tv Washington Journal David Stradling CSPAN July 3, 2019 6:04pm-7:05pm EDT
steve: joining us from the cleveland area is david stradling, a professor of history at the university of cincinnati and co-author of "where the river burned: carl stokes and the struggle to save cleveland." let me begin by asking exactly where you are located in explain what happened 50 years ago this month. david: hi, steve. thanks for having me. we are sitting near the mouth of the cuyahoga river, which is to say we're sitting where the cuyahoga reaches lake erie. so you can see over my shoulder one of the many railroad trestles that crosses the real growth -- the cuyahoga river. there are many bridges come as a downtown cleveland is, to my left, and to my right is the ohio city neighborhood and the city of cleveland, and we are sitting in the area called the flats, which are the lands right along the cuyahoga river. they run up several miles. this is the former industrial area of the city of cleveland,
and 50 years ago, june 22, 1969, there was a fire on the cuyahoga river at the end of navigation, a couple of miles south of here, end of navigation meeting boats -- meaning boats could not go farther upstream. this is where a couple of low railroad trestles blocked some debris that was coming downstream, which was not unusual, the piers from the bridge, they got soaked in oil, which was also not unusual, and then there was a spark perhaps from a passing train. we do not know exactly what set off the fire. the trestles burned for half a minute -- half an hour. they were doused by both a fire boat and from crews on the shore. photographers did not get there in time to get a picture of the cuyahoga burning that time, but eventually news about the cuyahoga catching fire became international in scope.
so this is what we are celebrating, the 50th anniversary of the cuyahoga no longer catching fire. steve: but there had been previous fires along the cuyahoga. this was not the first, correct? david: absolutely. there were perhaps a dozen, maybe even more, fires on the cuyahoga before the 1969 fire. probably the one that became the most famous was a fire in 1952. it became famous because many people confuse that photograph of that much worse fire with the fire that happened in 1969, and that is because "time magazine," which ran a piece about water pollution in august of 1969, either inadvertently or purposely used a photograph from 1952 and simply indicated that this was the cuyahoga river catching fire. that photograph shows a tugboat basically trapped in flames.
it was a very damaging fire, with firefighters training water on a very large oil slick that was burning at that point. so most people outside of cleveland would have assumed that rivers don't catch fire on a regular basis. what they were looking at a 1969 "time magazine" was a photograph of something that just happened. and there the confusion only , gets more extreme. people began to think that this was, in 1969, was a catastrophic fire, that there was tremendous damage that was done, that it was five stories tall, that it burned for hours. i even saw somebody say that it burned for days so the mythology , around what happened in 1969 begins to grow, and my brother richard and i, as we researched our book, decided that probably the reason about the mythology around the burning river, why it grows so much, is because people's thoughts about a
burning river having to be a, you know, a major event, you know, this is a biblical thing, that rivers do not catch fire, and must be a sign of terrible water pollution of a type that had never been seen before. and of course the many previous fires dating all the way back to the late 19th century is an indication that pollution had been a long-term problem in cleveland. steve: and the first reported fire going back to 1858, but the "time magazine" piece describes the cuyahoga as a river that "oozes rather than flows," and "people do not drown but decay." david: i do think it was not at -- do not think there was any doubt the cuyahoga was a polluted river. i do think it was not at its nadir, that the pollution was worse in the 1940's and the 1950's, which is of course why there is a significant cluster of fires in those two decades.
one of the things the city of cleveland did to improve the water quality, or at least diminish the flammability of the river is to regularly clear the debris from the river and to break up oil slicks with water cannons, but that is not something that could be done above the head of navigation, so this particular fire was not preventable in that way. but cleveland, like a lot of cities, had been investing significant amounts of money in its sewage treatment infrastructure through the 20th century. i think industry also had been making investments in diminishing the pollution load that it was dumping into the river, and i think, significantly, the oil refinery industry had basically left cleveland by 1969, so standard oil had closed its refinery, number one, which was the last of the major refineries here.
so you know, the water quality was bad, the ecology was greatly diminished. but there was little reason for people to think of the cuyahoga as ecological space, to think of it as a complete river. at the same time, it was not as bad as it had been. steve: along with his brother, david stradling is the co-author of the book "where the river burned," and he made his way from cincinnati to join us in cleveland on this sunday, and we welcome our viewers on c-span3's "american history tv," as we look back at the events from 50 years ago. we are dividing our lines regionally. (202) 748-8000 for those of you in the eastern half of the country. (202) 748-8001 if you are in the mountain and pacific time zones. we do have a line set aside for ohio residents, especially if you are in the cleveland and macron area -- akron area.
