Venerine Branham Interview, 28 June 2006

Venerine Branham, an educator and school administrator in the Cleveland area, talks about growing up in Cleveland housing projects. Throughout the interview, she talks about childhood friends and neighbors Carl and Louis Stokes. Other notable topics included in the interview are desegregation, busing, and the Hough uprising of 1966. At the end of the interview, she reflects on her teaching career and the pleasures of working with children.

Participants: Branham, Venerine (interviewee) / Nazelli, Alisa (interviewer)
Collection: Academy of American History
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Alisa Nazelli [00:00:00] Got it?

Venerine Branham [00:00:00] Okay. Okay, ready?

Alisa Nazelli [00:00:04] Well, Mrs. Branham, I want to thank you one more time for participating in this project. And today's date is July 6, 2006. And my first question for you is just a little bit. I want you to. We talked a little bit on the phone last week, and I want you to tell me a little bit about where you were born, where your parents were from, and just some basic background to start out with.

Venerine Branham [00:00:32] Okay, I'm a native Clevelander. I was born and raised in Cleveland, educated in the Cleveland public schools.

Alisa Nazelli [00:00:40] Which schools did you go to?

Venerine Branham [00:00:42] Let's see. Lafayette and I. Then when I moved into the projects, I went to Case Woodland and then on to Kennard Junior High and then to John Hay High School. Graduated from John Hay High School. I have one sister who is a couple of years older than I, and one brother who is now deceased. He was the oldest of the three children. My mom and dad were always in the home. My mother was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. And my father was from Virginia, Lynchburg, Virginia. But he came, you know, a long time ago.

Alisa Nazelli [00:01:34] And what brought him to the Cleveland area?

Venerine Branham [00:01:38] I'm not sure what brought him to Cleveland, but he went first from Virginia to Detroit, and that's where he met my mother. And then after they married, he moved to Cleveland. But I'm just not aware of why he came to Cleveland specifically.

Alisa Nazelli [00:01:57] Okay, very good. And where did you live before you moved to Outhwaite and what made your family moved there?

Venerine Branham [00:02:07] Okay. We lived in Mount Pleasant area, around 126, off Kinsman. And we really moved to the projects because at that time, Outhwaite Holmes was one of the first of the public housing projects in Cleveland. And it was supposed to be something very special to move through the projects. It's hard to believe that now, but it was the place to live. In fact, you know, mutual friends would say, oh, my, you know, you have moved up in the world. But it was. It was a very special place. I would not trade that experience for anything in the world. It was a place where we were all one big family. There were two-parent homes, mom and father. And if it was a one-parent home, that meant that the father was usually deceased or the mom. But it was really a family-oriented place to live. Very different.

Alisa Nazelli [00:03:22] How old were you when you moved there?

Venerine Branham [00:03:25] I must have been about six years old because I went to Lafayette elementary school in the kindergarten. And when I went to Case Woodland, I started in the first grade, and so I was about six.

Alisa Nazelli [00:03:45] Okay. And was the Stokes family living there?

Venerine Branham [00:03:50] They lived. I talked with Lou and we were trying to figure out how old he was when he moved to the projects, and he said about 13 or 14. Carl was two years younger than Lou, and so he was about 13 or 14, and they moved in maybe a year or so after, after we had moved in.

Alisa Nazelli [00:04:16] And how did you become friends with them?

Venerine Branham [00:04:20] Everyone was friends in the project. We were, we called them courts. They were arranged so that it was almost like a horseshoe. And so everybody in that particular court became very close. And again, as I said, a big family. You looked out for one another. The kids played together. The parents were very caring and loving and very watchful of the children. And when I say Lou lived when he first moved, we lived, say, like here, and he lived there, which was in the same court. But then my family moved to the apartment that was right adjacent to his. And so we were just in and out of one another's houses all the time.

Alisa Nazelli [00:05:18] It seems to me, because they grew up in a single parent family home, they lost their father at a very young age.

Venerine Branham [00:05:27] Yes.

Alisa Nazelli [00:05:29] What happened and how do you think that shaped them growing up?

