Avondale: It Takes a Village

About this episode:

In this episode, the third of our Lost Voices of Cincinnati series*, we’re exploring the history of Avondale, a neighborhood that experienced a different kind of white flight and is still recovering from transformative events that occurred during the mid-century such as race riots and housing discrimination. We will discuss how these trends triggered decades of disinvestment and explain important historical terms like blockbusting and redlining. And we talk to the people who are fighting hard to preserve the neighborhood’s housing stock, promote local businesses — and bring the community back together.

*If you missed our prelude episode, then take a pause and listen to that show first! Also, check out our previous episode on the Evanston neighborhood!

Guests:

Our guests include Avondale neighborhood community council president, Ms. Sandra Jones-Mitchel, Councilwoman Jan-Michelle Lemon Kearney, and Invest in Neighborhoods board president, Andria Carter. We also got a deep dive into the history of housing in Avondale by retired University of Cincinnati history professor, Dr. Fritz Casey Leninger.

Sponsors:

The Lost Voices of Cincinnati series was made possible by a Truth & Reconciliation grant from ArtsWave. We need help for future projects so please so considering donating to our Fundly fundraising campaign!

Find Us Online: Website | Fundly | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

Credits:

Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel.

Host and Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk.

Editor: Connor Lynch.

Mix: Andrew Callaway.

Urban Roots Blog — Avondale: It Takes a Village

Even though Cincinnati’s urban history does not deviate much from other American cities, the stories that you hear in our Lost Voices of Cincinnati series serve as an important educational tool. In our Avondale episode, we will explore how socio-economic disinvestment was triggered by mid-century housing discrimination, urban renewal practices, urban uprisings, and highway construction. We will explain why blockbusting and redlining were extremely discriminatory housing practices and how they were instituted as a direct result of our country’s racist past.

Redlining — to withhold home-loan funds or insurance from neighborhoods considered poor economic risks

Post-1968 Riots in Avondale, Image Courtesy of Ohio History Connection, Memory Project.

The people of Cincinnati are what make this city exceptional. In honoring these truths, we learn important lessons about what community engagement should look like and how critical it is to learn from the past. Our guests, Cincinnati Councilwoman Jan-Michelle Lemon Kearney, Sandra Jones-Mitchell, Avondale Community Council president, and Andria Carter, board president of Invest in Neighborhoods shared stories about their childhoods in Avondale (and North Avondale).

They experienced exuberant upbringings directly due to their parent’s desire to move away from the city center in the 1960s and into single-family homes that weren’t attainable to them before white flight hit Avondale in the 1950s. Even though families were victims of blockbusting, redlining, and other blatant forms of housing discrimination, they persevered and established a home for their kids who have continued to live in Avondale into adulthood.

Blockbusting — profiteering by inducing property owners to sell hastily and often at a loss by appeals to fears of depressed values because of threatened minority encroachment and then reselling at inflated prices

Avondale just after the 1967 Riots. Also in view, Stag Barber Shop. Image courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center Library Archives Moving Images Collection.

Today, these women work every day to make sure Avondale is not forgotten, like it almost was after the riots of 1967 and 68 devastated the neighborhood — people were hurt, storefront windows were shattered, and the National Guard was called in to contain the Black folks that were, rightfully, pissed off that their neighborhood had been neglected since the swift white upper-class Jewish exodus in Avondale created an uphill battle for low-and-moderate income African Americans to build their community away from the city center.

And, because we felt it was important to define terms and get the historical perspective, we asked Dr. Fritz Casey-Leininger, a retired University of Cincinnati history professor who has also interviewed Avondale residents. We asked about how the dramatic demographic transitions impacted the neighborhood; how redlining marginalized African Americans; and how white flight provoked blockbusting. We learned that between 1950 and 1960, the white population dropped from about 21,000 to under 9,000 while the black population soared from almost 3,500 to nearly 20,000.

White Flight — the departure of whites from places (such as urban neighborhoods or schools) increasingly or predominantly populated by minorities

Virginia Apartments in Avondale today, 2021.

Back in the day, Jewish hospitals and the central business district lined Burnett Avenue. Today, most of these buildings have been demolished to allow for the expansion of University of Cincinnati hospitals and medical buildings. And Jan Michelle says,

“they did encroach on the neighborhood.”

And she’s not just talking about the hospital expansion, she’s calling out the zoo, too. Fortunately the relationship Avondale has with the hospital and zoo is much better than what it used to be. Sandra also says,

“it’s going to take a village to make Avondale grow.”

Former Lexington Avenue Synagogue before it became c. 1930. Image Courtesy of Ohio History Connection, Memory Project.

Nowadays the business district in Avondale is along Reading Road, a terribly busy and congested arterial street that connects the neighborhood to other parts of the city. Back when the community was primarily Jewish, myriad synagogues and temples lined Reading Road as well as along neighborhood side streets. In fact, if you visit Avondale today, you can still see some of these buildings; however, many now serve as churches — a testament to the swift demographic shifts that left the neighborhood with many vacant religious buildings that were just waiting for a new purpose. Although most of the churches that used to conduct activities in former Synagogues have disappeared over time, their buildings and parishes possess a fascinating history that really shows how the Jewish and Black communities in Avondale worked together, even if just for a short time.

Southern Baptist Church today, 2021.
St. John AME Zion Church today, 2021.

Meanwhile, Andria told us that between the 1970s and today,

“the hospital has grown by leaps and bound”

To say that summation is accurate would be an understatement. In 2017, a the Martin Luther King, Jr. — Interstate 71 (I-71) interchange was built. This long term project transformed the neighborhood into one that pretty much services medical facilities. While new highway exit may have improved traffic, or at least made it easier for people outside the city go get to specific hospitals, it certainly does a number to the residents in terms of negatively impacting health.

Between automobile congestion along the busy streets in Avondale and the immense traffic that passes by the neighborhood from I-71, it remains to be seen what the long-term effects of this new interchange will do. But what is obvious is that Sandra, Jan-Michelle, and Andria are doing everything they can to make sure the community’s voices are heard. We think they’re doing a fantastic job, and hopefully you will too!

Locals can get fresh produce from the mobile market every Wednesday on the corner of Rockdale and Reading.

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Urban Roots Podcast

Urban Roots Podcast

Digging into little knowns stories of urban history

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