Rediscovering Northeast Ohio’s connection between the Green Book and green space

These days along a stretch of Route 6 on the western side of the city of Lorain, the property along the lakefront is on the sparse side.

In the distance there’s a mobile home park and other housing developments, but the most prominent feature is a set of train tracks that runs along the shoreline.

A hundred years ago, this was known as On-Erie Beach. For about two decades beginning in the 1920s, this was one of the only Black-owned and operated beaches in Lorain.

Train tracks and discarded tires nearby the site of the former On-Erie Beach.

Zaria Johnson


Ideastream Public Media

Train tracks and discarded tires near the site of what formerly was known as On-Erie Beach in Lorain, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. On-Erie Beach was one of the only Black-owned and operated lakefront beaches in western Lorain and was viewed as a safe space for Black people to visit during the height of racial segregation and violence during the Jim Crow era.

The 33-acre property featured cottages and a resort and often held lectures and religious services for patrons who consisted of professionals and members of Oberlin’s Black elite class.

It was seen as this almost utopian kind of community, a summer colony,” Mark Souther, historian and director of Cleveland State University’s Center for Public History and Digital Humanities said. “Where Blacks not just from Northeast Ohio, but potentially from around the country might gather.”

An archival photo of an interurban car repurposed as a cabin at Lorain's On-Erie Beach.

Dennis Lamont


Green Book Cleveland

Interurban car body used as cabin at On-Erie Beach

“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was published annually from 1936 to 1967. Its purpose: to inform Black travelers of locations, businesses and other establishments they could visit and be safe from the horrors of the Jim Crow era.

Souther is leading a collaborative effort with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, students and other local partners to highlight Green Book sites in Northeast Ohio through an online database called Green Book Cleveland.

Places like On-Erie Beach welcomed the Black community and provided them with services or amenities that may have been difficult to access elsewhere.

“The Negro Motorist Green Book” listed On-Erie Beach and other destinations and businesses as a guide where Black travelers could feel safe, Souther said.

“Owners were cognizant of the fact that they were operating in an environment of racial discrimination,” he said. “Many times, they referred explicitly to that fact that this was one of their goals was to open a place that would be nondiscriminatory because either they themselves had experienced discrimination at a similar venue, or that they know that their patrons had.”

For Black people during the period from the end of the Civil War to the passage of the Civil Rights Act when discriminatory laws and practices were prevalent throughout the U.S., the risk of trying to go to a racially segregated outdoor space could include arrest, assault or even death regardless of age, gender or severity of the perceived crime.

Cleveland’s historic Euclid Beach Park is an example of that, Souther said.

From its first season, the amusement park was racially segregated, limiting Black access. Black people were able to enter the park, but didn’t have access to amenities that were deemed “white only” like the dance pavilion, swimming beach and skating rink.

An archival photo of a news clipping documenting protestors at Euclid Beach Park with a headline reading,

Bob Williams, Call & Post, January 4, 1947


Green Book Cleveland

Protesters picket against Euclid Beach’s segregationist policies in 1947. A common sentiment for Black veterans at the time highlighted frustration over fighting in World War II alongside white and non-Black peers, but being unable to access segregated spaces upon returning home.

There were several documented altercations with park security and Black people, Souther said, that resulted in the attendees being assaulted, arrested or even shot over accusations of cutting in line or protesting the parks segregation practices.

“When we think about nostalgia, we have to ask, ‘For whom?’ Of course, the nostalgia was largely white nostalgia because for much of its history, it was not a very welcoming place for Blacks who were there always, but they were there on unequal terms.”

Mark Souther, Director of Cleveland State University’s Center for Public History and Digital Humanities

“It’s just flat out racist,” he said. “It strikes me as obviously that there were concerns other than just running a business and making money because Black people’s money wasn’t good enough. If you’re running a business, theoretically, you shouldn’t care who’s paying you to be there.”

The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit which advocates for equitable access to the outdoors, is partnering with Souther on Green Book Cleveland. Sean Terry, director for the organization’s Ohio office, said lack of access to the outdoors exacerbated negative health effects in the Black community like asthma, heart disease, obesity and poor mental health.

But, regardless of their treatment in segregated white spaces, Terry said the desire and need for outdoor, green space remained in Black communities across the state.

We had to figure out places to recreate because the access may not have been there, or maybe we had to … cross social boundaries that didn’t make it safe,” he said. “So, people had to come up with alternative means.”

The Green Book Cleveland project includes an entry for Euclid Beach Park even though it was never included in any edition of “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” That distinction speaks to what Souther is trying to accomplish with the project.

“The Green Book Cleveland project is interested in places where … we found African Americans seeking recreation. Whether they were feeling welcomed or not is another matter,” he said. “We’re going well beyond what was actually in the Green Book guides to try to curate the larger, broader Black experience of leisure, recreation and entertainment.”

Lorain’s On-Erie Beach lost business during World War II, when things like transportation and gasoline were hard to find. Other Black-owned spaces had to shut their doors after owners were harassed, their property was vandalized or went unsupported by their local governments.

An archival photo of a Pinecrest Country Club flyer reading:

Mounds of dirt and empty land -- all that remains at what formerly was Pinecrest Country Club in Twinsburg, Ohio.

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