Louis Stokes was Ohio’s first African American congressman, an Army veteran, a husband and a father. He was also an alumnus and faculty member of Case Western Reserve University.
To many people he was also a representative of the needs, desires, concerns and fears of the African American community. Growing up in East Cleveland, Congressman Stokes took his knowledge of the area with him when he became a lawyer, then a mayor, then a congressman. And he never stopped fighting to make the community a better place.
While his accomplishments on a national scale were significant—his argument of Terry v. Ohio (or the “stop-and-frisk” case) before the Supreme Court in 1968; his investigations into the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Iran-Contra affair—it was his accomplishments on a local scale that made him beloved by many.
Stokes served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1964 and fought in World War II. He then worked to help veterans from within the House Appropriations Committee, where his efforts were instrumental in securing funding for veteran health-care facilities in Cleveland.
One of his biggest and most lasting accomplishments is the presence of the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in University Circle, just a few minutes away from Case Western Reserve University. In the midst of the VA scandal in 2014, Stokes’ namesake medical center led the charge in the development of better healthcare for veterans. Its cutting edge prosthetics lab and multiple other centers unique to Cleveland have drawn veterans from all over the state and country.
His work in the House Appropriations Committee served more than just veterans. Vera Perkins-Hughes, an alumni of CWRU who graduated in 1976, recalls her time as a social worker in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
“When he was on the appropriations committee, when he made that, that was really big,” said Perkins-Hughes. “And we were really, really happy about it because of the funds that he would channel back to Ohio. Because of him, we’re getting dollars to do this, dollars to do that.”
Perkins-Hughes campaigned for Congressman Stokes during her time in college, going door-to-door with her friends, posting fliers. The one time she met him was during a promotion ceremony during her work with the county. He accepted her invitation to the ceremony after a call from her to DC.
“I was amazed at how personable he was,” she said. “He came, and he was just a warm person.”
During the Civil Rights Movement, Stokes represented Ohio in Washington, D.C. Perkins recalled his activism bridging the gap between Cleveland and the nation’s capital.
“It was the big picture that [Stokes] represented…he would come back from D.C. and he would tell us what [was] going on,” said Perkins-Hughes.
Stokes announced his diagnosis with brain and lung cancer earlier this summer and passed away on Aug. 19. He is survived by wife Jay Stokes and his four children.