we would love to hear from you, if you remember the events from 50 years ago, (202) 748-8002. i want to share with you the words of president richard nixon, who is credited with the creation of the epa. here is what he had to say about our environment. [video clip] pres. nixon: in the next 10 years, we shall increase our wealth by 50%. the profound question is -- does this mean we will be 50% richer, in a real sense, 50% better off, 50% happier, or does it mean that in the year 1980, the president standing in this place will look back on a decade in which 70% of our people lived in metropolitan areas, choked by traffic, suffocated by smog, poisoned by water, deafened by noise, and terrorized by crime? these are not the great questions that concern world leaders at summit conferences,
but people do not live at the summit. they live in the foothills of everyday experience. and it is time for all of us to concern ourselves with the way real people live in real life. the great question of the 1970's is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land, and to our water? [applause] steve: from a 1970 state of the union address. and david stradling, as you hear that from richard nixon in 1970, one year after the fire along the cuyahoga river, your reaction. david: i think it is a recognition of just how powerful an issue, a political issue the environment had become. nixon articulates it in a very common way at the time, which is
to kind of suggest that things have now gotten so bad that we have to deal with them, but, as my earlier comment suggests, the environment, particularly the urban environment, had been bad for so long, that he is articulating that now we need to do something because american citizens are demanding that they be given access to clean water and clean air, that their cities not be as filthy as they had been. i think this is mostly a recognition that a tide had changed, that a series of events, including the cuyahoga river fire, but also the santa barbara oil spill, there was a terrible pesticide spill on the rhine river just a couple of days after, the fire in cleveland, all of these things begin to build up, these spectacular events, to remind
people just how bad the urban environment, industrial environment had become. steve: as you look at the river behind you, how does it look to you today? david: it is remarkable to -- the change that has taken place here. it is twofold. i mean, it is difficult to tell exactly what is going on in the water itself of course, because , it is still the milky brown river that is flowing out of agricultural and forested land. it still has debris that floats downstream, of course, but we see waterfowl, we see something that you would never have seen 50 years ago, which is people out kayaking. i saw people out in skulls earlier this morning. the cuyahoga has once again become a much more complete river. it is an agricultural space -- i'm sorry a recreational space. , there are new parks, new public access along the river, for people for the whole region,
and this is something that goes well south of the city of cleveland. the cuyahoga river -- cuyahoga valley national park has become a regional and a national treasure, really. it is a remarkable space for recreation, getting out of the city. steve: our guest is david stradling. he is the co-author of "where the river burned." he is joining us from cleveland, ohio a professor of history at , the university of cincinnati. calls we take your , want to thank the music box supper club for allowing us to put our cameras in place to allow david stradling to share with us on site, on the scene of what it was like there, and the fact that it is now a supper club, that there are bars and restaurants along the flats, tells you what? david: well, it tells us that this is part of the city that clevelanders are interested in returning to. it is not an entirely new movement. in the 1990's, cleveland started
to reimagine the flats, that so many industries had moved out. there is still a lot of very interesting architecture around here. you see the engineering -- it is a spectacular space, the engineering of the various bridges, which makes this an interesting place to be. in the 1990's, we had a bit of a kind of a kindling of culture down here by the flats, and it has come back more intensely over the last five or 10 years, much more capital put it around -- put in around here. this is really one of the highlighted areas of cleveland's culture. steve: from nearby lorain, ohio, sandra, you are first up. good morning. caller: yes, good morning. these rivers flow into the lake, lake erie. lake erie brings in more than
$800 billion in revenue every year, so when this pollution -- well, this pollution is very costly. and let me just add to that i live in lorain, which has a river, black river, which also leads into the lake. and a couple of days ago, there was an oil spill on the lake -- i'm sorry, on the river, and also, there, not to take away from the rivers, but there was a center lake where a truck was found to be spewing out chemicals into a wildlife refugee in spencer lake. and -- steve: thank you, sandra. we are going to jump in and get a response. david: sandra points out obviously the problems of pollution have not been completely solved.
