Cleveland: Rocks! Carl Stokes and the Fall of Cleveland

PK NOTE: Between now and November 6, SBPDL will be dedicated to looking at major cities that elected a black mayor and the expectations surrounding this monumental, progressive, transcendent event. But we will do more: we will ask what happened to cities such as Rochester, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Birmingham, etc. after black political power was gained.

Black advancement = Civilization retardation 

Carl Stokes, who was charged with stealing a bag of $17.25 dog food when he was Cleveland Municipal Judge, was the first black mayor of a major American city. Elected in 1967, Stokes aligned himself with the black power element in the city (as we discussed here in the McDonald’s/Cleveland Boycott of 1968). He, of course, enjoyed more than 90 percent of black vote in the 1967 election.

Racial solidarity is to be expected, even celebrated among black people.

It is in Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power that we get a glimpse of the type of expectations (and federal financing) this first black mayor received upon taking office. On p. 191-192:

When Carl Stokes became the first black mayor of a major America city in 1967, black Clevelanders expected him to revitalize their neighborhoods, provide more low-to moderate-income housing, end police brutality, create a plethora of social welfare programs, and devise endless economic opportunities. As a veteran of the civil rights movement, Stokes agreed that his primary responsibility as mayor was to elevate the social and economic conditions of black residents. Second, Stokes also understood that as the first black mayor of a large city, he was a symbol of pride and that s such he represented to a large extent the aspirations and hopes of a ll African Americans.

More bluntly, he was supposed to  prove to all white that an African American was capable of governing. Stokes eagerly embraced these twin mandates, and in the process he wanted to set an example for other mayors to follow.

Upon taking office, Stokes immediately took steps to restore the city’s federal funding. He also reorganized the Cleveland Police Department, secured a much-needed tax increase, and launched Cleveland: Now! a $1.5 billion urban redevelopment package designed to address virtually every facet of the city’s problems: housing, employment, health and welfare, neighborhood rehabilitation, economic revitalization, and city planning. 

He had inherited a dying city. A declining tax base, conservative federal and state governments, a continual influx of poor citizens, and white residential and commercial flight made it difficult to find the revenue for implementing many of his reforms. Although Stokes was able to rely upon large scale federal support for Cleveland: Now! his major redevelopment package, once the conservative administration of Richard Nixon came into office, Stokes had to seek alternative sources of funding.

Further, once the Cleveland business community made it clear that it would no longer support Stokes legislative agenda, Stokes was forced to govern a city with virtually no money.

So wait: why was Cleveland in such need of revitialization? Well, because the white population that had created and sustained the city had seen its overall percentage of the population of Cleveland erode with the arrival of black people.

Cleveland: A Metropolitan Reader provides an accurate descrpition of why this Cleveland’s fortunes erodes as its black population grew (p. 127):

Following the large increase in Cleveland’s black population during World War I, the city’s black community continued to grow in size each decade, although at a reduced rate. Whereas the black population increased 400 percent to 35,000 between 1910 and 1920, it increase by a much smaller 100 percent to 72,000 by 1930 and by only 18 percent to 85,000 by 1940. But again, as had been the case during World War I, during World War II the black migration to Cleveland accelerated dramatically as poor, rural southern blacks streamed into the Forest City hoping for jobs in the burgeoning war production effort. Between 1940 and 1950 Cleveland’s black population almost doubled to 148,000; in the 1950s, as the city’s industrial production continued at high levels and southern blacks continued to come north in search of jobs, the black population against almost doubled to 251,000. The white population shrank, leaving a black presence in the city that was becoming more and more sharply defined.

  “Racist” police departments were needed in cities with large black populations, to ensure that the city would be safe for white inhabitants. Once City Hall was taken by black political power, police reforms meant the teeth were taken out of the police by a new, friendlier social contract aimed at improving black/police relations. This happened in Cleveland; this happened in every city that a black mayor took control of, ensuring that the trickle of white flight became a torrent.

Why did Cleveland need $1.5 billion from the federal government to improve “housing, employment, health and welfare, neighborhood rehabilitation, economic revitalization, and city planning.”

Do you really need the answer to that question?

Cleveland, despite the hope and change that Carl Stokes election promised, effectively died when black political power was democratically voted into being there. 

Who else got more than 90 percent of the black vote recently?



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