Carl B. Stokes historic marker unveiled as second stop on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail

On Wednesday, June 9 the late Cleveland Mayor Carl B. Stokes became the newest stop on the Cleveland Restoration Society’s Cleveland Civil Rights Trail—his marker unveiled at Cleveland City Hall, 601 Lakeside Ave. E. More than 100 people came to witness the unveiling.

Stokes was the first Black mayor of Cleveland, serving two terms, served as a television anchorman, served as general legal counsel for the United Auto Workers Union, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles by President Bill Clinton, and received numerous honorary degrees and civic awards in his career.

“The man, the great grandson of a slave who beat the great grandson of a US President [Seth Taft],” said Civil Rights Trail chair Natoya Walker Minor at the unveiling. “And in beating the great grandson of a President he exemplified diversity and action because they became friends at a time, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, when so many things were occurring across this country, occurring right here in this community.”

Calling Stokes a “trailblazer,” current Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb said, “you don’t get a Mayor Justin M. Bibb without Carl B. Stokes.

“Former Mayor Stokes’ policy vision continues to have an impact right now in my administration,” Bibb continued. “One commitment I’ve made is to make sure that we continue to invest in Cleveland’s East side. We know that former Mayor Stokes wanted to make sure that the East side was a beacon of the Black middle class. I believe we can make that vision a reality in the future in our city.”

Both Walker Minor and Bibb acknowledged that there is still work to be done in carrying out Stokes’ vision—especially on the city’s east side.

“A city must never forget the hills from which we stand on, the shoulders of those that we stand on. We stand on the hills of the honorable Carl Stokes for all that he did and the… things that he represented throughout his mayoral term: housing, transportation, education, health. Those remain from that day to this the things that we must do in this community,” said Walker Minor. “We have work to do. It’s 55 years later and we still have work to do, and that is why I am thrilled and delighted to be a part of this committee, to honor the Civil Rights Trail in this committee, because far too many, even if this community, don’t even know that civil rights happened right here.”

Bibb agreed with Walker Minor. “I want to say that it’s our responsibility to make sure that we not only continue the vision of former Mayor Stokes, but I also pass the baton to the next generation that we have right here,” said Bibb. “So, let’s make sure we keep up the fight, keep up the hope, and keep Mayor Stokes’ vision alive.”

Stokes’ contributions to moving Cleveland forward, to ensuring Civil Rights for everybody, is part of the impetus behind the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail. Walker Minor said at the unveiling that the Stokes marker is one of many that will keep the fight fresh in our minds.

“It’s on you to make sure that your young people look at these [markers] and read these and internalize what it means, not just a marker, but action,” she told the audience. “The honorable Stokes was about action, and he led at a time—an unprecedented time—of civil unrest. And while we still have that civil unrest—we’ve come a long way, but in the words of the poet Robert Frost, ‘And many miles to go.’ That means you and I.”

The Stokes marker is the second marker to be unveiled on the Civil Rights Trail. The first one, the Cory United Methodist Church historical marker at 117 E. 105th St., was unveiled in December. Six additional locations on the 10-stop trail have been chosen:

Glenville High School at 650 E. 113th St.; at the intersection of East 79th Street and Hough Avenue in the Hough neighborhood,; John G. Pegg House and the 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.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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.