The New Mayor Brought Hope, But Did the Dreams Die? by Margaret Bernstein, Sarah Crump and April McClellan-Copeland

A look back at Mayor Carl Stokes from the Plain Dealer November 4, 2007.

The link is here

The new mayor brought hope, but did the dreams die?

Margaret Bernstein, Sarah Crump and April McClellan-Copeland

Plain Dealer Reporters

Sick and tired.

Like with other once-vibrant big blue-collar cities, those two words described the Cleveland that Carl Stokes inherited in November 1967.

Residential and commercial white flight had caused the city’s tax base to dwindle. Federal and state funding relief was meager. Decent housing and good jobs were just dreams for many.

The string of mild-mannered mayors had done little more for the city than be custodians of the status quo, some thought. The city begged for a visionary leader.

We needed a change, said former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Matia, one of the members of the Young Democrats, a mostly white organization that worked hard to put Stokes in office.

Cleveland had had several mayors in a row, all of whom were extremely honest, intelligent and dedicated, but these men were not men of vision, explained Matia. Carl represented hope.

Hope not only for blacks, who made up one-third of Cleveland’s population. That applied to white people, too, Matia said.

The campaign for the first black mayor of a major American city shook the city out of its lethargy.

It was not like a campaign, it was a crusade, said retired Plain Dealer reporter Richard Peery, who was a United Parcel Service truck driver then. Everywhere he went on his deliveries, people spoke of registering to vote because they wanted to vote for Stokes.

The Jackie Robinson of politics, who ran on the slogan Let’s Do Cleveland Proud, started changing things immediately. Stokes, who grew up in poverty in the Outhwaite public housing project, took the unprecedented step of using his inaugural ball to raise $130,000 to clothe needy kids.

He also overhauled the way the city did business. Stokes, who served two two-year terms, placed blacks, women and white ethnics in key city jobs and revamped the entire municipal work force.

Nowhere was Stokes’ resolve for equal opportunity more apparent than at Cleveland City Hall, writes biographer Leonard Moore, a Cleveland Heights native and author of Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power.

Stokes made us aware that there were a lot of injustices and unfairness. He opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that we should all have the same opportunities, said Virgil Brown, a former director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Cuyahoga County commissioner, executive director of the Ohio Lottery Commission and a black Republican who was elected in 1967 for his first term on Cleveland City Council.

Sara J. Harper, now a retired Ohio Court of Appeals judge, became a prosecutor during Stokes’ first term, a rarity in male-dominated 1960s government. The first black female graduate of Case Western Reserve University Law School had been friends with him since they were teens growing up in Outhwaite.

Carl was responsive to smart people, said Harper. It didn’t matter if they were women.

Charisma transcended racial, ethnic differences

A savvy political strategist, Stokes didn’t forget that Cleveland had long been an ethnic town. His staff assistant, Andy Dono, represented Stokes in meetings in the Hungarian community. He brought Norman Krumholz from Pittsburgh (in 1969) as his planning director, and appointed banker and lawyer Ben S. Stefanski II public utilities director.

Then, he left his Cabinet alone so it could attempt to fix the city.

He said, ‘You do your job, and I’ll take care of the politics,’  Stefanski said. His political mind was awesome. He could melt people who were upset. He defused them. By the end of the meeting, he had them in the palm of his hand.

The first black mayor of a major American city drew plenty of attention. His pioneering win made the cover of Time in 1967. In 1970, a national Harris poll named him the third most respected black leader among black people the top two were organizations, the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. While he was mayor, the White House asked Stokes to represent the country on goodwill trips abroad.

Stokes’ charisma was contagious.

William Fissinger, then vice president for development at John Carroll University, said he witnessed Stokes’ appeal many times, but especially recalled when the mayor spoke at a black youth rally encouraging higher education.

From the moment he began speaking, Carl’s young audience treated him like a rock star, hanging on every word.

And like the U.S. Army pingpong champ he was, Stokes was good at playing both sides of the racial net.

Cleveland attorney Leonard Davis said Cleveland’s strong ethnic groups made the city great, but also held it back. The groups tended to guard their own turf.

Stokes transcended those differences, said Davis, who is Jewish and became friends with Stokes after he became a state representative in 1963.

Carl was 20 years ahead of the ethnic divisions in Cleveland, Davis said. He was the kind of person that many diverse groups believed would lead Cleveland back to greatness.

Yet Stokes’ four years in office weren’t idyllic. He battled obstacle after obstacle while trying to implement his reforms.

Despite his enthusiasm, some efforts went bust

It’s like a Greek tragedy, said former Cuyahoga Community College history professor Ed Miggins, who believes that Stokes had a firm grasp on the challenges looming for big cities with shrinking populations and tax bases. There was no one more prepared than Stokes to address these issues.

Stokes started the city’s first Cleveland Water Task Force intent on cleansing the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie before the federal government made clean-ups mandatory. But a chlorinated pool in the lake, a curtained section of Lake Erie at Edgewater Park beach, was ruined when severe storms devastated the West Side on July 4, 1969.

He launched a massive redevelopment program called Cleveland: Now!, wooing back urban renewal dollars that the federal government had yanked during the previous administration, and raising millions more from local businesses.

Later, Cleveland: Now! caused a public relations disaster for Stokes when it was disclosed that some $6,000 of its funds intended for an arts and crafts program had instead been used to buy guns for black nationalists behind the 1968 Glenville shootout.

But Stokes was successful with an equal employment opportunity ordinance that was enacted just before Christmas 1969. It required that any firm doing business with the city have minority employees on its staff. Stokes described it in his 1973 autobiography, Promises of Power, as the single most important legislative accomplishment of my four years as mayor.

He made a deal with white council President James Stanton to swap votes for a project Stanton wanted. It helped too, he claimed, that the legislation was buried in a raft of statutes rushed past council just before its winter recess. To his amazement, the Equal Opportunity Employment Ordinance was approved.

When I read it, I was stunned, said Peery, who was a Call & Post reporter when the legislation was passed. Some companies that had done business with the city for 50 years lost contracts. There had never been anything like it across the country. It was copied by other mayors. It made a national impact.

It was his proudest moment. Yet it was a rare victory against a hostile city council that battled Stokes bitterly.

‘Racial problems continued to exist’

Stokes often clashed with whites in his own Democratic Party when he attempted to put forward reforms and new policies, said Arnold Pinkney, who served as Stokes’ chief of staff. It wasn’t whether it was right or wrong, it was the fact that Stokes was the one to propose it.

Biographer Moore wrote that Stokes’ confrontational style sometimes got in the way of his own progress. Stokes was so focused on his political agenda that whites considered him too black, too insensitive to business interests, and believed that he polarized the races instead of being a bridge-builder.

Weary from the pressures of the job, Stokes decided not to seek a third term. He exited City Hall with his dreams of widespread reform unrealized.

For the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, a Stokes friend and volunteer in his 1967 campaign, it was sad watching his political career flame out so fast.

The high of his taking office was matched by the low when he left office, said Campbell. Racial problems continued to exist  and just because he was a black man didn’t mean he could resolve them any better, but there was an expectation that he would be able to . . . .

To this day, Cleveland remains a city that is poor and racially divided, noted Campbell, who is the mother of former Mayor Jane Campbell.

Because he was the first, people expected some kind of miracle that didn’t come, Campbell said. And in some ways, Carl expected it of himself.


The Man, the Strategy and the Seismic Shift by Brent Larkin

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer on the 40th Anniversary of Carl Stokes election as mayor of Cleveland.

The link is here

The man, the strategy and the seismic shift

Brent Larkin

Plain Dealer Reporter

By midnight, all seemed lost. And the mood inside Carl B. Stokes’ downtown headquarters had turned decidedly gloomy.

Destiny was about to deny Stokes what he wanted most to be the first black elected mayor of a major American city.

With 70 percent of the vote counted, Republican Seth Taft had built what seemed an insurmountable lead. As Election Day turned to Wednesday, Taft had pulled in front by 20,000 votes.

It seemed that Stokes, a 40-year-old state representative who had handily defeated incumbent Mayor Ralph Locher in the Democratic primary, would lose the general election to a Republican in a city with a minuscule Republican population.

