Louis Stokes, Ohio’s first elected black congressman and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, died late Tuesday, his family announced. He was 90.
The former U.S. representative, who served 15 terms after being elected to the house in 1968, died at his Cleveland home just a month after announcing he had brain and lung cancer.
His election to the House came a year after his brother, Carl, was elected mayor of Cleveland, the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city.
In the 1970s, Stokes served as chairman of the House’s Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He was also a part of the congressional probes of Iran-Contra and ABSCAM, the latter investigation which he headed.
News of his death reverberated through Washington, as friends and colleagues remembered the influential and revered former congressman.
President Obama said Stokes “believed deeply in fairness and the idea that every American should have the same opportunity to succeed.”
“Growing up in Depression-era Cleveland with his mother and brother Carl, Lou triumphed over hardship to become a passionate voice for those less fortunate,” Obama said in a statement. “He fought to expand access to quality healthcare in struggling communities and worked tirelessly on behalf of hardworking Ohioans. Lou leaves behind an indelible legacy in the countless generations of young leaders that he inspired, and he will be sorely missed.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield called Stokes “the embodiment of a public servant.”
“As the first African-American to represent Ohio, Mr. Stokes was a pioneer in public service, breaking numerous barriers for African-Americans and for all people of color during his extraordinary career as an elected official on the local, state and federal levels,” Butterfield said. “He selflessly used his elected positions to increase opportunities for millions of African-Americans. … The impact of his legacy of service and commitment to his constituents and the African-American community will be remembered for generations to come.”
Because of his fight to eliminate health disparities, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation named a program in his honor called the Louis Stokes Urban Health Policy Fellowship.
“Our hearts are heavy today over the passing of Rep. Louis Stokes. We are praying for his family, and the CBCF’s thoughts are with every person touched by his great legacy of leadership,” A. Shaunise Washington, president and chief executive officer for the CBC, said in the statement.