Cleveland’s Loss Is New York City’s Gain
SINCE when does a city turn business away from its doors? Since when does a city deny its facilities for peaceable assembly? Since when does a city, which is large enough to accommodate world series baseball crowds, football crowds, Legion crowds, church crowds, the Baptist World Congress crowds, the Eucharistic Congress crowds, Jehovah’s witnesses convention crowds, suddenly reject the use of its facilities, on the basis of not being able to handle large crowds? Since the invention of flimsy excuses and intolerant, prejudiced politicians.
Jehovah’s witnesses had planned to hold their 1953 international convention in the Municipal Stadium at Cleveland, Ohio. Considerable expense, time and effort were expended to expedite a favorable agreement. The Cleveland ball club department was most co-operative and favorable, and had no objection to the use of the field. (Jehovah’s witnesses have held conventions in the Municipal Stadium at Cleveland in 1946, in Yankee Stadium at New York, in Griffith Stadium at Washington, D.C., and at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, and have had no complaints.) The businessmen of the city were eager to have them back. During the 1946 convention at Cleveland, peaks in business levels reached an all-time high, most of which have not been equaled since. Businessmen were more than anxious over the prospect of another assembly, realizing that the convention delegates living in Cleveland and vicinity for eight days would mean that they would be spending in the city for rooms, meals, shopping in the stores, etc., anywhere between five and ten million dollars. This would in turn bring in more revenue to the city; also the publicity Cleveland would receive would be world-wide, because peoples from approximately a hundred lands are expected to be present.
Strange that all this publicity and revenue should be kept away from Cleveland. Stranger still that one man should decide this—the city’s mayor. His feeble excuse being that the city did not have the facilities to accommodate the convention crowd. The Watchtower Society showed its willingness to co-operate by agreeing to take any dates in the summer convenient to the ball-team schedule and to the city. The Watchtower Society was wholly in agreement with accommodating itself with the city in handling its convention. The Society would arrange for the rooming of all its delegates, provide their own watchmen, doctors and nurses. Yet the mayor said No. The application was denied. The only possible reason that the mayor could have had for denial was his own prejudice and intolerance against Jehovah’s witnesses as a group. In this way, he permitted his personal views to work to the injury of not only the business of Cleveland but the welfare of its peoples and the peoples of its vicinity.
The people of Cleveland do not applaud the mayor’s decision. One prominent clergyman of Cleveland wrote directly to the mayor stating that, while he did not agree with the views of Jehovah’s witnesses, he protested the action taken by the mayor in rejecting the application for the assembly, because he feared that if one group can be denied the right of assembly in Cleveland it may not be long before all groups may be denied that same right. He also stated that regardless of personal views or prejudice this grant of assembly should be reconsidered. As for the excuse of not having the facilities to accommodate the crowds, that was discounted as not a reasonable answer for denial.
Another letter appearing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 14, 1952, under subheading “Readers, in Letters to Editor”, stated: “Editor Plain Dealer—Sir: You will no doubt be amazed to know that the Watchtower Society tried very hard to obtain the facilities of Cleveland Stadium for an eight-day convention for 1953 at the regular rental rates, but were turned down by Mayor Burke and Commissioner Paul J. Hurd. . . . The mayor of Cleveland well knows that in 1946 the Watchtower Society handled between 70,000 and 80,000 people in an orderly and well-behaved manner, and that it was estimated that between three and four millions of dollars benefited Cleveland merchants as a result of the convention. Similarly a like amount would have been spent had our mayor not refused next year’s convention. We believe Cleveland businessmen have been deprived of this business without warrant as the flimsy excuse that Cleveland is too small to accommodate a real convention, especially in view of the fact that in 1946, during a world war, Cleveland was amply large enough to take care of 70,000 to 80,000 visitors. Are we retrograding or progressing as a city? In 1946 the Watchtower Society paid the city of Cleveland well over $50,000 in rentals, asking no discounts. Is Mayor Burke setting a precedent and does this refusal mean that should other large religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic church desire to have another Eucharistic Congress such as they had here in 1935, would they too, be refused Cleveland’s public facilities? . . . Cleveland’s loss will be New York City’s gain, as the Watchtower Society has engaged Yankee Stadium for the 1953 international convention.”
Clevelanders do well to soberly ponder the prejudicial actions of its mayor before it is too late.