Standing On His Shoulders: The Legacy Of Mayor Carl B. Stokes

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The election of President Barack Obama, not even a decade ago, has already been marked down in American history as a major step in the long march for civil rights. Of course, it is clear from the continuing work of advocates and activists today that it was not the last such step. However this month, Black History Month, beckons us to look back and remember all the steps that came before. Forty-Eight years ago, back when the man who would become the first African American President of the United States was only six years old, another man began paving that path of opportunity with strikingly similar tenacity.

In 1967, a different state congressman from a Midwestern state became the first African American to serve in a different prestigious office. Carl Burton Stokes made history when he was elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio and became the first African American mayor of a major US city. Forty years separate his election from the election of President Obama. Yet their stories are parallel and related as they compose a chapter of the living history of African American perseverance in America.

Like the President who followed in his footsteps, Stokes was also raised by a single mother. He grew up first in a poor Cleveland neighborhood, and then in the city’s first housing project. Stokes was constantly reminded by his mother that education was the key to a better life. His early life was characterized by educational excellence and service to his nation. After serving in World War II, Stokes completed his legal studies and was admitted to the Ohio Bar. He served as an assisting prosecuting attorney for the county, before becoming the first African American to be elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.

As a young attorney and state congressmen, Stokes built a reputation as a civil rights advocate and political moderate, appealing to African American and white voters alike. After he was defeated following his third term in office, he responded to the setback by striving to make an even greater impact on his community. He sought a position which an African American man had never held before — mayor of Cleveland, a major American city. It was an uphill battle. Not only was two-thirds of the Cleveland’s population white, but Stokes’ opponent was the grandson of former President William Howard Taft. When he ran for mayor, the African American community in Cleveland was struggling and tensions between police and citizens were escalating to riots. In the end, he won his historic victory with a narrow 50.5 percent of the vote.

As mayor, Stokes was a fierce advocate for minorities in Cleveland and opened doors for African Americans and women to work at city hall. He united black and white business owners to fund Cleveland: Now!, a program to rejuvenate the city’s poorest neighborhoods. As race riots and financial troubles plagued the city, Stokes was a force of stability and reason earning him a second term. Following his tenure as mayor, he went on to break barriers in his storied career as a news anchor, a municipal judge, and a U.S. ambassador.

The impact of Mayor Carl B. Stokes’s accomplishments transcends his time in office. He was an early beacon of hope for the change we see continued today. Forty-eight years after Stokes’s election, not only is the president of the United States an African American, so are an estimated 471 other mayors in office today. Of course, leaders like President Barack Obama and former Mayor Carl B. Stokes do not just pave the way for African Americans to hold the same positions. They show our nation the importance of diversity and the benefit of empowering Americans of all backgrounds. They are proof of the value of perseverance. They are a testament to the American Dream and the spirit of “liberty and justice for all.”


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AAMA was first hand when First Lady Michelle Obama hosted 51 black female dancers to celebrate Black History Month at the White House on February 8th.  The students participated in a day filled with classes before performing in front of family and friends with iconic leaders in dance, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson, and Hip-Hop choreographer Fatima Robinson.  To read more about the day on the Huffington Post click here. See more pictures and posts on Instagram using the hashtag #DanceAtTheWhiteHouse

Support President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration: Join the Amicus Brief

Recently, President Obama took historic executive actions on immigration. While many of you have already taken action to support these measures, we encourage all Mayors to unite forces by signing on to the cities and counties amicus brief being filed to the Supreme Court.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Birmingham Mayor William Bell both serve as co-leaders on the brief. Seize the opportunity to be a national leader on immigration and join them on this monumental step forward in the litigation.

The amicus brief will be filed on March 8, 2016, so you will need to sign on with your city attorney as soon as possible to confirm your participation.  For further information and instructions for how to sign on, please click this link and fill out the online form:

AAMA Responds to State of Emergency in Flint, Michigan

Washington, D.C. (January 26, 2016) — The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) is deeply concerned about the ongoing water emergency in Flint, Michigan. Flint, a majority African-American city, has richly contributed to our nation’s success as the birthplace of General Motors, and as a galvanizing moment in furthering worker rights. President Obama has declared a federal state of emergency in Flint in response to the city’s water crisis, which has exposed residents to harmful levels of lead.

