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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

KOREAN WAR - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

KOREAN WAR. The Korean War period marked the peak of Cleveland's rise as an industrial city and masked early signs of decline. Although the city's population rose slightly, 4.2%, between 1950-53, the flight to the SUBURBS was accelerating, and the county had grown by 11%. The economy had never been better. In 1952 Cuyahoga County was rated 5th in the country in productive capacity, but the city's infrastructure was beginning to decay. Slums were growing, and no major new buildings had been erected downtown since the Terminal Tower group on PUBLIC SQUARE. In Aug. 1951 the fire chief, Bernard W. Mulcahey, declared that 65% of 561 downtown buildings could be closed for fire violations. Unemployment was virtually nonexistent at 1.2%, but racial tensions were beginning to emerge as the black population, which had increased by 75% since 1940, constituted 16% of the city's population.

Clevelanders, with the rest of America, listened to the radio reports coming in Sunday, 25 June 1950, about the early morning invasion of South Korea by North Korean troops. They applauded Pres. Truman's 27 June order for air and naval support of the beleaguered troops of the Republic of Korea. It was a popular war at first, although Ohio's Sen. Robt. Taft immediately called for the resignation of Secretary of State Dean Acheson for instigating the war by his exclusion of South Korea from our defensive perimeter. FRANCES PAYNE BOLTON†, congresswoman from the 22nd district, seconded her fellow Republican's call in the House. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats alike supported the president's strong action against Communist aggression, including his call for increased military spending and the reinstitution of the draft, as well as price and wage controls. The city council even enacted rent controls in the spring of 1953. Large numbers of young Cleveland men and women were called to military service, some for the second time; 44,000 residents of Cuyahoga County saw service, 1,161 of whom died during the conflict.

On the home front, there appeared to be little evidence of the wartime conditions so familiar only 6 years earlier. The mayor appointed a woman, Elizabeth H. Augustus, as civil defense director. The PLAIN DEALER in Dec. 1950 complained of industry's need for 5,000 more workers as the reinstated draft was taking its toll of Cleveland's young male population. The Natl. Production Act of Sept. 1950 put a ban on industrial hoarding of raw materials, but that scarcely affected consumer goods. The county installed a $3 million air raid system, which included 59 alarms, 8,000 volunteers, and 2,000 Boy Scouts, and the whole system was set for testing on Saturday afternoon, 5 Dec. 1953, at 3 P.M. The alarms failed to go off. Clevelanders could afford to take such snafus in their stride, for the city's economy was booming. In 1952 the total payrolls of Cleveland's manufacturing industries, exceeded the combined payrolls of the industries of 13 states. The Cleveland Army Ordnance District placed multi-million-dollar contracts with such Cleveland firms as LEMPCO INDUSTRIES, INC., the WEATHERHEAD DIVISION OF THE DANA CORP., the WHITE MOTOR CORP., the Cleveland Welding Co., and many others. Bank loans soared to a new high. Steel production was at record levels, so that in Nov. 1951 REPUBLIC STEEL CORP. announced a $75 million plant expansion, and American Steel & Wire constructed a new $10 million blast furnace, which would be its last. The Community Chest reached successive all-time highs, from goals of over $6 million in 1950 to over $7 million in 1952. The baby boom, too, was being felt, as 15,000 kindergartners entered the school system in the fall of 1952, an increase of 4,000.

Meanwhile, local politics followed the fortunes of war. After Gen. MacArthur's brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon, behind North Korean lines, the rout began. On 3 Oct. 1950, as U.N. troops approached the 38th Parallel, the Plain Dealer, echoing MacArthur's assurance that the Chinese would not enter the war, urged a push for total victory in Korea. The initial purpose of the war was to restore the status quo, but with a total rout in progress, the prospect of uniting the 2 Koreas proved too tempting, and Truman allowed MacArthur's troops to cross the 38th Parallel and drive to the Yalu River. The full disastrous impact of this decision came 3 weeks after the November elections with the invasion of 4 Red Chinese armies. While the election saw a Democratic defeat, the former mayor of Cleveland, Frank Lausche, a conservative Democrat, maintained his hold on the governor's seat, and his hand-picked successor, THOS. A. BURKE†, running a year later as an independent Democrat, won his 5th term as mayor of Cleveland. Republican Frances P. Bolton and Democrat Stephen Young returned to Congress, but Republicans won a stunning victory in the state legislature, capturing an overwhelming majority in both houses.

