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Meet Carl B. Stokes, The First Black Mayor Of A Major U.S. City

Meet Carl B. Stokes, The First Black Mayor Of A Major U.S. City

He forged a path for Black individuals to make an impact in politics! 

Carl B. Stokes was an American lawyer and politician who made history by becoming the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city, The National Park Service reports. Stokes was born on June 21, 1927, in Cleveland, Ohio, growing up in a working-class family as one of two children. Unfortunately Stokes' father, a laundry worker, died when he was only two years old, so he and his siblings ended up being raised solely by their mother, who worked as a domestic worker. Despite the challenges he faced as a child, Stokes ended up being a smart and level-headed student who was active in both clubs as well as sports. 

After serving in the Army during World War II, Stokes enrolled at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. He then moved colleges over the years where he eventually graduated from Cleveland-Marshall Law School and earned a law degree. From there on, he began his legal career as an assistant prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, later venturing into private practice.

In 1962, Carl Stokes decided to get into politics by running for Congress as a Democrat, but was unsuccessful in his bid. Still, he continued to serve as a member of the Cleveland City Council from 1963 to 1967. During his time on the council, Stokes passionately advocated for civil rights and social justice, quickly becoming a respected leader in the Black community.

In 1967, Stokes ran for the position of mayor of Cleveland, and this time his efforts and work paid off. His victory was historic, Stokes became the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city. Stokes' mayoral term was marked by efforts to improve the city's economy and infrastructure, as well as his commitment to civil rights and equality. Stokes’ efforts were wide ranging and it ran in his family, his brother, Louis Stokes, also became the first Black congressman elected in Ohio. As a result of Stokes’ work, the city of Cleveland became the first to appoint a Black law director, a Black safety director, and even the first Black women commissioners, Cleveland Magazine reports.


After leaving office, Stokes remained active in politics and public service. He then served as a commentator on CBS News and as a talk show host on WNBC-TV in New York. He also worked as an attorney and was involved in numerous civic and charitable organizations. In 1996, Carl B. Stokes passed away of cancer at the age of 68.

Today, Stokes' legacy as the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city continues to serve as an inspiration to those who fight for civil rights and equality in America. A trailblazer who inspired a generation of Black politicians to enter politics and fight for equality, Stokes remains a shining example of Black excellence. His work as mayor not only paved the way for future generations of leaders but his commitment to social justice set precedent for other people in leadership positions in the city of Cleveland and beyond. 

We stand on the shoulders of giants like Carl B. Stokes and continue to pay homage to his life and legacy. 

Cover photo: Meet Carl B. Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city/Carl B. Stokes makes victory speech at campaign headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio on Oct. 3, 1967/Photo Courtesy of Associated Press/WBUR