Former Congressman Louis Stokes, 90

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Courtesy of The Associated Press

 

Former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, a 15-term congressman from Ohio who took on tough assignments looking into assassinations and scandals, has died. He was 90.

 

His death, confirmed by a family statement, comes a month after he announced he had brain and lung cancer.

 

Stokes was elected to the House in 1968, becoming Ohio’s first black member of Congress and one of its most respected and influential. Just a year earlier, his brother, Carl, had been elected mayor of Cleveland — the first Black elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

 

Louis 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 slayings of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1970s and concluded that in both cases, there “probably” had been a conspiracy.

 

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

 

“What we seek to do in covert operations is to mask the role of the United States from other countries, not from our own government,” Stokes told North at a highly publicized hearing in 1987.

 

He was just as unflinching with his probe of fellow Democrats when he led the ethics committee investigation of a corruption scandal known as ABSCAM, which led to convictions of one senator and six House members. The senator and five of the House members were Democrats.

 

Stokes was repeatedly called upon to exercise his law training and diplomatic skills. He did two tours of duty as chairman of the ethics committee and stepped in upon request during the investigation of a case involving the private life of Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who retired in 2013.

 

He was one of the Cold War-era chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee, headed the Congressional Black Caucus and was the first black on the House Appropriations Committee — a powerful panel that decides how much each authorized federal project actually gets to spend.

 

He was one of only nine blacks in the 435-member House when he first took the oath of office in 1969 and never forgot his roots as the child of poverty and great-grandson of a slave.

 

He spoke often of his admiration for his younger brother, who served two terms as Cleveland mayor and was later a broadcaster and judge. Stokes lost some of his zest for politics after his brother died of cancer in 1996.

 

He also spoke of his mother, Louise C. Stokes, a widow with an eighth-grade education who supported her sons by working as a cleaning woman. She constantly prodded her boys to “get something in your head so you don’t have to work with your hands like I did,” he recalled. When her boys wanted games, she instead bought books.

 

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