Cleveland Press reporter Dick Feagler would write that women wept during this tense, trying period when defeat seemed certain.

A Dixieland band played ‘S’Wonderful,’ but it wasn’t, described Feagler, adding that for four hours it appeared Seth Taft had won.

There was really a sense of despair, recalled Anne Bloomberg, at the time a 26-year-old civil rights activist and campaign volunteer. Our hopes were so high going in, and it looked like it would all be for naught.

But then it all began to change. Votes from predominantly black, East Side neighborhoods were the last to be counted. Slowly, but inexorably, Taft’s lead began to shrink.

We had ward-watchers in the neighborhoods and we knew Carl would come back, recalled Ann Felber Kiggen, Stokes’ campaign scheduler. When it began to happen, I remember this incredible feeling that swept through the headquarters. People were dancing and holding hands. It was uncontained joy.

It was 3 a.m. when, with nearly 900 of the city’s 903 precincts reporting, Stokes took the lead for the first time. Out of 250,000 votes cast, he won by 2,500.

Then, as the mayor-elect appeared before about 400 jubilant supports, the room grew quiet when he declared, I can say to all of you that never before have I known the full meaning of the words, ‘God Bless America.’

In his autobiography, Promises of Power, Stokes would later marvel at the magnitude of what happened that night.

In a race for high office, the grandson of a slave had defeated the grandson of a president.

That had never happened before. And it hasn’t happened since.

The Cleveland that elected Carl B. Stokes mayor was a far cry from the one that chose Michael R. White as the city’s second black mayor 22 years later and light years removed from the one that elected Frank Jackson in 2005.

In 1967, Cleveland was still a top-10 city, with a population north of 750,000 nearly 300,000 more than today. Because race was as much a factor in city politics then as it is now, Stokes’ election was all the more remarkable; the city’s black population was only about 35 percent then. Today, that figure surpasses 53 percent.

To defeat Seth Taft, a decent man with a magic name who would later serve with distinction as a Cuyahoga County commissioner, Stokes needed white votes lots of them.

We knew we had to broaden our base on the west and south sides, recalled Charlie Butts, Stokes’ brainy, 25-year-old campaign manager fresh out of Oberlin College. But we had to be careful not to give the appearance of running different campaigns in different parts of town.

To give his campaign legitimacy, Stokes desperately needed support from whites in corporate boardrooms and city neighborhoods. He got it from this newspaper, which endorsed him on the front page.

He got it from people like Bob Bry, a vice president of Otis Elevator who organized a group of business leaders to take out newspaper ads on Stokes’ behalf.

I was a registered Republican, but my sympathies were with what Carl was trying to do, said Bry, now 84 and living in Florida. Some business leaders were bothered by it. But no one ever said anything to my face.

He got it from people like Ann and Joe McManamon and hundreds of others like them who paid a price for welcoming Stokes into their living rooms and churches.

There were recriminations, remembered Ann McManamon. We got some very hateful phone calls. It got quite nasty. But our friends stuck with us and were supportive.

Nearly one in five whites voted for Stokes  which meant he needed nearly nine out of every 10 black votes.

To win those votes, Stokes built a political organization that, to this day, serves as a model for black candidates across the country. It was a base that relied heavily on churches, ward leaders and a grass-roots field operation that extensively schooled street captains on how to maximize turnout.

That same base later enabled Stokes’ brother, Lou, to become an institution in Congress. It helped make former City Council President George Forbes powerful and wealthy. And it twice brought Arnold Pinkney to the brink of becoming Cleveland’s second black mayor.

It was a base built to last  and last it did.

All around the country  in places like Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago  black candidates copied what Carl was able to achieve in Cleveland, said his brother. What made it special was that it was done so well and had never been done before.

There was no blueprint for electing a black mayor of a major American city. So Stokes drew his own.

He had a plan on how to win, and he never strayed from it, said Forbes. In his prime, there was none better  none.

From City Hall to New York, and, finally, back home

Stokes won re-election in 1969, but did not seek a third term in 1971, leaving soon after for New York, where he was a television anchor and later a reporter for NBC. Over the years, Stokes gave various reasons for his decision not to seek a third term, but he was clearly tired of the constant struggles involved in leading a big city with mounting problems.

Stokes’ record as mayor was decidedly mixed. He brought a sense of fairness to the city’s hiring practices, helped raise the level of social services and aggressively fought to improve housing conditions. But Stokes fought repeatedly with City Council, and revelations that some funds from a poverty-fighting program he founded went to nationalists involved in the killing of police in the Glenville riots significantly eroded his popularity.

Upon his return to Cleveland in 1980, Stokes found that the new political stars were his brother and Forbes. In 1983, he became a Municipal Court judge an important position that lacked the high profile of a powerful congressman and council president. There were also some troubling and embarrassing moments. Stokes engaged in some high-profile political fights with onetime allies and was twice accused of shoplifting he paid restitution on one charge and was acquited of another.

But none of what happened later detracts from the significance of what Stokes achieved in 1967.

Many black leaders in the ’60s aspired to be Cleveland’s mayor, but only one ever stood a chance.

Only one person could have built that base, said Pinkney. Only one person had the charisma, the experience and the drive to win. Back then, it took a special talent for a black to be elected mayor. And only Carl had that talent.

Stokes was not a civil rights leader. He was a politician. And four decades later, Pinkney and others still speak with a sense of awe of Stokes’ political gifts. Butts thinks Stokes was born with an intellect, understanding and chemistry that allowed him to connect to voters in ways almost unprecedented. Forbes volunteers that Stokes had the whole package  looks, the charm and one of the sharpest political minds I’ve ever seen. Kiggen says he was the most charismatic man anyone could hope to ever meet.

In his book, Stokes wrote that he considered the 1965 campaign for mayor, in which he narrowly lost to Locher in the Democratic primary, the high point of my career.

He was mistaken. The 1965 campaign energized Stokes’ base. And it set the table for what would follow. But it paled, compared to what would happen two years later.

Always looking ahead, even at the end

For all his winning ways, Stokes was also the most complex politician I ever dealt with. He could be warm and witty one day, your enemy the next.

On Jan. 30, 1996, we visited over lunch at an East Side restaurant. He knew by then that his fight with cancer of the esophagus was one he couldn’t win.

As Stokes picked at food he could barely swallow, he spoke with no rancor as he reminisced about those days of glory that landed him on the cover of Time magazine. He wasn’t finished looking ahead, either: He eagerly agreed to meet with a group of young journalists at this newspaper to talk about how the political process affects minorities, and we chose a date in February.

But when the day came, he was too ill. By early April, he was gone.

He had long before kept the date that mattered most, though. That was the one back in 1967 that made him, in the sense of history, immortal.

Carl B. Stokes from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Carl B. Stokes from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here

STOKES, CARL B. (21 June 1927 – 3 April 1996) became the first black mayor of a major U.S. city when he was elected mayor of Cleveland in November 1967. He later became a news anchorman, judge, and a United States Ambassador. He was born in Cleveland to Charles Stokes, a laundry worker who died when Carl was two years old, and Louise (Stone) Stokes, a cleaning woman who then raised Carl and his brother Louis in Cleveland’s first federally funded housing project for the poor, Outhwaite. Although a good student, Stokes dropped out of high school in 1944, worked briefly at Thompson Products (see TRW, INC.), then joined the U.S. Army at age 18. After his discharge in 1946, Stokes returned to Cleveland and earned his high school diploma in 1947. He then attended several colleges before earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He graduated from CLEVELAND-MARSHALL LAW SCHOOL in 1956 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1957. For 4 years he served as assistant prosecutor and became partner in the law firm of Stokes, Stokes, Character, and Terry, continuing that practice into his political career.

