A few weeks ago, I had a great tour of Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood with Bob Render and Dionne Thomas Carmichael. You can listen to part one of the interview here. In part two, Dionne and I talked with Bob Render (Robert L. Render III) about growing up in Fairfax, his father (a racketeer), what younger generations don't know about Black history, and the neighborhood's evolving relationship with the Cleveland Clinic. Again, it's long but worth the read.
Lee: Alright, let’s hear your story
Bob: My story is a little bit different from Dionne’s. My mother was from Montgomery, Alabama. She came to Cleveland via Chicago. My father, on the other hand, came out of LaGrange, Georgia, which is where Otis Moss Jr. and his father and grandfather came out of, along with Dr. Bill Pickard, a multimillionaire in Michigan. He was a partner at the time with Arnold Pinkney. Bill went back and went to Detroit, started several businesses related to the auto industry and became a multimillionaire.
My story is kind of different in that I was born out of wedlock. My mother and father were not married. He had a business on the corner of 100th and Quebec. Right now it’s a vacant lot. He had his own store, and upstairs was the apartments, where he and Nancy Render lived. We lived in one of his apartments on East 105th Street. All of that stuff is gone now, OK, because they’re building apartments, they’re building Meyer’s there. My father put my mother and I up in one of his units. We were on the first floor. My father’s wife for whatever reason couldn’t have children, so Nancy came to my mother to purchase me. She offered her money to turn me over to her, and my mother wouldn’t do it. Nancy knew that Bob Render Jr. had me out of wedlock, because I looked exactly like him. I was just a kid, 2, 3 years old.
My old man used to work for the railroad, somewhere out of Collinwood. A lot of black folks worked out of Collinwood. He got into it with someone. This was how the story was told to me. My father was fiercely independent. He was a racketeer, and he stopped working for anyone, because he said, ‘I’ll have to kill one of them motherfuckers.’ And then he started his own business, bought property, ran his own store, did the numbers, and was a racketeer. So like I say, he knew the Italians. Now our part of Fairfax was different form Dionne’s. Right next door to us was Ingolia’s Pizza. Yacobucci was across the street. DiVincenzo’s was on 105th, the Cozy Nook is what it was called. Fioritto’s Funeral Home started right there on Frank Avenue which is now out on Mayfield. So you had a mixture of Italians and Blacks.
What was so strikingly different was that blacks and Italians fought all the time in Collinwood. That was not the case of the Italians who came up who we lived with on 105th. Most of the Italians (in Fairfax) came up in what we know now as Woodhill. That was all Italians. A lot of them would come and go to St. Marion’s. I went to St. Marion’s School. I didn’t go to St. Adelbert’s. It was right there on the corner. If you come up 105th and take the right to get on Fairhill, there’s a little street there called Petrarca, and that’s where St. Marion’s was located. There’s a church still there. Like I said we came up with the Italians. We’d have our little fights and run-ins but by the time the week was over you was staying at their house or they would spend the night at your house and y’all was friends again. Completely different dynamic. Racism was still there but it wasn’t the kind of brutal fighting like you’d find out in Collinwood.
Like I said, my father decided to go on and work on his own as an entrepreneur because he said he’d have to go on and kill one of those peckerwoods or honkies, which is what he probably called them. So he quit the job. Like I said they owned a number of pieces of property. I was born there on 2222 E. 105th St. For whatever reason, my father decided he wanted his kids to go to Catholic school, so he paid the tuition. I went to St. Marion’s, and from St. Marion’s I went on to Cathedral Latin, and from Cathedral Latin I went to Tri-C, then I went to the University of Dayton. After St. Marion’s closed, all those kids came to St. Adelbert’s. That church also became the home of the first Black museum in the country, which was Icabod Flewellen. Before he went to Hough, he was in Fairfax. That church was his museum. There’s pictures at the historical society. He is considered now the father of African American museums, right here in Cleveland. He was extremely eccentric. Used to do his research at historical society at Case. His collection is now at the East Cleveland library. It all started in the neighborhood. Bob hope was raised off 105th between Cedar and Quincy. The Pla-Mor was the roller rink where African Americans came from all over the city, it was at, like, 108th and Cedar.
