Carl B. Stokes

From Ohio History Central
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Carl B. Stokes

Carl Burton Stokes was a political leader and public official from Cleveland, Ohio.

Stokes was born on June 2, 1927, in Cleveland, Ohio. His father died when Carl was three years old, and Stokes' mother struggled to provide for her family. The Stokes family resided in the Outhwaite Homes, Cleveland's first federally-funded housing project. Carl dropped out of high school in 1944, and later joined the United States Army. Stokes received a discharge after two years in the Army. He completed his high school education in 1947. He then attended West Virginia College and Cleveland College before graduating from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. degree in 1954. He then enrolled in the Cleveland-Marshall Law School and graduated with a law degree in 1956. After passing the bar examination in 1957, Stokes became an assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.

Stokes served as a prosecuting attorney until 1962, when he joined his brother, Louis Stokes, in establishing the law firm Stokes, Stokes, Character, and Terry. In that same year, Carl Stokes was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and served three terms. He was the first African American member of the Democratic Party elected to the Ohio House. Stokes became a strong supporter of Civil Rights and welfare issues.

In 1965, Stokes ran for Mayor of Cleveland, but he lost the race. Undaunted, in 1967, Stokes again sought election as Cleveland's mayor and defeated Seth Chase Taft, grandson of former President William Howard Taft.

Stokes was one of the first African Americans to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city. His greatest accomplishment as mayor was opening up city positions to African Americans and women. He also governed Cleveland in a very tumultuous era. Race riots, such as the Glenville Shootout, occurred during his administration. Financial difficulties also began to arise for the city, especially due to the movement of white residents and various businesses to the suburbs. Stokes was reelected in 1969, but did not run in 1971.

Stokes later became the first African-American television news anchor in New York City. In 1980, he resumed his law career and became the United Auto Workers' legal counsel in Cleveland. During 1983 and 1984, Stokes served as a Cleveland municipal judge. President Bill Clinton appointed Stokes to be the United States Ambassador to the Seychelles. While serving in this post, Stokes was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He returned to Cleveland, Ohio, and died on April 3, 1996.

Stokes and his brother, House of Representatives member Louis Stokes, symbolize the growing acceptance of African Americans in politics. The Stokes brothers dramatically increased African American political prestige during the 1960s and the 1970s.

See Also


  1. Moore, Leonard. Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
  2. Stokes, Carl B. Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1973.