Glenville Shootout 50 Years Later: Student Activism At Case Western

Featured Audio

A little more than a year after a shootout in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood triggered protests and looting, students at Case Western Reserve University began their own protest.

In the wake of the shootout in July 1968, black nationalist Fred Ahmed Evans, who was at the center of the shooting, was put on trial, charged with seven counts of first degree murder. Evans was later convicted on all charges.

During the trial students at Case Western Reserve University called on the university to release a controversial report written by Prof. Louis Masotti about the events in Glenville the year before. Titled “Shoot-Out in Cleveland: Black Militants and the Police,” the report was funded by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. It looked at the recent history of the neighborhood and the city that led to the shootout, as well as chronicling the violence itself.

“Masotti’s office is in the basement of Haydn Hall and as Ahmed Evans is on trial, students and members of the community around here feel that Masotti might have evidence that would exonerate Fred Ahmed Evans,” John Grabowski said. He’s a professor at Case Western today and was a student at the university during the protests.

“Masotti’s office is in the basement of Haydn Hall and as Ahmed Evans is on trial, students and members of the community around here feel that Masotti might have evidence that would exonerate Fred Ahmed Evans,” John Grabowski said. He’s a professor at Case Western today and was a student at the university during the protests.

A draft of the report had been completed four months after the shootout, but in the preface to the report, Masotti writes it was held so as to not influence the outcome of the Evans trial. But as arguments in court were being completed, students held rallies on campus, sit-ins at the President’s office, and demanded action.

After two days of tension on the campus, during which lectures on violence in America were interrupted by black community activists, the students gathered in Hayden Hall on May 15, 1969, to organize.

The report was released on May 16, four days after Evans was found guilty on all counts, but events on campus lasted for two weeks.

“It’s one of the places that you wouldn’t expect it. I mean, it was supposed to be a placid campus,” Grabowski said.

But in the late 1960s, the campus was changing, and Case wasn’t alone. Changes were happening on university campuses across the country. 

“As of the late ‘60s, there are two big streams of public dynamism,” David Steirgerwald, professor of history at Ohio State University, said. The Civil Rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam were both squarely in the forefront of American life at the time. “As a historian, my view is that they are very separate things,” he added.

Civil Rights activism largely happened within black communities, he explained, and, while opposition to the war was becoming more universal, much of it was happening on college campuses. It was led by white students whose fate had changed in the late ‘60s, when the federal government ended education exemptions for the draft.

The two overlapping movements created an environment of activism across the country that likely influenced the protests in support of Ahmed Evans at Case.

In archived tape from the university’s radio station, WRUW, a student identified as Harvey expressed that notion.

“It seems to me that the students here were hell bent on having some kind of sit-in or demonstration and the belief that it would be nice to have that sort of thing on this campus. I think the issue made no difference,” Harvey said. “This action is more of a self-indulgence than an actual act to support Ahmed Evans.”

The majority white university was isolated from the Glenville neighborhood and the larger black community, Grabowski admitted, so Harvey’s opinion that many students were protesting just to protest could be true.

But he said the campus was also beginning to diversify, an African American society had been formed and students and professors were traveling to Mississippi to register people to vote.

“So, underneath the hubbub, within the campus you will find expressions that are genuine, honest and to the point,” Grabowski said, “and some people may disagree with those opinions then and now, but those people felt being on a campus empowered them to state those opinions and work for them.”

Grabowski said students at the time wanted change, and he continues to see that drive on college campuses today.

“I’m looking at younger people now, and I’m looking at their impulses for reform. I’m looking at voting patterns, and I see a lot that is pushing against the status quo,” he said.

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.