In 1967, Rev. Jesse Jackson was a 25-year-old aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accompanying him on his many trips to Cleveland. King visited the city about every two weeks between April and November 1967, trying to prevent a repeat of the Hough riots and to help elect Carl Stokes the first black mayor of a major American city.
But, in one of the great ironies of the civil-rights era, Carl Stokes felt he could not afford King's help. In a meeting at the Call & Post offices, Stokes, fearing a backlash from white voters, asked King to cancel his plans.
"I remember that meeting," Jackson told me last month for my new oral history of King's 1967 Cleveland campaign. "Carl felt he had to have a coalition to win. That meant relieving white fears. ... Dr. King was the anti-war guy. He was the challenging-the-white-power-structure guy. He was, for many, an object of fear rather than a source of hope. So I think Carl was walking that thin line."
My oral history, "King's Speech," appears in the April issue of Cleveland Magazine and is online now. It tells the often-overlooked story of King's many visits to Cleveland in 1967, leading a major activist effort by his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of only two campaigns King ever conducted outside the South.
My piece includes interviews with Jackson; Andrew Young, a top aide to King who later became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Louis Stokes, the former congressman and Carl's brother, who spoke with King on the night of Carl's victory; former city councilman George Forbes, who often accompanied King on his barnstorming tours of Cleveland's East Side; and several other Clevelanders who knew or met King.
The civil-rights leader's Cleveland connections have attracted renewed interest this year, the 45th anniversary of King's Cleveland campaign, with the re-discovery of a recording of King's April 26, 1967 speech at Glenville High School.
Today, at 3:30 p.m. downtown, Louis Stokes and three other Clevelanders are speaking about their memories of King in Cleveland. The event, hosted by the law firm Ogletree Deakins, takes place on the 27th floor of Key Tower. Admission is free, but there are space limitations, so RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested.
To link to "King's Speech," use this shortcut: tinyurl.com/MLK-CM.
(photo: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection)