Carl Stokes: Reflections of a veteran political observer by Brent Larkin 11/4/2007

Carl Stokes: Reflections of a veteran political observer

By Brent Larkin, The Plain Dealer November 04, 2007 at 5:52 AM, updated November 04, 2007 at 6:06 AM

The pdf is here

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 than 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 a 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.”

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. Charles 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.” Ann Felber 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.

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.

Brent Larkin is director of The Plain Dealer’s editorial pages

“The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever” by Michael D. Roberts


Seth Taft Congratulates Carl Stokes in 1967 (Cleveland Memory)

The pdf is here

The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever

By Michael D. Roberts

That autumn in Cleveland was crisp and colorful with low clouds, high expectations and an anxious electorate.  With the season, came the wonder whether the city could look beyond race and elect a black man as its mayor. It had never been done in a major American city. The world wondered whether it could be done.

            By 1967, race had been the dominant issue in Cleveland since the beginning of the decade, first with demonstrations against what minorities considered a segregated school system, and then with a riot that left four dead and required the Ohio National Guard to quell four days of looting and violence. 

In the wake of the Hough riot in the summer of 1966, an ominous apprehension settled over the city. Those venturing to the eastern parts of the town did so warily for sporadic gunfire was a common occurrence. A policeman had been ambushed in his zone car and killed. A black student was murdered near Murray Hill.

Downtown, the business community grew apprehensive. For years, the city had ignored the quality of life among the growing black population, which had migrated here from the south to work at jobs created by three wars. The housing was dilapidated, the schools inadequate, and the future bleak.

The anger created by these conditions was manifested in the demonstrations and finally in the riot.  

In the midst of the turmoil, the emerging black political figure was Carl B. Stokes, a lawyer who had grown up in poverty, and had worked as a liquor agent and then was elected to the Ohio state legislature. Stokes ran for mayor in 1965 and met narrow defeat at the hand of incumbent Mayor Ralph Locher.

Locher was one of a long line of mayors who rose from the neighborhoods and represented the ethnic politics that had bound the city for two decades.  The hallmark of ethnic politics was a numbing status quo that rendered the city somnambulate.  

All was not well as the city prepared for the 1967 mayor’s race in which Locher would try to retain his office and once again face the charismatic Stokes and his growing number of East Side followers who registered to vote in multitudes.

The last minute appearance of Stokes in the 1967 Democratic primary was a change from the strategy that saw him run as an independent in the 1965 election.  Several other veteran politicians measured their chances in the primary and opted out with the exception of Frank Celeste, who had made a name for himself as the mayor of Lakewood.

The Locher administration found itself embattled following the 1965 election.  A failing urban renewal program and the riot had attracted the attention of a national media that had become so critical that Locher refused to speak with out of town reporters.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called Cleveland the Vietnam of urban renewal and ceased funding the city’s program.  The local media piled on to criticize the Locher administration with acid regularity, bemoaning a city hall that had seemingly lost its course

Conversely, the appearance of Stokes in the primary attracted the attention of not only the national media, but the international as well. As the primary campaign shifted into gear, it was clear that Stokes was becoming a political persona of some dimension.

And finally, when The Plain Dealer endorsed his candidacy in a surprising editorial, Stokes in his own words was legitimized. That attention magnified when he defeated Locher in the primary by 18,231 votes.

Now the stage was set for one of the most dramatic and interesting mayoral races in Cleveland history. It would feature Stokes against Republican Seth Taft whose political heritage included a U.S. president, William Howard Taft, and a U.S. Senator, Robert Taft.

Seth Taft was a lawyer in a prominent Cleveland law firm, and was an ardent supporter of regional government. He did not match up well with Stokes when it came to personality or oratory skills. No one questioned his honesty, competency and dedication, but he was a suburban interloper from Pepper Pike.

What Taft needed most was name recognition in the city. He had to position himself as close to Stokes as he could in order to challenge his opponent’s knowledge of the Cleveland and the government that ran it. Taft was a student of government process.

He also was a decided underdog as an early poll showed him getting only 16.4% of the vote in a race with Stokes who could expect 49.2%. Of those polled, the rest were undecided or said they would not vote.

At the heart of both campaigns was a series of debates that would showcase the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.  Taft wanted debates on specific issues, but Stokes wanted a more free-wheeling approach, which would emphasize his oratory skills.

