Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stories near the Sidaway Bridge

[Note - As with several other blogs so far, thanks for dealing with the need to cut and paste footnote sources, as opposed to clicking on them, if you choose to look them up:)!]

Here, I will start an occasional group of accounts on various people I have met who reside, once lived and/or have worked in the blocks near the Sidaway Bridge. While I may be working to define the purposes of this particular series for a while, I want to honor other peoples' stories with an interest in them alone, but also - with my hope that these individuals will help to save a landmark which is also one of my "stories" - I feel that it is a natural balance to honor theirs.

I have the urge to tie together the experiences just below, but other than living and/or working on the north side of the bridge, the ladies in question here may or may not be highly intertwined; still, you can at least say that they are motivated to enrich their lives and those of others - from sources of energy including a proud family past, a craft skill and the love of one's children.

The biggest story here is the one I am honored to get from Ruby Alexander, already a part of my recent "Chance to Communicate..." blog, seen there [and here just in case!]....
Her biggest observations to me, in a way, were very much of the dreams - quite often realized - of her parents, now deceased - in all they did for the Kinsman neighborhood, and how that continues to fuel positive efforts for the area from her and others.

In the late 1950's, her father, Reverend Marcellus Chatman, started a church northwest of the Kinsman neighborhood, at the major intersection of 55th and Woodland. A few years later, quite possibly in 1961 (with the bulk of this account an oral history from Ms. Alexander), he and his wife - Anna Chatman - noticed that a movie theater building, probably that of the Sun or the King Theater, had become available very close to 71st and Kinsman, and acquired it to have a better location for their Original Harvest Missionary Baptist Church.[Endnote 1]

In offering just a quick sense of her parents' efforts for the community thereafter, Ruby emphasized their dedication and determination in a few different ways, including the picture of her father as a walker - "he would walk everywhere" and her Mom as someone who was "feisty" and "would fight a bear"; still, the most distinctive image for me is of how Ms. Chatman started on the path of improving the lives of children, as she sat, according to her daughter, day after day in the Cleveland City Hall at one point in the late 1960's to hopefully get the ear - and tangible support - of Mayor Carl Stokes.

After a full month of daily visits to the City Hall's lobby, not knowing the Mayor at all when she first began her treks there, and "in fact [catching] a really bad case of the flu [due to the Hall's draftiness]", the Mayor, from what I heard, began to take more and more notice and admiration of her, and finally said "you know what, I'm gonna find you some money".

Her dream got off the ground at that point with support from a large community redevelopment effort known as "Cleveland Now" [Endnote 2],  which gave the then-meaningful seed money of $27,000, with $21,000 of that for building renovation and the rest for salaries. Initially, Ms. Chatman charged as little as $1 to take care of children and up to $15 for a week's worth of day care.

While Rev. Chatman died thereafter in 1972, Ms. Chatman continued working for the community until her passing in 2006, not only in running the Harvest View Day Care Center, but in ways including an anti-violence march which I understand she started at the age of 80 in 2000, with her daughter noting that it would have its 13th annual occurrence this year. Ms. Alexander described it at least generally as a walk up Kinsman Avenue followed by a gathering in the open space next to the Original Harvest Church, where the mood sounded as if it can be festive but also a serious time "to talk about why we want to stop the violence".

Ms. Alexander conveyed that her father was "everybody's Daddy", "if your Momma or Daddy needed food", or if some other request came to him, and similarly, Ms. Chatman was "everybody's Mama", in her strong support for others, one location for that being up a rise from the Kinsman area in another neighborhood centered on Kinsman Avenue - Mt. Pleasant - where, at 140th Street, blocks on the north and south side of the Avenue have been renamed for her, in part because she owned "the first building on 140th" (while I did not clarify which one that was)....
  sign at the southeast corner of 140th & Kinsman [with a counterpart sign at the northwest corner of the intersection as of March 2012]
The high regard for the Chatmans went from "everyday people" to the top man or woman in Cleveland (and beyond) - one example being Ruby Alexander's recollection that in her latter years her mother would exclaim "Jane, I need this [or that :)!]" to Jane Campbell, Cleveland's first female mayor - the implication being that she'd be likely to get a positive response. Prior to that, she served under Mayors George Voinovich and Michael White as the head of the city's zoning board and is seen below upon her retirement from 17 years with that agency, which would have been in 1999, based on Ms. Alexander noting that the photo shown here came from the time of Congressman Louis Stokes' retirement that year, after 30 legendary years in Washington which began during his brother Carl's tenure as Mayor. [Endnote 3]....
Here, Anna Chatman is seated and Cleveland's Mayor Michael White (in office 1990-2001) is standing to the immediate left

