CARR, CHARLES VELMON (9 October 1903-30 Apr. 1987), influential Cleveland Democrat and civil rights advocate, was born in Clarksville, Texas. His parents, Will and Pauline Carr, were teachers. After their divorce, Carr was brought to Cleveland by his stepfather Jesse Robertson, an employee of the Cuyahoga County Engineers Office. Carr attended CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL and EAST TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL in Cleveland, graduating from Fisk University in 1924. He worked as a waiter to put himself through John Marshall Law School, earning his degree in 1928. He passed the Ohio bar in 1930 and opened a law practice, also serving as board member and legal counsel to the FUTURE OUTLOOK LEAGUE.
Carr became a successful entrepreneur, managing a bar and grill restaurant in the CENTRAL neighborhood for a time during the Great Depression. He was an organizer and officer of the QUINCY SAVINGS & LOAN CO., established in 1952, which made home loans to AFRICAN AMERICANS in neighborhoods where mainstream banks were reluctant to. He was also an organizer and officer of DUNBAR LIFE, later the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company of America. In 1954 he joined with two other African American attorneys to establish the firm of Carr, Jackson and Payne.
However, Carr’s real passion was politics. He began his political career working for Republican THOMAS W. FLEMING, Cleveland City Council’s first black member. First running for city council himself as a Democrat in 1939, Carr thrice lost to Republican WILLIAM O. WALKER, editor of the CALL AND POST. In 1945, he became the first black Democrat elected to council when he defeated Walker for the Ward 17 seat, which he would hold for the next 30 years.
In 1946, Carr proposed an ordinance that would make the possession (as opposed to the sale) of policy slips legal. The ordinance failed. Cleveland police argued that it would hinder their efforts to crack down on the numbers racket; Carr argued that the existing law simply allowed police to crack down on African Americans. Carr became a frequent critic of police harassment of the black community.
Carr’s ordinance to withhold licensing from public parks that practiced racial segregation passed in 1947; the target was Euclid Beach Park, which had restricted access to African-Americans and had subsequently seen escalating tensions over the issue the previous year (see EUCLID BEACH PARK RIOT). He also sponsored legislation that established a Fair Employment Practices law for Cleveland in 1950. Beginning in 1958, Carr repeatedly pushed city council to pass a fair housing law that became known as “the Carr ordinance.” So controversial was fair housing in deeply segregated Cleveland (see FAIR HOUSING PROGRAMS) that the city did not get an actual fair housing ordinance until 1988, two decades after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act.
A master of political compromise, Carr became the first black majority leader of city council in 1959. He resigned this position in 1969 when his support of mayor CARL STOKES’ unsuccessful plans for a public housing project in the Lee-Seville area cost him political support in council. Despite the re-districting of his ward, he was re-elected to his council seat until his defeat by Lonnie L. Burten in 1975.
Over his more than four decades in Cleveland politics, Carr became known as a civil rights pioneer, a shrewd political powerbroker, and a trusted adviser to African American leaders like Stokes and Council President George L. Forbes. His reputation survived the vicissitudes that often accompanied urban political power in cities like Cleveland. He was acquitted of charges of voter fraud in 1964 and tax evasion in 1975, and after his appointment to the REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY (RTA) board in 1977, there was criticism of his opposition to proposed reforms. At RTA his focus was on service to and employment for members of the urban core of the city.
Also in 1977, the Charles V. Carr Multipurpose Center was named in his honor. In his position at RTA, Carr remained a prominent political player until his death from a stroke at age 83. He was survived by his wife, Hortense Leverett Carr; daughters Carole J. Bush, Cathleen V. Willis, and Leah P.; son, Charles O., and stepson, Michael K. King. Carr is buried at LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.
Updated by Marian Morton
Charles V. Carr Website