Marching on: Newest Civil Rights Trail marker honors Carl B. Stokes, Cleveland’s first Black mayor

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8, the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) will unveil the second historical marker on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail. The marker will honor Carl B. Stokes, the 51st Mayor of Cleveland and the city’s first Black mayor.

The unveiling ceremony will take place outside Cleveland City Hall, 601 Lakeside Avenue E. at 11a.m. 

Carl B. Stokes, the 51st mayor of ClevelandOther than pointing to Carl Stokes as the first Black mayor of a major American city and the number of African American elected officials who have followed, the primary importance of this marker is its location,” says CRS president Kathleen Crowther. “By far, its place in downtown Cleveland, at Cleveland City Hall, offers high visibility. People who visit from across the country and around the world are sure to take notice, and I expect, want to know more about Carl Stokes, the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail, other markers, and their locations around the city.”

Participants in the ceremony include Mayor Justin M. Bibb; Cordell Stokes, son of the late Carl B. Stokes; Civil Rights Trail chair Natoya Walker Minor; and CRS President Kathleen Crowther, among others.

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner turned actor and playwright Peter Lawson Jones will perform a monologue in memory of Mayor Stokes. Members of the Carl Stokes Brigade are also expected to be on hand, including Cleveland native Bert Jennings, who in the 1970s founded the Brigade—a civil rights and social justice organization—and Delores Gray, the newly elected president of the Brigade.

Following the ceremony, the Cleveland Restoration Society will serve birthday cake during a reception to celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

In October 2019 CRS was awarded a $50,000 African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service for its project “In Their Footsteps: Developing an African American Civil Rights Trail in Cleveland, OH” to preserve and highlight stories related to the African-American struggle for racial equality in the 20th century.

CRS then asked for the public’s input in choosing at least 10 sites for the trail, and then announced the first three historical marker sites in February 2021—Cory United Methodist Church at 117 E. 105th St.; Glenville High School at 650 E. 113th St.; and an undecided location in the intersection at East 79th and Hough in the Hough neighborhood.

In December 2021 CRS unveiled the Cory United Methodist Church historical marker during its annual community luncheon at the church, and in February 2022 announced the next three markers on the trail: John G. Pegg House and Ludlow Community Association, which straddles Cleveland’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood and Shaker Heights; Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church in Glenville; and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Fairfax.

CRS has been involved in African American cultural heritage since its founding (1972) by a racially diverse group of citizens to advocate for the preservation of historic places threatened by urban renewal and revitalize old neighborhoods. Its mission is preserving, protecting, and celebrating historic buildings and places that foster vibrant and inclusive communities.

The African American Civil Rights Trail is supported through a grant from the African American Civil Rights grant program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government. 
Cleveland Civil Rights Trail marker local sponsors are BakerHostetler, Cleveland Browns, City Architecture, Cuyahoga County, Marous Brothers Construction, Sandvick Architects, and other anonymous donors.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.