Venerine Branham [00:05:33] I don't know. It was such a different lifestyle then. And even though their father had died, they were a close family. There was a grandmother whom we all called Grandma Stone, his mother Louise, and they had an uncle who, you know, came and went quite frequently. And so I guess he was kind of a father figure for them, too. And he, Lou and Carl considered my father their father because they would converse and carry on conversations all the time. In fact, Lou felt very close to my father and has always said he liked to tease him. My father liked to tease Lou, and he said, but there was a certain line by, on which he knew he could not go, and as far as respect for an adult. And so he said, but he just felt very close to my father. What was your father's name, Andrew? Eanes. Eanes. My maiden name is Eanes. E a n e s.

Alisa Nazelli [00:07:04] If there's one. This is my last question about that time. Oh, that's ok. How did they start calling you Baby?

Venerine Branham [00:07:14] My mother and father always called me Baby. My sister still calls me Baby. And everyone.

Alisa Nazelli [00:07:22] Are you the baby of your family?

Venerine Branham [00:07:23] Yes. Yes, but not by that much. In fact, everyone thinks when they met us, they thought I was the older one because I was kind of the one to take charge person. But that has remained with me forever. And I can remember one of the last public occasions Carl was involved with. I think he was leaving to go to New York at the time. And what is his name? The famous lawyer who died, who represented OJ Simpson.

Alisa Nazelli [00:08:04] Johnny Cochran?

Venerine Branham [00:08:05] Johnny Cochran, yeah, Johnny Cochran. He was at this particular occasion, and Carl knew that I really wanted to meet him in person. But anyway, when I went to the celebration, which was down at the. Well, it's not. It's the Renaissance now, but it was Cleveland Hotel or something. But again, Carl said, oh, hi, Baby. And, you know, we were talking and laughing, and he said, oh. He said, you know, I better watch myself. He said, because now you're an adult and I'm an adult. He said, and people will get the wrong impression. So we just laughed over that.

Alisa Nazelli [00:08:47] I really enjoyed reading the letter that Lou wrote to you and the article. How. What was your involvement with the dedication of the Stokes Wing of the library?

Venerine Branham [00:08:58] Okay. I co-chaired that dedication along with Sam Miller, and it was a privilege for me to do so. But the library, I think Marilyn Mason was the director at the time, and she knew of our friendship, and so I was asked to co-chair it. And of course, it's something that I could not say no to, so I did. And as I said, it was really a special occasion.

Alisa Nazelli [00:09:34] Absolutely. What do you think motivated Carl, Lou, or both, to become so involved in politics?

Venerine Branham [00:09:47] Mm hmm. I can't say it started with politics. I can't say that either one was during those early formative years, were anxious to be a politician. But education was a high priority in our families and for my family and for his mom and his family. There was no question that you were going to go to school. You were going to do what was asked of you as far as being a good student. When you finished, you were going to either go on to college or go to work. But many of the people who lived in the projects, their goal was to go to college. My parents had no formal education as far as college is concerned, but we all knew that we had no choice. But you were either going to college or you were going to go get a job. And Carl and Lou, you know, that was something that his mom emphasized all the time. But there was something about Louis, and I have to call him Billy because I'm not used to calling him Lou. He was really a role model, as I reflect on it. All of the kids in our court would watch him as he went back and forth. And he was always. He wasn't dressed casually. He seemed to be always dressed with the pants and a shirt, not necessarily at tie, but he was very well groomed, and he's just tall. And he walked very erect and just held himself in such a proud manner. And so the younger people looked at him and, you know, he was, I guess, unconsciously, you know, for taking all of his attitude and his demeanor as being really. Well, this is a person I would like to grow up to be like. Carl was very playful, Carl was. And my brother, they were the same age. His name is Andrew, too. He was Andrew. His middle name was Victor, but Andrew Victorines. And he and Carl were very, very close, and they liked to box and wrestle and so on, but Carl and my brother, they would throw stones at the window for the other one to come out and box. And they really boxed and never fought. I mean, they were not fighting buddies. They were just like, to box and horse around.

Alisa Nazelli [00:12:39] And where did they box?

