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Carl B. Stokes

In office
7 September 1994 – 12 May 1995
President William Clinton
Preceded by F. Stephen Malott
Succeeded by Brent E. Blaschke

In office
Preceded by Ralph S. Locher
Succeeded by Ralph J. Perk

Member of the Ohio House of Representatives
from the N/A district
In office

Born June 21, 1927(1927-06-21)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A
Died April 3, 1996 (aged 68)
Cleveland Clinic,
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Shirley Edwards; Raija Kostadinov
Children Carl Stokes Jr., Cordi Stokes, Cordell Stokes, Cynthia Stokes; Sasha Kostadinov (stepson)
Occupation Politician, lawyer

Carl Burton Stokes (June 21, 1927–April 3, 1996) was an American politician of the Democratic party who served as the 51st mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Elected on November 7, 1967, but took office on Jan 1, 1968, he was tied to be the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city with Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Indiana. Fellow Ohioan Robert C. Henry was the first African American mayor of any U.S. city (Springfield,elected 1966).


Early life

Stokes was born in Cleveland to Charles Stokes, a laundry worker who died when Carl was two years old, and Louise (Stone) Stokes, a cleaning woman who then raised Carl, and his brother, Louis Stokes, in Cleveland's first federally funded housing project for the poor, Outhwaite Homes. Although a good student, Stokes dropped out of high school in 1944, worked briefly at Thompson Products (later TRW), then joined the U.S. Army at age 18. After his discharge in 1946, Stokes returned to Cleveland and earned his high school diploma in 1947.

He then attended several colleges before earning his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1956 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1957. While studying law he was a probation officer. For four years, he served as assistant prosecutor and became partner in the law firm of Stokes, Stokes, continuing that practice into his political career; it was successful after one year.


Martin Luther King, Jr. (left), Carl B. Stokes (center), and O.M. Hoover (right) in 1967.

Elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1962, he served 3 terms. Stokes worked hard to even out legislative districts during that time since Ohio had uneven representation among its Congressional and General Assembly districts. By the late 1960s, he was able to carve out a district that could elect him to Congress, but deferred to his brother Louis Stokes who represented Cleveland in the U.S. House of Representatives for three decades. Stokes narrowly lost a bid for mayor of Cleveland in 1965. His victory two years later drew national attention, as he was the first African-American mayor of one of the ten biggest cities in the United States. [1] Able to mobilize both black and white voters, he defeated Seth Taft, the grandson of a former U.S. president, with a 50.5 majority. A crucial part of his support came from businessmen living outside the city limits of Cleveland, especially Squire, Sanders and Dempsey lawyers Ralph Besse and Elmer Lindseth who were directors and officers of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and wanted Stokes to deemphasize the City's Municipal Electric and Light Plant. Stokes tried to de-emphasize the city's municipal utility, but was thwarted by city councilmen whose wards took advantage of the cheaper product.

After his election Stokes said "I can find no more fitting way to end this appeal, by saying to all of you, in a more serious and in the most meaningful way that I can, that truly never before have I ever known to the extent that I know tonight, the full meaning of the words, ‘God Bless America', thanks a lot."[2]

As mayor, Stokes opened city hall jobs to blacks and women. Though he was not known as a strong administrator, he was remembered for his vision and motivation. Stokes feuded with City Council and the Police Department for most of his tenure. He also initiated Cleveland: Now!, a public and private funding program aimed at the revitalization of Cleveland neighborhoods. When the Glenville Shootout occurred under Stokes, it was discovered that Fred (Ahmed) Evans, one of major characters in the conflict had received some $6,000 in funds from the program. As a result, donations began to sink. However, Stokes pulled through and was reelected in 1969.

After being privately advised he would be indicted by the Federal government for corruption while mayor, but would not be if he declined another term, Stokes chose not to run for reelection, and Ralph J. Perk became his successor.

After his mayoral administration, Stokes lectured to colleges around the country. In 1972 he became the first black anchorman in New York City when he took a job with television station WNBC-TV. While at WNBC New York, Stokes won a New York State Regional Emmy for excellence in craft, for a piece about the opening of the Paul Robeson play, starring James Earl Jones on Broadway. After accusing NBC of failing to promote him to a national brief, he returned to Cleveland in 1980 and began serving as general legal counsel for the United Auto Workers. From 1983 to 1994 he served as municipal judge in Cleveland where he developed a reputation as a fair judge with a common sense approach to the law. President Bill Clinton then appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles. He was awarded 12 honorary degrees, numerous civic awards, and represented the United States on numerous goodwill trips abroad by request of the White House. In 1970, the National League of Cities voted him its first black president-elect.

In 1988, Stokes was arrested for shoplifting a $2.39 screwdriver from a suburban Cleveland hardware store. In 1989, he was arrested for shoplifting a bag of dog food from a pet shop. The charges were dropped in the first incident, in which Stokes said he put the screwdriver in his pocket and forgot about it, the dog-food case went to trial, where he was found not guilty after testifying that he had intended to pay but no clerk was there and he had to rush off to a meeting.

He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus while serving as Ambassador to the Seychelles and placed on medical leave. He returned to Cleveland and died at the Cleveland Clinic. His funeral was held at Cleveland Music Hall, presided over by the Rev. Otis Moss. The funeral was carried on WERE radio. Stokes was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.[3]

The US Federal Courthouse Tower in downtown Cleveland, completed in 2002, was named the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House Building. There are many other buildings, monuments and a street named for his memory within the City of Cleveland including the CMHA Carl Stokes Center, Stokes Boulevard, and the eponymous Carl Stokes Brigade club. Members of the Brigade celebrate his birthday every year at Lakeview Cemetery with gravesite services.

In November 2006, the Western Reserve Historical Society opened an exhibit titled Carl and Louis Stokes: from Projects to Politics. The exhibit focuses on the brothers early life at the Outhwaite projects, service in World War II, and eventual rise to politics. The exhibit ran through September 2008.


  • The Encyclopedia Of Cleveland History by Cleveland Bicentennial Commission (Cleveland, Ohio), David D. Van Tassel (Editor), and John J. Grabowski (Editor) ISBN 0-253-33056-4
  • Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power by Leonard N. Moore ISBN 0-252-02760-4
  1. ^ "1967 Year In Review,"
  2. ^ "1967 Year In Review,"
  3. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Ralph S. Locher
Mayor of Cleveland
Succeeded by
Ralph J. Perk


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