by on September 21, 2022

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Since America established its first federal government, there have always been struggles to ensure equality and justice for black Americans (Jolly, 2013). The black people arrived in the United States as slaves for the plantations and other businesses owned by the whites. Even after the slavery was proclaimed as unlawful, such individuals were always perceived as low-lives and denied equal opportunities with the whites. In St. Louis, black Americans were forced to live in segregated regions and denied a chance to attend schools with white children. Besides, there were separate recreation areas for the whites and the blacks while the latter also had lesser job opportunities (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2013). St. Louis has been identified as the number one state to fight for equality in the United States.

St. Louis bordered cities that engaged in the heavy slave trade and brought together both skilled and unskilled slaves. The city acted as an intermediary in the 1850s where slave owners tended to buy the workforce (Jolly, 2013). The black community in this part of the country comprised of the free black people and the slaves. It provided a platform for them to meet and interact, which can, therefore, be a possible explanation to why the city has been so active in fighting for equality. In 1861, during a public auctioneering of slaves, a group of activists shouted at the sellers, which led to the end of the slave selling activity in this city (Jolly, 2013).

Activists in St. Louis were determined to ensure equality in education and access to healthcare, job opportunities, and housing facilities (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2013). Even free blacks were never really regarded equal in this region. They were still discriminated in terms of institutions that would enlighten them and grant them the necessary skills, such as reading and writing, to resist the white man’s culture (Tighe & Ganning, 2015). In the 20th century, some achievements were made through the activism that granted blacks better opportunities to improve their lives.

Literature Review

This research paper focuses on the history of civil rights movements in St. Louis county. It analyzes peer-reviewed articles and journals, books, and the online content that are related to the fight for justice and equality in St. Louis. The black community arrived in the United States as a source of free labor to the early colonizers who owned large plantations and industries (Tighe & Ganning, 2015).

Jolly (2013) explains that civil rights activism in St. Louis began in 1917 after a riot that resulted in deaths of many blacks and the burning of homes. The latter begun when blacks killed two white undercover cops after mistaking their car with that of a group whites who used to kill African Americans. It led to riots started by the white community that, in turn, attracted the national attention. Approximately at this time, the migration of black people to the north had increased due to the attractive job pays and the search of better houses (Jolly, 2013). It resulted in the resentment from the whites and some fellow blacks who felt the newcomers were a threat. They spread fake news claiming that the newly arrived individuals had increased the crime rate in the area. They were, thus, denied any freedoms or rights, which caused the rising activism activities trying to regain the equal opportunities.

Tighe and Ganning (2015) explain an activism activity in 1910, where the Committee for Social Services among Colored People created an interracial football group that gave black children access to this activity they were denied by the white groups in St. Louis and the surrounding areas. It later opened a nursery and a dental care center and helped the black community receive jobs. Funds received to support the group’s activities were used to lobby the work positions for the blacks in the companies that denied them these opportunities even though they claimed to be ready to employ such people.

According to Murray (2015), the March on Washington Movement began to require jobs for the blacks living in St. Louis in 1943. The first firm targeted was the Southwestern Bell, which after picketing agreed to open a branch in the region and employ black Americans. The food joints within the area were also forced to start serving the blacks (Jolly, 2013). Though they were not allowed to sit in the properly equipped rooms, this movement managed to ensure that the black community at least received services.

The Second World War brought promising changes to the African Americans. The blacks had court rulings; for example, a professor in the Lincoln University Law School in Missouri was forced to leave his residential home because it was in a white neighborhood (Jolly, 2013). The end of the war also resulted in the increased demand for labor that led to the rise in the number of blacks in the region. It gave people the power to try and regain their rights through the non-violent activism. They would organize events and appear in large numbers, which drew the government attention and proved to be productive.

Ervin’s “Gateway to Equality” (2017) discusses how specific individuals participated in fighting for the rights of the black community in St. Louis and other parts of the USA. An example was Marie Frankie Muse Freeman. She was a professional lawyer who dedicated her life to ensuring that the African Americans receive justice and are treated equally as their fellow whites (Ervin, 2017). She represented them in courts of law whenever she felt the representative of the black group was unlawfully handled or assaulted. Others included Percy Green and Martin Luther King Jr. among others.


The method of data collection used in this paper is the research on the available printed and online information. There are numerous books published on the activism in St. Louis as well as the history of freedom of the black American community. Peer-reviewed sources and books were used as the main sources of information.


The years in the 1950s and 60s are the most important days in the lives of black Americans in St. Louis, which held most activism activities (Jolly, 2013). Historians have dedicated the significant time analyzing the actions of this period that saw the blacks receive more integration in the society. Though they had the rights to vote since the 19the century, they lived a segregated life that denied them access to educational and recreational facilities, as well as job opportunities (Jolly, 2013). The few employed blacks only worked in the manual fields and received much lower payment compared to their white workmates.

