Carl Burton Stokes 1927 - 1996
Carl Burton Stokes was the first elected Black mayor of a major U.S. city. Stokes lost his first bid in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965 while an Independent. He joined the Democratic Party and was elected the 51st mayor of Cleveland in November 1967 defeating the grandson of former president William Howard Taft, in the process.
This election is noteworthy not only because it was a first in the nation victory for a Black candidate, but also because Stokes won at a time the Black population in Cleveland was only 37 percent. This Army veteran used his GI Bill to pay for his education. Stokes attended West Virginia State College before transferring to Western Reserve University, then ultimately earning a bachelor’s of science in law at the University of Minnesota. Stokes completed his education after earning a juris doctor from the Marshall School of Law in Cleveland.
Stokes was viewed nationally as an advocate of the Civil Rights movement. Ignoring the optics, Stokes opened several positions in city government to black Clevelanders who otherwise would not have been given the opportunity. Stokes was reelected two years later as he served two terms before starting a career in network broadcasting.
At the end of his second term in office, Stokes was tapped by New York’s WNBC-TV to work as an anchorman. He became the first Black U.S. anchorman and served in that capacity for almost a decade.
Stokes returned to the city that propelled him to its highest office in 1980 to serve as legal counsel for the national headquarters of the United Auto Workers. He was later appointed municipal court judge in Cleveland, and remained on the bench till the mid 90s. Stokes’ final stint as a government official came when President Bill Clinton appointed Stokes U.S. ambassador to Seychelles.