Carl Burton Stokes: Unsung Hero


Carl Stokes, a political leader, news anchor, and diplomat, broke racial barriers in the world of politics. By becoming the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, Stokes became a symbol of a changing America. Although he was born into destitute circumstances, Stokes did not allow his situation to limit his potential.

Carl Stokes was born on June 21, 1927 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father died when Stokes was two years old, and his family lived in the Outhwaite Homes-the first federally funded housing project in Cleveland, Ohio.

Stokes dropped out of high school in 1944 and joined the United States Army during the time of World War II. After an honorable discharged, he returned to Cleveland and completed his high school education in 1947. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1954 and received his law degree from Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1967. He passed the bar exam in the state of Ohio in 1957 and began his career as the assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.

After working as the assistant prosecuting attorney for six years, Stokes and his brother established their own law firm in 1962. That same year, Stokes became the first African American Democrat to be elected into the Ohio House of Representatives.

After serving three terms in the House of Representatives, Stokes decided to run for mayor of Cleveland, Ohio in 1965. He lost in a close race against the incumbent Mayor Ralph Locher. Still determined, Stokes ran again in 1967 and won against Seth Taft, the grandson of former President William Taft. Many people questioned how the grandson of a slave won against the grandson of a president in a city where whites accounted for two-thirds of the population.

Although Stokes made history by becoming the first black mayor of a major U.S. city, his position came with strife and opposition during a time of heavy racial tension in the United States. He still encouraged African Americans to have a voice in politics, however, by opening city positions to blacks and women. He served two terms as mayor.

After retiring as the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, Stokes moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. In 1972, he became the first African American television news anchor in New York. He won an Emmy Award for his work as a broadcast news anchor.

He returned to Cleveland, Ohio in 1983 to serve as a municipal judge. He served until 1994 when he was appointed by former President Clinton to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Seychelles. While serving in this position, Stokes was diagnosed with cancer. He returned to Cleveland, Ohio, and passed on April 3, 1997.

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