Colleagues remember Louis Stokes as 'shining beacon of integrity'

Louis Stokes was Ohio’s first black member of Congress. He served for 15 years.

Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer/AP/File
Former US Rep. Louis Stokes laughs as he is surprised to see Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones appear at the dedication ceremony for the new Louis Stokes Museum in Outhwaite Homes, in Cleveland, on Sept. 13, 2007. Representative Stokes, a 15-term Ohio congressman who took on tough assignments looking into assassinations and scandals, died late Tuesday.

Ohio's first black member of congress died Tuesday.

US Rep. Louis Stokes was known for taking on tough assignments, including probes into assassinations and scandals.

One month after Mr. Stokes announced he had been diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer, the Ohio Democrat died peacefully while his wife was at his side, the Stokes family said in a statement.

In 1968 Stokes was elected to the house, becoming Ohio’s first black member of Congress and one of only nine African Americans in the 435-member House of Representatives. He was also the first black on the House Appropriations Committee.

Upon learning of his death, as reports, Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American civil rights activist who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, said:

We all stood on Lou's shoulders. When I ran for president, I stood on his shoulders. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, George Forbes, Arnold Pinkney and Marcia Fudge all stood on his shoulders.

A 15-term congressman, Stokes was the dean of the delegation until he stepped down in 1999.

Stokes headed the House's Select Committee on Assassinations that investigated the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1970s. In both cases he concluded that there "probably" had been a conspiracy.

Later, he served on the Iran-Contra investigative committee, where his interrogation of Lt. Col. Oliver North drew attention.

US Attorney Steve Dettlebach said in a statement on  Wednesday:

One of the first things I did when I became U.S. Attorney was arrange for Lou Stokes to address every federal prosecutor in the District. We were in the midst of a huge county corruption scandal, and public service was taking a public beating. But Lou Stokes was there as a shining beacon of integrity, of excellence and most important of all for us, of justice. I will always remember not only his words and wisdom that day, and whenever we spoke, but the incredible example that his entire life set.

From 1943 to 1946 he served in the Army in a segregated unit. He said he experienced racism for the first time while stationed in Mississippi when he and other blacks were sentenced to the guard house for refusing to pick up papers around the white soldiers. He also found the guard house had separate toilets for white and black soldiers.

While Stokes' public demeanor was patient and analytical, colleagues also knew him as tough, principled, and skillful.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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