The journey to claim a site for an African American Cultural Garden began in 1961 when Councilman Leo Jackson proposed a Negro garden on a small acreage close to Rockefeller Park. Years passed, however, without resolution. In 1969, Cuyahoga Community College professor Booker Tall spearheaded a new campaign to acquire a parcel for an African American garden beginning with a request for a site that was probably the one proposed by Leo Jackson. This site did not meet CGF approval and Tall’s group, the African American Cultural Garden Federation, chose an alternate site within the Cultural Garden chain for which Architect Robert P. Madison created a conceptual design. That particular site was never acquired and Mr. Madison’s design was tabled.
Land for the African American Cultural Garden at its present site was dedicated at last on October 23, 1977. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of supporters and diplomats representing multiple African Nations as well as local dignitaries including County Commissioner George Voinovich who gave the keynote address.
Booker Tall’s group initially planned to honor six widely renown African Americans who also had roots in Ohio or had a major impact in Ohio: Richard Allen, Garrett Morgan Sr, Jesse Owens, John P. Green, Jane Edna Hunter, and Langston Hughes. In 1985, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine reported that 4 bronze plaques for the Garden had been created but were placed in storage for safe keeping. In addition, Booker Tall commissioned sculptor Ed Parker to create a bust of John P. Green. Unfortunately, these items were never installed. The Garden lost a champion when Mr. Tall passed away in 1994.
The next notable vocal community activist for completion of the garden was Mrs. Cordell Edge, a long time Glenville resident who became a CGF delegate for the Garden in 2000. She organized the African American Cultural Garden Community Support Group that was renamed the Association of African American Cultural Gardens which continues operation today. During her tenure, Mrs. Edge assembled a design committee sponsored by local chapters of the National Council of Negro Women. This group worked closely with the architectural firm of James McKnight and African American landscape architect and Cleveland State University professor Austin Allen, PhD to create a conceptual design for the Garden. Regretfully, Mrs. Edge passed away in 2003 and this plan also never came to fruition.
Mr. Carl Ewing has served as president of the AAACG from 2012 to present and secured nonprofit status for the organization. His administration has overseen several effective fundraising efforts and media campaigns. He began working with the African American Cultural Garden Society, a task force created by Mayor Frank Jackson (2005-2020) to implement a new design for the African American Garden created by architect W. Daniel Bickerstaff II and approved by the task force in 2011.
Sufficient monies for groundbreaking was achieved in 2015 with major assistance from Mayor Jackson’s task force and the prior administration of Mayor Michael White (1990-2002). The first component of the design was completed and dedicated in 2016. Fundraising to complete the installation is ongoing.
The current design was conceived with poetic license by Mr. Bickerstaff as Past, Present and Future Pavilions but is described here as ‘The Journey’.