Venerine Branham [00:12:41] You have to know the projects almost. But there was an area. It was like in the basement, but it was a wash area, and there were automatic washers. You could have your own washing machine, but if you did not, then there were washing machines where you hung your things to dry. They didn't have dryers, so they would go down there to box because the adults might stop them. And so they would go down the basement, we'd call it, and they'd box. But as I said, they never hurt one another or bloodied one another's nose or anything. But they were both good, very good. And all of their friends knew it. And when my brother died, he must have been about 54 years old, he had a heart attack. And Carl spoke at his wake, and he said, you know, he said, your brother was a person that I loved to box with. And he said, and he was the only one I could never outdo boxing. He said, your brother was always the winner, and I thought that was really special for him to say. But they had a very special and loving friendship.

Alisa Nazelli [00:14:09] So what do you attribute, can I ask, the changes in that, in your old neighborhood to? Why do you think it's changed?

Venerine Branham [00:14:18] Oh, it's changed like every neighborhood, I think, you know, the value system becomes different. The expectations are different. Parents are such a tremendous influence. Respect was just the order of the day. If you did something wrong, you knew that somebody was watching, not to hurt you, but to let you know that there are boundaries beyond which you do not go. And so I can say respect was of a high, high value. And when you lose that, when you lose, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to have both parents, but the fact that we did have both parents, I think, made a tremendous difference. And, you know, I've always been an educator, and so I know the difference. I could see the changes in children's behavior, their preparation for school and, through the years, and it has certainly left much to be desired. It doesn't mean that it can't be regained, but it's a real struggle.

Alisa Nazelli [00:15:48] What made you decide to become an educator?

Venerine Branham [00:15:52] Oh, I always wanted to be a teacher. I can remember sitting on the steps and we'd play, you know, school. You know, I was always the teacher, and I liked to read. My mother always took us to the library. The library was just beyond 55th and Woodland, and it's still there. Woodland Library. And we would walk from our home, which was on 43rd, and walk there at least twice a week going to the library.

Alisa Nazelli [00:16:31] Excellent. So when you graduated from John Hay, you were off to?

Venerine Branham [00:16:37] I didn't go to college right away. And that's another interesting thing about Carl. Carl asked me. He said, well, what are you going to do? You know, I graduated, you know, with honors from John Hay High School. And he asked what I was going to do. And I said, well, I'm going to go to work. And he said. He said, aren't you going to go to college? And I said, no. I said, I don't think my mom and dad can afford to send me to college. He said, you're going to college? He said. I said, well, with what? He said, don't worry. Just go. He said, your parents will pay for it. Just go. But he was just like that. But I didn't. I didn't go to college right away. I got married a couple years or so later. But my husband was really the driving force behind my going to school.

Alisa Nazelli [00:17:34] How did he encourage you?

Venerine Branham [00:17:35] Well, he did, because, you know, he always thought he was a very thoughtful person, not to be replaced by anyone, really. We were married 41 years. But he thought at an early time. He said, you know, when we have children, he said, you want to be off in the summer with them rather than just working. He said, you know, you will be able to do that. And he knew that I always wanted to be a teacher. So I started going to school at night.

Alisa Nazelli [00:18:07] And where did you go?

Venerine Branham [00:18:08] I went to Kent State.

Alisa Nazelli [00:18:09] Okay. That's quite a drive.

Venerine Branham [00:18:11] Yeah. Well, Kent State had branches here during the time. Yeah. But I first worked for the government. I worked for the government for about eight years.

Alisa Nazelli [00:18:22] In what capacity?

Venerine Branham [00:18:24] As a secretary. I graduated from John Hay, which was a business school. So I took shorthand and still can take shorthand and do take shorthand. And so, you know, it served me well.

Alisa Nazelli [00:18:37] Good. So what part of the government did you work for? City government?

Venerine Branham [00:18:42] The Veterans Administration. U.S. government, federal. And then I worked at Mount Sinai Hospital for a while in the psychiatric clinic. And that in itself was a learning experience and certainly helped me as I went into education. And then I became a teacher.

Alisa Nazelli [00:19:05] And your first job was at Raper?

Venerine Branham [00:19:08] John W. Raper. Second grade. Third grade. I think I taught fifth grade, which I did not like. Fifth grade. I liked the primary kids. And then I became reading consultant for a couple of years, and then I went into administration.

