OFFICIAL MANUALSeal of the State of Missouri
State of Missouri, 1973-1974
The Role of the Negro in Missouri History

Civil Rights, 1940-1970

The Second World War brought many changes in the life of Negroes, not the least of which was the promise of increased economic security. With immigration cut off, the war created a greater demand for black workers.

In 1944, there were a million more Negro laborers in civilian jobs than in 1940. Consequently, blacks were hopeful that the war's end would result in the better America promised in the Federal Constitution.

In addition, they gave whole-hearted support to a statement subsequently issued by the United Nations, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights," whose first article began with the line "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

Missouri blacks, like their counterparts throughout the nation redoubled their efforts to gain the recognition of those rights. The struggle began in earnest in 1940.

In that year, Miss Lucile Bluford, managing editor of the Kansas City Call, lost a law suit in Boone County court which was filed in an effort to force the University of Missouri to admit her to the Graduate School of Journalism. Ultimately, Miss Bluford's case reached the Missouri Supreme Court, and, on July 8, 1941, the Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The unanimous opinion rendered by the Court contained the admission that the Supreme Court of Missouri was bound to maintain Missouri's policy of segregation so long as it did not come in conflict with the Federal Constitution.

There were some gains being made, however, even in 1940. Not the least of those was the appointment of the first Negro court clerk in Kansas City history when W. Franklyn Clark, lawyer, was named clerk in the court of Judge Claude C. Frazier.

Yet the war years were a period marked by racial instability for all Negroes. Tenant farmers in Southeast Missouri began to organize for the first time in 1939. Sentiment against their organization ran high and at the first organizational meeting sheriff's deputies had to be called in to maintain order.

It was also in 1942, that a black Lincoln University Law school professor won a case which kept him from being forced out of his home in a white residential neighborhood in St. Louis. White groups, including the Market Avenue Protective Association and the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange, had attempted to bar Professor Scovel Richardson from his home on Market Street.

In 1942, a "Buy War Bonds" parade was held in Jefferson City which included units from Lincoln University. When President Scruggs protested against the placing of black units at the end of the parade, he was promptly cursed by the parade marshal. Whereupon, the Lincoln University band withdrew from the parade, followed by all the other black units.

In the following year the Missouri Legislature killed a Civil Rights bill which would have given blacks equal access to public places such as restaurants and theatres.

Racial tensions reached such heights that year that the Mayor of St. Louis was compelled to establish a citizen's committee for interracial understanding in an effort to avoid the racial problems plaguing other cities throughout the country.

Extra-legal methods of keeping blacks "in their place" were still popular during the 40's. In 1944, a mob made up of some 200 persons forced a Butler County farmer to remove from the county a Negro couple he had hired to help work his farm. The sheriff advised the farmer, Louis Cooper, he was within his rights in hiring blacks, but it would be impossible for law enforcement officers to provide protection for them.

In 1946, the Ku Klux Klan again appeared in Missouri, this time in St. Louis. A burning, fiery ten-foot cross and a white hood with the letters "KKK" on it were found late at night in the Buder playground which had only recently been changed from a recreation area for white children to a recreation area for blacks.

Until 1944, St. Louis's two major league baseball teams, the Browns and the Cardinals, had restricted Negroes to the bleachers and pavilion at Sportsman's Park. Beginning in 1944, however, blacks were allowed to purchase tickets in the grandstand.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson was brought up to the major leagues as the first black player in the game by a man who had long been associated with Missouri baseball, Branch Rickey. The St. Louis Cardinals were somewhat slow in accepting the Brooklyn Dodger player and even threatened to strike against his presence on the baseball field. The strike was narrowly averted by National League President, Ford Frick.

Another advance in civil rights activities during the 40's occurred in 1944 when Miss Maggie Mach of Springfield won a $1,500 court judgment for being forced to move from the front of a Dixie Greyhound bus to a rear seat as the bus crossed the state line from Missouri to Arkansas.

In 1947, St. Louis churches also moved to end segregation. The Metropolitan Church Federation of St. Louis asked nearly 300 member Protestant churches in St. Louis and St. Louis County to end racial discrimination in religious services, institutions and activities. That action came barely two months after the ending of segregation in Catholic schools by Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter.

Despite these gains, however, the battle for equal opportunity, especially in education, continued to be an uphill one. In 1948, for example, the Reverend William L. Blake, a 29-year-old black pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, was denied admittance to William Jewell College in Liberty.

There were other gains in 1948, most notable of which was the appointment of three black doctors to the staff of the St. Louis University Medical School for the first time in history. Also, for the first time, a St. Louis Negro woman headed a Circuit Court jury.