Exposure to lead from drinking water can cause a lifetime of harmful effects, especially for the thousands of children residing in the city. Flint will need an abundance of support from all levels of government, immediately and for the long term, to take care of those affected.

As an initial expression of support, AAMA has accorded membership to the Mayor of Flint, Dr. Karen Weaver, at no cost to the city in order to avail Flint of all available resources of AAMA and its membership base. AAMA will pursue additional ways to tangibly support the residents of Flint in the coming days.


Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Washington, D.C. (January 13, 2016) – African American Mayors Association (AAMA) President Mayor Steve Benjamin (Columbia, SC) today issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s final State of the Union address:

“AAMA congratulates President Obama on a dynamic final State of the Union address. We are excited that President Obama’s highlighted many issues important to cities. Our mayors look forward to working with the White House on priorities such as criminal justice reform, jobs, and reducing the ranks of the uninsured. ”

Mayors and Chiefs of Police Urge Congress to Quickly Enact the Bipartisan Sentencing and Reform

Washington, D.C. (January 11, 2016) – African American Mayors Association (AAMA) President Mayor Steve Benjamin (Columbia, SC) and Columbia, South Carolina Chief of Police W.H. “Skip” Holbrook today became lead signatories of AAMA’s letter to Congress in support of the bipartisan Sentencing and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123).

As noted in the AAMA letter to Congress, S.2123 will make great strides in reforming the federal criminal justice system. The Sentencing and Corrections Act includes changes to mandatory minimum sentences, reduces sentencing disparities, and provides additional tools for ex-offenders to re-enter society. S. 2123 also provides juvenile offenders a second chance to succeed, and imposes limitations on the use of solitary confinement.

Upon signing the letter, AAMA President Mayor Steve Benjamin issued the following statement:

“The Sentencing and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) addresses long needed improvements to our criminal justice system.  I applaud this thoughtful, bipartisan effort, and urge Congress to enact the bill without further delay.”

Columbia Chief of Police W.H. “Skip” Holbrook issued the following statement:

“The reforms brought about by the Sentencing and Corrections Act of 2015 will support a smart on crime approach, enabling law enforcement to focus valuable time and resources on preventing and addressing more  serious and violent crimes in their communities and ensuring that people are held accountable for breaking the law in a fair and effective way.”

About AAMA

The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) is the only organization exclusively representing over 500 African-American mayors across the United States. AAMA seeks to empower local leaders for the benefit of their citizens. The role of the AAMA includes taking positions on public policies that impact the vitality and sustainability of cities; providing mayors with leadership and management tools; and creating a forum for member mayors to share best practices related to municipal management.


Letter to Congress



Dear Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate:

We, the undersigned mayors and local law enforcement officials, are in strong support of the bipartisan Sentencing and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) that would make great strides in reforming the federal criminal justice system.

S. 2123 will have broad impact in our cities by reforming mandatory minimum sentences and applying retroactively the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Such measures will also have a profound and positive impact on communities with significant minority populations. Historically, such populations have been disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

Further, S. 2123 couples sentencing reform with providing additional tools for ex-offenders to reenter society. In particular, S. 2123 provides juvenile offenders a second chance to succeed in society by requiring additional protections around parole, and imposing limitations on the use of solitary confinement, which could have long-term effects on the mental health of young and vulnerable individuals. When an ex-offender has the opportunity to become a productive member of society upon release, it is a win for all of our cities.

In June 2015, the African American Mayors Association launched a Justice Reform Task Force to address reforms such as those provided in S. 2123. Since that time, mayors have been working hand-in-hand with local law enforcement officials to address reforms on the ground. Accordingly, we urge members of Congress to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 without delay.

However, we are deeply concerned by the House Judiciary Committee proposal to implement a default mens rea requirement for criminal offenses. The Criminal Code Improvement Act would create uncertainty and confusion that jeopardizes public safety and should be withdrawn and not impede the passage of S. 2123.