Alisa Nazelli [00:19:28] Oh, you were an administrator?

Venerine Branham [00:19:32] When? Where, oh, where was my first administrative position? It was at. I was at Anthony Wayne. That may not have been the first one. I was at Miles Park. Yeah, Miles Park as an assistant principal.

Alisa Nazelli [00:19:52] Did you enjoy that?

Venerine Branham [00:19:53] Oh, I loved it. Mm hmm. When I first had the opportunity to go into administration, I told my husband I didn't want it. And he said, well, try it. He said, if you don't like it, he said, you can always go back to the classroom. And once I started in that position, I really loved it because you not only had children, but you have your teachers and you have the parents. And so I never turned back. So I enjoyed education. I think there's nothing better.

Alisa Nazelli [00:20:29] Good. When you were at Raper, the Hough riots. The Hough riots took place. You were telling me, what do you recall about that event?

Venerine Branham [00:20:44] I don't, you know, I can't recall any specifics. I never felt threatened. That's one thing. Nor did the staff at Raper feel threatened. And I asked or mentioned to you, the wonderful principal who was there, Al Aiello and Al. Al, the staff who worked for him knew that he was all about children and families and the teachers doing what they were sent there to do. And we had something we called a reverse open house. You know how parents would come to the school on certain days or evenings? And he said, no, you teach in this school. You have their children. We're going to go to their houses. And so each teacher had at least one room mother, but most had more than one room mother. And so at the reverse open house, one of those parents, or maybe two, would get together and would have the teacher visit their home. And so the teachers on this afternoon, we would go to visit, and that host parent would invite other parents in, and you could talk on a very informal basis. It was wonderful. There was not one teacher who did not come back feeling we were the ones who were rewarded for that experience. It wasn't the parents. It was us, because you could get in, talk with them on a very informal basis. But yet let them know, you know, that you care for their children, and you have one thing in common, and that's the best thing for their children.

Alisa Nazelli [00:22:36] What were some of the biggest changes that you saw during your. During your career, during the span of your career with children and public education?

Venerine Branham [00:22:48] Well, public education changed when we had the desegregation of the schools. And I was involved in the. They had phases, and I was principal involved in that first phase of desegregation, and I was then principal at Emil B. De Soze school. And the students, which is off south miles, about 176 and south miles. And my children from that particular neighborhood were transported to. Oh, it was school that borders on Rocky River, really. It was on the extreme west side, and Emil B. De Soze is on the extreme southeast side.

Alisa Nazelli [00:23:43] Can I make sure I have this right? Your students were being bused to a school on the west side. Do you recall what year? Was it '75? Or later? '80?

Venerine Branham [00:23:57] No, it wasn't '80. It was when were schools desegregated? I forget about '76 or something like that. Yeah, look up the date. But anyway, my school, and I can tell you at a later time what school it was, but they were transported. You never have a problem with children. I just want to be very specific about that. Children are children, and the color of your skin does not matter. The thing about it was when my children were transported, those first days are very telling. And there was a lot of preparation by the school board itself and by in service for the teachers of these schools that were being desegregated. And so you know, what to say, how to act. Once the children got to the school, they were not to be segregated in any way. You had to have. Your classes had to be mixed. The lunch hour had to be mixed. There were monitors who came out to just unexpectedly, to look, to make sure that the children were in an integrated setting, whether in the classroom or in the lunchroom or in gym or wherever. But you had limited number of non-minority children coming east, and the minority children, the bus was full. The bus coming east was not full. But once the children were there, you know, they were just, you know, I always said, the good ones find the good ones, and the pistols find the pistols when they get off the bus, you know, you know, they find one another. But it was just a wonderful setting. The pressure and the anxieties came from parents. Nobody wants to see their child get on a bus and go anyplace other than where they're comfortable for them to be. And so, you know, that caused concern. But in the school, rest assured, there was peace and kids had a good time.

Alisa Nazelli [00:26:31] That's good. So, as an administrator, it was a policy that you supported.

Venerine Branham [00:26:36] You didn't have any choice. You know, that was a federal ruling. You didn't have any choice. But it didn't bother me, you know, because, as I said, I've always believed children are children. And when I went to the west side, I was principal at Louis Agassiz on the west side, which is off West 117th, and, you know, the parents there, because I'm a minority principal, and the school was really majority non-minority children and the parents in that area. And so there was great hesitancy on their part to accept me as the principal, but they did. It's always just a small minority of people who cause a problem. I don't worry about that, you know, and, you know, because it happens both ways, but I never had any problems. In fact, it's interesting that Gary Kucinich was the councilman in that area, and Gary Kucinich, there was one incident that occurred between a little kid, white youngster, and a black child in kindergarten. And so the father of this white youngster was just, oh, he's gonna whip everybody. And, you know, because this other child had heard his son, which was not true. And Gary Kucinich was always available. He said that he will always be there in case I had any problems. It did not worry me. I knew that I could handle any situation that came up, especially with children. Nobody's going to bother any child in my presence, and. But the father settled down, became one of the most supportive parents after he learned that nobody's going to intimidate me. It's just as simple as that.

Alisa Nazelli [00:28:45] Do you think it was? This will be my last question.

Venerine Branham [00:28:48] That's okay.

Alisa Nazelli [00:28:49] This is really interesting, just the way that I like looking at Cleveland and thinking and what I'm learning through this whole process. So do you think that the policy was effective?

Venerine Branham [00:29:03] I think it could have been more effective because people really dismissed the idea. The real reason for desegregating schools was unequal allocation of assets. The minority schools on the east side did not have the supplies. They did not have the kinds of materials. They did not have the things that students need and teachers need. There was a tremendous difference, and you have to, again, experience it. And I knew. I don't care where I'm principal. If they have it, my kids are going to have it, my teachers are going to have access to it. And that's what I made certain. I didn't care if it was east side, west side, or wherever. Also, parents were upset because they felt, well, the kids are being bused. So that term busing, including this morning on television, they were talking, not television, but on W, on 90.3, they were talking about neighborhoods and changing neighborhoods and busing. The word busing always comes up. Parents who left the Cleveland schools went to suburbs in which their children were bused. They are bused to this very day. If they go to private school, they're bused. If they go to parochial schools, they were bused. Cleveland children who went to parochial schools, you know who paid for those children to be transported to Cleveland public schools? If it was in Cleveland schools, people don't know that the special services that were provided, students who may have been a parochial school, came out of the budget of Cleveland public schools.

Alisa Nazelli [00:30:55] That seems to be a conflict of.

Venerine Branham [00:30:59] Well, I think it's a lack of knowledge. You know, it's a conflict of understanding. I mean, they don't understand it, but children are children. And I had a wonderful experience. I was at Watterson Lake. It's an assistant principal. That was at West 74th and Detroit. And also, that's one thing. Cleveland transferred people around, had nothing to do with your ability. I think it had to do with the strengths that a person had to offer. And they knew that I was a no nonsense person and still am. And so it didn't bother me. I didn't care where I was. I can remember when I first went to the west side, I had two buildings. I was at an assistant principal. I was at Gilbert, if you know where that is. Gilbert is off Detroit or somewhere in there, about West 54th of West 46th. Gilbert and Milford. And I had two schools. I would be at one school two days and the other one three days. The next week, I would be there three days. And, you know, we took turns. And so my husband, when I was first assigned, I said, oh, my goodness. You know, I had much hesitation, too. And when he drove me over there one Sunday, just so I could get my bearings, and there was a storefront, it was a Nazi store, literally a Nazi store with swastikas out and so on, and I said, well, you know, what am I getting into? But I never had any problems with them. I never had any problems. Now, whether they were there, whether their children were at either of those schools, I never know. Would not know because I never had any confrontation or any problems, but they were there. And that told me something about the area. Not everybody, but a handful, can give a very wrong picture of what's going on. Those are the kinds of things that break down race relations, and, you know, it just causes a problem, and you have to always be very alert.

