Sunday, June 22, 2008

A funny thing happened when I went to the forum

I'm glad that at the last minute I made it to Cleveland State University on Thursday (June 19) for "Race, Politics and Cities: 40 years after the Stokes era." (Carl Stokes, younger brother to retired Congressman Louis Stokes, became the first black mayor of a major city, Cleveland, in 1967. He died in 1996.)

This excellent forum demonstrated the value of speakers who can be forceful, succinct and humorous. There were six people -- a moderator, a keynote speaker and four panelists, so even one "windbag" could have been deadly.

Cleveland author, freelance writer and Cool Cleveland columnist Mansfield Frazier put the audience in a receptive mood for the keynote speaker and each of the four panelists. The main address by professor, author and media commentator Leonard Moore was brief yet thought provoking, as were the initial remarks of the panelists -- professors Norman Krumholz, W. Dennis Keating and Ronnie Dunn, and journalist Roldo Bartimole.

Moore, author of Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power, recapped how Stokes brought African-Americans into the political process. He said the mayor was "a black urbanist, long before it became popular -- but no one was listening."

Krumholz, former Planning Director in the Stokes Administration, judged Stokes "an excellent mayor" who was more like a movie star, able to turn a speech "into gold." But he added that despite winning many white votes in his mayoral campaign Stokes could not overcome racial politics and aspire to statewide office. Keating lamented that "we face the same problems and issues now as then." Dunn said the black community in Cleveland was one of the most progressive then but since has become one of the most regressive.

Bartimole, whose Point of View newsletter for three decades spoke truth to power in Cleveland, offered personal evidence of Stokes' fairness. He said Stokes disliked reporters and even sued him once but also backed Bartimole when a local TV station tried to bar him from the mayor's weekly press conferences it hosted.

As I said, the program was excellent -- despite a slide show that ran continually in the background. The slides were scenes from Stokes' career -- appropriate enough only we didn't need to see them again ... and again and again. More than once I found myself reading the captions instead of attending to the speaker. Likewise, the powerpoint that one of the speaker used -- with its tiny numbers and hair-thin graph lines -- added little to his argument which was nonethelesss a compelling one.

But then I've expounded on my opinion of the ubiquitous powerpoint in a previous post, haven't I. Anyway, thanks to John Ettorre for flagging this stimulating event.


Anonymous said...

President Obama

Forty years ago in 1967 Carl B. Stokes was elected the first black Mayor of a major American city. I was the operations manager of that campaign along with my partner Geraldine Willliams. In 1965, Stokes had run and almost won in a city that was 70% white and 30% black. In 1965 he had come so close to winning that there was a recount. His victory in 67 was hailed as one the greatest moments in the civil rights struggle and also a triumph of the brotherhood of man. Partially, yes----partially, no. In the 1965 campaign there were practically no white votes for Stokes. In 67 there was only 15%. 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�---he�s not ready---will he win and bring disgrace to the community---will he be killed by the racists� Do these same sentiments sound familiar in 2007?
Also, in 1965 he was up 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 then voted 97% for Stokes. He still lost in 1965 because the councilman and pastors disaffected some of the black vote but it was so close that in 1967 and with the blessing of the establishment he won----but by a very small margin. Again, it was the black turnout and overwhelming percentage of vote in his favor that carried the day.
How does Barack Obama�s campaign of 2007 differ from those two campaigns of long ago? He is running against the establishment (the Clinton machine) and there are black �leaders� that are staying with the establishment. Polls are showing that many in the black community are saying the same things that they 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 him 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 forty years ago. Who would have dreamed then that a black man running for the President of the United States could garner such white support, attract such crowds, and be so close to winning. When I see campaign crowds, I see a sea of white faces cheering him and I see a much different time than that of 1965 & 1967.
Following is an example from the 1965 campaign. It shows how extraordinary the idea of a black mayor (there are now hundreds) was to the black community at that time.
The last weekend before the 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 is 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 ten or eleven standing in the middle of a group of children. The cars had been going past honking with signs �Stokes for Mayor� on the sides. As the car with Stokes sitting on the back came to the corner the boy stood straight up, his eyes widened at the sight of Carl 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. �HE�S COLORED, HE�S COLORED� 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 a distant look in his eyes. �I think it�s all been worthwhile,� I said. A quick but soft-spoken reply, �Yes, I think you�re right.� That�s how it was back then. A little boy thought, �this couldn�t be-----his parents and grandparents thought---could this possibly be? And a city and a nation wondered if history was in the making.
I sometimes wonder where that little boy is now, forty years later. What about his children and grandchildren? Does he remember how he felt that day? Does he remember the wonderment of seeing a black man siting on the top of a convertible, his skipping down the street in that wonderment of a black man striving for the impossible? How do his children and grandchildren feel today? Will they participate in today�s �impossible dream�?
Now, forty years later I see the crowds, more white than black, cheering a man of color. Now, forty years later, I see polls showing that this man of color could likely be the next President of the United States. I see now, forty years later, that dreams do come true-------and a little boy of so long ago could still clap, skip down the street and cry out----�He�s colored�He�s colored---- he�s colored�.
Will the black community support Obama as we Irish Catholics did for John Kennedy in 1960, as the Mormons will do for Mitt Romney this year, as every ethnic group has done for their history making candidates since the country began. It is the black vote that can insure victory for Barack Obama. This is the year. This is the time. This is history in the making.

The face of The United States of America is about to change.

B.Kenneth McGee, Author
Eyes Shut Tight

Mike Quinn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Quinn said...

Thanks for your excellent observations. Although the comment I reported referred to "many" white votes, the panel elsewhere referred to 1 in 5 white votes for Stokes, which is close to the 15% you quote. Actually I don't recall the panelists talking to much about Obama or racial politics on a national level. They were mostly comparing the local scene then and now. I believe the program was webcast and should be archived on the website although I don't think it's posted yet.

John Ettorre said...

Great to see you there, and also great to know that my mentioning it on the blog played a small role in your being there. With that lineup of speakers, of course, it was guaranteed to be interesting, and it delivered.