So my upbringing was a little different than Dionne’s. Then we moved to 2238 E. 100th St., where my mother and I lived with my stepfather, Richmond Jones, I didn’t take my father’s name till I came back out of the military, when I changed it to Robert L Render III. So when we moved from 105th which was a commercial strip, even though there were apartments and businesses there, to 100th street, we were renters but we thought we were in seventh heaven to move on a really residential street.
Now if you was really doing something, Dionne, you moved on 89th street. Folks between Cedar and Quincy, folks would say you was in "high cotton" … they'd say you was "steppin' in high cotton." You had really made it if you were on 89th. The unique thing on 89th was the lots were bigger, the houses were huge, and in our mind they were like mini mansions. Your really upscale, upwardly mobile black folks or negroes lived on 89th. Both parents were working, maybe, but sometimes it wasn’t necessary, the father was a professional, they were doctors, lawyers or maybe teachers.
A lot of black folks who couldn’t get jobs based on their profession started out working at the post office. The post office enabled many a kid to go to college. Our parents knew some of the lawyers that couldn’t get jobs at the local law firms but started off at the post office, and they made a substantial amount of money or a good living and was able to send their kids to college. So 89th Street today was basically professionals. Today you have 450 years of black history on one block. There’s no other street int he city of Cleveland where African Americans live that has that much history.
So, that’s why this project (I'm working on) is important, putting these historical markers in Fairfax where these notable people lived. We’re going to eventually get it off the ground.
Dionne: Several years ago, we started taking the names of businesses and printed a t-shirt. It’s the tip of the iceberg. People look at it and say, 'You don’t have such-and-such there.' I think there are so many people that needed to be added to this t-shirt, it’s going to be unbelievable. It’s unbelievable we had so many businesses in that area, such a compact area, everybody thriving and living the American Dream. It was the American Dream. You were working, you had a home. I don’t know if it was just drugs, the influx of drugs, or the impact of media that tells you that you can do better, you should want more You can’t buy one blouse, you need this blouse in every color. Turn on QVC! And everything is desirable. We have turned into absolute consumers. I mean, super consumers. How much is enough? That’s when you really just have to have a serious conversation. How much is enough?
Most of these homes, except the homes on Cedar, the closets are small. Every room had a closet. They weren’t walk in closets. And there was more than enough clothes for you who were going to work or school. Now it’s like, let’s knock out these walls and put in a walk-in closet. How many pairs of shoes do you need? It’s terrible for an athlete to tell a young person they need to have a pair of these shoes in every color. Kids these days don’t own a pair of dress shoes. It’s terrible. (When I was growing up) You go to church in a pair of tennis shoes, your feet would be cut off. That would not happen.
Bob: My mother, her name was Corrie Lee Jones. She remarried. She married a guy in Chicago before she came to Cleveland. That blew up for a variety of reasons. Then she married Richmond Jones from New York. His brothers lived on the west side. My natural father was in my life for a little while. He reminds me of Don King to some extent. Here’s the irony about my father’s hypocrisy. Even though he had me out of wedlock, he found out that his wife (Nancy) was cheating on him. He set it up for him to meet his wife on 100th Street, and the guy she was kicking it with, he was a well-known entrepreneur himself. He shot both of them. He attempted to kill both of them. Now, the irony was, he was gonna shoot her for cheating, when he had me out of wedlock! And no telling who else he was fooling around with and I may have other siblings I don’t even know! He shot both of them and then he killed himself.
Dionne: No he didn’t!
Bob: Because he was not going to go to jail after he shot them. They got them to the hospital and both of them lived. Nancy lived and (her boyfriend) lived. The funeral (for my father) was at Boyd Funeral Home. My father knew Mr. Boyd long before I was born. I’m talking about the old man. So when I used to talk to Mr. Boyd, he said, your father sent referrals to me on a regular basis, we were good friends. And then Boyd buried him. OK? That was just the irony of the hypocrisy.