Alisa Nazelli [00:33:27] Shortly before this desegregation episode, Carl was elected into office in 1971. What do you recall about the election and what was– [phone interrupts]

Venerine Branham [00:33:41] Excuse me. Okay. I had mentioned during the Hough riots, you know, we had this very strong principle, and our staff, we were just used to one another. We were really like a family. And many of those teachers, including him, he lives in Austin, Texas, but we're still friends. But we did not have any fear because those parents knew us. We had been in the neighborhood. They knew us and felt comfortable. I had a friend, and still he is my friend. He and his wife, they live in Bellevue, Washington, and they're a white couple, and they had been in the Peace Corps and, you know, that. So they loved the setting. They loved children, did a lot for the children in their classes. And so during the Hough riots, I was the one who was anxious for them, because not in that immediate environment, but just maybe, say, on another street or somewhere beyond where the parents knew them. I was always anxious that they would be hurt. They weren't, and they weren't concerned about it. And through the years, we've remained friends. They adopted biracial children, and we're very, very close friends to this day. It was an interesting era.

Alisa Nazelli [00:35:14] Yeah.

Venerine Branham [00:35:15] But there was never any fighting. There was no disruption at Raper per se.

Alisa Nazelli [00:35:20] Good, good. And 1971, Carl was elected. What do you. What do you remember about that time?

Venerine Branham [00:35:31] I can't say that I remember that much because it was a time that I was young. I was raising my family, and, you know, I just was not into politics. I never had been into politics, although I knew that he was running and so on. But I never became involved, per se, other than, you know, we would support and give, you know, money to help him and so on. But as far as actually working in his campaigns and so on, I never became involved in that.

Alisa Nazelli [00:36:10] And then when Louis was at, Billy was elected to the House of Representatives.

Venerine Branham [00:36:18] Yeah, we were very proud. And of course, with Carl, too, you know, we kind of followed. I knew his progress as a politician and with Lou, you know, I always knew when he finished law school, when he graduated from high school, you know, I went to his graduation ceremony when he went to law school, just as he followed my formative years and in school and doing this, that and the other, we followed him, too. And so you're very aware of his progress in being a lawyer and, say, a two person office to, you know, going out on its own and so on. He was always so. He was so different, personality wise, from Carl. Carl was just, you know, one of the guys and bubbly and so on. Lou was just, I can't describe it, dignified and, you know, always very professional and just goal-oriented. Carl knew what he wanted to do and certainly did it. But Carl. Lou was just. He had his eyes on the prize from very early years, not necessarily in politics, but the time was ripe for both of them.

Alisa Nazelli [00:38:00] You mentioned earlier that you're excited, looking forward to the Western Reserve Historical Society exhibit because you think it's important, and I do, too. I think the Stokes legacy in Cleveland and the United States period is incredible. But what's important for you?

Venerine Branham [00:38:21] I guess the important thing, and the wonderful thing is that. And Carl. There are buildings named after Carl, as you know, the federal courthouse downtown and one of the utilities. I think it's the water department. It has Carl's name on it as well. The Stokes Boulevard for Carl and Lou. But I said those things because they were recognized while Carl was living. There have been many buildings named after Lou, many buildings. In fact, I teased him. I said, my goodness, there won't be any other person. No politician can look forward to their name being on anything because your name is on everything. But it's important because I think people should be recognized while they can appreciate it, while they're here to enjoy the respect that they have earned. And so that makes me feel very good. And when I think they have done everything that is to be done, then something else comes up. And this is such an occasion. To have Carl and Lou recognized in their memorabilia in the western reserve Historical Society is really. I mean, that's where it should be. Lou and both of them have a lot of memorabilia, and a lot of times we do not have the places where it can be displayed, or at least someone can go and study it. Young people, I think that's the big gap. They do not know whether it's Carl and Lou or whether it's Martin Luther King or other, those who have succeeded them, preceded them. Their history goes untold because there's little documentation, or else it's a little bit here and a little bit there, and you need that information so that it's in a central location. And so Western Reserve Historical Society is certainly the ideal place for some of their materials to be displayed.

Alisa Nazelli [00:40:39] Most certainly. It's really my hope that students will enjoy and visit that exhibit to see what you can accomplish.

Venerine Branham [00:40:54] Absolutely.