In conclusion, we applaud this bipartisan effort, and urge the quick passage of S.2123, which will greatly improve the criminal justice environment in our communities.



Stephen K. Benjamin

Mayor of Columbia, SC

President, African American Mayors Association

Statement: AAMA President Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin Says “Yes” to Sentencing and Corrections Reform, “No” to Mens Rea Requirement


Washington, D.C. (December 16, 2015) – AAMA President Mayor Steve Benjamin (Columbia, SC) issued the following statement:

“Ensuring a fair and effective justice system is an urgent priority for our mayors. Our Justice Reform Task Force ensures mayors are at the forefront of best practices to improve public safety, build trust between police officers and the communities they serve, and pursue fair outcomes in every aspect of federal, state, and local judicial systems.

Accordingly, we have a vested interest in seeing the passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. It is a laudable bipartisan effort that makes significant strides in addressing disparities in our federal sentencing guidelines and in our prison system. I encourage all mayors to couple this legislative reform with local and state based initiatives such as ‘banning the box’ and improving the reentry environment for ex-offenders.

However, I am deeply concerned about the House Judiciary Committee proposal to implement a default mens rea requirement for criminal offenses. The Criminal Code Improvement Act would create legal uncertainty and confusion that jeopardizes American public health and safety and should be withdrawn.”

Media Contact: Everton Morris, AAMA Deputy Executive Director,

AAMA Adopts Resolution to Promote Homeownership

Adopted by the AAMA Board of Trustees on November 20, 2015

WHEREAS, the the African American Mayors Association (the “Corporation”) is committed to public policies that “impact the vitality and sustainability of cities;” and

WHEREAS, homeownership is an important catalyst for economic security, stability, and safety for families and cities; and

WHEREAS, it is also widely known that homeownership is one of the few, if not the only way for low and moderate-income families to build wealth and stability for their children; and

WHEREAS, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) President and CEO John Taylor has said, “Homeownership is the single best mechanism for working families to build wealth and enter the middle class. Without access to homeownership opportunities, the avenues to climb the economic ladder are few;” and

WHEREAS, the wealth gap between whites and people of color is widening and not narrowing. The Washington Post reported that, on average, white families hold seven times the wealth of families of color – almost double the average two decades ago; and

WHEREAS, the 2014 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) states that “denial disparities persist regardless of income, with middle-and-upper income home purchase denial rates for African American borrowers at 16.3 percent, Hispanic borrowers at 13.7 percent, and whites at just 8.4 percent. These figures jump dramatically in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, with a denial rate of 14.9 percent for whites, 19.7 percent for Hispanics, and 25.2 percent for African Americans;” and

WHEREAS, this data since the housing crisis in 2008 is on a continued decline for communities of color, for the second straight year the HMDA data has underscored that opportunity for homeownership is virtually non-existent for communities of color. Particularly, in underserved and un-served communities, it’s too difficult to become a homeowner; and

WHEREAS, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are two enterprises that have an affirmative obligation to serve underserved communities and contribute to affordable housing options; and

WHEREAS, after the housing crisis of 2008, Congress responded and passed the Housing Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008, placed the GSEs in conservatorship, and created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). As conservator, FHFA saw the companies begin to rehabilitate, but in 2012 the U.S. Treasury took unprecedented action; it implemented the Third Amendment Sweep (or “Net Worth Sweep”) sweeping 100 percent of the profits of the two companies on pace to wind down by 2018; and

WHEREAS, there is a steady debate in Washington about the continued wind-down of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs); and

WHEREAS, the conservatorship and the third amendment hinder the GSEs from rebuilding any capital and from providing the liquidity and access to the secondary mortgage market that they have historically offered; and

WHEREAS, it is within the authority of the Administration to address the current state of affairs of the GSEs and to further address housing finance policy; and

WHEREAS, the Corporation acknowledges that cities and urban centers thrive when its residents thrive and prosper; and

NOW THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED, the Corporation calls on the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Obama Administration to take the necessary actions to release Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from conservatorship and allow them to rebuild their capital reserves;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, AAMA believes that once the Administration takes action, the two companies can continue to open the door of homeownership for families across America; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, Vice President of the United States, members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and other federal and state government officials as appropriate.