But lurking behind any topic that a debate might feature, was the factor of race. Robert Bennett, who was Taft’s campaign manager, remembers a meeting in which the candidate told the staff that he would not tolerate the use of race in any aspect of his campaign.

The Stokes campaign made the same vow, but the circumstances involved, and the historic nature of the event, made the approach different.  It had to make white voters think beyond the color of the candidate’s skin—to the man himself.

Both candidates needed the debates to legitimize them as potential leaders and gain the support of the business community, the grassroots and perhaps most of all, the newspapers.  The debates would be the proving ground for attracting the necessary support to win.

The Stokes victory over Locher had a transcendent effect on his campaign for now the weight of the Democratic Party, which had been reluctant to embrace him, unified with a mighty rally at Public Music Hall which sent an ominous warning to the Taft camp.

In the wake of the spirited moment, the candidates agreed on four debates with the last being the traditional City Club confrontation that generally was considered the final argument in Cleveland mayoral contests.

Meanwhile, the ranks of visiting journalists were swelling with arrivals from Germany, Holland, Italy, England and elsewhere. They descended on their local counterparts, searching for insights into the race like soothsayers studying tea leaves.

The fall was electric with anticipation and excitement. There was never anything like it in recent memory and media covered every machination in the campaign, including the baby elephant that the Taft camp had hired to tout its candidate.

            The first debate was held on the black East Side at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School, which Taft selected to thrust himself into the midst of Stokes country.   The evening was unseasonably hot as the two met for their first duel.  The auditorium was full and the debate was broadcast to an estimated 100,000 television viewers.

            The media had cloaked the confrontation in drama, and the evening took on the allure of a sporting event.

            But for all the tense expectation, the night turned out to be a bust for Taft, who was no match for the elusive Stokes who dodged and weaved through the debate as the boxer he once was. Stokes painted Taft as an intruder in Cleveland, a “carpetbagger” from Pepper Pike, which he contrasted to embattled Hough. He noted repeatedly that Taft lived in a house with seven bedrooms.

            Taft responded weakly, noting that Carl Stokes had no programs designed to meet the growing urban problems. Later, Taft acknowledged to his staff that the debate had been a disaster for him.

            And then, two nights later, in the second debate on the white West Side at John Marshall High School, Carl Stokes, basking in triumph, made a mistake that would suck the momentum from his campaign.  It showed how combustible the race issue was.

            Taft did so poorly in the first debate that he had attracted a sympathetic following that viewed Stokes as being arrogant and overbearing to his opponent. That was the background on which the miscalculation played out.

            The white West Side crowd at the second debate was disposed to Taft, especially when he opened with a condemnation of Stokes, citing his arrogance, belligerence and bravado. The audience responded with cheers and applause.

            When Stokes took the podium and proceeded to ridicule Taft for living in a mansion in Pepper Pike, he was roundly taunted to the point that the crowd interrupted his prepared speech.  And then he made the mistake that made the campaign a neck and neck race.

            “I am going to be brutally frank with you—and brutally frank with Seth Taft, Stokes said. “….Seth Taft may win the November 7th election for only one reason.  That reason is that his skin happens to be white.”

            The remark had the effect of a bomb. The auditorium reverberated with noise and anger as the crowd hollered in protest. Taft sat dumbfounded, stunned that his opponent would open up himself to the race issue in such a blatant manner.

            And then, in what would be the best moment of his campaign, Taft rose and said: “It seems that the race issue is with us.  If I say something on the subject it is racism. If Carl Stokes says something it is fair play.”

            With that, Taft held up a full page newspaper ad for Carl Stokes. In huge type was the crying pronouncement:

 DON’T VOTE FOR A NEGRO, vote for a man. Let’s do Cleveland Proud! What has Cleveland done that makes us so proud? Nominated a Negro for mayor!  Do yourself proud by electing one.

            The reaction to the introduction of the race issue was so vehement that Stokes’ campaign manager, Dr. Kenneth Clement, was quoted as saying that he wished there was a third candidate that he could vote for. He predicted that if his candidate continued to dedicate his campaign to race he would lose.

            The following day results of the Stokes blunder began to flow into Taft headquarters in the form of money and pledges of support, which energized the campaign staff in a way no other event could.  The problem was that the polls still reflected poorly on the Taft effort.

            Taft began to chide Stokes, telling voters and reporters that people were beginning to see through the guile and charm the candidate brandished to find the man had no substance. He accused Stokes of avoiding him at neighborhood meetings.

            A third debate, held downtown at St. John’s College on Thursday, October 19, proved to be so uninspiring that it received little or no news coverage.

            Carl Stokes was not only facing Taft in the race, he began to struggle against the indifference of key supporters like the Democratic Party and labor which offered lip service but in the campaign trenches did little.  Racism was at work like an unseen gas it wafted through the city.

            Taft was beginning to annoy Stokes, who had a temper that when unchecked appeared to alter his personality.  Taft’s continuous harassment, that his opponent had no real program or agenda for city hall, was beginning to bother Stokes both emotionally and politically. The once insurmountable lead that he held over Taft was eroding.

            The planned final debate was the traditional City Club meeting which took place the Saturday before the election. That was too late.  Taft another shot at the wounded Stokes.  He needed another debate.

Both candidates sensed the need for an extra debate, but for different reasons. Taft needed recognition as a legitimate candidate and Stokes had to show that he had the intellectual wherewithal to bring change and performance to city hall.  They agreed to the extra debate which turned out to be as anticlimactic as yesterday’s newspaper.

The candidates needled each other on Saturday, October 28, at the Music Hall an afternoon when most of the television audience was watching Notre Dame lose to Michigan State in an important football game for the national championship ranking.

On top of that, the debate was less than newsworthy, a tedious recitation of tired charges and overused rebuttals. But there was a noticeable change in the manner in which Stokes carried himself.

            As the race began to conclude Stokes was trying a different strategy. He was toning down his style, hoping to appear more reflective and above the brawling rhetoric that had marked his entry into the campaign. His earlier reference to race had been a calculated effort to get the issue out in the open early. Now his advisers feared that Taft supporters, outside of the official campaign, were employing whispering tactics and using race against Stokes.

            On the first of November, a Wednesday, The Plain Dealer published a poll with stunning results. It showed Stokes receiving 50.14% of the vote and Taft, 49.86%. Taft had gained substantially, and with the election just six days off, the final debate at the City Club loomed as large as any that had taken place in the citadel of free speech, as the club bills itself.   

            That Saturday, November fourth, the debate was held at the Hotel-Sheraton Cleveland (now the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel) to take advantage of its spacious ballroom. Taft came out aggressively calling his opponent an absentee Democrat, an absentee legislator and implying that he would become an absentee mayor as well.

            Stokes, his emotions in check, carefully outlined his plans as mayor and stuck to his prepared text, ignoring Taft’s barbs. The Stokes camp was tense, for every time the candidate wandered from carefully prepared remarks, he got himself in trouble.  This time he persevered and delivered the last major blow of the campaign.

            The very last question that Taft presented to Stokes was a reference to his less than stellar attendance record in the legislature.  Stokes paused for a moment and then reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter and read it.

            “The reports I hear of your performance in Columbus are excellent and I congratulate you on the job.”

It was signed by Seth Taft.

Three days later Carl Stokes was elected the mayor of the City of Cleveland by a vote of 129,396 to 127,717. The count went well into the early morning hours and only in the end was it clear that Stokes was the winner. He garnered only 15% of the white vote but it was enough to tip the election his way.

            Afterwards, the two opponents had a private meeting and cleared the air of the animosity that had accumulated during the campaign.

            Meanwhile, as that November hardened into winter, a sense of decency and pride descended like gentle snow  upon  the town. The election of Carl Stokes was one of the most triumphant moments in Cleveland history and a major national civil rights achievement. The town deserved to be proud as did the world.

Michael D. Roberts was a Plain Dealer reporter in 1967 and covered the entire Stokes-Taft campaign. At the conclusion of the race he wrote a lengthy account of the race with the reporting of William C. Barnard and James M. Naughton. The newspaper recognized the historical moment and devoted resources and an enormous amount of space in its Sunday Magazine on December 10, 1967. The original Sunday Magazine piece is here

For more on Carl Stokes click here

Carl Stokes on John O. Holly from “Promises of Power”

Courtesy of CSU Special Collections.

