Belle McCray always extended a helping hand to those in need and provided housing for many families moving to Cleveland. She moved from Greenville, Mississippi, with her husband Sam McCray in 1917 as part of the Great Migration. Soon after she arrived in Cleveland, she started acquiring property. She purchased properties on East 40th Street, Ambler Avenue, Thackeray Avenue, and Summit Avenue from the years 1918 to 1929. She purchased several properties from Central European immigrants at a time when many were moving out of Cleveland’s Cedar-Central. With multiple properties, Belle McCray had the space to house lodgers. Since she knew how difficult it was to move from the South to the North, she opened her houses to those who had nowhere to go when they first arrived in Cleveland. As a result, one of her houses made its way into the Green Book: 2416 East 40th Street.
She also rented out rooms in her home located at 2362 East 40th Street, as well as at least three other properties she owned. Belle and Sam McCray had roomers in their houses as early as 1920. According to the 1920 census, they rented a home at 2312 East 40th Street and they had eight male lodgers. At that time, Sam was employed as a wiredrawer for a wire mill and Belle had no occupation listed. By the 1930 census, they housed eighteen lodgers of varying ages, sexes, and marital statuses at their 2362 East 40th Street home. Sam was now listed as a driver for an undertaker, while Belle continued to keep house. The census did not reveal how Belle McCray and her husband were able to financially afford to purchase homes throughout Cleveland. However, both census years did reveal who their typical lodgers were. The McCray’s lodgers were listed as “Black” or “Mulatto” and were coming from southern states as part of the Great Migration. Mrs. McCray continued to provide shelter to those moving to Cleveland even after her husband’s death in 1935. It was not uncommon for widows to rent rooms.
Overseeing multiple rental properties was not always easy. On May 2, 1949, Stephenson Carter shot Charles Degree five times with a P-38 German automatic at Mrs. McCray’s 2362 East 40th Street house after an argument surrounding McCray’s daughter, Mrs. Anna Belle Travis who had been dead for 18 months at the time of the altercation. Anna Belle Travis had been romantically linked to Carter and Degree at some point, which sparked the conflict. Carter was a fugitive for four years, and during those four years he worked for a circus traveling throughout the United States and Canada until he turned himself in for Degree’s murder. He was eventually found guilty of second-degree murder after pleading not guilty due to self-defense. There is also evidence that Belle McCray herself was involved in illegal gambling because a Plain Dealer article states that she engaged in independent non-protected lotteries. However, it is important to note that law enforcement was disproportionately policing gambling in black communities.
Regardless of how she may have appeared in the eyes of law enforcement, McCray was active in her community. She was the 11th Ward GOP leader and was a prominent figure in the Glenara Temple of the Elks. At the time she passed away in 1953, she was living in one of her real estate holdings located at 2348 East 40th Street. At the time of her death, she was remembered by the lodgers she had helped settle in Cleveland over the years.
Today, none of Belle McCray’s properties on East 40th Street are standing. The entire long block is grass except for the Pilgrim Baptist Church. Slum clearance discussions for that area began as early as the 1930s and led to a subsequent loss of housing. One of the largest rehousing efforts occurred in 1941 following slum clearance from East 40th to East 55th Street and Scovill to Central Avenue. As a result of this project, 1,260 families needed to be relocated. About 200 families met the financial qualification to live in the Outhwaite Homes, a new public housing project. Officials promised that once the Carver Park project was complete, even more families could move back. However, some families made too much money for them to qualify to live in these homes and they found themselves with few options. Indeed, more urban redevelopment occurred on East 40th Street in 1955 with more homes being demolished between East 35th Street and 40th Streets, exacerbating the housing shortage problem. The clearance of remaining properties from East 40th Street continued through the early 2000s with one of the McCray houses located at 2348 East 40th Street being demolished sometime between 2007 and 2009. Although none of Belle McCray’s properties survive today, her role in helping house many African American newcomers and visitors to Cleveland earned her a place in the most famous Black travel guide of the 20th century.
Green Book Details
Mrs. McCray appears in the Green Book from 1940 to 1946 at 2416 E. 40th St. in the category Tourist Homes.
- “Awaits verdict in Slaying Trial: Fugitive for Four Years Pleads Self-Defense.” Plain Dealer, October 7, 1953.
- “Carver Park.” Call and Post, August 28, 1943.
- “Caught After Four Years: Fugitive found Guilty of Killing Love Rival.” Call and Post, October 17, 1953.
- “Courts Aid Purchases of Area B Home Sites.” Call and Post, April 16, 1955.
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Transfer of Deed Book 2106, Page 200; Delia Meyers & Belle McCray, August 20, 1918; Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer, City of Cleveland.
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio Transfer of Deed Book 2682, Page 453; Harry Klineman and Robert Haas & Belle McCray, June 28, 1922; Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer, City of Cleveland.
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio Transfer of Deed Book 2805, Page 77; Joe Palmer and Suzanna Palmer & Belle McCray, June 7, 1923; Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer, City of Cleveland.
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio Transfer of Deed Book 3234, Page 165; Lee Gibson and Mary Gibson & Belle McCray, February 10, 1925; Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer, City of Cleveland.
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio Transfer of Deed Book 3942, Page 207; Mary Collver & Belle McCray, June 14, 1929; Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer, City of Cleveland.
- “360 Families Live on Borrowed Time in Outhwaite, Carver Park Projects.” Call and Post, August 6, 1949.
- “Hold Final Rites for Mrs. Belle McCray.” Call and Post, December 5, 1953.
- Loeb, Charles. “Outwaithe Homes—‘A City Within a City.’” Call and Post, July 4, 1942.
- McCray, Belle. 1920 United States Federal Census: Cleveland Ward 11, Cuyahoga, Ohio. Enumeration District: 215. Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002.
- McCray, Belle. 1930 United States Federal Census: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio. Enumeration District: 0169. Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002.
- “Mrs. Belle McCray.” Plain Dealer. November 29, 1953.
- “Murderer Outfoxes Law but is Tripped by Own Conscience.” Call and Post, February 7, 1953.
- Ray, Gene. “Hold Funeral. Rites for McCray.” Call and Post, November 21, 1935.
- “Says Daughter is Other Man’s Child in Contest on Wardell Wilson’s Will.” Call and Post, September 12, 1935.
- “Veasey Probe Hits Lottery Kings, Report.” Plain Dealer. October 28, 1931.