Meet the first black men in leadership roles in U.S. politics

Farida Dawkins January 17, 2018

Photo credit: Biography

Carl StokesFirst Black mayor of a major U.S. city (Cleveland, Ohio)

Carl Stokes was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 21, 1927.  Stokes was reared with his brother by their single mother in a housing project named Outhwaite Homes. Stokes was a good student yet, he dropped out of school in 1944 and briefly worked for a company called Thompson Products. He later joined the Army at the age of 18. After his discharge in 1946, he returned to Cleveland and earned his high school diploma in 1947. In 1954 he earned his Bachelor’s degree and then proceeded to law school earning his law degree in 1956 while working as a probation officer. In 1957 he was admitted to the Ohio bar.  From 1958-1961, he served as assistant prosecutor and partner at the law firm Stokes & Stokes.

1962 marked the start of Strokes’ political career as an Ohio Representative where he served for three terms. In 1965 Stokes lost his first attempt to be instituted as Mayor. He won the bid in 1967. His tenure as mayor afforded Blacks the opportunity to obtain city hall jobs.   He commenced Cleveland Now! – a neighborhood regeneration program aimed at public and private funding.

After his political career Stokes lectured at colleges nationwide and in 1972 gained a position as the first Black news anchor at WNBC – TV in New York City. In 1980 he returned to Cleveland and served as general legal counsel for the United Auto Workers. From 1983-1994 Stokes served as municipal judge in Cleveland. His last political roles came as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles. In 1970, Stokes was voted as the first African-American president of the National League of Cities.  During his lifetime, Stokes was bestowed with 12 honorary degrees, several civic awards, and represented the U.S. by special request of the White House on goodwill trips abroad.  Stokes died of cancer on April 3, 1996. He was 68 years old.

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