Elected the first black Democrat to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1962, he served 3 terms and narrowly lost a bid for mayor of Cleveland in 1965. His victory two years later drew national attention. Able to mobilize both black and white voters, he defeated Seth Taft, the grandson of a former U.S. president, with a 50.5 majority. He was reelected in 1969. During his two terms as mayor, Stokes opened city hall jobs to blacks and women, and introduced a number of urban revitalization programs (see MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF CARL B. STOKES). Choosing not to run for a third term in 1971, Stokes lectured around the country, then in 1972 became the first black anchorman in New York City when he took a job with television station WNBC. He returned to Cleveland in 1980 and began serving as general legal counsel for the UNITED AUTO WORKERS union. From 1983 to 1994 he served as municipal judge in Cleveland. President Clinton then appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles. He was awarded 12 honorary degrees, numerous civic awards, and represented the United States on numerous goodwill trips abroad by request of the White House. In 1970, the National League of Cities voted him its first black president-elect.

Stokes married Shirley Edwards in 1958. They were divorced in 1973. In 1981, he married Raija Kostadinov, whom he divorced in 1993 and remarried in 1996. He had three children from his first marriage: Carl Jr., Cordi, and Cordell, and a daughter, Cynthia, and stepson, Sasha Kostadinov, from his second marriage. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus while serving as Ambassador to the Seychelles and placed on medical leave. He returned to Cleveland and died at the Cleveland Clinic.

Cleveland in the 1960s – Mike Roberts

Michael D. Roberts was a reporter for The Plain Dealer in the 1960s and covered many of the events in that decade including the Vietnam War. He later edited Cleveland Magazine for 17 years.

Cleveland in the 1960s

The .pdf of this article is here

The 1959 holiday season, the last of the decade, was full of good cheer and spirit, the downtown department stores merry with color, music and the smells of Christmas. Shoppers swarmed the streets, their heads bowed to the cold as they made their way up Euclid Avenue past the array of brightly lit stores.

Children wondered how Santa could be both at May Company and Higbee’s. The giant Christmas tree at the Sterling-Linder-Davis department store was as traditional as the season itself. The restaurants and bars along the avenue were aglow with fellowship that only the holidays can bring.

It was the final hours of a peaceful and generally rewarding decade for Greater Cleveland.  No one predicted that the upcoming decade, the 1960s, would be as tumultuous and trying as any the city, or the country, for that matter, would endure.

The decade was only weeks old when a harbinger of bad news appeared.  On January 23, the Cleveland News, an institution that traced its heritage to post Civil War days, announced it would cease publication following years of competing for afternoon readers with the dominant Cleveland Press.

The Cleveland Press was no ordinary newspaper and because of the weakness in the two-party political system, Cleveland was no ordinary newspaper town.  Under Louis B. Seltzer, the newspaper emerged as the most powerful institution in the region.  Picked by Time Magazine as one of the most influential newspapers in America, The Press elected mayors, jailed corrupt public officials, hunted murders and drove the agenda of the city and its citizens.

Seltzer was as much a politician as a journalist.  Diminutive in stature, blunt and street smart, he was self-made with minimal  formal education.  He reigned as the most powerful force in the city for a quarter of a century.  He was a man whose vision did not eclipse the next election.

While no one realized it, the demise of the News marked the initial toll of the bell for The Press itself, as its death would take place 21 years later.  By 1960, television news was coming of age, and a circuitous highway system was opening a burgeoning  suburban sprawl. Afternoon newspapers could no longer reach the spreading population before the six o’clock news.

By the fall of 1960, it seemed as if the whole of America was changing. The election of John F. Kennedy brought a vitality to politics that heralded a new era not only in Washington but across the nation.  Cleveland was destined to be a major player in that change, even though it would be a painful change.

More than 25 years had passed without any major development or repair to Cleveland’s infrastructure.  The city suffered through the Great Depression and during World War II focused its energy on the war effort.  Its housing stock was decaying and many of its neighborhoods were overcrowded.

In a massive effort to rejuvenate Cleveland, the government embarked on six urban renewal projects.  The city’s business community hailed the effort and focused on the downtown piece of the project, Erieview.

In concert with urban renewal, a highway system planned as early as 1927 and spurred by the Eisenhower Administration’s federal interstate program was progressing.  Transportation was a constant theme in and around Cleveland with a rapid transit system being the key to the development of Shaker Heights in the 1920s.

Together these two efforts—urban renewal and the transportation system—would be largely responsible for the consistent drain of population from the central city.

At the time, the urban renewal projects constituted the largest such effort in America.  Critics accused Seltzer of promoting Erieview to benefit a new location for his newspaper.  The scope and shape of urban renewal would severely affect the city’s East Side and cause one official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to later say Cleveland was the agency’s Vietnam because it was so deeply mired in a losing effort.

Meanwhile, on the city’s West Side adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, a group of scientists and engineers worked secretly and industriously to ensure that an American would be the first to set foot on the moon.

A federal aeronautical research laboratory was built in 1941 at the airport to develop aircraft engines and test fuels during World War II.  Later, it experimented with jet engines, rockets and exotic fuels. In the 1950s, a handful of engineers quietly began to experiment with liquid hydrogen.

The laboratory, known as the Lewis Research Center, part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was an obscure facility, until October of 1957 when the Russians orbited Sputnik, the first man-made satellite.  The launching of the satellite at the height of the Cold War shot panic through the U.S. government.

There was an obvious need for a new government organization to take on the challenge of the looming space race.  Because of their work with fuels and rockets, a Lewis team headed by its director, Abe Silverstein, authored a memorandum used by the Eisenhower administration as the foundation for the creation of the new space agency.

The first director of NASA was T. Keith Glennan, the president of Case Tech University in Cleveland.  Silverstein was the architect of what would be the Mercury and the Apollo programs that resulted in the moon landing in July of 1969. Sadly, Washington politics involving NASA and its budget ultimately dealt Lewis a short hand and made Houston the center of the space program.

In Cleveland politics, a transition was taking place as President Kennedy selected Mayor Anthony J. Celebrezze to his cabinet, as head of the Department of Health, Welfare, and Education.  Celebrezze served as mayor from 1953 to 1962, a generally prosperous and tranquil time for the city, high-lighted by highway construction, all of which would lead away from the city.

Celebrezze was promoted and prodded by The Press and he did much of the newspaper’s bidding, particularly when it came to the ambitious, but flawed downtown redevelopment plans.  Celebrezze was a mayor in a tradition of ethnic politics that governed from city hall  since the early 1940s and answered to The Cleveland Press.

These politics represented a philosophy of indifference to which there was no statute of limitations.   With its strong Middle European roots, the electorate was mistrustful of progressive government.

Appointed to replace Celebrezze was Ralph J. Locher, the city’s law director, a taciturn man described by those who served with him as decent and pleasant, known for his integrity and honesty.  He was no administrator, however, and no match for what would befall the city in his time. One councilman that served with him said Locher had the demeanor of a college president rather than that of a big city mayor.

Locher’s inadequate administrative skills and his links to a dying political past became obvious over time compounding an already relentless series of issues that had been ignored for decades and was now playing out in a destructive confluence.

The mayor inherited a troubled city, the depths of which were evident to those who examined the realities confronting urban life.  As the decade advanced, skepticism began to build around the massive renewal project that began with such grandeur and was slowly proving to be a profound gaffe.

An intrusive interlude to life in Greater Cleveland was a lengthy newspaper strike that began late in 1962 and ended the next spring that was costly to both newspapers. Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, timed the firing of the team’s legendary coach, Paul Brown, with the strike hoping the news blackout would blunt one of the biggest sports stories here ever.

The Browns won the 1964 National Football League Championship, but Modell would never replicate Paul Brown’s achievements.

While sports had its moments in the 1960s, urban renewal continued in the headlines.  Erieview was an area boarded by E. 6th Street and extended to East 17th Street and south to Chester Avenue and north to the lake.  It was filled with small businesses and modest homes. These buildings were cleared, leaving vast stretches of acreage available for redevelopment.

The result was the displacement of people and businesses in such a fashion that it affected the commerce on Euclid Avenue, a stretch of upscale shops, stores and restaurants that had been a traditional haunt of downtown shoppers.  Over time, the combination of bad downtown planning and the creation of suburban malls aided by one of the best highway systems in the country, diminished downtown.

There were problems with other areas of the city designated for urban renewal. The process was driving people, mostly black people, into neighborhoods that were over crowded and filled with inadequate housing.

