Thursday, April 3, 2003

Ohio Moments

Carl Stokes was first big-city black mayor


On April 3, 1996, former Cleveland mayor Carl B. Stokes, the first African-American to become mayor of a major U.S. city, died of cancer.

Born in Cleveland in 1927, Stokes dropped out of school and served with the Army occupation forces in Europe. He returned to high school, then graduated from the University of Minnesota and the Marshall School of Law in Cleveland. Stokes was an assistant city prosecutor from 1958 until he became a Democratic member of the Ohio legislature in 1962. He narrowly lost the Cleveland mayoral election in 1965, but two years later, this grandson of a slave defeated Seth Taft, grandson of President William Howard Taft. Taft later said that Stokes "made people realize that it was all right for an African-American to run the government."

At the time of Stokes' election, Cleveland, population 800,000, was the nation's eighth-largest city. Stokes was re-elected in 1969 and, after his second term, became the first black news broadcaster in New York City. He returned to Cleveland in 1980, was elected municipal court judge in 1983 and appointed ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles by President Clinton in 1994. Illness forced him to resign the following year. He was buried in Cleveland.

Rebecca Goodman

Contact Rebecca Goodman at or 768-8361.

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