Carl B. Stokes is widely known as the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Yet, Stokes, elected to office in 1967, was neither the first black mayor in Ohio nor even in the Cleveland area. Nearly four decades earlier, a small community now inside the Cleveland city limits elected a Jamaican immigrant to its highest office.
Miles Heights Village existed as a suburb of Cleveland between 1927 and 1932. At the time, the village was bounded by Cleveland to the west, Shaker Heights to the north, Warrensville Heights to the east, and Garfield Heights to the south. The center of Miles Heights was located at the intersection of Lee and Miles Roads in what is today the Lee-Miles neighborhood in the southeast corner of Cleveland.
During its brief history, Miles Heights was one of only a few outlying enclaves where African Americans lived, as most blacks in the metropolitan area were confined to Cleveland's Central neighborhood at that time. Miles Heights counted about 500 African Americans alongside about 1,000 whites, including immigrants from Italy and other European nations. Although the black population was largely residentially segregated within the village, race relations were remarkably amicable. The village even had an interracial police force from its inception.
In 1929, following the death of Miles Heights's mayor, 35-year-old Arthur R. Johnston was appointed mayor of the suburb, making him the first black mayor in Ohio. He won election to a full two-year term that fall, no small feat at that time in a majority-white community. Johnston continued to work as a sewer foreman for Cuyahoga County during his tenure as village mayor, which stirred considerable controversy.
In the early 1930s a majority of the residents of Miles Heights voted to have their community become a part of Cleveland. Corruption scandals and substandard village services stretched the patience of many residents who believed they would be better served by joining Cleveland. Many in Miles Heights, including a number of village officials, were not pleased with this prospect. After numerous court injunctions and meetings with Cuyahoga County commissioners, however, they lost their battle to remain a separate integrated suburb. In a last ditch effort, a number of Miles Heights officials blockaded themselves inside their town hall and were prepared to shoot it out to prevent annexation. Fortunately, serious violence was avoided, and Miles Heights Village officially became a part of Cleveland on March 30, 1932.
Today on the northeast corner of Lee and Miles Roads where the Miles Heights Town Hall once stood is an auto parts store. The site of the Beehive School to its north is a modern apartment building. However, Arthur Johnston's house still stands on East 147th Street just south of the park that now bears his name.