He was very authoritarian. People were afraid of him. My mother was even afraid of him. She told me as I was getting older, she was getting ready to pack up everything and move just to get away from him, because he was very abusive. Back then, if there was a domestic problem, the police weren’t going to get involved, back in the 1920s and 1930s, the police were not going to get involved, you just worked that out, between you and your spouse or your significant other. My mother was just fed up, so two weeks before my father shot Nancy and I think Toby and killed himself, she said I think we’re going to go to New York. She was going to get out of Cleveland. She had figured out how she was going to do it, she had saved the money, and was going to leave town in the middle of the night, take me, and she’d be gone. Two weeks later, he was dead.
Dionne: You went ot the funeral?
Bob: I went to the funeral. I vaguely remember it. My aunts, my mom. Like I said I was three, four years old. He had an awful lot of resources. I remember him having a scooter. He would take me on the scooter. And I had all these toys. I don’t know who angered him or made him mad, but he took all the toys and threw them away and bought all new toys. I remember him having an Oldsmobile. He had all the things that were popular then because he had the resources to do all that. But everybody was afraid of him. My aunt would tell me, your father was something else. He would either pistol whip you or he would shoot you. So I just remember all that, that was everybody was afraid of him and intimidated by him. I equated him with another Don King of sorts.
When we left 100th Street, people thought we owned the house. My parents, Richmond Jones and my mother, took care of that house, and they thought we owned it. We moved to Ludlow. When I came out of the military I gave them enough money for a down payment on a house, because they rented all the time, that’s how we ended up in Ludlow. But I eventually was able to buy the house that I grew up in at 100th and Cedar, I still have the house now. The houses now are costing $400,000, so I’m just trying to hold onto this property.
My memory is just like Dionne’s, even though I lived in a different part of Fairfax. It was safe, it was cohesive, family members lived all around you, aunts and cousins close by in the neighborhood. The businesses. You didn’t have to go downtown, and if you did go downtown to May Company or Halle’s or Higbee's or Sterling Linder, that was a treat. But it wasn’t necessary. You know, everything was either on Cedar, Quincy, or 105th. And I mean everything.
My mother, she worked, she started off as a beautician. You know where IBM is now? She started off at Beatrice (Academy of Beauty, on Cedar). So she did hair. I got a picture of her, I was going to bring it to you but we gotta go back and look for it, we got tons of albums. She had a picture taken by Allen Cole. You familiar with Allen Cole? Allen Cole was considered in his day the (equivalent of) James Van Der Zee in New York, who took all those historical photos of black life. The historical society has all his prints, like 45,000 or something. My mother had a picture taken with him. His studio at the corner of 100th St. and Cedar. I’m trying to get a historical marker from the Cleveland Clinic. That’s why this historical project is so important. Kids under 40 have no idea about the history of the neighborhood they currently occupy and live in. And I think if they did know the history, they would become stakeholders and contributors. As Dr. Carter B. Woods said, people who have no recorded history are always neglected. I think that is so true.
Dionne: You're strangely echoing what a young lady and I were having a conversation about. She said she’s a Gen X-er. I don’t know what that is. She said anyone younger than me never knew that blacks owned anything. She said your generation is angry. I said I’m not really angry, I’m just mystified as to why they don’t know. And she said, they don’t know because they never saw it.
Bob: It wasn’t passed on properly. That was part of it. Which is almost shocking, how little Generation X or Generation Y or whatever they refer themselves to now, they have no knowledge. I put part of the onus partly on us, because we did not preserve that history, like they do on Murray Hill, when they have the Feast of the Assumption, you’re celebrating the past, present and future of the Italian community.
Dionne: And when we say we’re going to do Juneteenth, even though we know the circumstances around Juneteenth, sometimes they’re reticent about joining in that celebration. And that is sometimes quirky to me. But we need to do a better job of marketing. There has to be an all-out effort. We can’t be subtle anymore, say ok, let’s just wait and let it marinate with them for a minute and maybe they’ll come along. No! We have to take a hammer and hit ‘em over the head. I just think that’s the way it should be done, after seeing other ways of doing this haven’t worked, not to the extent that it should have worked. There should be much more participation.
