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Reverend Bruce W. Klunder was a white Presbyterian minister and civil right activist, born in Oregon. He died at age 27 on April 7, 1964, when he was run over by a bulldozer while protesting the construction of a segregated school in Cleveland, Ohio.[1] Klunder graduated from Yale University Divinity School and then went to Cleveland in 1961 as assistant executive secretary of the Student Christian Union at Western Reserve University. He quickly became involved the city's civil rights fight.[2] He had a passionate interest in civil rights, headed the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and led a restaurant sit-in in Sewanee, Tennessee in 1962. He was married, with two young children.[1]


Klunder frequently did picket duty, demonstrating for fair housing and against segregated public facilities and discrimination in hiring. When the Cleveland City School District decided to build new schools that would have reinforced the pattern of segregated neighborhood enrollment, Klunder took the lead in attempting to stop construction.[3]

One afternoon about 100 demonstrators threw themselves at the wheels and treads of bulldozers, power shovels, trucks and mobile concrete mixers to prevent the school from being built. A power shovel operator watched as six people—including a woman five months pregnant—leaped into a ditch and stretched out prone just beneath the shovel's jaws. Police moved to try to disperse the demonstrators, but many came out of the muck fighting. Twenty-one were arrested that day, and two were injured. [2]

The next day Klunder and about 1,000 other demonstrators returned to the school. Already awaiting them were dozens of Cleveland police. Moments later Klunder, two women and a man dashed across the school lot toward a bulldozer. Three of them flung themselves into the path of the steel treads. Klunder lay down behind the machine. The driver, John White, 33, stopped when he saw the three in front. He looked around but did not see Klunder, and he backed up. When he finally stopped, Klunder was dead.[2]

The next day 150 people marched in silent memorial in front of the Board of Education Building downtown. Funeral services for Klunder were held at the Church of the Covenant. Eugene Carson Blake, head of the United Presbyterian Church, delivered the eulogy and 1,500 people attended.[3] Klunder’s death polarized the Cleveland community. Some saw his death as an inevitable result of the breakdown of law and order. Others viewed his activism as an act of love.[1] Klunder is one of forty individuals listed as a civil rights martyr on the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Stories from Our Past: Presbyterians and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Fred Heuser
  2. ^ a b c We Are Dedicated TIME magazine. Friday, Apr. 17, 1964.
  3. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  4. ^ Presbyterian Life, September 15, 1964, 6-9; 39-40, PHSA.


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