A detailed account of the shooting deaths of police and self-described black nationalists on July 23, 1968, in Cleveland.
Cleveland-based lawyer and author Robenalt (January 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month that Changed America Forever, 2015, etc.) devotes roughly 75 percent of the book to Cleveland’s historical racism (both individual and systemic) and conditions that led to the shootout. Some of the characters and their personal histories within the Cleveland metropolitan area are so specific that non-Cleveland readers might feel adrift. Others, however, contribute to a story that was being played out in similar fashion across the United States, as the author appropriately explains. And the cast of characters at the end of the book is especially helpful. A major narrative thread involves the seeming anomaly of African-American politician Carl Stokes being elected mayor just eight months before the fatal day. As the first black mayor of a large American city, Stokes was poised to ameliorate racial tensions; Robenalt offers explanations about why that failed to occur. “Stokes was elected in an apparent triumph of the ballot over the bullet,” writes the author. “But even his election could not turn back the generations of frustration, anger, and neglect.” In addition, the author provides sometimes-surprising insights on why visits to Cleveland by Martin Luther King Jr. upset some of the leading individuals on both sides of the racial divide. Naturally, Clevelanders hoped that those directly responsible for the carnage—three police dead, 12 police wounded, at least three black nationalists dead and one wounded, at least two civilians dead from the crossfire—would face severe punishment. The leader of the black nationalists who fired shots did face trial in a Cleveland court, and a jury sentenced him to death. One fact about the trial highlighted the systemic racism contributing to the shootout: The jury was all white.
A painstakingly reported, clearly written case study that is all too relevant today.