Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday News in Late October 2017

The long, unsung history of St. Louis’ Civil Rights Movement shows the inspirational power of black Americans. Since the founding of St. Louis in 1764, many people of black African descent were in St. Louis. Many were slaves and many were free black people. Back during French and Spanish colonial rule, black people lived in St. Louis. Many black settlers defended St. Louis from the British during the Revolutionary War during the Battle of Fort San Carlos. This took place on the Gateway Arch grounds. There were 10,000 slaves in Missouri by 1820. Many people opposed the disgraceful 1821 Missouri Compromise. There was a protest among free black people and white people against Missouri being a slave state back in 1819 (according to Judge Nathan B. Young). It is also very important to mention that Dred Scott lived in St. Louis. His wife stood by him and he was free before he passed away in September of 1858. His wife Harriet Scott lived to the time of June 17, 1876. Rev. John Berry Meachum helped to educate black children during the 19th century. One Freedom School teacher was a black woman named Elizabeth Keckley. She purchased her freedom in 1854. She wrote about her experiences in her book entitled, “Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slaves, and Four Years in the White House.” She was a seamstress in the White House, who created dresses for Mary Todd Lincoln (or Abraham Lincoln’s wife). Many black people owned land in St. Louis throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Ester was a black woman who owned land. James Milton Turner was born a slave in St. Louis and freed as a child with his mother in 1843. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio and, after the Civil War, became secretary of the Missouri Equal Rights League, campaigning to give blacks the right to vote. In 1870, Missouri accepted the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the right to vote. Turner died in 1915 and is buried in Father Dickson Cemetery in Crestwood. Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis and she fought for civil rights throughout her life. She was raised in the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood of St. Louis.

The African American-based St. Louis American newspaper was created by Judge Nathan B. Young and other African American businessmen (including Homer G. Phillips). It dealt with black issues and it was first published in 1928. It has won many awards in excellence involving journalism, design, and commitment to the community. There werethe white terrorists who murdered and brutalized black people in the 1917 East St. Louis riots. Many black people fled into St. Louis via the bridges. The riot caused 39 black people to die and 9 whites to die too. In 1930, the St. Louis American newspaper started a "Buy Where You Can Work" campaign. This campaign was about both boycotting businesses that discriminated against black people and forming more economic empowerment in the African American community. Judge Nathan B. Young edited issues in the newspaper for decades. The newspaper gave people great information about African American contributions in St. Louis and the contributions of non-black people in the freedom struggle. During the 1930’s, black people in the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters fought for labor rights. One African American union organizer and politicians involved in this effort was Theodore McNeal. He was the first elected African American to be in the Missouri Senate after he defeated Edward Hogan. He led the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1962. He supported the creation of the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1964 and he helped to establish the passage of the state Civil Rights Code in 1965. He worked in the University of Missouri and received many honors and honorary degrees (from the University of Missouri, Lincoln University, and Lindenwood University). He lived and passed away on October 25, 1982. He or McNeal said the following words decades ago at the Kiel Auditorium rally: “We resent the Jim Crow setup in the armed forces and war industry, and treatment branding us as second-class citizens,”

