Susan and Everitt Kitchen moved to Davenant Ave. in 1966. Stan Lambert, a P&G colleague of Everitt’s and a former KHCC President, suggested they consider the KH neighborhood since they were unsuccessful in finding THE home. He arranged for Polly Reading to take them around the community. Polly showed many new families around and was an excellent ambassador for the neighborhood. (See the Elder Series with Polly and Phil Reading.)
After touring the community, they were interested in a house that was for sale by West Shell Realty. They called the realtor and asked to see it. To his credit, the white realtor never tried to steer them away from the neighborhood; they bought the home.
Background of housing upheaval in the neighborhood:
New black families were willing to move outside the original black community that already existed and become homeowners on any street-if they could find a home. Developers and builders began to take advantage of any house or lot. Multiple apartment buildings of one and two stories were beginning to be sandwiched on these lots between homes on residential streets, increasing the density of the community. Even before the community council was formed, community members began to get the zoning changed to prevent multiple housing buildings in the residential areas.
In those days, black and white real estate agents had separate businesses. Steering was the practice at that time. Legally, realtors could ‘steer’ people from one neighborhood to another. White real estate agents would tell a white family they would not be interested in Kennedy Heights “because Negroes are moving in.” At the same time, agents would call white homeowners in KH and ask them to consider listing their home for the same reason. Black agents were not much better, but there were fewer of them. Steering was part of the practice of ‘red-lining’ which allowed a ‘red line’ to be drawn around a community and consider it off-limits for whites.
Blockbusting was also very common. Blockbusting was done by encouraging one white family to sell their home to the first black family on the block. The agent could then put pressure on the other street homeowners to list their home with that agent. Selling a home on a corner was a double bargain because two streets could be worked in the same manner. In the summer, you could hear the phone ring at dinnertime up and down the street as real estate agents called to put pressure on white families to sell.
The whole process was designed to raise fear of neighbors and changes. Increased density, steering and blockbusting caused the KHCC to form the Housing Committee shortly after its own formation in 1963. The housing committee began to investigate rumors about the real estate values. They promoted the community in a national magazine, The New Republic. The ad read “Black, White, Purple, Green-All are welcome here!” The committee began to gather information on homes being sold in the community and promoted them to both blacks and new white families.
Kennedy Heights Community Council also was working to help change the law so that steering and red-lining would be illegal. The Better Housing League of Cincinnati and the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) were active in the city. The Better Housing League was active in upgrading housing and preventing density. HOME was active in discrimination problems. Several folks in Kennedy Heights helped HOME by being ‘testers” of rental and selling practices. One person would respond to an ad, and a second person of the opposite race would follow later to see if seller/landlord gave discriminating information. HOME was also active in investigating discrimination practices reported to them.
After Susan and Everitt moved, Polly Reading had a wonderful morning coffee for all the new members of the community. Someone had a coffee every month for new residents.
Susan became the second chair of the Housing committee around 1967, after learning the ropes from D.D. Starr (see the Elder Series on D.D and Bob Starr). The committee had a list of houses for sale and showed any house listed by an agent or owner, though they could not show a black family if the sellers refused. The committee always tried to talk them into showing to anyone, but the law was on the seller’s side at that time.
The New Republic ad brought some attention to KH. One interested family was the Jim Scott family of Cincinnati radio fame. His boss at the station had also looked at KH, but settled elsewhere. Jim was new in town and the boss told Jim he should take a look and Susan showed the family around. Jim was most interested in a house on Red Bank Rd. She thought it would be a good fit until he asked if he could keep an Appaloosa horse on the property. Regrettably, she had to tell him the city would not allow zoning for the horse.
Another story of note occurred when the committee decided to put The New Republic ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The same worded ad was sent to the classified department of the newspaper. Susan was told that they would not put the ad in the newspaper. She called Francis Dale, publisher of the newspaper, to complain and ask for his approval. Mr. Dale also refused to accept the ad, saying it was too controversial. Mr. Dale eventually left the Enquirer to become the US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland under President Nixon.
The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 ended much discrimination in the rental and sale of homes. Fair mortgage practices would take longer, but the Fair Housing Act meant a lot to Kennedy Heights. Another good move was the Catholic Church’s city-wide campaign of “Operation Welcome”. As a result, several families followed their consciences to move into Kennedy Heights as a good place to raise their families.