This is Chapter 1 -page 16 through the end of the chapter

Carl Stokes discusses the education that he received from John O. Holly

For the full book, click here

I was formed by many forces. If I have been a lawyer, politician and TV anchorman, I am still a kid from the public housing projects and never forget it. I learned important lessons from (Cyrus) Eaton, even through his cool, Europeanized sophistication and crisp grooming. But twenty years earlier, when I was twenty-one, I had the honor of learning about the realities of politics from John O. Holly, a greasy haired, short, very black, homely man from Alabama who had successfully practiced confrontation politics in Cleveland a generation before anybody ever heard of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Holly was one of the most remarkable men I have known. His fame never went beyond Ohio, but he was a hero to our black community in the late 1930’s when I was a kid growing up. They didn’t call it black pride then, but if there was ever black consciousness and pride in Cleveland, it came through John Holly.

It is hard for people now to appreciate how extraordinary a phenomenon he was. He came along at a time when Negroes completely rejected any leadership from within. To be black-complexioned even minimized your mobility within the ghetto; the Negro community, with its churches and social groups, was as strictly hieratic as the brahmin structure of Boston. The black politicians of that time — and this is still true for most — learned only to get themselves insinuated into the white party apparatus. They had political expertise, but they never questioned their minority status, nor did they question being mere beneficiaries of the system rather than entrepreneurs in their own right. Other than Holly, none of them had that extra dimension it took to understand a mass politics that ignores ward lines. Even later, when younger men with supposedly new understanding came along, they too saw politics as an arena for personal aggrandizement and ended up in the same kind of subordinate status within the party system that choked off their predecessors.

Curiously, the Democrats and the Republicans were quite different in the way they worked their Negroes. A black Democratic councilman, for instance, was convinced by the party leaders that he could not go beyond the ward lines of his black neighborhood. The Republicans had a different discipline, for, I think, three reasons. For one thing, Republicans tended to function at a higher level, intellectually, than Democrats. And, being an elitist and therefore minority party, they hung together more easily. Finally, the Republicans were the ones who owned things in town, they determined what was going to happen, so they were not threatened by having Negroes on countywide tickets. From the late 1880’s until 1962, when I was elected to the General Assembly, there was almost always a black Republican legislator from Cuyahoga County, but no black Democrats, even though most Negroes are Democrats. There were those ironic effects. In 1959, a man named Clarence Sharpe, a Republican, ran for county commissioner. He carried the vote in prosperous white suburbs like Shaker Heights and Lakewood and lost in the black ghetto. His own people defeated him, not because they didn’t like him, but because he was a Republican.

In such a system a man like John Holly was almost unthinkable. Though lacking in formal education and ignorant of history, Holly understood that real power was in the hands of the man who could put the people together. In the 1930’s he organized sit-ins and boycotts and took over an absolute leadership that had all the recognized black leaders following him. Holly took on the local giants, the utility companies, and won. He put together the little guys, the Negro masses, for an exercise in confrontation politics and had clout. He raised the consciousness of Clevelanders about rights and the sheer wrongness of men and women paying utility bills to companies where they couldn’t get jobs.

Holly not only accomplished that, he formed a virtual union of the employed Negroes. It was called the Future Outlook League. It worked simply enough. Holly went to every store owner. The owner was told to hire Negroes or else he would be boycotted. Then whenever a black man got a job in that store, he had to belong to the Future Outlook League. So throughout the black community by 1940 every place had someone black working in it, and all these workers were dues-paying members of the league. So Holly was supported by his own people, and that made him independent. That was the single most important ingredient: self-sufficiency. Nobody could touch him.

When John Holly put it all together, the black aristocracy, the lawyers and doctors and schoolteachers, had no choice but to follow him. The white and black politicians and anyone else who depended on Negroes had to follow. It is a good thing the flush of victory brought with it so much pride, because it is disconsoling to realize that he had to force those black leaders to come up as much as he forced the whites to back down. It used to be marvelous to go into Holly’s office and see those old newspaper clippings on his wall. There was one with a picture taken after Holly was released from jail — he’d been arrested during a sit-in — and it shows Holly, Call & Post editor William O. Walker and City Councilman Lawrence Payne standing on the steps of the jail. What you see in their faces is pride. It’s the same kind of feeling some of the black councilmen in Cleveland had after my victory as mayor. For those four years I was in office, the councilmen and other elected black officials had an independence from the party machinery they had never contemplated.

