Obama Reminds Some of Carl Stokes & 1967

Submitted by Roldo on Fri, 04/04/2008 - 12:20.

I thought I'd share this reflection from someone who worked Carl Stokes' first campaigns for Mayor of Cleveland. He had some of the same feelings I have had about similarities between Stokes and Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Ken McGee remembers Carl Stokes' historic victory as the first black mayor of a major American city.

Obama does remind us of Stokes. However, Stokes was more charismatic and revealed a raw power of personality that I've not seen matched in my times observing politicians. If Obama had more of Carl's toughness he would have left Hillary in the dust by now.

Here are McGee's remembrances:



Forty years ago Carl B. Stokes was elected the first black mayor of a major American City -- Cleveland. I was the operations manager of that campaign along with my partner Geraldine Williams.

In 1965, Stokes had run and almost won in a city that was 70 percent white and 30 percent black. He had come so close to winning that there was a recount.

His victory in 1967 was hailed as one the greatest moments in the civil rights struggle, and also a triumph of the brotherhood of man. That's only partially true, however. In the 1965 campaign, there were practically no white votes for Stokes. And in 1967, he received only 15 percent of the white vote. That's not exactly a triumph for the brotherhood of man.

In fact, in 1965 I was his "white" aide and traveling companion to show not only the white community, but also just as importantly the black community, that he had white support. Many in the black community said, "It's not time," and "He's not ready." They worried that Stokes would win and bring disgrace to the community or that he would be killed by the racists.

Do these same sentiments sound familiar in 2007?

Stokes was also running against a potent political machine, one that regularly "bought off" members of the black community. There were city councilman and black pastors, all of whom had ties to the white establishment.

Sound familiar in 2007?

In both 1965 and 1967, it was the black community that turned out in large numbers and voted 97 percent for Stokes. He still lost in 1965 because some of the black vote was resentful of the councilman and pastors. But that race was so close that in 1967, with the blessing of the establishment, Stokes won, but by a very small margin. Again, it was the black turnout, and overwhelming percentage vote in his favor, that carried the day.

How does Barack Obama's campaign of 2007 differ from those two campaigns of long ago?

First, he is running against the establishment (the Clinton machine), and there are black "leaders" who are staying with this establishment. Polls show there are many in the black community who are saying the same things that were said in 1965 -- it's not time, he's not ready, he will be killed if he is elected. Are these sentiments, carried down through time, going to defeat Obama in 2007?

Here is the reason that the campaigns are not alike. The white support for Obama is huge compared to the white support for Stokes 40 years ago. Who would have dreamed then that a black man running for president could garner such white support, attract such crowds and be so close to winning?

There are more than 200 black mayors now, but here's an example of how extraordinary the idea of a black mayor was in 1965:

The last weekend before the 1967 election we had a parade through the streets of the East Side of Cleveland. It wasn't much of a parade as parades go, a handful of cars with balloons and banners on the them, horns honking, people waving and Carl and his wife sitting on the back of the last car. I was in the front seat.

As the caravan pulled past the corner, there was a small boy, about 10-years-old, standing in the middle of a group of children. As the car with Stokes approached the corner, the boy stood, his eyes widened and he cried out, "HE'S COLORED." He started to clap his hands and jump up and down. "HE'S COLORED, HE'S COLORED," he cried out to no one in particular, and he started to skip down the street after the car.

I looked back as the cars picked up speed and left the little boy in the distance. He was still running and clapping his hands. I turned around to Carl and caught a very different expression on his face, part smile and part distant look in his eyes. "I think it's all been worthwhile," I said.

Carl offered a quick but soft-spoken reply, "Yes, I think you're right."

That's how it was back then. A little boy thought a black mayor was impossible. His parents and grandparents thought, could this possibly be? And a city and a nation wondered if history was in the making.

Now, 40 years later, I see the crowds, more white than black, cheering a man of color. I see polls showing that this man of color could likely be the next president. I see 40 years later that dreams do come true.

Will the black community support Obama as we Irish Catholics did John Kennedy in 1960, as the Mormons will do for Mitt Romney, as every ethnic group has done for their history making candidates since the country began?

It is the black vote that can ensure victory for Barack Obama. This is the year. This is the time. This is history in the making. The face of this nation is about to change.

Editors: For interview
Contact: Ken McGee
For more information, please visit:   www.eyesshuttightmcgee.com

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  This is the year. This is the time. This is history in the making. The face of this nation is about to change.

I had to listen to some very outwardly beautiful girls make very ugly comments on the bus today. 

I want to see a bright, new face for America.  We all need to see that face change.

40 years

Another day passes and I can't look back.  Forgive me for not recognizing the significance of your post as the day we lost Martin Luther King.  Moveon.org sent out this reminder with quotes and a video clip. 

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

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"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

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"The time is always right to do what is right."


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Here's a clip from one of  Dr. King's most powerful speeches: