Cobb’s refusal to remove his fez, in the face of being held in contempt of court and jailed, symbolized the Black Nationalist’s belief that the existing institutions were inherently racist and the only option was to refuse to play by a set of rules stacked against them.
By Ryan Miday
In the fifth and final part of the Call and Post’s series on Emmett Cobb, writer Ryan Miday looks at Cobb’s legacy. The man who
He did it alone. There were no protests outside the courtroom. There was no petition drive. Even though Cobb’s trial was watched by hundreds daily, none of the spectators wanted to be associated with the trial.
This was 1954. There were few powerful Cleveland Black elected officials. There had never been a Black mayor of a major city elected in the nation. There was comprising effort, but not aggressive, confrontational effort, in the
Yet, Cobb’s trial was timely. Given the media saturation of the trial, the number of potential people paying attention had never been higher: the trial occurred right in the middle of the Second Great Migration of Blacks to the north between 1940 and 1960. The millions who moved north illuminated the simmering racial problems beyond the southern borders.
Fredrick M. Brown Jr. was part of the Second Great Migration. Brown, who turned 70-years-old this year, moved with his father, mother, five brothers, and sister to the Glenville area in 1956. Unlike most of the southern transplants to
Brown remarked that he knew another Emmett before arriving to
Being a 15-year-old, cotton-picking, country boy looking to fit in, Brown looked for role models. “He was gone when I got to
The changing demographics coupled with a burgeoning civil rights movement propelled the quite 1950s into the turbulent 1960s. Activists in the 1960s began displaying similar defiance as Cobb, like Malcolm X, which turned into a measuring stick for Blacks; the prevailing spectrum of acceptable behavior of Blacks was being reshaped by a more confrontational approach in their pursuit of inalienable rights. Less than 10 years after Cobb’s trial, the Cleveland NAACP chapter was bolstered with new groups that reflected the doubling of
These groups, in
Black Nationalism, which Cobb professed in the 1950s, would gain momentum as Blacks from urban centers sought a different approach than their southern brethren, according to Leonard Moore, in “Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power.” Mainstream
Cobb’s refusal to remove his fez, in the face of being held in contempt of court and jailed, symbolized the Black Nationalist’s belief that the existing institutions were inherently racist and the only option was to refuse to play by a set of rules stacked against them. They sought, instead, their own path. Black Power was born and a central tenet, as
Cobb’s courage to be different, to strike a different path, in the exploration of his African heritage, and to question the status quo, to challenge conventions, in the sacred halls of justice, created threads that were to be weaved into the fabric of Blacks charting their own course in the quest for freedom. The bad boy from
* Editors note: We at the Call & Post have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming interest in our 5-part “Tonelli story.” Feel free to log onto to the C&P website at www.callandpost.com to view and comment on all five portions as published in the paper. We look forward to presenting other similar stories highlighting legendary Clevelanders, both famous and infamous.
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