In the area around St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, some 1,200 families were up- rooted and moved to the Hough area, itself designated for renewal.  Hough was notable for its overcrowded conditions for black families.

In fact, the city did its best to ignore these conditions almost from the very beginning of black migration during the Civil War era.

While historically Cleveland had a reputation of racial tolerance, its liberalism flagged as European immigrants arrived and settled making the town a mosaic of ethnicity that became ingrained in its politics and culture.

Cleveland also attracted southern blacks hoping for a better life.  Two world wars within the span of two decades hastened that journey as the industrial might of the city was geared to war production and needed as much manpower as it could absorb.  The Korean War soon followed, maintaining the manufacturing need.

There were about 10,000 blacks living in Cleveland just before World War I.  By the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 that figure had grown to 72,000 and by 1940 it had reached 85,000.  By 1960, there were 250,000 blacks living mostly on the city’s East Side.

The city was not prepared to deal with this increasing influx of newcomers in terms of housing and schools.  As time passed, both necessities degenerated further. By the early 1960s, the city was at a tipping point, but most were oblivious to the growing storm.

By 1960, jobs were still easily found for blacks, especially those in the steel mills where the money was good, but the work dirty, dangerous and damnable. Federal government jobs as postal workers, clerks and other official tasks were steady employment.  There were positions available for teachers, social workers and lawyers.

Blacks were increasingly part of the community’s fabric.  By 1963, ten of the 33 city council seats were black.  However, beneath the surface existed an unspoken demarcation that separated the minorities from the rest of the community. As late as 1959, The Cleveland Press carried a page one story   concerning downtown office space in which a respected realtor was quoted as saying, he would not rent to Negros because they were too messy.

There were few black newspaper reporters.  Editors routinely asked whether an incident or event took place, “at a good address”. Black crime was often ignored as not being newsworthy.  Reporters covering the police beat told editors of the conditions they witnessed in black neighborhoods, but could draw little interest in reporting on them.

Simply stated, the community had no sensitivity as to what was happening in the over crowded slums and the inadequate and aging East Side schools. Even though these conditions festered for years, it seemed to the community at large that the ensuing discontent   occurred overnight.

This was because of the nature of ethnic politics that drove city hall for years, and the failure of the news media to play its roll in communicating reality to the community.  Politicians knew its ethnic constituency possessed a heritage distrustful of government and the best way to appeal to that instinct was to embrace the status quo.

The racial story broke in a series of confrontations between black students and their ethnic counterparts in those neighborhoods that abutted each other.  Protests over the conditions in the schools became regular events.  Some black students were going to school half a day in makeshift classrooms in the basement of churches.

Nationally, Martin Luther King was beginning a cavalcade of civil rights protests that ignited the imagination of blacks across the nation.  He was no stranger to Cleveland, visiting often with his message.  Times were changing, and no place exhibited that dynamic greater than Cleveland.

This was the situation that Ralph S. Locher inherited as mayor. In a belated effort, the Cleveland City School District began a building program with an emphasis on East Side schools, which some civil rights activists saw as an effort to further segregate the city.

One of the dreadful moments of the decade took place on April 7, 1964.  It involved the growing conflict over education and the ensuing tragedy rocked the community.  Protesting the construction of an elementary school on Lakeview Road, Reverend Bruce Klunder lay in the path of a bulldozer and was accidentally crushed to death. The incident divided the community even further and photographs of the scene became a symbol of the agony of the times.

In the wake of this tragedy, the Interracial Business Men’s Committee was formed, bringing together black and white business leaders with a stake in the community together in an effort to alleviate the growing conflict and solve the contributing irritants. The effort provided temporary relief as more blacks were hired by business and a community relations department was established at city hall.

As days passed, the news focused more and more on racial issues.  The media showed a willingness, albeit naively, to explore the problem that had been evident for decades.  One newspaper ran a series of articles on the life of a black family.

Newspaper readers in the summer of 1965 drew some respite from the city’s  woes when a Plain Dealer copy editor, Robert Manry, sailed the Atlantic Ocean alone in a 13-foot boat, the smallest vessel ever to cross the sea at the time.   As he progressed his  78-day adventure was played out daily resulting in The Press scooping the morning paper on its own story by publishing a television interview of Manry in the midst of the ocean.

The man-against-the-odds story was in strange contrast to the odds-against-man story with which the city was struggling to confront or at least to contain in what was becoming an increasingly tension- ridden existence.

The mayoral election of 1965 was a contest of black and white and the past and future as Mayor Locher chose to run for his own two-year term, but this time his chief opponent would not come from the ranks of traditional ethnic politics.  He would be a black man, Carl B. Stokes, who successfully ran as the first minority state legislator from Cuyahoga County.

In many ways, Stokes was the perfect candidate for the times.  Handsome, articulate, a confident man, edgy in temperament, the representative of a cause whose time had come, he stepped into the campaign believing that he could make a difference both for his people and for Cleveland.

One of the characteristics of his confidence was a sense of arrogance that could be repelling. In 1965 Stokes failed to ask for support of the ten black city council members for his mayoralty bid.  It was not that they opposed him, it was a matter of protocol.  Stokes for his part thought he could win without asking for help.

He did not win. The newspapers backed the old politics and won the day as Locher triumphed by 2, 143 votes, the slimmest victory in the city’s history.  The Press predicted a 20,000 win for Locher.  Stokes impressed the reporters covering the race and he later would say that this campaign was the highlight of his political life.

The victory was Pyrrhic for Locher as events in the city continued to spiral out of control. After years of neglect the city and its services deteriorated, despite the late efforts to fix a failing school system. Education remained a primary issue, and the now apparent folly of urban renewal had come together like a Greek tragedy to generate a violent encore

Meanwhile, another important story broke in 1966 when the U.S. Supreme Court held that Dr. Sam Sheppard, who  had been convicted of the murder of his wife in a famous case in 1954, was subjected to unfair pretrial publicity by The Press. Sheppard was ordered released from prison and given a new trial.  He was later acquitted.

The news damaged the reputation of The Press at a time when The Plain Dealer was attempting to surpass it in both circulation and civic leadership.  The court decision cast a shadow on The Press and gave the morning newspaper the appearance of greater credibility, and in an odd way, this would come to bear on the campaign.

It was oppressively hot July 18 that summer of 1966.  At 5 p.m. outside of the Seventy-Niner’s Café on the corner of East 79th and Hough Avenue a crowd gathered. The heat made it a bad time to drink.  The bar, owned by two white brothers, had problems with its clientele.  Someone had tried to burn their car a few days before and a cherry bomb was exploded in the men’s room.

Tensions were high.

A young woman identified by some as a prostitute, was in the crowded bar soliciting money for flowers for the funeral of another streetwalker.  One of the owners ordered her out of the bar and she joined the crowd outside, angry at her dismissal.

A man who purchased a bottle of wine was refused a glass of water by one of the brothers.  His anger provoked, he joined the crowd claiming he had been called a nigger. The crowd began to swell in size and emotion.

Police were summoned, but it was too late.  All the frustration and conflict of the past welled up in one wild rampage that swept through the Hough area in a violent torrent. Shops were looted, fires set, the sound of gunfire resounded through the neighborhood. The scene resembled street fighting on the television news in some far-off land.

Looters roamed the streets with a strange sense of glee, pushing racks of stolen clothes and carrying bundles of goods.  The best the police could do was to take photographs of the looters and hope to identify them later.

Locher waited and finally, reluctantly asked the Ohio National Guard to intercede in what became a six-day siege of the Hough neighborhood.  Four residents were killed and some 240 fires were set. The blame for the violence rested on overcrowding and the failure of the urban renewal program to provide relief from conditions in Hough.

The sight of military vehicles mounting heavy weapons moving through the city streets was eerie and disturbing.   Guardsmen were crouched in doorways, their rifles at ready, scanning the rooftops for snipers in the night.

Despite its obvious cause, a county grand jury comprised of some of the town’s most respected citizens, and led by Seltzer, found that the riot was instigated by a conspiracy organized by outsiders, maybe even Communists.  There still existed a sense of denial among the city’s leadership as to the true conditions of the city.

Tragic as it was, Hough was the event that would propel Carl B. Stokes into City Hall and the annals of history.