there is still a lot of industry around lake erie and of course the other great lakes, even here in lorain has a steel mill, even in cleveland, the major steel mills are once again up and running. i believe they have made significant investments in water pollution control, also air pollution control, but no doubt, accidents happen, and there are of course other kinds of contributors to water pollution. cleveland, like lots of cities that grew in the late 19th century,nd early 20th has combined sewers, which means sanitary sewage combines with storm runoff. and when it rains, that means untreated sewage flows into both the cuyahoga and directly into lake erie. we also know that lake erie suffers from nonpoint pollution, nonpoint source pollution, which is to say agriculture runoff
ittly, particularly over toledo from the maumee river. as i tell my students, there are no permanent victories in environmental protection. it is an ongoing effort. you have to adjust to new threats, to new problems, and to be vigilant about regulation and enforcement. steve: from west of cleveland, in toledo, this is tim. you are on the air. good morning. caller: i just want to say that i was born and raised along the shores of the mommy river which , is close to the shores of lake erie. foam would wash up. as a kid, you do not know that was not normal, but it was disgusting, now, thinking back. this was in the 1970's. i remember that commercial with the indians, the tear down his cheek, and now the maumee river,
it seems a lot better. we have smallmouth asked that was never -- smallmouth bass in there that was never there and , now it is cleaned up a lot. and anyway now all of a sudden we seem to be getting back to what we all care about, protecting our environment. it is like we won that battle, and we are doing the same thing all over again with the oceans and all that. sooner or later we have got to wake up and realize that you cannot keep polluting where you live at. when you say something to somebody, oh, you are a tree hugger or guy that doesn't want to destroy the planet and all of , these crazy things that are being said, can't it just be a logical species and say -- 500 years ago, we did not go upstream to get drinking water. we have really gotten kind of stupid as a species for the environment. and yeah, we are poisoning ourselves, and that is how i feel. steve: thank you for the call. we will get a response.
david: yeah, i appreciate the reference to the foaming maumee river. he is referring to a period in time when detergents were adding a bunch of phosphates, and this was a new low of phosphates act as a fertilizer. they got clothes a lot cleaner, but they got waterways a lot dirtier. they provided a lot of nutrients, and we got algae blooms, and it was a big problem in the 1960's. that was solved through regulation. but you know we no longer see , the visible, you know, suds from that problem, but we do see some visible problems in lake erie occasionally, including the great algae blooms that happen every summer now, mostly contributed from agricultural runoffs. i will say the visibility of environmental issues can be really important to gathering,
you know, political will. i think that is one of the reasons why the cuyahoga river fire became so important, because even though the image came from a different fire, the imagery of a river on fire really galvanized people. it was a recognition way to see , one water pollution is to actually see a river on fire. said, it is i difficult to assess the ecological health of a river, because you have to do tests, right? and then it becomes an issue of numbers rather than visibility. and i think that this is an issue that has plagued trying to solve the problem the much , larger problem of climate change. it is difficult to identify an imagery that can create the political valence that gets people moving the way that nixon was forced to move in 1970. steve: with the cuyahoga river
behind him, our guest is david stradling. from decatur, alabama, this is audrey. good morning. caller: good morning. this is audrey, i have not called in about a year, but y'all have really touched something that i have ocd about -- plastics. the plastic bottles, the plastic waste, the plastic jugs, i have told my sister and threatened to carry my cat litter, big plastic bucket, empty it when it gets empty, refill it and leave it at target. i want to remind people this fourth of july, you know, you cannot find the little thin plastic plates anymore. please, washe, your plates and use your own silverware. love c-span. love all y'all, steve. just have a wonderful day. steve: audrey, thank you. david stradling, what about those plastic bags, water bottles, and other debris?
david: that is certainly an ongoing problem as far as the great lakes and the ocean into which they flow. you know, we do see trash, debris floating down the river, which has been a long-term problem, but of course now that there is plastic, it last much -- it lasts much longer and is -- doesn't break down. she is absolutely right that this is something that needs attention. going all the way back to the first earth day in 1970, the focus there for students, for young people in general was to pick up trash, much less of which would have been plastic at the time. but there again, that ever was about visibility, that you can see that there is an ecological and environmental problem, because you can see the trash. and so even though it may not be the most urgent of issues in that people one felt like they could tackle, and they could put effort into.
