The Legacy of My Father
Lori Stokes and family preserves the life and history of Louis Stokes
“I'm grateful to intelligent people. That doesn't mean educated. That doesn't mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call 'mother wit' means intelligence that you had in your mother's womb. That's what you rely on. You know what's right to do.” Maya Angelou
That poignant quote by the great Maya Angelou probably best sums up essentially why Louis Stoke and his brother Carl Stokes are so indelibly chiseled into the stones of time.
However, it was Louis Stokes adoring daughter Lori Stokes, nephew Cordell Stokes and his grandchildren, close associates and friends who vividly reminded people at the Temple-Tifereth Israel (next door to the Maltz Museum) during a recent panel discussion why the Stokes legacy is just as important today.
The event marked the 77th celebration by organizations honoring the legacy of Louis Stokes, a year long monument to a man revered by the city, the nation and generations more.
Lori, a co- anchor of New York City’s Eyewitness News, reflected on ‘The Gentleman from Ohio’ a newly minted book where she recalls a dotting father and family man.
“It’s more important not only that we remember, but we don’t forget Louis Stokes and what he stood for and the era he had and also tried to also pave the way for generations and generations,” Loris Stokes explained to the Call & Post.
She recalled, “As he had gotten ill in June 2015 he was still going to Shaker High and talking to kids. He was talking to a class about a documentary they were doing about his brother Carl about the civil rights movement and why they need to understand racism.”
Louis Stokes died at the age of 90 on August 18, 2015 as one of the most prominent American politicians in history.
Louis Stokes served 15 terms in the United States House of Representatives – representing the east side of Cleveland – and was the first Black congressman elected in the state of Ohio. He was one of the Cold War-era chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee, headed the Congressional Black Caucus, and was the first black on the House Appropriations Committee.
Louis and his brother Carl broke down the color barriers for African Americans to serve in elected office throughout the nation, and most notably were instrumental in Barack Obama becoming the first Black president in our history.
The roots of both their historical legacies is firmly planted right here in Cleveland and March 26 offered yet another unique glimpse into why scores of buildings hoist the Stokes name and thus the significance of the blaring trumpets continuous thunderous roar in their honor.
While the occasion centered on Louis, it was impossible to not also reflect on Carl who elected on November 7, 1967 and became the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city. He succumbed to cancer at 68 on April 3, 1996.
WEWS TV-5 news anchor Leon Bibb revealed a photo of himself and Louis Stokes watching the 2008 historical presidential election. It was a moment that Louis had publicly indicated would eventually happened, but quietly never thought that it would.
Maltz Museum founder and board chair emeritus Milton Maltz was a good friend of Louis and shared how he hired a Black television broadcaster for his failing station amid threats of protest, arson and death, but after the reporter was put on air, the ratings increased and there was not any signs of threats or protest.
Theologian, speaker, author and activist Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., who marched with the Dr. Martin Luther King and was good friends of the Stokes brothers, said he made more trips to Washington through the office of Congressman Stokes than anyone else in the country.
Rep Stokes told Moss; “I talked to Speaker Tip O’Neill and he wants you to give the opening prayer for a congressional breakfast. Then he called me a few days later and said the speaker wants you to send him a copy of your prayer (the audience erupted into laughter) and I said well Congressman tell him I haven’t prayed it yet.”
“He (Stokes) told the speaker that Rev. Moss doesn’t write prayers, he just prays prayers,” said Moss to continued laughter.
“When I think of the life of Congressman Stokes, I am also reminded of that poetic genius Bernard Shaw that (President) Kennedy has often quoted. ‘Some see things as they are and ask why. I dream of dreams that never were and ask why not.’ When I think of Congressman Stokes, I think of the words of (Lord Alfred) Tennyson ‘come my friends it’s not too late to see a newer world. And when I think of Louis Stokes and Carl Stokes, what always comes to my mind is that photograph of Mother Stokes and the two sons on either side and when I see that photograph, whether at Karamu or in print, where ever, I always think of Langston Hughes and I hear her talking to them out of his wisdom. Well son, I tell you life for me ain’t been no crystal stairs, boards torn up, places with no carpet on the floor and all times I’ve been crying and reaching new landing, so boy don’t you give up, don’t you sit down on the steps because you find it kind of hard, cause life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
He and his brother were raised in the first public housing projects in the nation, known today as Outhwaite homes.
Louis Stokes fought diligently, bravely and courageously to eliminate racism, but was reminded by a young boy in Detroit that it’s still alive and well, and according to Lori why it is so important today that her father wanted to look to young people to carry that torch for justice that he ignited so brightly.