Alisa Nazelli [00:40:55] And through, you know, adversity you can really accomplish great things regardless.

Venerine Branham [00:41:02] And you mentioned adversity and so on, but in the projects, nobody felt that we were less than. I think that's a unique. You know, you hear about people talking about they need a sense of pride and so on. All of us were proud. And, you know, I had no reason. I always thought I was just as good as anybody. You know, I never had a feeling of inferiority. And I think that the overall environment was so supportive of children. It had such high expectations that we all knew that we were just as good as the next person and could do as much as, or go as far as we wanted it to go if we stayed with the books and if we did what our parents told us to do, if we tried to meet their expectations. And so we didn't have that sense that, well, you're poor, you're rich. You know, as I look back on it, I guess people who didn't live in the project, those who lived in the Heights or in the Glenville area, said, oh, you know, they're poor. I have never felt poor in my life, although you heard me say that. Carl said, your mom and dad can't afford to send you to college. I know they would have. There was not a thing I missed growing up. My mother made sure we had piano lessons. We had a piano. My brother took violin lessons. And so we went to opera. My sister and I went to opera. And so we were exposed to everything that my children really enjoy. We went to the zoo. We took, my mom and dad took us some picnics. And so we enjoyed a good growing up experience, not only our family, but the other families, too. We would, you know, not only we would go, but my mother would take, you know, the other kids, too. And so it was just a. It was so different. And some of that still goes on. You know, sometimes we dismiss it because we don't see it, but I'm sure here, there, it still goes on. People care about kids. There's a few fools out here, but there are fools everywhere.

Alisa Nazelli [00:43:35] Everywhere, regardless. What. Yeah, that's a good perspective. It's good to hear things like that. I guess my final question would be, are there any final stories that. Or thoughts that you would, that you would like to share?

Venerine Branham [00:44:01] Well, you know, I guess another thing about the project, to me, it's such a rich history, and it's not documented because I still have friends, you know, who grew up there, same as I. And when we look, reflect on the friends we had who grew up in the projects. I don't know. Are you familiar with the Coll and Post? Okay. Connie Harper. She grew up in the project. We walked to school to Case Woodland every day. And she is now the vice president and the editor of the Call and Post. Don King. He didn't live in the projects, but he was always around. He was living maybe 38th or something around there beside Carl. The Madison and Madison International, the architects. Bob Madison. That whole family lived right across the court from me. We lived here, and they live right across from us. And Bernard was a physician. Bernard was an architect. The brother Stanley, was a medical doctor, and Bob was the oldest one, and he's still living. Of those four sons, Bob is still living. Tim Stephens, Doctor Timothy Stephens. He's retired now, about my age. He's a retired orthopedic surgeon. There's another Timothy Balknight who became a dentist. Lloyd Brown was one of our judges. He's deceased now. Carl Character is a lawyer. He's since had terminal kind of illness, but he's still living. He grew up, all of those guys grew up in the projects. I wrote some of the names down because, let's see, Connie Russell, Adrian, you know, Judge Adrian, you know his father, all of them. They're project people. Carl Character. Lloyd.

Alisa Nazelli [00:46:16] You said the history is interesting and it's undocumented. And that's something that not only in Cleveland public housing, that's important, but Chicago public housing, Detroit public housing, I think that there's a rich history for all, because really, it was, correct me if I'm wrong, housing to accommodate a growing population and affordable housing for working-class families.

Venerine Branham [00:46:53] That's true. That's absolutely true. And the influx of African Americans, mostly from the South, were, you know, there was a demand for housing. And yet with the housing patterns in Cleveland, it was rare for African American families to locate west of the river. You know, that's just a simple fact. Now, there were pockets that as a child growing up, you know, I wasn't aware of. But then, you know, early on, when you really grow up and become a teenager, and you said, well, you know, what is this all about here? And you realize that there were ethnic pockets, and, you know, most of the minority families were on the east side. Another interesting thing is when the people moved out of the projects, this group, the initial residents, they moved to, they called it the Gold coast. That's the Glenville area, Superior, and north of Superior, back in that Glenville area, long East Boulevard, and on back. And then when they moved from the Gold coast, I'm talking about the African American families, because when we moved from the projects. We moved to the Gold Coast. We lived on Pierpont Avenue. And I was still in high school. I was still going to John Hay. And then when they moved from that area, they moved to Lee-Harvard and the Mount Pleasant area. Mount Pleasant has always been a relatively stable area and a well integrated area until, you know, people started moving farther east or farther west or whatever. But that's kind of the pattern: projects, Gold Coast, Mount Pleasant, Lee-Harvard, and then to now they call them inner ring suburbs. And so that's where we are in Shaker.