Ruby noted that "my mother was not a politician, but she did know people". From her first impression upon the Stokes brothers, "[they] fell in love with her" and her reputation spread, Senator Ted Kennedy at one point asking "where is that lady named Anna?", and both "Lou" Stokes and Congressman Dennis Kucinich attesting, in the latter's words, that they "spent some time with Anna" - wanting to be in her presence at the funeral home where her service was held, but where, as noted, her good works did not come to an end.

It is interesting that the next neighborhood figure I am fortunate to write about here - Prisicella Fayne [in a repeat performance (!) from an April "...Chance to Communicate" blog and seen here at the Heritage View Community Center]...
also reflected immense pride in her own mother, in part the day of her funeral service in 2007 - describing its bad weather when it was "stormin' so bad" and "ice [was] everywhere" but people came - figuratively speaking - from "all over the world" - including Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas City, Youngstown, Atlanta, South Carolina and elsewhere, so it is tempting to play up a mother's role, but all I can say is that one of Prisicella's great passions has crafts-making genes from somewhere.

I met her at the March 24 neighborhood meeting I have described earlier (see the above-noted  "Chance to Communicate...." article) where a raffle included her giving away 20 pieces of her jewelry, samples of which she later showed me at her home, which was, like the meeting, in the Heritage View residential development. Prisicella proudly noted that her work is "elegant", and it is here in two small doses for further sharing and hopefully active interest....

Posting this tiny exhibit is intended partly to encourage a quick update on her business (!), and also to promote her wishes for her neighborhood this past March, voiced perhaps deliberately in part within the idea of beauty and appearance, but largely from the sense of pride she wants other neighbors to have in what has risen on the site of the Garden Valley projects.

Prisicella said "I hope that they keep it like it is - beautify it, pick it up - what it's gonna hurt? How you live is where you live [and] we all must bring about [the change we want]."

For another interviewee in my April writing on the bridge - Cathy Parris - one of the changes she wants is short and simple in a sense, but deeply felt within her as a mother - for her son Octavius, with whom she is seen here this past March....
Octavius, who is 35, has multiple sclerosis and one of the challenges which Cathy expressed coming out of that is of not being able to get burial insurance, saying that companies she called denied it because of his condition. Cathy, perhaps not distraught or discouraged, but saddened, said "I don't know why people don't want to bury people with a disability - it's just dirt. How hard is it to dig a hole in the ground, and why should anyone be denied [that opportunity]?"

Here too, I hope to share that the pursuit has seen progress since early in this year and to see if others are dealing with similar situations....


Endnote 1 - As of last December, a stone plaque to the right of the church's door at 7101 Kinsman, which I then wrote down with accuracy but not exactly (!), basically read: "Harvest Missionary Baptist Church - organized August 4, 1957 / Mrs. Anna L.Chatman First Lady / Rev. Marcellus Chatman / Pastor / Built April 2, 1961 / Rev. Marcellus Chatman Founder and Pastor".

I am not sure as to the "Built [4/2/61]" notation here, guessing the current church building dates from the last 30 years at the most and that "[b]uilt..." may refer to the renovation of the one-time movie theater at the site of the current church.
Endnote 2 - A quick sense of "Cleveland Now" is provided within a biography of Mayor Carl Stokes at and an article on the program from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, at

Endnote 3 - Two brief biographies on Louis Stokes are respectively at the website for the University of Texas System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) ( and one within the "Biographical Directory of the United States Congress" at].

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