Davenant Ave. was one of the last streets to have black neighbors. There were ample opportunities for diverse contact through community council work, Ken-Sil activities and Kennedy School. Both of Susan and Everitt’s boys played on interracial Ken-Sil teams. Ken-Sil had a fund-raising adult dinner and dance once or twice a year at the VFW club on the corner of Kennedy Ave and Highland. There was a great band that played all the latest rock and roll hits for dancing. It was always good fun. (See the Elder Series with Shirley and Bob Johnson.)
The Schools Committee
KHCC formed a Schools Committee to work with Kennedy Elementary and Shroder Jr. High. Susan became active on this committee in 1969, the year before their eldest son started kindergarten. The school board had dropped kindergarten in all Cincinnati schools as a cost saving measure. The schools committee asked to run a kindergarten program in the unused room at Kennedy Elementary school. The school board refused permission. Several women, including Susan, met at the council room on the second floor of the building across the street. Several mothers brought their kindergarten children with them. Rev. Duane Holm was the unofficial advisor. They marched into the Kennedy elementary school and began a class in the empty Kindergarten room. Eventually Rev. Holm notified them that the police were on the way and everyone packed up and left. It made the newspaper.
The First Baptist Church kindly gave the community space to hold a kindergarten program, meeting several days a week. Anastasia Sillett and Joan Rail were the teachers. The program was modeled on the Montessori Method learned through the KH Montessori Nursery School held at the KH Presbyterian Church. The two teachers gave Susan $100.00 to provide materials for the classroom. Most of the materials were handmade. After Kindergarten was again established in the elementary school, mothers became volunteer classroom assistants, as was done in the nursery school. The practice continued for all the grades at Kennedy School for many years.
As the black population increased in the schools, extra curriculum programs were discontinued by the Cincinnati School Board, and classroom education began to change. The committee worked to support teachers, prod the school board to improve and provide new programs, and eventually back a voluntary cluster program in 1974 for the four schools in the KH area, Kennedy, Pleasant Ridge, Losantiville and Silverton Elementary schools. KHCC was represented at every school board meeting and council members spoke often at these meetings. (Cecelia and Duane Holm were active in these meetings, see their Elder Series interview.)
The cluster plan was endorsed by the Kennedy and Silverton School parents and, the Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools District. Both Kennedy and Silverton schools had 85-100% black students, while Pleasant Ridge and Losantiville schools had the same percentage of white children. The proposal called for one or two grades to be housed in each school, changing the ratio to nearer 50% for all four schools and avoiding the long busing rides for children that occurred in other parts of the country. Susan and others went to Pleasant Ridge School to talk with parents and staff. They got a cool reception and nothing was ever done about clustering.
School programs at Kennedy had diminished very much by 1975, and there were few white children in elementary school. In the fifth grade, there were only four white children in the four 5th grade rooms. The local school administration integrated the grade by putting one white child in each classroom.
On May 29, 1974 fourteen school children and their parents initiated a lawsuit against the Cincinnati Board of Education. Jeanette and Charles Bronson agreed that their daughter, Mona, could be listed as the lead name in the lawsuit. It wasn’t until February 16, 1984 that a settlement was reached to integrate the schools. (See the Elder Series with Jeanette Bronson.)
Susan’s husband, Everitt, was the President of the KHCC in 1968-1969. During his tenure a Youth Federation was formed and a Youth Director was hired. The community was able to block several development projects that were designed to build many apartment buildings. This would have significantly changed the character of the community. One large development that was blocked was close to the neighborhood off of Kennedy Ave. and behind Glen Edge Ln. (Later, it was developed by the Brisben contractor, bringing many apartments for low-income people to the site. Codes of the city of Cincinnati, which would have limited the number of buildings per the acreage, did not apply since the property was in Columbia Township.)
As a resident, Susan saw how difficult it was for blacks to find housing. Before the Fair Housing Law, discrimination was rampant; good candidates were not able to buy homes since many owners were not willing to show houses to “Negroes”. After the laws were changed, she described the neighborhood as an excellent place for families. The Council offered events that brought the community together. One example is the Progressive Dinner, beginning around 1983. The first event began with the appetizers served on Davenant Ave. The street was closed to traffic that evening for the event.
Susan hopes the community remains integrated. Community Council’s active involvement in and support of the neighborhood is critical to ensuring this will continue. To that end, she hopes that citizens take their turn in getting involved and continuing the efforts to keep Kennedy Heights a desirable location to live.
Interviewed by Christine Schumacher
May 13, 2016
Presented to KHCC October 18, 2016