It was not until 1948 that I really got to know Holly and learn some lessons from him. I was twenty-one I’d been in the Army during the days immediately after the war and then returned to finish high school and graduated in 1947. I got involved with the Young Progressives, the young people’s group of Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party. At that same time I had become friends with a man named Bert Washington, who had been thrown out of his post-office job for alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Bert was a local casualty of the Senator Joe McCarthy witch hunts of the time. We in the Young Progressives spent long hours with Bert Washington arguing the comparative merits of socialism and capitalism. And we’d all go to all the political meetings, especially when a speaker for Wallace or for Harry Truman would appear. We’d go to those meetings and harass the speakers for Truman and generally raise hell or get into intense discussions with the young people who were for Truman.

It was through Bert Washington I met Paul Robeson. Paul made several trips into Cleveland campaigning for Wallace. After the rally, a small group would meet with Robeson at Bert’s. There was this tall, imposing and yet gentle man, who filled the room with his presence, would talk at length of the nationwide effort to rally the workingman behind Wallace. He softly talked about the long labor struggle, the deaths, imprisonment and economic and social ostracism of those committed to raising the level of the working poor. Paul Robeson’s lessons and example heavily influenced my philosophy of government and the positions I later took with organized labor. At the same time I was going through the exhilaration of this more intellectual approach to government, I was learning the hard basics of politics from John Holly.

Holly was travelling around Ohio putting together the Federated County Democrats of Ohio for Lausche. Frank J Lausche was running fore his second term as governor. Holly’s job was to organize the black Democrats for his campaign. I went to Holly for a job, and he said, “I need somebody to drive my car.” So Wallace Connors, a friend of mine, and I drove Holly around the state.

As we’d go down the highway, I’d be asking Holly all sorts of questions. Holly loved to talk, anyway, and he was more than happy to show off his know-how, which was considerable. How do you get to the people of Steubenville? He would tell of such-and-such a leader there he knew about, and about a woman in town whom Holly had known for fifteen years and who was close to the leader, and a man who working in the Highway Department who got his job during Lausche’s first term as governor. It was like that with any town. And then when we’d get into a town, Connors and I would serve them while they were meeting. If we didn’t bring liquor with us, we’d go out and get liquor and some setups and then serve them. So we would always be in the room where they were talking. We heard the details of how to put together a local chapter of a campaign organization: who should go for the money, who would see to it that they got a storefront for headquarters, whom you should watch out for in town, who was for you, and who only seemed to be with who was working against you. This was an approach he could take in a town like Dayton, for instance, where he was working with C. J. McLin, Sr., an old, established black politician. It was different in a town like Lima, smaller and more rural, where there was no established leadership and no organization. He would have to put it together, and in those cases you would hear a lot of threats, telling people who had low-level jobs in local government they would lose their jobs, and telling others they could get a job if they worked on the campaign. All this time I would be asking Holly who was so-and-so and how had he gotten to be this and that.

Holly’s responses and the actual experience of being with him as he put together a state-wide political machine were my primary-level education in politics.

These cumulative experiences taught me to be a hardheaded realist in most ways; as one who took to politics as a duck does to water, I quickly developed a sure eye and an ability to sense the other man’s bottom line.

Such things are necessary for political success. And yet that success is hollow without commitment to some social goal that carries a man beyond his own petty concerns. This is the paradox of political reality: the mainstream (what most people do most of the time) is a flowing system for mediating petty concerns, and the man who tampers with it does so at his peril; whenever he tries to divert its energies for the purposes of the disenfranchised, the poor, he finds himself on the wrong side of the floodgates. Underneath all the high talk, the campaign promises, the idealist theories, politicians are mostly interested in perpetuating their privileged positions. No matter how well a man understands this, no matter how hard he is, if he fights for the have-nots he will find himself alienated from most of his fellows, and they will do their level best to wear them down, to break him. He may, if he is good enough or sharp enough or powerful enough, win some particular and even important victories. But eventually, he will be driven out.

Cyrus Eaton may have an empire of his own, but to his colleagues he is a pariah. When the energies of the Future Outlook League began to dissipate, Holly’s independence began to crumble. The traditional politicians were able to break him and bring him into their fold. Robeson left the country. I am writing this book.




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