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Stokes, Carl B. (1927-1996)

Carl B. Stokes, lawyer, anchorman, U.S. diplomat and the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, was born on June 21, 1927 to Charles and Louise Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1944, Stokes dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and worked briefly for Cleveland-based aerospace and automotive company Thompson Products/TRW before enlisting in the US Army in 1945. Returning to Cleveland in 1946 after his discharge, he reentered high school and earned his diploma in 1947 before enrolling in West Virginia College. Stokes transferred to Western Reserve University and then the University of Minnesota, from which he received his BA in 1955. Stokes returned to Cleveland where he completed law school at Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1958. He was hired as an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County for four years before establishing his own firm, Stokes, Stokes, Character, and Terry in 1962 with his brother, Louis Stokes.

Carl Stokess political career also began in 1962 when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.  Stokes served until 1965 when he resigned to concentrate on running for Mayor of Cleveland.  Stokes lost his mayoral bid that year but remained a prominent figure in Cleveland politics. In 1967, he defeated Seth Taft, the grandson of former president William Howard Taft, to become the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city.

Stokes served two two-year terms as Clevelands mayor.  He was recognized both in Cleveland and throughout the nation as a supporter of the Civil Rights movement and a strong advocate of minorities’ rights. As mayor he opened numerous city government positions for African Americans and women.

Despite his commitment to equal opportunity, his tenure was nonetheless plagued by race-related problems including the Glenville Shootout, in which seven people were killed during a riot-like incident in the predominantly black neighborhood of Glenville. In a controversial attempt to decrease the tension in the neighborhood Stokes ordered all white police

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