Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jean Murrell Capers, pioneer

Anyone who knows local politics knows Cleveland was the first major U.S. city to elect a black mayor -- Carl Stokes in 1967. Plenty of other black political pioneers in Cleveland helped create the path that led Stokes to the top. We wrote about one such figure, councilman Charlie Carr, in the fall.

My interview with another pioneer appears in the January issue of Cleveland Magazine. Jean Murrell Capers, one of our 2010 Most Interesting People, was the first African-American woman elected to the city council of any major city. She joined council in 1949, at age 36. Compare that milestone to other big cities: New York, Chicago, and Detroit each elected their first black councilwoman in the 1970s, Los Angeles in the 1990s.

Now 96, Capers, also a former city judge, still practices law. She met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Langston Hughes. She is a font of knowledge about Cleveland's black community in the mid-20th century and earlier. Talking to her, I learned that black electoral politics in Cleveland goes back more than a century: The first black city councilman in Cleveland, Tom Fleming, was elected in 1909.

To read my piece about Capers, click here.

U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, who authored the Cash For Clunkers bill, is also one of our 30 Most Interesting People. You can read my piece about Sutton here.

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