George Forbes Press Conference
Earlier in the month, Ms. Angie Lowrie, Director of the Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society invited us there to attend a media preview press conference in the morning of September 19th regarding the upcoming celebration regarding the life, achievements, and service to Cleveland of former Cleveland City Council President George L. Forbes that will take place there on October 13th and 14th.
In a press release that we were provided with, we read the following about Mr. Forbes, who was our Council President from 1974 to 1989:
Born April 4, 1931, George Forbes was the youngest of eight children and grew up in the segregated South. In 1949, George came to Cleveland with his brother, Zeke. After serving in the military and graduating from Baldwin Wallace College, Mr. Forbes had a prolific career in politics. His career began after he was elected to Cleveland City Council representing the Glenville area in 1963. He served on City Council during the terms of five mayors-Ralph Locher, Carl Stokes, Ralph Perk, Dennis Kucinich and George Voinovich. As such, his knowledge of city politics is unparalleled. The 'Cleveland Plain Dealer', in a 2007 article, named him one of the most influential people in Cleveland. After semi-retiring from his law practice, Mr. Forbes served as president of the NAACP Cleveland Branch, receiving the NAACP's highest award for meritorious service in 2009.
As political and history buffs, we were quick to make it known that we would love to sit in on the press conference that consisted of a few remarks by Mr. Forbes as well as testimonials by his daughter, Ms. Helen Forbes Fields; Mr. Jon Ferrell, who worked with Mr. Forbes for 13 years in various capacities including acting as his chief of staff for seven years; and Mr. Benny Bonanno, who served in City Council with Mr. Forbes.
The press conference was beautifully introduced by Ms. Kelly Falcone Hall, President and CEO of the Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society. In fact, it was so encompassing that we asked Ms. Falcone Hall for a copy which we now reprint:
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Cleveland History Center, and to share our plans to salute Mr. George L. Forbes, a political giant, a leader in our community, a mentor, and hero and friend to so many. A Cleveland icon. Those who understand Cleveland history and local politics acknowledge Mr. Forbes as the most power Cleveland City Council President. Last year, Mr. Forbes donated his personal papers to the Western Reserve Historical Society. For more than 150 years, WRHS has been preserving, safeguarding, and sharing the stories of extraordinary people who, like Mr. Forbes, make change in our city and region. We are deeply honored and humbled that Mr. Forbes has chosen to entrust WRHS with his story. On October 13 and 14, we salute Clevelander George Forbes during a very special celebration weekend. In partnership with his daughters and event co-chairs, Helen Forbes Fields, Mildred Forbes Beal, Lauren Forbes, Robert Render and Associates, and the George Forbes Celebration Host Committee, we invite you to join us as we recognize Mr. Forbes and his life’s work. On Saturday, October 13, WRHS will host a very special benefit with proceeds supporting our African American Archives, a program established in 1970 that documents Cleveland and northeast Ohio’s African American experience. This extraordinary collection is vital to understanding the history and contributions of African Americans in Cleveland. We use the documents, photographs, papers, art, artifacts, scrapbooks, books, maps, etc. to develop extraordinary experiences at WRHS, at our main campus and headquarters here in University Circle, and at Hale Farm & Village, our 19th century museum in Bath. The addition of Mr. Forbes’ collection to this body of material that documents and this history enriches our understanding of his life, his work, and Cleveland history for more than 50 years. We are extremely grateful and proud to have the collection and we thank you, Mr. Forbes and your family, for giving WRHS the opportunity to generate critical resources needed to steward and safeguard this collection. On Sunday, October 13, we’re hosting a spectacular celebration, free to the community thanks to the George Gund Foundation.
During the course of the press conference and the Q and A, Ms. Forbes Fields let it be known that she was very proud of her father's record of public service because he always made things happen but, first and foremost, she loved him because he was her dad and he took care of his family. She believed that it was incredible that her father, who came from humble beginnings as the son of sharecroppers, was able to do so much with his own life which is still ongoing.
Mr. Ferrell said that he was honored to have Mr. Forbes as a friend and as a mentor. He shared with us a story about how, as Council President, Mr. Forbes fought to ensure that diversity was an important element when public/private sector contracts were awarded. He upheld Mr. Forbes as a leader who always demanded justice, dignity, and equality.
Mr. Bonanno recalled, with a sense of humor, that as Council President Mr. Forbes often had to contend with young upstarts like himself and one would have thought that it would have been impossible to get things done because so many of them had their own vision as to how things should go (he readily admitted that at age 25 he certainly did) but somehow Mr. Forbes would put the different parts together in a mosaic so that the process was able to move forward. Mr. Bonanno stated that he learned a lot from Mr. Forbes and that he was proud to be part of this celebration.
When it was time for Mr. Forbes to say a few words, he quietly contended that the guidepost for his career was always to simply do what he thought was right. He went on to say that he came to this press conference not knowing what to expect so he had no prepared remarks but was flattered by the praise he was receiving. He smilingly invited us all to come to the celebration when he would have more to say.
Lastly, let us say at this time that the host committee for the George L. Forbes Celebration Weekend includes the name of Margaret W. Wong, Esq. so we certainly plan to be there to learn some more about Mr. Forbes and to hear what he, himself, has to say. Be on the lookout for our post about that event next time.