Today as I was driving on the Capital Beltway during rush hour en route to BWI Airport, I salved my commuting soul with a little NPR. All Things Considered had a great piece by David C. Barnett about an historical radio show originating from Cleveland in the 30s and 40s. The nationally successful program, Wings Over Jordan often documented and discussed the racial struggles of African-Americans as part of the sermon and between gospel singing, way before television proposed to report it. This is a story worth listening to or reading.
The part that caught my attention and flashed a memory during my drive was:
"Wings Over Jordan was born in the sanctuary of Gethsemane Baptist Church on Cleveland's east side. In the 1930s, the city was a collection of ethnic neighborhoods — Italian, Polish, Slovak — and each one got an hour on the radio. "
I will never forget and have often told people of my first visions driving north on I-71 to downtown Cleveland when my husband and I first moved there in 1986. I saw church spires everywhere. I was astounded by the population of churches in the old neighborhoods surrounding Cleveland. They were all practically walking distance apart. I grew to realize how those neighborhoods were (and continue to be) the center of social and spiritual life for the European immigrants and subsequent generations that came to work the farms and factories. The three years I lived there I loved how each neighborhood/church had maintained its own ethnic identity, festivals, feasts, and foods.
Hearing the program today made me curious about the programs these churches must have aired. I'm sure they were in Polish, Italian, Gaelic... maybe even had some news from the old country. I wondered who paid for airtime and how much it cost.
The rest of the quote above follows: "But Gethsemene pastor Glenn T. Settle found no such program for the local African-American population. He went to WGAR, and in the summer of 1937, The Negro Hour hit the airwaves, with Settle delivering homilies between the hymns." What incredible vision and courage Reverend Settle had to promote civil rights in that time period. The fact he had to search for air time, that it wasn't offered is telling. What a great picture of one of my favorite cities today.