CLEVELAND, Ohio — Hundreds celebrated the life of beloved political icon Louis Stokes, Ohio’s first black congressman and a civil rights pioneer, at his funeral Tuesday morning at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.
Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich were among the admirers at the 2 1/2-hour service, where family, Fudge and pastors paid tribute through eulogies, song and prayer.
Fudge spoke on behalf of public officials, and remembered Stokes as her mentor-turned-colleague and friend.
“Louis Stokes, thank God, never embraced the shallow notion that he should be like everyone else. Had he done so, he would have never reached his extraordinariness,” Fudge said. “As the drama of history unfolds, Congressman Stokes will be ranked as one of the all-time greats and to be sure, his greatness will endure.”
Stokes, 90, died a week ago after a brief battle with brain and lung cancer. The celebrated statesman was raised in poverty by his mother, Louise Stokes, who worked as a housekeeper to ensure he and his brother, Carl Stokes, received a good education. Both graduated with law degrees and climbed the political ladder to pave the way for other black civic leaders.
Carl Stokes was the first black mayor of a major U.S. city. Louis Stokes served 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he held prestigious leadership roles, including as a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a member of the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees.
As an attorney, Stokes challenged Ohio congressional redistricting that split districts to curb black voting power, and argued the landmark Terry vs. Ohio “stop and frisk” case.
Stokes’ gentle spirit, infectious laugh and love of “people and fairness” made his personal life as memorable as his career, Kelley Stokes said in a tribute to her “granddaddy.”
“He worked tirelessly to develop individual relationships with each of his grandchildren,” she said. “I will miss that joyous ‘Kelley girl’ greeting more than I can ever say. He was himself all the way to the very end.”
Another of Stokes’ seven grandchildren, Nicolette Thompson, remembered how Stokes embraced everyone with kindness. Both dedicated Cleveland sports fans, the two would attend Cavaliers games together.
“He greeted every single person he recognized,” she said.
At the joyful service, the choir sang gospel hymns for more than 30 minutes before Biden entered the church to a standing ovation. He greeted the Stokes family and was seated next to Brown.
Stokes’ family members, including his wife of 55 years, Jay, paid their respects at his casket before it was sealed and draped with an American flag in dramatic fashion.
Several pastors, some from Stokes’ home church St. Paul AME Zion, led the ceremony.
The legendary Rev. Otis Moss Jr. gave Stokes’ eulogy, in which he listed the multiple buildings and scholarships named after him: The Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library at Howard University, the Greater Cleveland Veteran’s Hospital, the Cleveland Public Library expansion, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Louis Stokes Scholarship and more.
“In spite of all the chaos … in spite of all the despair in the world, God keeps sending us apostles of hope,” Moss Jr. said. “Stokes was that kind of apostle.”
Stokes will be buried at a private ceremony this afternoon.