how my family integrated Shaker Heights

Ghoulardi mugI grew up in Cleveland. Given my age that means I grew up watching Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson), host of Shock Theater on WJW channel 8. Let’s just say he was my childhood hero. Yeah, me and everyone else who grew up in Cleveland at the time.

Back then Manners restaurants gave away mugs with their milkshakes. Cool tankard mugs with clear plastic bottoms. I bought a pair on eBay some time ago. What can I say; I was reliving my youth.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in Clevelandn, Ghoulardi hosted “Shock Theater” late Friday nights on WJW-TV Channel 8 from 1963-1966. He also hosted “Masterpiece Theater” Saturday afternoons. I watched both of them.

Shaker Heights High Shchool mugHe played horror and sci-fi films. Really cheap black and white ones. Psychotronic cinema as they say. I loved his show as did all my friends. This waaaay before Elvira Mistress of the Dark. This was the 60s!

During the movies he hosted skits and stunts. He made fun of Parma and Oxnard. He blew up model cars with firecrackers and wore wacky costumes and wigs. Above all, he was a Beat inspired hipster in Cleveland. What more could a kid ask for? I was 10-13 when he was on the air. Why do you think I still wear white socks every day and hold a fondness for polka deep in my heart? GHOULARDI!

Eventually his pal Tim Conway lured him to California where he settled into doing voice over work. Lots and lots of it. You’ve heard him. He was ABC’s main announcer for years. Ernie died of cancer in 1997. I found out about it in the credits of the Drew Carey Show (another die-hard Clevelander).

March 1961, my family moved from Cleveland to Shaker Heights Ohio. This was significant because the Whiting family was one of the first African-American familiess to move into this rich, white, and oh-so exclusive suburb.

integrating Shaker Heightss Ohio in 1961The timing was significant because this was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. The news was full of tear gas, cattle prods, sit-in’s, and the often violent pushback from racist white Americans.

I was 7 years old when I entered the 1st grade at Onaway Elmentary School. I was the first and only Black student until my brother Steven and Nancy Lewis started there when I was in 4th grade.

After 50 years I had to tell my tale. Let’s face it, it was inside of me for half a century. When I first posted this on Facebook & YouTube I was overwhelmed by the responses. People volunteered their own stories and memories. Some even began to write theirs up. I heard from old friends, shocked my new ones, and learned of anti-semitism in Shaker as well as racism and classism.

My thanks to Pirkle Jones and Elbert “Big Man” Howard who taught me how to share one’s life stories.