Sonja F. Unger on Shaker Heights Activism and the Clark Freeway

The following clip relates to the Ohio Department of Education curriculum for Social Studies education through:

  • American History Content Statement #28 – Following World War II, the United States experienced a struggle with racial and gender equality and the extension of civil rights.
  • American Government Content Statement #1 – Opportunities for civic engagement with the structures of government are made possible through political and public policy processes.
  • American Government Content Statement #20 – Individuals in Ohio have a responsibility to assist state and local governments as they address relevant and often controversial problems that directly affect their communities.




Sonja F. Unger is a Croatian immigrant. She came to Cleveland in the early 1950s. She speaks five languages and assisted new immigrants to Cleveland. Along with her husband, they were both politically active. Her husband worked for President Truman prior to their move to Cleveland. She helped found the Shaker Heights Democratic Club and served as president for a time. In this story clip, she recounts how she helped stop the construction of the Clark Freeway. While waiting for a meeting with Democratic Party leader and County Engineer Albert Porter, Unger happened to see a map of his proposed highway and noticed it would pass directly through her house. Armed with this knowledge she returned to Shaker Heights and helped mobilize the Shaker Heights Democratic Club and the local Republican party to oppose the construction of the highway. The outpouring of local support in opposition to the highway effectively ended the proposal and saved many homes from destruction.

Potential Classroom Applications

This story clip illustrates the power of local political activism. It highlights how ordinary people speaking out about issues that directly affect them can shape the debate and become part of the political decision making process. Her involvement with the movement to halt construction of a highway and thus preserve homes and neighborhoods also serves as an example of women’s history in political activism.

Follow this link for the whole interview: Sonja F. Unger Interview, 24 February 2014

Picture appears courtesy of Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University.

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