i think that we see a lot of cleanup efforts around riverbanks. we certainly see it on the ohio -- i am from cincinnati. every year, we have a major cleanup around the river banks. it makes, you know, it is a visible problem with a very visible impact when you pick up the trash. steve: great history of the cuyahoga river, which is the river that bends in cleveland, ohio. there are reportedly at least 13 separate fires, the first that dates back to 1868. the largest fire, that we talked about a moment ago, in 1952, causing more than $1 million in damage, and in 1969, "time magazine" describing the cuyahoga as "the river that oozes rather than flows," and in which "a person does not drown but decays." a key person in all of this was the mayor of cleveland, ohio and subject of part of your cover story, carl stokes. his response to all of this at the time, mr. stradling. david: carl stokes is the first
african-american mayor of any major city. and you know, he really understood the problems of urban america. he was raised in poverty himself here in cleveland. grew up in one of the most degraded neighborhoods in public housing in central. the neighborhood. so he had kind of a unique view on the problems of urban america as far as major politicians are concerned. he will understood that problems of adequate housing and others for residents in cleveland, but he knew that cleveland itself could not recover if its water quality continued to diminish and particularly if air quality continued to diminish. unlike many politicians of the era, when he spoke about the problems of urban america, he completely mingled the urban crisis with the environmental
crisis. he tended to talk about both at the same time. solutions to one problem were not going to solve the problems of urban america. you had to deal with all of these problems at once. they were all interconnected. the day after the cuyahoga fire on a sunday morning, so on a monday morning, he calls his -- had his staff call together the local press and take them on what my brother richard and i call "the pollution tour." they meet at the railroad trestles where the fire took place, and he discusses generally the problems of water pollution in the cuyahoga but also about lake erie, noting that the city of cleveland was really powerless to solve the problems of water pollution. in fact much of the polluted water comes into cleveland from its suburbs, from farther away cities like akron, but most directly from cuyahoga heights, which is just beyond the city limits. he talks about the way in which
the suburbs themselves had not created sewage treatment plants, had not tied into the public sewage treatment plants, and the state of ohio had issued permits to industries inside the city of cleveland that allowed them to pollute the cuyahoga. there was really very little that carl stokes could do himself to clean up the river. he needed allies, he needed suburbs to cooperate, he needed the federal government to provide resources to expand sewage treatment, particularly. steve: let's go to tom, joining us from twinsburg, ohio. good morning. caller: yeah good morning, , c-span, and thanks for having me on. i would just like to say i am a proud clevelander, and from what i understand the cuyahoga river , was not the only river that was catching on fire in those days. happened, theat show is on, and it shows that the cuyahoga river is cleaned up as well as it has it has, like,
, 18 different species, there are species of fish coming back on the river, and we take pride in cleveland. unfortunately, we have taken the brunt of jokes after the river caught on fire, too. we have not lived that down. we still hear about it. i am a proud clevelander. i would like to say other cities have the same problems. and for my understanding -- well, that is all i had to say. thank you, david, and thank you, c-span. steve: thank you. and david stradling if you look , behind you, you will see a cargo ship. and earlier we saw kayakers and small boats. it really is a cross-section of what that river is navigating. david: yeah. and he makes a good point about the cuyahoga not being the only river that caught fire. the river rouge in detroit, a really polluted industrial . the river is this an industrial river. in buffalo river towards the fire. what is n't -- under
interesting is that the kind more than fire is any other. this had to do with the way it operated the river. it's narrow, and a winding industry ix of the here, the number of bridges caused obstructions and gathered debris. it was more of a fire hazard er n others but oth ingredients as well. t this utation abou negative attention. term.k in the long
1972, to be in the story that is kind of in the center of that. e saidre is something to b for the language and 50 ovements that have been years of transformation with the banks along the river and that are here. rivers gine the kind of itself. publican national convention. the all star game. l 44 sewage treatment
industries discharge waste into ack of the late, but cleveland adds even more ethanol to the river alone. now what is known as the only one that boils. >> there is a lot of talk about cleaning up lake erie, but the thing about cleaning up the lake is not the lake so much, it is the tributaries. you have to clean up the tributarie >> >> i guess the win had two things. third is not putting on the
waterways. and if they do, second, now messve got to clean up the perfect decades long ago. 1971 film, what changed and 71, to today? get to this point? >> there are federal regulations. >> there you go. living rumor, right? matters a lottion investment to a stream of plans and federal matters. i think in this location the
fact that so much of the industry hz left means they are out water and ab air pollution. eans they are to matter more about jobs but with all of those what is the thinking of those executives ver and lakes?ri ?s a dumping ground idea is k mostly -- that they couldn't handle pollution loads and there is very limited understanding of what happens to pollution once you put it into a waterway. there is an expectation that it get carried wn or
away. is that it would be dualited and harmless. that is untenable when you get so much industry concentrated around lakes and it becomes difficult for industries to to work into heir capital investment structure the way that is necessary to change the way they basic processes. industries do make those changes early on and creates new settling so they dump less iron into the river. some are difficult to solve and industries just basically stop unctioning here and move to is. s where regulation
north. >> carl stokes is joining us y is on veland and mar the phone from ohio. good morning. >> good morning. as a young girl i learned how to within the river in a small town. that is, i mean, i grew up i'm 58 yearser and old and this occurred in 69. i was nine years old at the time it was all over the news. he air point in time, t pollution was so bad you won't
it is now being recreated into length of it. if that may not seem important, it is part of the emaking of an industrial city to make this a happier place to lace to live.hier this can move freely when industries are not play specific the way steel manufacturing was. and if cleveland wants to attract more and more high tech employees, then, you know creating a landscape that those
people can enjoy when they're not at work, is an important le.t of the puzz that is needed to be done. 's describing you know some important changes that have taken lace over the last 30 will emphasize that these things don't happen by themselves. gets lot of hard work done. to improve the environment and investmentsain that and local communities t to make certain they take advantage of the thing like topaz. requires a ng that people's engagement. > darrell is joining russ are preston, missouri good morning. >> good morning. michigan and my
arm in rents had a f canada and we used to swim in lake eerie every summer. e first year weth ouldn't go swimming was about many dead ere is so perch and bass around and it washed up on the shore. horrible. good morning and thank you for waiting. >> thank you for taking my calls. i just returned from new york. i'm a resident perfect oermond peach, florida. prised to see in supermarkets they charge 5 cents bags.astic and products. bottles.