Alisa Nazelli [00:49:10] Okay. Okay. So some of the names that you mentioned.

Venerine Branham [00:49:15] Okay. Yeah.

Alisa Nazelli [00:49:17] Do you think any of any of those people would be interested in being interviewed?

Venerine Branham [00:49:23] Well, let's see if they're alive. Bob Madison, I'm sure, would be available. Connie Harper, Connie's sister was a judge. She's a retired judge. Sarah Harper. Have you heard of her? She's a retired judge now. Connie Harper, she's the executive vice president and editor of the Call and Post. And her sister Sarah is a retired judge. Her last name is Trumbull now. T r u m b u l l. And he. Her husband was a judge, too, but he didn't grow up in the project. Theodore Williams was a councilman, and he followed. I don't know if you're familiar with the name Norman Minor, but Norman Minor was a famous African American attorney, and he also became one of the first, if not the first, county prosecutor. And Theodore Jones, we called him Ted. I'm sorry, not Theodore Jones. Ted Williams followed Norman Minor as a county prosecutor, and then he became one of the first municipal judges, too. He was the project person. He was an adult, but his children grew up. Many, many teachers lived in projects. When I retired, I started teaching at John Carroll, and I've been there. This is the first year I haven't taught.

Alisa Nazelli [00:51:19] What did you teach at John Carroll?

Venerine Branham [00:51:21] In the Department of Ed. I started out teaching nothing but graduate courses. I taught administration and supervision and the kind of how-to courses, how to teach math seminars and so on. And then for the last two years, I had been supervising student teachers.

Alisa Nazelli [00:51:40] Oh, that's great. And have you enjoyed that work?

Venerine Branham [00:51:43] Oh, I love it. I love it.

Alisa Nazelli [00:51:45] What schools are you supervising student teachers?

Venerine Branham [00:51:48] I stopped in January. I had an illness, and I had to stop. But I've been in Cleveland Heights system and Beachwood. I had some student teachers in Beachwood. Shaker. My last students were in Shaker school system. It's been a very rich and rewarding life, and I love. I love teaching student teachers. They are very you know, they. I'm a person for young people, really. I'm their advocate, because you read in the media so much negative stuff about young people. And I know that the majority of young people are just as focused, they're just as smart, if not brighter than their forebears. You know, a lot goes on. But I think they want to be and are becoming the leaders of tomorrow. They're good. They're bright. They got great ideas, and they have a struggle trying to make it out in this world today because it's not easy. It's not easy for young people.

Alisa Nazelli [00:53:05] I don't think competition has ever been more fierce.

Venerine Branham [00:53:08] It really is, job wise and otherwise. Even this young lady, you know, she's sharp. Mm hmm. Yeah. And you have to stay focused. I don't care how bright you are, you know, you still have to have your own goals. Don't let anybody set your goals. You set them and do it in the right way. And don't think you can do everything at once. It takes time.

Alisa Nazelli [00:53:31] Yeah, it does. Well, I've really enjoyed discussing this with you. I mean, really, there's so much more I'd like to talk about, but I.

Venerine Branham [00:53:42] Know you probably have word schedule than I, but also, Doctor Timothy Stevens is a person that you would want to talk with.

Academy of American History

These interviews were conducted between 2004 and 2006 by public school teachers in the Teaching American History (TAH) grant-funded Academy of American History summer institute at Cleveland State University, sponsored by the US Department of Education. The project was a collaboration between CSU, the City Club of Cleveland, Western Reserve Historical Society, and St. Clair-Superior Community Development Corporation. Interviews in this series focus on the Civil Rights movement in Cleveland, Carl…