However, the activism began earlier than that in this region. For instance, there was the large protest that occurred in the Old Courthouse when blacks with the help of some white civil rights activists protested against Missouri’s plan to join the national union as a slave state in 1819 (Jolly, 2013). It could not be enforced, thus forcing the leaders involved to find a better solution to avoid any other protests. This action happened barely a year after the 1817 protest after the killing of the white cops by black people that ended in the bloodshed. The federal government thought that the racial protest had a negative impact on the country’s economy due to the losses incurred during the riots (Jolly, 2013). Due to this reason, the 1819 protest had to be resolved in a better way. The following year, St. Louis had joined the Union as a state where all people were free citizens. Free blacks from other states who were earlier also barred from entering the state were allowed to, and the clause was removed from the Constitution.

Among the major court rulings in St. Louis that greatly impacted the people’s freedom was that of Dred and Harriet Scott (Tighe & Ganning, 2015). The Supreme Court, in this case, ruled that slaves were the property and not citizens. It caused the increased tension during the Civil War. As the property of their owners, slaves were, therefore, denied opportunities to file cases regarding their general treatment by their owners. It created a need to fight for more freedoms. After the American Civil War, African Americans were not allowed to vote for their leaders. The civil rights movement called Missouri Equal Rights League was established in order to fight for this basic right again, which they regained after the 15thAmendment of the United States Constitution was passed (Murray, 2015).

Legal methods of ensuring that the blacks remain in their segregated regions were still upheld in the 40's (Tighe & Ganning, 2015). For instance, in 1944, a group of whites forced a Butler County farmer to send away a black couple he had hired to take care of his land. The local sheriff told the farmer that although he had the right to own black workers, the government could not offer them protection. Such other cases occurred in the region where most blacks were not entitled to protection by the local authority. In the cases where the government did not intervene, the local whites would force them to leave a job or a place of residence.

In 1947, Catholic Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter excluded the discrimination of the black community from the church and the church-owned institutions (Sexauer, 2017). This act drew the attention of Protestant churches in St. Louis who decided to try the same measures with the Metropolitan Church Federation of St. Louis, beginning to tell its members to avoid all activities related to the racial discrimination. Churches played a great role in educating the black community (Sexauer, 2017). By this time, most government institutions did not allow the admission of black students. There existed the perception that if the blacks were allowed access to education, it would enlighten them and make them ungovernable. The white people still wanted to have control over the blacks and, therefore, denied them an opportunity to gain the education.

President Harry Truman, whose administration governed from 1945 till1952, established a committee in 1946 that investigated the issue of civil rights (Jolly, 2013). The President was born in Missouri and, therefore, was a hope for the blacks in the region who expected him to create a system that would consider them. The committee submitted a report titled “To Secure These Rights” and presented it to the president. It became the basis of the president’s civil rights bill that he brought into the Congress in 1948 (Jolly, 2013). He directed the inclusion of the black community in the army, which greatly impacted the general lives of the latter in the United States. This bill opened new opportunities for activists to fight for more rights of the African Americans. The president’s action and directive gave them hope, thus motivating them to keep trying.

In the year 1953, Earl Warren was on oath as the president of the Supreme Court (Tighe & Ganning, 2015). It marked the beginning of another important period in the history of civil rights development in St. Louis where law activists filed cases and were successful (Jolly 2013). A year later, the US Supreme Court announced that the racial discrimination in public schools was unconstitutional (Tighe & Ganning, 2015). More black children, therefore, obtained access to education in the government institutions. The activism by churches and independent blacks, thus, proved to be successful granting the community an opportunity to have equal education as the white children had. Though the black youth were resented in the schools, they finally had the government protection. This court decision also gave the activists more power to fight for the equality in education in courts whenever a case arose.

Civil rights movement Missouri Association for Social Welfare in 1954 approached a group of senators and other representatives asking them to support the establishment of a civil rights commission (Murray, 2015). Governor James T. Blair Jr. promised them that he would promote the idea of its establishment. In 1957, House Bill No. 25 was passed, which enforced legal laws that banned the discrimination of the black community in Missouri. This legal establishment was meant to ensure that the black people received the equal treatment in all governmental and non-governmental institutions and activities. It contained laws that governed the actions of all individuals in the region.

The history of St. Louis included some activists who dedicated their lives to fighting for the freedom of the black people such as Lawyer Frankie Muse Freeman. She was a black female lawyer and a civil rights activist. She was a daughter of a lucky clerk and attended Howard University Law School after which she focused on ensuring that blacks can reach justice (Ervin, 2017). In 1948, she opened her own legal law firm where she handled criminal and divorce cases. Her lifecycle as an attorney changed when she amalgamated the National Association of Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a legal advocate on a case against St. Louis Board of Education (Ervin, 2017). The case of Davis et al. vs. St. Louis Housing Authority in 1954 made her become the lead attorney for NAACP, giving an opportunity to fight for the black community. Her distinguished effort in the civil rights activities made her move to St. Louis where she was in a position to engage more and fight against the abuse of human rights. She worked in government bodies to create policies meant to improve the lives of the blacks.