As the war grew worse, anti-Communist fervor mounted. "McCarthyism" was a term given to a form of demagoguery practiced by Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who took advantage of public fear of Communism and Communist subversion by hurling charges of Communist affiliation or sympathy at liberal opponents. Unproven and often based on guilt by association, these charges were sufficient in that climate of fear to brand the accused as guilty and in some cases ruin their careers. In reality, the Red Scare had its origins earlier, as Soviet-American tensions grew in 1947 and 1948. Calvin S. Hall, a psychology professor at Western Reserve Univ., had signed a petition in 1948 to get Henry Wallace on the Ohio presidential ballot, but the secretary of state of Ohio, Edward J. Hommel, denied the petition and accused Hall of being a Communist. Censured by President JOHN S. MILLIS† of, WRU for his activities, under pressure Hall resigned his position in the Progressive party. In May 1949 the Cleveland school board adopted a loyalty oath after a heated debate and compromise that included a denial of membership in Nazi or Fascist, as well as Communist, organizations. During the bitter FAWICK-AIRFLEX STRIKE (Apr. 1949), the company charged the United Electrical Workers' Union with being Communist; later, in contempt-of-court hearings, union leaders were accused by the judge of having committed a "treasonous act" and of being party to a "Communist conspiracy."

With the conservative victory in the fall of 1950, the next session of the Ohio legislature established an Ohio Un-American Activities Commission; the Red Scare, fanned nationally by the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. McCarthy, now moved full-scale into Ohio. The commission held hearings in Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron-Canton, and Cleveland. Of 39 witnesses who refused to testify about their political affiliations, 9 were Cleveland residents. For 3 days, 2-5 Dec. 1953, Common Pleas Judge Earl Hoover's courtroom was packed from 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Among the 9 Clevelanders who were called as witnesses and refused to answer questions about their political affiliations was a Cleveland schoolteacher who had signed the school board's loyalty oath but was fired, not for violation of the oath but for "unbecoming behavior." A black man, Admiral Kilpatrick, former head of the Mine, Metal & Smelters' Union, lost his job at the Wellman Bronze Co. All 9 Clevelanders were cited for contempt of the commission but were not tried. The commission made a report at the end of its statutory existence, 31 Jan. 1954, and with the ending of the televised Army-McCarthy hearings late that spring, the Red Scare abated, leaving in its wake shaken university and school faculties and faction-ridden library and school boards.

Cleveland had its share of natural disasters during the period. On 24 Nov. 1950, a furious snowstorm blew into Cleveland and continued for the next 3 days, dumping over 21" of snow, tying up the city for over a week, and necessitating calling out the Natl. Guard. On 1 Nov. 1952 a heavy oil slick on the surface of the Cuyahoga River caught fire, sweeping through the shipyards of the Great Lakes Towing Co., 201 Jefferson Ave., disabling the Jefferson Ave. Bridge, and eventually causing an estimated $1.5 million worth of damage. A sign of the city's ebullient self-confidence is suggested in the Plain Dealer's characterization of the fire as, "if not the most disastrous, certainly the gaudiest." There was no public rejoicing when the final ceasefire was signed at Panmunjom 27 July 1953, just a general sigh of relief and an easing of tension. For Cleveland, the period marked the high tide of its industrial growth, with steel production records set in 1952 and 1953. Steel prices had doubled after a long strike in the spring of 1953, and all apparent signs presaged a, bright future for the 7th-largest city in the nation. The impetus of the "forgotten war," by thrusting it to new levels of prosperity, had delayed the city's decline as an industrial and population center by a few years.

David D. Van Tassel

Case Western Reserve Univ.

Last Modified: 13 May 1998 11:00:48 AM

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