Carl Burton Stokes (June 21, 1927–April 3, 1996) was an American politician of the Democratic party who served as the 51st mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Elected on November 7, 1967, but took office on Jan 1, 1968, he was the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Fellow Ohioan Robert C. Henry was the first African American mayor of any U.S. city (Springfield, elected 1966).
Stokes was born in Cleveland to Charles Stokes, a laundry worker who died when Carl was two years old, and Louise (Stone) Stokes, a cleaning woman who then raised Carl, and his brother, Louis Stokes, in Cleveland's first federally funded housing project for the poor, Outhwaite Homes. Although a good student, Stokes dropped out of high school in 1944, worked briefly at Thompson Products (later TRW), then joined the U.S. Army at age 18. After his discharge in 1946, Stokes returned to Cleveland and earned his high school diploma in 1947.
He then attended several colleges before earning his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1956 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1957. While studying law he was a probation officer. For four years, he served as assistant prosecutor and became partner in the law firm of Stokes, Stokes, continuing that practice into his political career; it was successful after one year.