mullaney, both twenty-five years older than Vail, encouraged him in his eagerness to fight the Press head on, and Freiberger had now given him the go-ahead, after all the years of carefully avoiding it.
The new aggressiveness at the Plain Dealer, which had been interrupted by the long strike, now burst forth with such power that within the next three years its ancient grandma image changed completely. Though the Press was still having friction with the Guild, at the Plain Dealer all was soon forgotten, and both editorial and business staffs responded with enthusiasm and glee, like young race horses who had been held back too long and were raring to go. New ideas were encouraged. The typographical appearance of the paper was changed, the city desk began investigative reporting that had so long been the Press's specialty, further shakeups were made in top editorial positions, a new editorial-oriented promotion department was established. Vail held frequent meet-
ings with key men in all departments, to assure them he wanted the fight to go on. A fashion show, a ski school were set up. New columnists of differing points of view were added, in a Sunday opinion page.
It all began to pay off in advertising as well as circulation. By the end of 1964 the PD was carrying more than 50 percent of the total advertising lineage in Cleveland, and was far ahead in classified ads. The circulation gap had narrowed steadily and by the end of 1966, the Press had a lead of only 250 papers, whereas it had been 80,000 ahead after it had bought the News in 1960.
The new competition attracted the attention of national magazines. Newsweek referred to the "young tigers" on the PD, and Time quoted Louie Seltzer as saying he welcomed competition. For the first time since he became editor, he was really getting it. Grandma was no longer the timid conservative, beloved by little old ladies and devotees of the status quo. She was sending staff members all over the world, moving into the governmental scene in Cleveland in a big way, and Tom Vail was starting to become an important political force, just as Seltzer had been for twenty years.
Although everything businesswise seemed to look better within a year after the end of the long strike, under the surface there was big trouble brewing in race relations, which had been getting worse and worse, as the once-plush and prosperous Hough area degenerated into a slum. The area had been designated for urban renewal action, but nothing really had happened. All city hall's energy was concentrated on the Press's Erieview baby (but even that was not moving very fast). The thousands of blacks who had emigrated from the deep south had moved into rented quarters with relatives, and big apartments had been cut up into small furnished suites, with cheap furniture. Many of the newcomers, from poor rural neighborhoods, were unfamiliar with indoor plumbing and used to throwing trash and garbage out the window. They soon went on relief when they found that no more jobs were to be found in Cleveland than in Alabama.
The trouble first broke into the open on school playgrounds
that abutted on the black ghetto on one side and on long-established ethnic neighborhoods on the other. At Sowinski Park, next to a small Polish community, a nasty incident took place in the summer, in which a white girl claimed to have been assaulted by some black boys. There was continual friction, with Poles, Slovenians and Lithuanians, and Italians on one side, and blacks on the other; in the Mayfield Road "Little Italy" section in back of Western Reserve University, blacks did not dare walk through the streets.
Police Chief Richard Wagner, who had been appointed by Mayor Locher during the newspaper strike, was convinced that blacks were organizing teenagers for trouble at a community hangout called JFK House (the manager of the place, Lewis Robinson, said the initials stood for Jomo F. Kenyatta). Chief Wagner was sure the kids were being taught to make Molotov cocktails, and occasionally he would prowl through the Hough area himself with a rifle, convinced there were snipers there ready to kill policemen.
The first trouble, however, was concentrated in the schools, which were really on the spot trying to take care of the influx of black children. The existing grade schools in the Hough, Wade Park, and Collinwood areas were not able to accommodate all the new children, and the school board wisely tried to solve the problem by building new schools in the black neighborhoods. Black activists, who were daily becoming more aggressive (they were led primarily by CORE at that time) contended that this was establishing a pattern of segregation, and started to demonstrate at the site most recently selected for a new school.
A tragic accident occurred there. Some white activists had joined CORE and one of them, Rev. Bruce W. Klunder, an assistant pastor at the Church of the Covenant, had lain down behind a bulldozer in protest. Alas, the driver of the bulldozer did not see him, and backed up, killing him instantly. This triggered violent demonstrations and soon afterward William E. Levenson, superintendent of schools, resigned. The school board asked Paul W. Briggs, superintendent at Parma, to take the job, but Briggs pleaded he had to have racial peace
to accomplish anything. So the Interracial Business Men's Committee was formed by John W. Reavis, a farseeing, wise, corporation lawyer, to try to defuse the emotion. The committee was evenly divided, half blacks, half whites, and included the most reasonable, civic-minded men of both races. Among the whites were Ralph M. Besse, chairman of the Illuminating Company, Carter Kissell, vice-chairman of Midland-Ross Corporation, H. Stuart Harrison, president of Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, and Frank E. Joseph, Reavis's law partner, who was involved in many foundations and headed the Cleveland Orchestra's financial backers. The blacks included doctors, lawyers and businessmen of real stature. It was agreed that all meetings would be secret and subcommittees would try to really get under the surface of the basic problems, such as poor housing, the difficulty blacks had getting credit and jobs, the high crime rate, hostility between blacks and police, and disintegration of families on welfare.
It was a noble rescue effort and it did defuse the emotional crisis for a while and resulted in the hiring of more blacks by industry and a loosening of loans by the banks. One of the specific improvements came from the creation of a Community Relations Board at city hall (this had been recommended by a postwar planning committee as far back as 1945) and the appointment of Bertram W. Gardner, a highly respected black who had been YMCA secretary in a ghetto area, as its director. (Gardner in 1972 was elected president of the City Club.) The effort did buy crucial time for superintendent Briggs to improve the quality of education in the Cleveland schools, whose pupil percentage now was 60 percent black.
It was obvious that solutions had to be found for this boiling racial trouble. Doris O'Donnell, the Plain Dealer's star reporter, spent much time living with families in the ghetto and talking to others, and wrote a perceptive series of articles from page one. Both papers began hiring a few black reporters.
This was the situation in 1963, when Mayor Locher came up for election. Mayor Celebrezze, the man who had had ten years of comparative peace at city hall, had left for Washington just in time to escape the coming thunderstorm.
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