Cities United Hires Seasoned Leader as First Chief Executive Officer

Philadelphia, October 9, 2015 – Anthony Smith will lead Cities United as its first chief executive officer, announced Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Co-founded by Mayor Nutter and Mayor Landrieu in 2011, Cities United serves as a national network of communities focused on eliminating violence in American cities related to African American men and boys.

 “Anthony’s work has prepared him well to lead Cities United,” said Nutter. “His personal mission has always been to find opportunities to create better outcomes for African American men and boys, their families and the communities they call home.”

 Smith, who will begin his new role on Nov. 2, is currently Director for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods in the office of Mayor Greg Fischer in Louisville, KY. He works with city departments, community and faith-based organizations, community members and civic and business leaders to develop prevention strategies to reduce violent crime and create better outcomes for the most impacted populations.

“Anthony Smith has worked tirelessly to make Louisville a safer city and a place of opportunity for all our children and families,” said Mayor Fischer. “While I am sad to see him leave, I could not be more proud of him achieving this new leadership role that gives him the chance to advocate for men and boys of color and safer communities on the national stage. We look forward to working with him in his new capacity.

The entire country will now get to see the superstar we have had here in Louisville.” A seasoned leader with over 20 years of experience organizing, facilitating, managing, mobilizing, and building networks, Smith is well suited to lead Cities United. He has a long track record of achievement working with civic and political leaders to create community change with a broad array of stakeholders collaborating on a shared vision of hope and possibility.

“I am proud to join Cities United and support its mission to reduce the violent deaths of African American males in this country,” Smith said. “Cities United has played a historic role in courageously elevating mayors as critical change agents in addressing the epidemic of violence against African American males.”

In his current role, Smith successfully coordinated efforts through national initiatives like Cities United and My Brother’s Keeper. He helped secure the selection of Louisville in 2014 as one of only five new sites added to the Department of Justice National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a federal initiative focused on reclaiming streets and schools from violence and revitalizing communities. Smith’s work to align national initiatives with local efforts has generated over $10million in public and private investments.

“The future of our nation depends on safe, prosperous communities where our young African American men and boys have opportunities to succeed,” said Landrieu. “We are proud to announce Anthony as our leader of Cities United—his support and commitment to this work will give us a chance to be more innovative and to create sustainable outcomes.”

Cities United, a project of Tides Center, was founded by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in partnership with Casey Family Programs, National League of Cities, Open Society Foundations, and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Today, this movement has grown to include 76 U.S. mayors committed to working with community leaders, families, youth, philanthropic organizations and other stakeholders to reduce the epidemic of homicides and violence plaguing African American men and boys. These cities are also focused on restoring hope to their communities and building pathways to justice, employment, education and increased opportunities for citizens.

Please direct all media inquiries to

AAMA Endorses “MAYNARD” Documentary Highlighting the Life of Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson

Washington, D.C. (August 26, 2015) – The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) endorses the planned documentary film “MAYNARD”, highlighting the late Mayor Maynard Jackson. Mayor Jackson was elected in 1973 as Atlanta’s first-ever Black mayor, and the first Black mayor of a major Southern city.

AAMA President Mayor Steve Benjamin (Columbia, SC) issued the following statement:

“Mayor Maynard Jackson’s historic election as Mayor of Atlanta inspired many African Americans to pursue community improvement through public service. Mayor Jackson’s focus on economic development and social progress continues to influence best practices for mayors and cities throughout the United States. I am excited that Mayor Jackson’s legacy will be chronicled by the “MAYNARD” documentary, and I look forward to viewing its portrayal of his momentous tenure.”

Filming for the “MAYNARD” documentary begins September 2015. The Executive Producers for the documentary are Maynard Jackson III, Brooke Jackson Edmond, Elizabeth Jackson Hodges, C. Howie Hodges, and Winsome Sinclair. Release details will be provided at a later date.