The Cleveland Call and Post and the Election of Carl B. Stokes

Article excerpt

When Carl B. Stokes was elected the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city (Cleveland) in 1967, it was considered a symbol of achievement for the nations ongoing civil rights movement. Although national and local mainstream media paid considerable attention to his successful campaign, little attention has been given to the role his city's African-American newspaper played. The Cleveland Call and Post did not merely chronicle Stokes' campaign; it actively mobilized the African-American community to realize its political strength, and it challenged the white community to exercise racial tolerance to make history. The paper's crusade further exemplified the role and viability of the African-American press during their struggle to find their place among daily media sources that also covered the African-American community.

When Carl B. Stokes was elected the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city (Cleveland) in 1967, it was hailed as a milestone for interracial progress as well as another African-American achievement.1 The city's most successful African-American newspaper, the CleveL·^ Call and Post, was heavily involved in his campaign and considered his victory the paper's most crowning achievement. To the Call and Post, his victory would be significant for several reasons. It would advance the status of African Americans in politics as Jackie Robinson had advanced their status in athletics; it would make Cleveland a model for interracial cooperation; it would prove the power of the African-American vote; and it would challenge African Americans' blind submission to one political party.2

Since their establishment in 1827, African-American newspapers have served as a bellwether and enforcer of democracy in their advocacy for African-American civil rights as well as in their emphasis on full African-American participation in the political process. African-American newspapers also have functioned as an educational tool as well as a source for recognizing and celebrating African-American achievements and accomplishments.3 Almost all of these newspapers are weekly publications,4 usually owned and operated by African Americans, with content that informs and fights for issues that uniquely concern African Americans.5 One of the many types of alternative newspapers and other media, their purpose is to provide the perspective, the issues, and the affirmation to those groups or causes that are otherwise ignored or marginalized in the mainstream media.6

The Call and Post's crusade symbolized the value of AfricanAmerican papers in the midst of challenges to their viability. Pattick Washburn's 2006 book on the history of these newspapers noted that after World War II, the African-American papers became victims of their advocacy. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought to the national stage what these papers had been crusading for all along: full citizenship rights for African Americans. During the time of Stokes' campaign, these papers were no longer the only source for information about African-American issues and accomplishments as mainstream print and electronic media, with their abundant resources, were able to provide more timely, elegant, and vivid coverage of civil rights activities. Moreover, they had begun siphoning off African-American talent from the African-American newspapers.7

But the Call and Post's treatment of Stokes' campaign not only reinforced the unique role of African-American papers in the media mix but represented the value of alternative media in a democratic society. Alternative media, such as African-American newspapers, contribute to democracy by adding and diversifying the voices, interests, and opinions in the marketplace of ideas. Lauren Kesslers 1984 book on the dissident press pointed out that such varying perspectives in the marketplace reveal the truth, consequently enabling citizens to make informed, correct choices diat benefit society. …