The Hough riot shook the city’s business leaders, cast a cloak of fear over the town and brought more negative national media to a city already suffering from cynical reviews.  White people feared driving through the East Side and blacks dared not venture near the Murray Hill area.  There were random shootings and some killing, including an ambush of a policeman on the East Side.

The mood at city hall was sullen.  Community leaders lost faith in the ability of Ralph Locher to run the city and deal with the overwhelming problems that were mounting daily.  But it was not just Cleveland. The nation’s major cities were facing racial unrest with rioters taking to the streets elsewhere.

It did not help when the Cleveland officer testifying before a state legislative committee, urged that the death penalty be applied to rioting black nationals. The tension between the city’s police force and the black community lingered for years.

All the sins committed by city hall over the past decades suddenly came to rest on Locher.  The Plain Dealer that stood so gray and idle while The Press dictated to city hall for years, lashed out critically and rendered frustration and wrath on its competitor through the Locher administration.

To make matters worse, the federal government cut  $10-million of the city’s urban renewal funds leaving the already embattled program adrift.  It was evident to everyone that Locher’s term as mayor was fading into failure.

The national media became so negative in its portrayal of Cleveland that Locher refused to meet with another out of town reporter.

It was also evident that the performance Carl Stokes made in the 1965 campaign elevated him to a level where victory, while not probable, was certainly more than possible.  This time Stokes actively sought support, not only from the black councilman, but from the business community as well.

The 1967 mayor’s race was perhaps the most memorable and remarkable in the city’s history.  Not only was the first black mayor of a major American city elected, the drama and excitement of that campaign generated world-wide attention.  Reporters from every major news outlet in the world descended on Cleveland creating a genuine global event.

A signal and surprising moment in the campaign came with the endorsement of Stokes by The Plain Dealer, an act he considered legitimatized him among the white establishment.  It was an important moment for the newspaper as well, for it symbolized its ascension over the rival Press.

The business community stung by the ineptness of the Locher administration and fearful of more racial unrest, pumped money and influence into the Stokes campaign.  Some observers feared that the business leaders were so anxious to rid the city of Locher, that it would support Stokes in the primary and then back a white candidate in the general election.

Reporters followed Stokes in his forays into the white West Side where he met in small gatherings over coffee asking for support, urging that the issue of race be cast aside in favor of enlightened leadership in city hall.  He handily defeated a subdued Locher in the Democratic primary.

Poised to oppose Stokes was Seth Taft, a Republican with one of the most prominent political names in Ohio history, and a descendent of a U.S. president.  Seth Taft was regarded in the community as honest, dedicated and active, but most importantly he was white.

While both candidates tried to remain above the race issue, it smoldered in the background threatening to burst into full flame at any moment. Race would be the deciding factor, but it did not mar the campaign.

The campaign itself was exciting and interesting, unlike any since.  Both camps exhibited well-run political organizations.  A series of debates between the candidates held in various parts of the city were set-piece battles while reporters pontificated on the victor.

Stokes was the superior orator, but Taft improved as the campaign progressed and showed surprising and increasing aggressiveness.  As the election day approached, the polls showed the two candidates neck and neck.  The town was alive with speculation and anticipation.

Election day was cold, with flecks of wet snow.  There was a question of the turnout.  A huge voter registration drive, largely funded by a $175,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, worked the neighborhoods in the months preceding the election.  The question was whether the voters would respond?

Representatives of the global media roamed the city that day, studying the turnout which was not only large, but electric in mood.  Despite the issue of race, there was a wholesome quality to the campaign, two excellent candidates locked in a struggle that personified democracy.  People sensed history in the making and wanted to be part of it.

The early returns that night had Taft ahead, but by 9 p.m. the race was neck and neck.  And then at midnight, Taft began to pull away.  At 2:15 a.m. Stokes took his first lead and held on to win by some 2,000 votes in the closest race in city history.

The succeeding weeks and months were filled with an optimism that Cleveland had not experienced in years.  A feeling of achievement abounded, and while only 15% of white voters had supported Stokes, there existed an atmosphere of elation, a sense of genuine community.

Stokes had little time to celebrate.  The conditions that contributed to his election were now his problems to solve.  The first issue was the quality of personnel serving the city.  After so many years of patronage the various departments were larded with political hacks that contributed to city hall’s ineptness.  He attacked the problem with vigor.

Despite its aimlessness, the urban renewal program had to be regenerated and Stokes persuaded Washington to restore the funding. He then hired a director with national experience as part of assembling an energetic and capable cabinet.  Urban experts from other cities were eager to come to Cleveland and participate in the city’s rebirth.

Meanwhile, the business community, swept by euphoria, raised $5.5 million and created an organization to support many of the Stokes initiatives called Cleveland: NOW.   The idea born out of a swelling sense of community pride and necessity, ironically would become fickle and turn on Stokes in the meanest way.

Cleveland: NOW! was created by several white businessmen following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April of 1968.  The nation was in turmoil over King’s death and that of Robert F. Kennedy in June.  Adding to the domestic anxiety was the stalemate in Vietnam and the increasing protest of that war.

These angry forces were mounting across the nation as demonstrators and militants exercised their wrath in the streets.  In Cleveland, civic leaders hoped that a black mayor possessed the ability to calm their community.  Stokes maintained that a black mayor was no insurance against racial violence.

Fred Ahmed Evans, a Korean War veteran, became an astrologer of sorts after claiming to witness a UFO over Glenville one day. While known in the neighborhood as somewhat of a militant, he was an obscure figure until catapulted to notoriety by The Wall Street Journal that wrote Evans had predicted the outbreak of a race riot in Cleveland.

Evans portrayed himself as a black revolutionary, a man who called for a national black revolt and used his incendiary rhetoric to inflame ghetto youth.  Stokes later characterized Evans as a street hustler who used the idea of revolution to extort money.  Cleveland: NOW! gave Evans $6,000 to fund a youth group.

In the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination, Evans, among other black militants, walked Cleveland’s streets with Stokes to calm the anguish which was spreading across the nation and creating violence in other cities.

On July 23, 1968, Evans and some of his self-proclaimed revolutionaries engaged in a gun battle with Cleveland police that left seven dead including three police officers, three suspected militants and a citizen. Fifteen more were wounded, and the Glenville community suffered more than $2.5 million in damage.

It was never clear what triggered the shooting. Evans was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison where he died.

The shoot-out made headlines even in war-torn Vietnam.  It also destroyed the myth that a black mayor could prevent the spread of racial violence. It also effectively damaged the mayoralty of Stokes when it was learned that Cleveland: NOW! money was used by Evans to buy guns.

The irony was that one calamitous event aided Stokes’ political rise and yet another would accompany his decline.  He was proof that there were no easy answers to the city’s racial problems.

In 1969, Stokes was elected to a second two-year term as mayor, but the heady days, bright with promise and alive with community spirit were gone.  He struggled with the reform of the police department, a culture of its own, only to have his attempted reforms and innovations go awry or fail.

That summer, men landed on the moon and the triumphant national celebration that followed underplayed the achievements of  a handful of space pioneers at the Lewis Research Laboratory that came at a time when it appeared America had lost its technological edge.  It was no small thing that these men on the West Side of the city achieved.

Back at city hall, the newspapers became increasingly critical of Stokes, who bridled at the criticism, making the tenor of his final term one of rancor and bitterness over failed expectations. He left city hall in 1971 to become a television anchorman in New York City.

Among Stokes’ lasting achievements as mayor was the passage of an equal opportunity law that assured minority companies of participation in city business. While there had been no public housing units built in the five years before he became mayor, he could point to nearly 5,500 built during his term in office.

The Stokes years were significant in the city’s history in that they opened the way for the black community to participate in the mainstream of business and political life. The decade brought change in how a city worked and what roles black citizens played in that function. In retrospect, it is clear that the community and Stokes himself set expectations that were far from achievable given the times and the state of the city.

It was an exhausting decade for Cleveland and its citizens, but when it was over there were triumphs among the travail. Life went on, but it was changed forever.

The holiday season of 1969, the last of the decade, was not as festive as that of ten years before. The city had endured pain brought on by decades of neglect wrought by a political culture that worshipped the status quo.   The next decade would bring more change and a different dynamic, but this would involve the appearance of the city, and the dimming of downtown lights. The altering of its soul had taken place.



Campell, Thomas F. and  Miggins, Edward M., The Birth of Modern Cleveland 1865-1930,  Cleveland, Ohio Western Reserve Society, London and Toronto: Associated University Presses.

Glennan, T. Keith The Birth of NASA: The Diary of T. Keith Glennan Washington, D.C., National Aeronautics  and Space Administration,  NASA History Office. 1993.

Dawson, Virginia P.,  Engines and Innovation: Lewis  Laboratory and American Propulsion Technology, Washington, D.C. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Management Scientific and  Technical Information Division,  1991.

Stokes, Carl B. Promises of Power: Then and Now Cleveland, Ohio Published by The Friends of Carl B. Stokes, 1989.

Moore, Leonard M., Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Porter, Philip W, Cleveland:  Confused City on a Seesaw, Columbus, The Ohio State Press, 1975.

Van Tassel, David   D. and Grabowski, John J., The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,

Bloomington, Indiana University Press   in association with Case Western Reserve University.  1987.

Bartimole, Roldo, Point of View

Rose, William Ganson Cleveland: The Making of a City Kent, Ohio  The Kent State University Press in cooperation with  Western Reserve Historical Society  1990

Read the next chapter: “Cleveland in the 1970s – by Mike Roberts”

Money and Mobilization: Volunteers in the Stokes Mayoral Campaign by Elis Ribeiro


Money and Mobilization: Volunteers in the Stokes Mayoral Campaign
by Elis Ribeiro

Carl Stokes’s narrow win could not have happened without the mobilization of his large African-American bloc vote and the small but significant portion of the white vote. These votes were delivered in 1967 by volunteers who offered their time, strength, and money in order to guarantee victory. While other important factors affected Clevelanders in their voting choices, it was the work of volunteers, who physically brought out the votes for Stokes and gave him the winning edge in both the primaries and general election of 1967. By drawing on their efforts from Stokes’s first mayoral race in 1965, volunteers were able to perfect their campaigning system. During his victory speech, Carl Stokes referred to his supporters, stating that “never has one man owed so much to so many.”1 While it may seem like political jargon, his narrow victory over Republican Seth Taft clearly shows the importance of Stokes’s volunteers.
The grass roots support for Carl Stokes’s mayoral campaign began even before he had intended to run. In fact, it was because of two women that Stokes entered the 1965 mayoral race. Geraldine Williams and Jean Murrell Capers, both active community leaders in Cleveland, went to Columbus, Ohio, where Carl Stokes was a State Representative, to convince him to run for Mayor of Cleveland. Stokes responded by telling them to get 20,000 signatures, 5,000 more than what was needed to run as an independent.2 The women returned to Cleveland and were able to gather about 25,000 signatures, with a significant white percentage.3 Carl Stokes realized he had a legitimate chance in the election and used these signatures to enter his Independent bid into the 1965 Mayoral race.

Stokes had decided to run as an independent, instead of as a Democrat, because it would mean that he could bypass the primaries, causing a four-way general election, where he could try to secure a plurality of votes in his favor. However, because he had registered as an Independent, he had no support from the political institutions that had helped to put him into the Ohio State Legislature. Therefore, he had to rely on his inexperienced but passionate volunteers. Through their work, his campaign became entirely a grass-roots effort.

To enlist volunteers, the Stokes for Mayor Committee had various means of reaching out to people. They had applications in the headquarters office, solicited through mailings, and had advertisements in the newspaper asking for volunteers. Outside supporters also helped them gain volunteers by holding speeches and rallying events.4 One volunteer said that “as each person was called in by Mr. Stokes himself or someone close to him, they stuck and brought in others.”5

In regards to African-Americans, the main strategy was to register voters and then get them to the polls on Election Day. They were the group that Stokes needed because they constituted almost 40% of the Cleveland population.6 The campaign committee, under the guidance of Marvin Chernoff, a 35 year-old office machine salesman turned volunteer, created an organizational hierarchy to have as much control and activity occurring at the rank-and-file level as possible.7 The highest level for a volunteer was as a block supervisor, who would maintain supervision over thirty to forty neighboring houses. Underneath them would be street captains who helped the block supervisors with organizing their streets.8 Together, they would blanket the neighborhoods with street signs, brochures, and visits reminding neighbors when to vote. The hierarchy structure allowed communication to flow easily among those involved in the campaign.9

In the 1965 Mayoral race however, Stokes lost the election against Ralph Locher, the incumbent Democratic mayor, by less than one half of one percent of the votes. Still he finished second out of the four candidates. The loss was actually beneficial to Stokes because it proved that he had a strong chance at a later victory. Many African Americans, who did not vote, had done so because they felt that Stokes did not have any chance to win.10 With the narrow loss, many people later realized that their vote could make a difference.

It was also a learning experience for all the volunteers involved. They had learned that the Block Supervisor strategy worked to mobilize voters, but more importantly showed what areas needed more support. Furthermore, the results showed that Stokes needed to draw more white supporters, of which only 3% voted for him in 1965.11 By applying these lessons to 1967, Stokes’s organization, with the help of outside volunteers, would be able to draw out the necessary support for his victory.

Between 1965 and 1967, certain events came to the forefront of voters’ concerns. During the beginning of his administration, Mayor Locher developed a sorry record in regards to African-American concerns. City Hall had been unresponsive to the Negro community from the very beginning. Urban Renewal on the East Side was so disastrous that U.S. Secretary Weaver cut off federal funding coming into the city. His administration was already facing strong criticism early on.12

What brought racial issues to the height of Clevelanders’ concerns was the Hough Riots. For Cleveland, the riots symbolized the need for better race relations and law and order. The Riots started on July 18, 1966, when a Cafe in Hough refused to serve an African-American customer water. For a week, Hough was in chaos. By the time the rioting stopped, there were four people dead and millions of dollars in property damage.13

Mayor Locher’s response to the riots was that they had been fueled by Communists. He based this claim on the fact that his investigators had found a connection between the rioters and members of the W.E.B. Dubois Club in Cleveland, a Communist front.14 However, even with this conclusion, no one was charged for instigating the riots. Carl Stokes reacted to Locher’s response by demanding a federal investigation. He wrote to the U.S. Attorney General saying, “As a former assistant prosecutor for four years, I refuse to believe that if the County Grand Jury had evidence to support its conclusions [that Communists instigated the riots] that there isn’t an Ohio law under which those persons could be charged.”15 Others in Cleveland knew that Locher’s claim that it was a communist based problem was used just to avoid the real problems in Cleveland. “Actually, the living conditions were the things that caused the riots,” the Hough Community Relations Director said “They [the rioters] didn’t need any Communists to tell them they were suffering.”16

As racial tensions escalated, Mayor Locher continually refused to meet with African-American community leaders. Other events throughout that year only perpetuated the idea that someone was needed to address these racial issues. By 1967, it became apparent that Mayor Locher would need to start addressing these issues, or get out of the way for someone who could.

In 1967, the mayoral election was receiving national attention because of the strong possibility that Stokes could become the first African-American mayor of a major city. This time around, Stokes decided to run as a Democrat, not as an Independent. He explained his decision by saying “a realistic appraisal of the political situation indicates that the next mayor in Cleveland will be chosen in the Democratic primary.”17 He then explained, “High national officials of the Democratic Party have urged me to enter the primary. So have many rank and file Democrats, and thousands of good citizens whose only concern is the future of Cleveland.”18 In fact, President Johnson had actually helped to persuade Stokes to run as a Democrat, telling Carl that he would have his full support when elected Mayor. 19 Therefore, Stokes assumed that by staying within the party, he would be able to gain their support throughout the election process.