each eceive a $0.05 on bottle. >> we've to the feed back and we understand your point. address that again? like to address the peach issue going forward if i may. of the things and in the city of e cleveland. and is close us t plant just west of us. it's too polluted in late 1960s and early 197 #s for people to nger.there any lo peaches and people are
>> this is going to go down as t episodes had the world. beautiful. a right of way. and they're telling you right now, you're quite likable and job. e done a great >> thank you and appreciate the call and comments. agree with that. for t a beautiful day boaters here. they're not all so beautiful. this tire took place a year
earthquake occurred. history of the relationship between the city of cleveland and the cuyahoga river so basically am a a longer biography of the river. one of the first things i did was look into girl stokes' papers at the western reserve historical society, a remarkable collection from his four years as mayor from 1967 through 1971. in that election is a wonderful folder, a couple of folders filled with letters from children from earth day. in april of 70, the first earth successhe u.s. a wild locally and nationally. it gave an indication of the level of concern about the environment and willingness to take steps to do something to keep your -- cleanup the
environment. rode as of children part of the school project or even on their own wrote a letter to curl stokes about the environment, their concerns, many of them were about air pollution overwhelmingly. the number one concern of these children was air quality. concernind that was about water quality. the vast majority discussed lake erie. kids,ularly for suburban the inability to fish in lake erie any longer, the commercial fishery had collapsed and they were no longer suggesting people could eat the fish they did catch in lake erie. it was problematic and people were having trouble swimming finding places to swim. a real loss to the region. what surprised richard and studentss very few
wrote about the cuyahoga river at all. only one of those hundreds of the factsferenced that the cuyahoga river caught fire. clearly, even 10 months after the cuyahoga river birding, it did not matter that much to local conceptions about the environmental crisis. not need a river catching fire to know that the industrial river landscape in cleveland was terribly polluted. they had lots of other indications of that. particularly the air quality. host: david teaches at the university of cincinnati and he is the author of where the river burn. joining us along the cuyahoga ofer after the fire of june 1969. enke for being with us and thank you for doing a terrific >> we live with former vice president joe biden and jill
biden. at 2:30 p.m. eastern for their july 4 presidential campaign stop in marshalltown, iowa. president donald trump at the lincoln memorial for the fourth of july celebration and at eight, former speech writers for residents bill clinton, george w. bush, and former first lady michelle obama discuss their work and white house stories at the university of chicago institute of politics. watch this fourth of july on c-span. >> it has been discussion about an appearance before congress, any testimony would not go beyond our report. it contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. we chose those words carefully workhat works beats -- the speaks for itself. the report is my testimony. i would not provide information beyond that which is already
appearance before congress. >> former special counsel robert onller is said to appear wednesday, july 17 at 9:00 a.m. eastern. he gives testimony to the house judiciary committee and later in the day he will take questions from the house intelligence committee, both open sessions. the report into russian interference in the 2016 election will air live on c-span three and c-span.org or listen with the free c-span radio app. >> this is mike davis, he is the founder and president of the article three project here to talk about his role and his organization's role when it comes to the judiciary and nominations from the trump administration. good morning. what was the genesis of the project? caller: i was working on the senate judiciary committee for chairman grassley last congress, and we were hoping the president th h