Bob: My mother got a job at Cleveland Clinic eventually. When she got hired at the Cleveland Clinic there was only one building. On 93rd and Euclid, think about it, one building, that was it, that was the total footprint! By the time she retired maybe 40 years later, the Cleveland Clinic was already well on its way to becoming a city within a city. The Cleveland Clinic was already buying up parcels of land as it became available, parcels of land south of Cedar, long before we knew. My mother said she always heard there was a 10-year plan, every 10 years they would update that plan. Back in the 70s they already knew they would go all the way down to 79th, all the way over to what we now know as Woodland, Wuincy eventually. But there was an unwritten agreement the Cleveland Clinic would not go south of Cedar nor north of Chester. As soon as Arthur Woods passed and Fannie Lewis passed, now you see Cleveland Clinic expanding north of Chester and south of Cedar. They had already quietly started acquiring property. There is what I call a subtle anger, it simmers, it has been simmering for decades –
Dionne: How is it subtle?
Bob: Well, it’s subtle in some respects and then it’s overt in other respects.
Dionne: Oh, ok.
Bob: But the black community has always been angry with the Cleveland Clinic, for a variety of reasons. They were never good neighbors. To the extent that they could have been I always use the example, if Fairfax was Beachwood, the Cleveland Clinic would have a completely different relationship with the residents of Beachwood. If it was jewish, not just jewish but different demographics, OK? One of the notorious things when we were there was that the Cleveland Clinic’s emergency room was so small you didn’t even know where it was. You didn’t know where the emergency room was, and they would tell you if you don’t have insurance you go to Metro or you go to UH (University Hospitals). They were notorious for that.
Dionne: Well, they let a man die right at their doorstep. I can remember the anger that was seething –
Bob: What about the lady that got shot? It was a stray bullet. The bullet, I don’t know, it hit her in the chest. They had to take her to Metro and she died. The anger, there was protests and all that. They were marching against the Cleveland Clinic.
Dionne: Oh, we marched against the Cleveland Clinic many times.
Bob: Did they ever have a trauma center?
Dionne: If they did I know the gentleman couldn’t use it, that guy who died right there at the emergency room. They would not let him come out of the truck. Out of the EMS truck. They’ve done a lot of things that have not been good. They put that incinerator there to pollute the whole community. We had to march on them many times and we even burned Dr. Cosgrove in effigy right at the front door. Hey - we take it to them! Right on Euclid.
Bob: The only trauma center you had was the Huron Road Health Center then that closed. The only trauma center was metro. I think under the new president (Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic), I’ve seen things I never saw even when my mother was working there. He actually has been in the neighborhood, he’s walked the streets, some of the doctors employed there I’ve seen them with Vicki Johnson they walk the neighborhood to take a look firsthand. That was unheard of. Unheard of.
Dionne: That’s very true, very true. Well, it was a very adversarial relationship.
Bob: Right, historically there’s been a hostile relationship, it’s like benign neglect in Cleveland.
Dionne: Well, it’s because they don’t see us, they don’t see us as people, they don’t see us as quality, they see us as pebbles in their way. I’m quite sure when they sit at a table, they say, we can wait them out. Just start buying up the land and displacing them and they’ll be gone in 50-60 years. They figured they can wait us out. I tell it to you like this, I’m not going anywhere. I’m on the corner, I ain’t goin' nowhere.
Bob: One of the things, if you look at the buildings on Cedar, all those buildings have their entrance facing Carnegie. They have their backs to cedar. With the exception of the emergency room ... There was a guy who owned a building who wouldn’t sell to the Cleveland Clinic.
Dionne: I tell you his name, he was a friend of … oh my goodness, it’ll come to me. Anyway, to make sure they didn’t say that was an abandoned building, he kept it open. Of course, he paid the gas bill and the light bill. But his friends would come in there and they would play cards, and they would watch TV or whatever every day in order to make sure that everyone knew that they were open. They even had candy, a box of candy (they would leave out).
Bob: Basically what Dionne is saying is they waited them out. The guy died...
Lee: And then Cleveland Clinic got the building?
Bob: Then the Cleveland Clinic got the building.
5/6/2023 07:00:21 pm
Lee, This is a very interesting piece. Bob and Dionne are great storytellers and I appreciate learning about an area of the city that I have only driven by. The part about Cleveland Clinic is fascinating to me. Though I certainly appreciate CCF, it strikes me as more a business than a caring place. Their comments seem to support that feeling.
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