However, little support and much resistance came from the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party (CCDP) throughout this race. During the week before the primaries, the CCDP sent out newsletters stating that Stokes would become the Dictator of Cleveland. It said Stokes would allow Dr. Martin Luther King to take over the city. It asked “Do you want Dr. Martin Luther King and his disciples running your lives? Keep Martin Luther King out of City Hall. Ralph Locher is the mayor of all the people.”20 Furthermore, the CCDP refused to allow Stokes speak at any Party meetings. They claimed that because he had previously run as an Independent, they were entitled to refuse him entrance into party events.21

Unfortunately for the CCDP, this action only brought more positive attention to Stokes. Supporters held protest rallies and demanded that Stokes be allowed a chance to talk. One woman was quoted saying that “It looks like they put the party ahead of the people – the people want to hear Stokes, and the voice of the people should be honored.”22 At a protest rally in Ward 10, someone else argued that “We feel Mr. (Albert S.) [sic] Porter [President of the CCDP] has made a racial issue out of this matter, since Porter permits Mayor Locher, who the party endorsed, and Frank Celeste [the other Democratic Primary candidate], who was not endorsed, to speak before the Democratic Ward clubs, but denies Stokes the same right.”23 Therefore, instead of relying on his party, Stokes had to depend on his volunteers.

Voter drives in African-American neighborhoods were started as soon as Stokes had announced his candidacy. A united effort from the NAACP, The Urban League, and the United Pastor’s Association established a coordinated program to register voters in the inner city. Martin Luther King and other African American figures came to Cleveland to show their support and urge people to register to vote. 24 Later on CORE, which had a strong local chapter in Cleveland, joined with the UPA and SCLC with its mobilization efforts. They donated “several thousand dollars in equipment and supplies. This would include staff workers, researches door to door workers, community relations, and transportation workers some of whom would work on a volunteer basis.”25 In fact, CORE had a $175,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in order to register black voters.26

Call & Post, July 15, 1967. 12A Courtesy of WRHS
Even small community groups came together to start their own registration drives. One early group was called “Teens for Stokes”. A group of about 300 high school students came together for gathering signatures for the candidacy petition to help Stokes file as a candidate. After he announced his candidacy, they held social events to gather support. For example, they would hold dance-offs where teams would compete against each other, dancing to live bands. 27  These events brought the community together and let people have fun while registering to vote, donating money or signing up to volunteer.28

These efforts were separate from those of Stokes’s own mobilization campaign. They launched a voter registration project in eight East-Side wards. This effort began early and was carried on very quietly. The Stokes for Mayor effort made sure to separate themselves from the outside groups, for fear of the backlash among white voters.29 They first targeted citizens who had been dropped off of the voting registers for changing their name, moving, or not voting in the past four years.30 Using the 1965 Block Supervisor model, this time they were able to have over 2,000 supervisors who worked the streets in a massive effort to contact every person on their block with a listed telephone.31 After someone registered, they received a bright orange sticker saying “Registered, STOKES, Vote Primary, Vote STOKES”32

Besides simply signing people up on their own, volunteers also drove citizens to the Board of Elections offices to register. Again organized by the united NAACP, SCLC, and CORE efforts, car-pools took thousands of voters in the downtown area to register. In a period of three weeks, it was estimated that over 3,000 people were driven downtown to register, with an average of 177 people per day. One of the most targeted areas was the Hough neighborhood, which saw 432 new registrants due to the car pools.33 However, the city did try to prevent these efforts by forcing car pool drivers to move their cars, threatening to ticket them.34

To gain white voter support, Carl Stokes needed financial resources to create mainstream ads and appeal. Outside volunteer organizations were important to this financial support. The added emphasis for funding is seen by the increase in contributions between 1965 and 1967. In 1965, Stokes had only $40,000 for his campaign, but in 1967 he had over $250,000.35 While much of this money was donated by business leaders who had been swayed by Stokes’s personality, many significant donations were made by collections from the communities. Any donation was appreciated, and people were ready to give Stokes their financial support. Less than a week after Stokes filed as a candidate, a thirteen-year-old girl donated her entire piggy bank savings to his campaign.36 Every little bit did add up for support.

Professionals also came together and donated considerable amounts to Stokes’ campaign. For example, Lawyers for Stokes donated 5,000 dollars to his campaign. Also, Dents for Stokes, a group of dentists, donated 5,350 dollars.37 Members or labor groups came together to donate as well. A group of African-American plumbers in the Cleveland area each sent checks for undisclosed amounts to the Stokes’ for Mayor committee.38 African-American professionals would also hold fundraising dinners to raise thousands of dollars as well. 39

Letterhead of Feminine Touch, 1967. Courtesy of WRHS
Others developed unique and different methods of fundraising. For example, “The Feminine Touch,” also known as “Thins for Stokes,” was a group started by one woman. Similar to a pyramid program, she asked one hundred women to head up nine teams with thirty-six workers.40 Between September 18th and 27th, each woman involved was asked to find ten friends to donate $1. In turn, each of her friends was to ask ten friends for a donation and to recruit ten more friends 41 With 46 members on each team raising $10, each team would have $460. If each team brought in their required amount, the one hundred teams would have raised $46,000. The idea symbolized how simply donating a small amount could do so much. In two weeks, they were able to raise over $24,000.42

The Stokes campaign adopted this idea by promoting people to donate one dollar to the campaign through his own ads.43 Whenever the campaign received a dollar, they replied with a thank-you letter. The letter acknowledged that “One dollar can still buy four quarts of milk, twenty nickel candy bars, three packs of cigarettes, or a night at the movies.” Instead of spending on food or entertainment, they were contributing towards making Cleveland a better place.44

These financial donations were used to wage an advertising campaign to woo white voters. Learning from the previous election, the Stokes campaign knew that they had to draw in more white support to guarantee a victory. Thus, the advertising campaign was used in television and radio spots, newspaper ads, and literature to attract swing voters.45 Stokes recorded various television spots ranging from 30 second ads to 5 minutes of him discussing issues such as jobs and urban renewal.46 While his 5 minute clips had him talking in depth, the 30 second ads tended to focus on race relations and law and order, pushing the message that Carl Stokes could help unify Cleveland. For example, one commercial had a police officer, alone in a locker room, putting on riot gear. The narrator meanwhile stated “Some people go to a lot of trouble to go out Saturday night. It doesn’t have to be.” 47 The Stokes campaign made sure to send out the message that he was a leader for all people, who could bring back unity and prosperity to Cleveland.48

Another key demographic that financial resources were used to attract was the Hispanic population of the West Side.49 His pamphlets, showing his opinion on Cleveland issues, were printed in Spanish and distributed in these areas.50 Carl Stokes spent numerous days there campaigning to prove to the primarily Puerto Rican area that he could address their needs. He would go to community dances and social events to appeal to the larger groups.51 While many of the other ethnic neighborhoods on the West Side were not as receptive to Stokes, the Hispanic community felt he could best serve their needs. Ultimately, they contributed a 2,000 solid voter bloc for Stokes.52

On the Primary Election Day, over 5,000 volunteers came out to make sure things ran smoothly. Within the campaign, Block Supervisors had gone door to door putting up notices on every door knob saying “stop- have you voted today?”53 Later in the day they went door-knocking to make sure people were going out to vote. Poll watchers would count up votes to predict the results. In fact, they were within 10 votes of the actual results. 54  They also made sure to note the amount of activity at each precinct. If there were too few people voting, they would have volunteers sent to neighborhoods to encourage voters. 55

One important group of volunteers on Election Day was made of college students. Bill Hunter, a recent college graduate, traveled around to thirty different colleges in Ohio to recruit students to help with the campaign.56 He appealed to them by claiming the election was an important facet of the civil rights fight. Many of these students were not African-American but did feel strongly about civil rights. Even before October 3rd, they were helping out by working the telephones and licking stamps. 57

However, on Primary Day, they came on buses or in their own cars to help out. They would baby-sit children while the homeowner would be driven to their polling places by other students.58 Around 50 students came from Oberlin College, 35 from Kent State, and two busloads came from Central State. Even students from other states came to help. Emma Willard College, in Troy, New York, brought in students to observe the campaign activity for a class, as well as help out between taking notes.59

