Martin Luther King Jr. visited Glenville High School on April 26 to tell people to vote. At the time, Cleveland was in the midst of a mayoral election. Carl Stokes was giving the city’s Black community hope for systemic change. “Cleveland, Ohio, is a city that can be the first city of major size in the United States to have a Black mayor and you should participate in making that a possibility,” said King, to a full gymnasium of eager students. “This is an opportunity for you.”
For Stokes, King’s support was fraught. King, who practiced a now-revered brand of peacefully confrontational activism, was at the time not favored by much of white America. And in then majority-white Cleveland, Stokes needed to capture a portion of the white vote to secure the mayor’s chair. Stokes worried that aligning with King could hinder his chances of election.
Still, King met the possibility of a Black mayor in a major city with a chorus of resilience. “We must never again be ashamed of ourselves. We must never be ashamed of our heritage. We must not be ashamed of the color of our skins,” King said. “Black is as beautiful as any color and we must believe it.”
Despite Stokes’ fears, he won the election, with support from King. Stokes was reelected in 1969 and retired from local politics in 1971. In his time as mayor, he focused on urban revitalization and involving Black people in local government. King continued to speak nationwide until he was assassinated in April 1968, just six days before a scheduled visit to Cleveland.