Mobilizing the Masses: The Cleveland Call and Post and the Scottsboro Incident

Felecia G. Jones Ross, Ph.D.

     The infamous Scottsboro incident in which nine Black youths were falsely accused of raping two white women exemplified the changing racial climate and competing ideologies of the 1930s. Although white society abhorred the notion of Black male-white female liaisons, the case forced the country to look at its racist practices through the lens of its justice system.

     The Black community was clearly a viable, recognizable force in the 1930s. Since the first world war, Blacks transformed themselves from being scattered, rural populations to cohesive, urban ones. They were populations at least two generations removed from slavery and had fought in a world war to preserve democracy. Called "New Negroes," the post-war generation believed that Blacks should aggressively demand equal rights and be proud of their racial heritage and culture.1

     This cohesiveness and assertiveness for equal rights provided a conducive environment for Black newspapers. Along with the church, Black newspapers were the primary voice for the Black community. They reached their peak of growth and influence between the world wars. Although Black newspapers experienced the economic hardships of the Depression, their journalistic professionalism and response to the community's concerns contributed to their survival.2

     The Black community in Cleveland, Ohio, and its newspaper, the Call and Post were a microcosm of the trends and activities of the period. As a result of the World War I-era migrations, the city's Black population more than tripled.3 As did other urban areas, Cleveland's Black population became distinctive because of segregated residential patterns and the establishment of racially identifiable churches, organizations, and businesses.4 The Call and Post was one of the Black newspapers that thrived during the Depression. Its editor, William O. Walker, used his journalistic experience and business training in 1932 to transform a newly merged, floundering newspaper into a major voice for the community.

 

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February 2000