The Civil Rights Movement in St. Louis involved heavily grassroots activism. It involved men, women, and children who wanted an end to racial discrimination, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, and economic exploitation. They wanted black people to have adequate, fair job opportunities, so people can pursue their happiness in the most effective way possible. Many important civil rights cases were reality to the city of St. Louis. The Missouri History Museum documents the African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis. The civil rights movement was very active in St. Louis. The 1938 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada Supreme Court decision stated that states that provide a school to whites must also provide in state education to black people too. The Supreme Court said that this can occur by either allowing black people and white people to attend the same school or create a second school for African Americans. Lloyd Gaines was a black man who wanted to go into law school. He was refused to do so in Missouri. So, Gaines cited the Fourteenth Amendment as evidence to why his preventing of going into a law school was a violation of his constitutional rights. He’s right. The decision did not quite strike down separate but equal facilities, upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Instead, it provided that if there was only one school, students of all races could be admitted. It struck down segregation by exclusion if the government provided just one school. That was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education (1954). This case was the beginning of the end of the Plessy decision. Despite the initial victory claimed by the NAACP, after the Supreme Court had ruled in Gaines' favor and ordered the Missouri Supreme Court to reconsider the case, Gaines was nowhere to be found. When the University of Missouri soon after moved to dismiss the case, the NAACP did not oppose the motion. The historic Shelley v. Kraemer (of 1948) case was a landmark Supreme Court case that ruled that courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate. Louis and Fern Kraemer were white neighbors who wanted to keep the black couple (J.D. and Ethel Shelley) from owning a home in the area. George L. Vaughn was a black attorney who represented J.D. Shelley at the Supreme Court of the United States. The attorneys who argued the case for the McGhees (as part of the companion case McGhee v. Sipes from Detroit, Michigan, where the McGhees purchased land that was subject to a similar restrictive covenant)were Thurgood Marshall and Loren Miller. Later, the St. Louis City Hall was integrated and a swimming pool was integrated in Fairground Park. The June 21, 1949 Fairground Park riot involve white racists hating the fact that St. Louis integrated its public swimming pools. Robert Gammon & J.C. Tobias  are black people who were chased by white racist gangs back then during the Fairgound Park riots (they were much younger back then).  During that 1949 riot, about 4,000 to 5,000 whites roamed the grounds of the Fairground Park and assaulted any and every African American that crossed their path. In 1959, sit-ins took place at Pope’s Cafeteria downtown, the Woolworth’s in midtown and the Howard Johnson’s at 3501 North Kings highway. Many restaurants had conceded to integrate by 1961, when the Board of Aldermen banned discrimination in public places. The historic Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case, which held that Congress could regulate the sale of private property to prevent racial discrimination. The Supreme Court decision of Shelley v. Kraemer banned all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property, and that the statute, thus construed, is a valid exercise of the power of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment. In May of 1942, the Booker T. Washington Technical vocational school wanted to help promote the war effort during WWII.

St. Louis was very central in the development of the black freedom struggle. Many of the unsung heroes of this struggle include Billie Teneau, Frankie Freeman, Hedy Epstein, Percy Green II, and Jamala Rogers. By 1947, CORE or the Congress on Racial Equality was formed in its St. Louis chapter. CORE’s original goal was to end injustice and establish true equality for all people. Billie Teneau was a founding member of the local CORE chapter. CORE back then held interracial picnics in Forest Park to show a message for justice. They made peaceful demonstrations throughout the city. During this time, the NAACP was already a powerful force in St. Louis. Its leadership was strong. NAACP worked heavily in the courts to fight for equal educational opportunities, racial equality, and fair housing. On 1949, NAACP civil rights lawyer Frankie Muse Freeman was involving the Brewton v. the Board of Education of St. Louis case. This was years before the Brown v. Board of Education decision that banned racial segregation in public schools back in 1954. Hedy Epstein worked with the Freedom of Residence to fight for housing rights. Percy Green II fought for direct action in St. Louis. He was part of CORE and found the ACTION organization to continue in nonviolent resistance. Jamala Rogers is a known activist who fought for freedom in St. Louis for decades and in our time with the Ferguson movement. One of the most important parts of St. Louis history was the Jefferson Bank demonstration. On August 30, 1963, black protesters desired changes in the hiring practices at Jefferson Bank. Working class people, physicians, and business professionals marched in favor of economic justice. Civil rights groups wanted the bank to hire more black people since the bank only had two black employees. Not to mention that St. Louis is a black mecca of culture. The protesters sang, “We shall not be moved.” On that day of August 30, 1963, nine people were arrested. Bank executives were stubborn as they refused to change originally. CORE supported the movement against Jefferson Bank at 2600 Washington Avenue (just west of downtown). CORE chairman back then, Robert B. Curtis, wanted the bank to do the right thing. CORE and the NAACP worked together in the endeavor. The protest continued. On March 2, 1964, Jefferson Bank hired six more African Americans. The protests represented the influence of St. Louis in the modern civil rights movement.

