STOKES, LOUIS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Stokes, Louis (23 Feb. 1925 - 18 Aug. 2015) was a prominent attorney and the first African-American congressman from Ohio when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968, a position he held for 15 consecutive terms. His parents, Charles Stokes and Louise (Stone) Stokes were from separate cities in Georgia, but met when they moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration. They subsequently married and had two sons: Louis and Carl, who would become the first African-American mayor of a major city when he was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1967. Their father, a laundry worker, died when Louis was young leaving his widowed mother, who worked as a cleaning woman, to raise the two boys in Outhwaite, Cleveland?s first federally-funded housing project for the poor.
A product of Cleveland public schools, Louis served in the U.S. Army from 1943-1946. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, he attended Western Reserve College from 1946-1948 and received his J.D. from the Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1953. Louis met his wife, Jeanette (Jay) Francis, and they married on August 21, 1960 raising four children: Shelly, Louis C., Angela, and Lorene.
Stokes established a thriving law practice in Cleveland with his brother, Carl. He often worked with many high-profile clients such as football player and actor Jim Brown. However, in the 1960s Stokes began to garner a reputation as a formidable civil rights attorney--often taking cases pro-bono to defend activists. He also became heavily involved in the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP. On behalf of the NAACP, he helped challenge the Ohio redistricting in 1965 that fragmented African American voting strength. In 1967, Stokes made an oral argument before the U.S. Supreme court in the Terry v. Ohio. Known popularly as the "stop-and-frisk" case, Terry v. Ohio set the precedent for police search and seizure procedures.
Utilizing his brother's political network, Louis was elected in 1968 as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 21st district of Ohio, becoming the first African-American congressman in Ohio. When the district was eliminated in 1993, Stokes moved to the 11th district until 1999 when he retired. During his 30 combined years in the House, Stokes earned a seat on the influential Appropriations Committee, which oversees all federal funding spending bills. In the 1970s, he served as chair on the select Committee of Assassinations and in the 1980s Reagan era served notably as a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran.
Stokes retired in 1999 and resumed practicing law. He also took on the role as distinguished visiting professor at the Jack,, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. In July 2015 he was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. He died nearly a month later on August 18, 2015. He was 90. Of his passing, President Barack Obama issued an official statement noting: "Growing up in Depression-era Cleveland with his mother and brother Carl, Lou triumphed over hardship to become a passionate voice for those less fortunate....Lou leaves behind an indelible legacy in the countless generations of young leaders that he inspired, and he will be sorely missed."Last Modified: 21 Aug 2015 02:44:27 PM
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