Fifty years almost to the very day and almost to the very hour before the 2016 Republican National Convention opened, a black woman walked into a white-owned bar in Cleveland to retrieve a box she had left the previous evening to collect donations for the three young children of a fellow prostitute who had died.
A co-owner of the Seventy-Niners Café is reported to have told the woman there would be no such collections by the likes of her in his place. He ordered her to leave and was said to have made a disparaging reference to her race.
That was around 5 p.m. on July 18, 1966. The story was already spreading through the streets when word came of another incident soon after at the same bar. The co-owner was said to have refused a black man who had asked for water and to have posted a sign in the window.
One version of the story had the sign reading, “No Ice Water.” Another version had the sign saying, “No Water for Ni---ers.”
By sundown, a crowd had gathered outside the bar, throwing stones. The co-owners, brothers Abe and Dave, who would deny having ejected the woman, faced the crowd with a rifle and a pistol.
But the bar was soon ablaze, and chaos spread through the whole Hough neighborhood and beyond. More than 240 fires raged. The Ohio National Guard was called out when the Cleveland police proved unable to restore peace.
“Police appeared to be adding to the problem by being chronic under-achievers in diplomacy,” The New York Times noted.
The four people who were killed were all black civilians. One of the enduring images was a newspaper photo of a welfare mother reasoning with several Guardsmen. Her name was Fannie Lewis, and she went on to represent Hough in the Cleveland City Council, where she proved more interested in getting things done than in making a point.
“If you go out in the middle of the lake and there ain’t no boats around, and a boat full of snakes passes you by, I guess you’ve gotta get on that boat,” she would say.
She remained an energetic champion of her neighborhood in the face of plans to demolish public housing there in the early 1980s.
“We’ve survived the rats, the roaches and the riots, and we will survive Reaganomics,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted her as saying.
She told the newspaper in 1996 that faith was what kept her going.
“Every day somebody will come along and shake your faith. They will shoot your attitude down,” she said. “The Lord says, ‘If I am with you, that’s more than the whole world against you.’”
She was defeated only by time, dying in 2008 at the age of 82. She otherwise would have found much cause for comment in the Republican National Convention that kicked off on the 50th anniversary of the Hough riots and officially nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president.
Never before has Cleveland seen such a boatload of faith-shaking snakes. Their candidate arrived having proclaimed himself a Christian even as he played on godless passions of followers who are in truth guided less by faith than by fear. The fatherland has become dadland as Trump now seeks to conceal his meanness by parading out his children, who enjoy lives that—to borrow a phrase—the Almighty might have bestowed upon all of us if He had the money.
The Trump kids sat in a golden row at the convention on the half-centenary of the riots that erupted after a woman sought to raise a few dollars for three kids who had been left suddenly motherless and destitute.
The fate of those kids of 1966 is not known. What is known in 2016 is that Cleveland remains an exceedingly tough place for children. The most recent census numbers show that more than 50 percent of the city’s youngsters live in poverty.
That is the second-highest concentration of any city in the country, exceeded only by Detroit. The ongoing research into the effect of poverty on kids documents unrelenting “toxic stress” that has lasting effects even on such fundamental workings of their beings as their biochemistry and the structure of their developing brains.
On Thursday, the one whom Donald Jr. and Ivanka and Eric and Tiffany call Dad will himself step up to the podium with his promise to Make America Great Again.