Interview with Carl Stokes

Why did you resist the involvement of national Black political leaders in your campaign?


The, the realities of being elected mayor of the city of Cleveland which was 35 percent Black at that time and 65 percent White, and White eastern European ethnics, uh, was that you couldn't run a civil rights campaign here. You had to run a straight political campaign in which you blurred or eliminated the racial distinctions as much as you could**. We had come through a primary election in which the White community had managed to put aside the, uh, racial issue. And now as we came into the general election with a Seth Taft in which we knew that White people would find it much easier to vote for Seth Taft and, and, uh, and that we must, to the extent possible, not inflame their basic prejudices. It meant that you couldn't have a, uh, a civil rights campaign there and the sloganeering about Black Power, et cetera. Or otherwise you, you may well have a cause that has gotten a great deal of publicity but you wo--would not win a political election. In that regard, one morning, uh, uh, we received a telephone call, political, I'm sorry. We didn't receive. Let me start over on that. One morning we, when we were reading the morning paper there was a nationally syndicated story that the civil rights big six had met in New York the day before and decided that they would come to Cleveland to help Carl Stokes. I had not invited anyone to come to Cleveland to help me. And I knew that if we had such a group come here with Black sloganeering and whatnot, I could forget about being able to capture the needed White votes that I would have to have to win this election. As a consequence, my campaign manager, Dr. Kenneth Clement and I, contacted Dr. Kenneth Clark who served really as the advisor to the, to the major civil rights organizations. Arranged for Dr. Clement and I to go to New York City the next day. We met at the Airport Hotel with Dr. Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League uh, uh, McKissick of CORE, Stokely Carmichael from SNCC, and Bayard Rustin representing A. Phillip Randolph. At that time we explained to them the political realities, that if they came there they would certainly upset the delicate balance that we'd been able to affect. And that uh, uh, we were sure that what they wanted us to do was to win in Cleveland, not turn it into a media event for Black Power demonstrations that would result in a political defeat. Although there was some resistance from Stokely Carmichael, Bayard Rustin and Dr. King prevailed and they agreed not to come.