The St. Louis city Alderman William Clay would go into Congress. Raymond Howard and Louis Ford would be Missouri legislators. Hundreds of people went into jail during the 1960’s in St. Louis for demonstrating against Jefferson Bank. To this very day, protests involving the Jefferson Bank continue. They also wanted many businesses to hire more black people as well. Many people were arrested during the 1960's after the court in St. Louis issued an injunction which would try to restrict demonstrations. Attorneys like Margaret Bush Wilson were involved in the movement involving the Jefferson Bank demonstrations too. She was a civil rights activist throughout her life and she was a courageous black woman. Norman Seay continues to speak out against discrimination and bank hiring practices. On July 14, 1964, civil rights protesters including Percy Green climbed up the unfinished Gateway in 1964 to fight for job opportunities for African Americans. Percy Green also rightfully opposed economic discrimination and he wanted to fight the Veiled Prophet parade (starting in 1965) because of its racist overtones. With the Black Power movement, Black Panthers and other groups were readily involved in St. Louis. One of the greatest civil rights leaders was Dick Gregory, who was born and raised in St. Louis. he lived for 84 years from 1932 to 2017. He supported Dr. King and Malcolm X. He marched, protested, gave sacrifice to the cause of freedom, and was a strong health plus peace activist. Dick Gregory opposed the Vietnam War and he was always outspoken on critically important issues. He was a social analyst, comedian, and great elder. The Black Panthers was a progressive, revolutionary group who desired black liberation and Third World international solidarity. They believed in socialist principles and desired all power to the people. In April of 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. In that month, 30,000 people marched peacefully to Forest Park. There was no rebellion in St. Louis. Also, on April 4, 1969, ACTION members raised their clinched fists in endorsing a rent strike in St. Louis.

The 1969 rent strike in St. Louis public housing brought fair, affordable housing more into the discussion among the national civil rights agenda. Gwen B. Giles was the first African American woman elected to the Missouri Senate. Giles was a civil rights activist and got involved in Democratic politics while trying to improve the lives of Blacks living in and around St. Louis. She broke down barriers for black people and women in Missouri.  As co-chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, she looked at discrimination in hiring practices. Giles sponsored bills including endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment, eliminating blue laws, processing personal-injury claims, making public assistance easier to deposit for citizens, and increasing aid to dependent children of unemployed parents. Under her leadership, the West End Community Conference in St. Louis addressed local school desegregation and received $30 million dollars to address housing in the area. She was a member of the Order of Women Legislators, NAACP, the International Consultation on Human Rights, and the National Council of Negro Women. She co-founded the Missouri Black Leadership Conference. She passed away in 1986 as a product of lung cancer. She was 53. Dr. Joe Williams was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the city during the 1960's. He passed away on March 16, 2013 at the age of 87. Curt Flood was an African American baseball player who fought for free agency. As time went on, more black people migrated into the suburbs of St. Louis County including Ferguson from 1970 to the present. St. Louis is the fifth most segregated state in the Union today. Housing discrimination and unregulated suburban development continues in the St. Louis region to this very day. In Missouri, racial and class tensions exist and we have a long way to go. Yet, we have faith that the future will be better than the past via discussions, social activism, and the development of our power. Decades later since 1968, the Black Lives Matter movement would fight against racial oppression and police brutality during the 21st century. We are still fighting poverty, gentrification, and corporate exploitation worldwide. The events of Ferguson (with Michael Brown being killed by Darren Wilson in August of 2014) and St. Louis, involving the opposition to the police killing unarmed black people, has inspired a new generation of activism.

By Timothy

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