It has been fifty years since the election of Carl Stokes as mayor of Cleveland. Historic in every sense of the word. Really, more than historic. Earth-shaking in that the election of Carl Stokes in 1967 marked a political ground-breaking. We see the after-effects of it every day in political circles not only in Cleveland , but all the way to the highest office in this country.
In 1967, Carl Stokes would become the first black person elected to lead a major metropolitan area in the U.S. Cleveland was 68 percent white in 1967 when Carl Stokes – great grandson of slaves – defeated Seth Taft -- grandson of former President William Howard Taft.
When Stokes won Cleveland’s mayoral election, the story graced newspaper front pages around the world. The Cleveland Stokes victory was the lead of national television newscasts and cover story of national news magazines.
Because of the Stokes victory, other black politically-minded people came to Cleveland to study the political victory route. Brother Louis Stokes – not yet the congressman and Arnold Pinkney – political strategist – were key parts of the team. The coming years saw more black politicians gaining power in their cities. The landscape had changed. The Cleveland Stokes victory marked a turning point in black political power.
In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, the new president publicly stated that without Carl Stokes’ election in Cleveland in 1967, there could no Barack Obama in the White House in 2008.
Carl Stokes made political history in Cleveland fifty years ago, setting the stage for emerging black political power, marking another step in the evolution of America. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and challenger Zack Reed are both beneficiaries of the Stokes story.
A year later, Carl’s brother – Louis Stokes – was elected to Congress where he represented Cleveland for thirty years.
This year, the Greater Cleveland community celebrates the achievement of both Stokes brothers in this fiftieth anniversary of the Carl Stokes mayoral election in Cleveland. It was a
political landscape shift. This election season it is something to think about. It is a fifty-year-old Cleveland story which resonates today in so many ways. I’m Leon Bibb.