Between the year 1930 and late 1960s, the free blacks and those working in better organizations led the community in the activism that was aimed at bringing the people fair employment opportunities, economic equity, and the affordable housing that would have been accessible to all people, the establishment of health and education facilities, and the African Americans’ representation in the electoral politics. These people were determined in waking the community and helping them regain their rights to participate in actions and activities that would place them at par with white Americans. They helped such people to realize that they had the potential to be better and deserved the improved living and working conditions.

Activism succeeded with the help of civil rights movements such as the CORE and ACTION and the famous March to Washington and willing individuals such as Marian Oldham, Norman Say, and James Milton Turner (Murray, 2015). There were also the white friends who helped black communities fight for justice. During the underground Rail period that led to the escaping of thousands of black slaves, the free fellows were receiving the help from their white friends in the organizing of the event. More blacks, thus, obtained their freedom, which increased the number of people with the capability to fight for the freedom of all black Americans.

Governor James T. Blair Jr. established a commission composed of eleven members representing all districts in Missouri region to which St. Louis belonged and that were mandated the responsibilities of ensuring that the discrimination and the segregation were abolished. Before the death of governor Blair in 1961, the Commission grew to an organization that was determined to actively focus on its duties and bring achievements to the people it represented. It ensured that laws guiding employment practices were enacted, thus reducing the unequal treatment of the blacks in the workplaces. It included regulating the jobs they were allowed to do and the salaries they received while the laws focused on bridging the huge gap between the payment of white employees and that of the blacks.

The African Americans who received education organized the activism to fight for the rights of their fellows (Jolly, 2013). The available church institutions could not handle the large population of the black community. It meant that they still needed more organizations to help offer services to the blacks. Activists, thus, organized peaceful demonstrations to ask the government and the locals to allow black children to attend schools (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2013). For instance, there is the popular case of Reverend William L. Blake who could not be admitted to William Jewell College in Liberty in 1949 because he was black. The church joined the activists to fight for a system in which the black and white children would comfortably sit in the same classes and be attended to by the same professors (Sexauer, 2017). It would ensure that they received the same quality education and fight the perception that blacks could not handle some certain tasks in the working environments.

Freeman was employed as an attorney for St. Louis Land Clearance and Housing Authorities for 14 years. During this period, she worked to ensure that the black community in this region receives justice on matters of equality of housing (Ervin, 2017). Lyndon Johnson chose her as an associate of the United States Command on Civil Rights in 1964. The appointment was approved by the Senate in September of 1964, thus making her the first African American woman to join the commission (Ervin, 2017). In 1979, President of the US Jimmy Carter selected her as the Superintendent General for the Community Amenities Management. When President Ronald Reagan was elected, the IGs were ordered to resign, which forced her to go back to St. Louis and continue practicing law (Ervin, 2017). Together with the government officials, Citizens Commission on Civil Rights was established. It focused on forming measures that could be applied in abandoning the racial discrimination in the United States. Freeman, thus, is celebrated as a human rights activist for her effort in ensuring that all black Americans can receive the equal access to all resources, services, and facilities.

These activists included people such as Cora Lewis who protested for a better pay and working conditions (Ervin, 2017); T. D. McNeal, Earnest Calloway, and Jean King also should be mentioned. They led civil movements such as the Sleeping Car Porters and Universal Association of Teamsters. Jean King was the activist in 1969 strikes that brought together tenants who demanded better living housing conditions. These individuals together with many others risked their own lives to ensure that they bring justice to the people of St. Louis and the black community in general.


Activism activities were essential in bringing freedom to the people of St. Louis region. The community comprised of black individuals living different lifestyles. For instance, some were free, others held good working positions while some representatives were slaves. These differences caused the need to fight for the equal treatment for all people. It made them believe that it was possible to improve their living standards and end slavery. The activism made those federal officials reconsider the rights of these people and resulted in the enactment of more favorable and inclusive laws. Though all types of discrimination are the violation of the state and federal regulations, the problem still exists. Activists in St. Louis are still seen to continue campaigning for the equal treatment of all Americans irrespective of their races, religions, or cultural beliefs and practices.
















Ervin, K. K. (2017). Gateway to equality: Black women and the struggle for economic justice in St. Louis. University Press of Kentucky.

Jolly, K. (2013). Black liberation in the Midwest: The struggle in St. Louis, Missouri, 1964-1970. Routledge.

Murray, P. T. (2015). “To change the face of America”: Father Theodore M. Hesburgh and the civil rights commission. Indiana Magazine of History111(2), 121-154.

Orfield, G., & Frankenberg, E. (Eds.). (2013). Educational delusions?: Why choice can deepen inequality and how to make schools fair. Unitv of California Press.

Sexauer, C. F. (2017). Beyond "equality through segregation": Charles F. Vatterott, Jr., and Post-World War II efforts for interracial justice and equality in St. Louis, Missouri. US Catholic Historian35(1), 23-47.

Tighe, J. R., & Ganning, J. P. (2015). The divergent city: unequal and uneven development in St. Louis. Urban Geography36(5), 654-673.

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