Carl B. Stokes won the Democratic Primary on October 3, 1967. While the CCDP formally backed Stokes, they still provided little support. Between the Primaries and the General Election, the volunteer tasks were solely focused on voter education. Unlike the 1965 campaign, where Stokes was an Independent, this election had two voting days. Few newly registered voters understood that Stokes was not yet the Mayor. So, the NAACP and Urban League, as well as other grassroots organizations, launched a voter education drive. They had trained instructors to teach voter education to their own mass meetings, small groups, street and neighborhood clubs, and civic groups.60  Even the Call & Post printed weekly information about the general election ballot to make sure people were prepared for the General Election.61

The General Election Day efforts were similar to those of the Primaries, except they were even more prepared. Members of the Stokes for Mayor Campaign had sent out questionnaires to all poll workers to gather enough information about what needed to change. Out of 3,500 forms, 2,100 were returned. The results were used to judge what areas needed more support at polling places, who needed more training, and which areas could use a higher turnout.62

On the General Election Day, the campaign made sure to fix those problems. For example, more college students were in areas where they would be needed to drive people to polls or baby-sit while someone went to vote. Also, more poll watchers were placed in transitional wards, which were areas with an equal amount of African-Americans and White voters, where there had been problems before. By learning the details of each precinct during the October primary, volunteers were able to apply these lessons to November 7th. 63

By the end of the night, as the results of the primarily African-American wards came in, it was clear that Carl Stokes would be Mayor. It was through mass mobilization of eligible voters that the 1967 election had one of the highest voter participation in Cleveland history. The turnout in African-American wards was 80%, the highest ever, with over 90% voting for Carl Stokes. Instead of the 18% of white ward support, it was over 20%.In transitional wards, with 79.1% voter turnout, 60.5% voted for Stokes.  Stokes won with only 50.5% of the votes. With half a percent of a lead, Carl B. Stokes became Cleveland’s 50th mayor and the Nation’s first African-American mayor of a large city.64

Stokes volunteers did whatever was needed in order to bring out the African-American votes. Through the financial contributions of community members, Carl Stokes was able appeal to enough white and ethnic voters to receive a substantial percent of the votes. It took the 1965 election to perfect the grass roots technique to put the first African American into the City Hall of a major city. In an election as close as the one in 1967, frustrations with the previous administration and racial tensions were not the motivating only force behind bringing out the voters. It was those who were going through neighborhoods and encouraging people to vote. It was the volunteers.

About the Author:
Elis Ribeiro is a junior at Case Western Reserve University majoring in Political Science and History. She is originally from Ellicott City, Maryland. Since her freshman year she has worked for the Undergraduate Admissions Office. Currently she is the Vice President and Webmaster of Case Democrats. She is also a member of Phi Delta Theta, the History Honors Society, and Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honors Society. Next semester, she will be interning in Washington, DC. After graduation, she plans to attend Law School in the DC area.


1 Eyes on the Prize II. writ. and prod. by Judy Vecchione, v.9. PBS Video, 2000, videocassette.. [18:20]

2 Stokes, Carl. “Excerpts from Promises of Power: An Autobiography.” Cleveland Plain Dealer Sept. 24, 1973, 1A.

3 Nelson, William E. and Merento, Phillip J., Electing Black Mayors Columbus: Ohio State University Press, c1977, 91.

4 “The Campaign Plan to Elect Carl B. Stokes as Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 1, Folder 9. WHRS.

5 as quoted in Nelson and Merento, 96.

6 Nelson and Merento, 91.

7 Sheridan, Terence. “Volunteer Block Supervisors were Key to Stokes’ Victory” Cleveland Plain Dealer October 5, 1967, 9A.

8 “Letter to Street Captains” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 6, Folder 87, Volunteers. WRHS

9 Nelson and Merento, 124.

10 “Stokes Victory Depends on Negro Registration” Call & Post. August 19, 1967, 4B.

11 Cuyahoga County Board of Election Results from 1965

12 Roberts, John W. “How to Beat City Hall” Grass Roots, Fall 1967, 8.

13 Stokes, Carl. Promises of Power, 94.

14 “Ted Kennedy Seeks Broader Riot Probe” Cleveland Press August 11, 1967, A14.

15 “Stokes Calls on US to Probe Hough Riots” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 4, Folder 65, WRHS.

16 “Jury Hough Report Praised, Belittled” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 4, Folder 65, WRHS.

17 “Stokes Files in Primary Race” Call & Post Saturday July 8, 1967, 1A.

18 “Stokes Files in Primary Race” Call & Post Saturday July 8, 1967, 12A.

19 Stokes, Carl. “Excerpts from Promises of Power: An Autobiography.” Cleveland Plain Dealer Sept. 24, 1973, 1A.

20 “Newsletter from Cuyahoga County Democrats Executive Committee” Sept 29, 1967. Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 5, Folder 75, WRHS.

21 “Ward 13 Dems Revolt, Demand Stokes Speak” Call & Post Saturday, August 26, 1967, 1A.

22 “Ward 13 Dems Revolt, Demand Stokes Speak” Call & Post Saturday, August 26, 1967, 1A.

23 “In Protest Rally: Ministers for Stokes Night for Ward 10 Dems” Call & Post Saturday August 26, 1967, 2A.

24 “Urban League, NAACP Join Voter Drive” Call & Post Saturday July 15, 1967, 1A.

25 “CORE to Announce Plans this Week” Call & Post Saturday August 4, 1967, 1A.

26 Moore, Leonard. Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power, Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c2002, 56.

27 “Young Adults Across City Rally for Stokes” Call & Post Saturday July 15, 1967, 12A.

28 “Teen Walk for Stokes” Call & Post October 7, 1967, 14A.

29 Roberts, 8.

30 “Letter to Volunteers” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 6, Folder 87, Voter Registration. WRHS.

31 Roberts, 8.

32 Nelson and Merento, 122.

33 “Car Pools Take Thousands to Register for Primaries” Call & Post  Saturday August 12, 1967, 1A.

34 “Voter Registration Volunteers Claim Police Harrassment”  Call & Post August 16, 1967, 6A.

35 Moore, Leonard, 55.

36 Williams, Bob “Carl Stokes Seeks Dems Endorsement” Saturday July 15, 1967, 1A.

37 Financial documents in Carl Stokes Papers, Container 5, Folder 78. WRHS.

38 “Plumbers Contribute to Stokes Campaign” Call & Post September 30, 1967, 2A.

39 Nelson and Merento, 130.

40 “The Feminine Touch” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 5, Folder 78, Feminine Touch. WRHS.

41 “The Feminine Touch” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 5, Folder 78. Feminine Touch. WRHS.

42 Nelson and Merento, 127.

43 Stokes for Mayor Ad, Call & Post August 19, 1967. 3A.

44 “One Dollar Thank-You” Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 5, Folder 75. WRHS.

45 “A Ostrow Campaign Strategy for Carl Stokes” 18 June 1967, Carl Stokes Papers, Container 1, Folder 9, WRHS.

46 Various transcripts of TV spots, Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 1, Folder 9, WRHS.

47 “Saturday Night” and “Long, Hot Summer” from Political Advertising in the 60s, London International Advertising Awards, 1992, Videocassette.

48 Moore, 58.

49 Roberts, 6.

50 Various brochures, Carl B. Stokes Papers, Container 6, Folder 91. WRHS.

51 “La Bamba” Carl B. Stokes Papers. Container 6, Folder 91. WRHS.

52 Nelson and Merento, 136.

53 Roberts, 10.

54 Roberts, 8.

55 Roberts, 10.

56 Nelson, and Merento, 129.

57 Roberts, 10.

58 Roberts, 10.

59 “Collegians Trek here for Stokes Campaign” Call & Post November 11, 1967, 1A.

60 “Accent Moves to Voter Education” Call & Post September 16, 1967, 3A.

61 Call & Post, October 14, 1967-November 4, 1967, 2A

62 Nelson, and Merento, 148

63 Nelson, and Merento, 148

64 Cuyahoga County Board of Election Results from 1967

Promises of Power: a political autobiography

From Cleveland State University Special Collections

Carl Stokes was the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, and famous as the first black mayor of a major American city. He put together a coalition and maintained it with the force of his personality and convictions. He attracted many idealistic and talented people to his administration, which has had a lasting impact on local politics. This is his own story, told simply and frankly.

The link is here