In 1949, racial tension broke into violence in St. Louis where Mayor Joseph M. Darst, after receiving a report from an investigatory agency, ordered the opening of the city's swimming pools and playgrounds to blacks. The order was rescinded when violence broke out at the Fairground Park Pool. Nearly 200 teen-age white boys attacked some 50 Negro youths with baseball bats and heavy sticks. Later the pool was integrated by court order.

Impelled by bitter employment opportunities, by 1950, more than three-fourths of the Negroes living in Missouri had moved to one of the State's two metropolitan areas.

The vast increase in the urban Negro population brought in its wake added problems of housing, employment, recreation, education, and other community burdens.

Non-white workers were generally not able to sell their labor freely on the open market. When employed, they were usually relegated to unskilled tasks, domestic or menial. Of the 109,024 Negroes in the Missouri labor force in 1950, 59,081, were in service employments, while another 18,088 were common laborers.

Housing, too, was a problem. Although the Negro comprised 30 per cent of the total population of St. Louis in 1958, not more than 16 to 20 per cent of the residential housing in St. Louis was available to him. A majority of blacks were living in low-rent public housing in St. Louis. Indeed, those areas were available to blacks only because Judge George H. Moore had ordered an end to segregation by the St. Louis Housing Authority in 1956.

In Kansas City, where adequate housing was available to white persons both in terms of quantity and quality, the Negro had virtually no share in the new housing being built. In fact, during an eighteen year period (1940-1958) only 106 building permits were issued for new single-family dwellings for Negroes in Kansas City.

The Truman Administration, 1945-1952, lent encouragement to all American blacks. Missouri's only native-born President set up a Committee in 1946 to investigate the whole spectrum of Civil Rights. The Committee's Report, To Secure These Rights, became the basis of Truman's 10-point omnibus Civil Rights Bill which he introduced in the Congress in 1948. He was the first President to take such action. His directive of 1948 ordering desegregation in all American armed forces paved the way for desegregation in civilian life. For black Missourians, as well as all blacks in general, this was a long-delayed as well as merited action.

There were additional encouraging spots in the 50's. The major break-through occurred, with the now famous United States Supreme Court decision of 1954 which declared that segregation based on race in public school education was in violation of "The equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment," and, therefore, unconstitutional.

Educational segregation had been the only legally sanctioned forced separation of the races in Missouri. When integration became the law, the stage was set for the eventual crumbling of "segregation by public consensus" in Missouri.

Another break-through occurred in 1954. Using a practical strategy, the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and other groups persuaded a bipartisan and biracial group of senators and representatives to back the introduction of a bill calling for a civil rights commission.


In addition to that, they secured a promise from the Governor-elect, James T. Blair Jr., stating that he would lend his support for the enactment of a human rights commission.

The strategy paid off and in June, 1957, House Bill No. 25 became a law. This was the first time since 1918, when Governor Frederick Gardner had set up a Negro Industrial Commission, a serious legal effort was made to wipe out discrimination in Missouri.

The Commission was to be composed of eleven members, one from each congressional district. Among others, its duties and powers were the elimination of discrimination and segregation from Missouri life.

Before Blair died in 1961, the Commission had developed one of the best organizations of its kind in the country. It won national recognition under the directorship of Peter Robertson and Dick Risk. Under their direction the Commission was strengthened and fair employment laws were passed and efforts made to eliminate or lessen discrimination and segregation in the State. While it is a violation of both State and Federal laws to refuse to sell, rent, or to discriminate in advertising or financing on the basis of race, nationality, creed or sex, discrimination in housing against Negroes and other ethnic groups still persists.

Things happened fast in the 50's, even before the 1954 decision. St. Louis and Kansas City, for example, opened their public swimming pools to blacks in 1950 and 1953, respectively.

Inroads were also made in opening some places of accommodation to Negroes. In 1952, the Jefferson Hotel, of St. Louis, opened its doors to Negroes, and was shortly thereafter followed by several others. Two years later, several Kansas City hotels did the same.

Official groups sprang up across the state for the express purpose of improving inter-racial relations. When in 1957, a law was passed establishing the Missouri Commission on Human Rights Missouri joined some 24 states in recognizing the deprivation of the rights of its citizens was the State's official concern.

It was the decade of the 60's, however, which saw the most dramatic change in Missouri's pattern of race relations. Blacks, emboldened by the gains already made, began demanding an even fuller portion of the rights of American citizens.

In 1960, Jefferson City, St. Louis and Kansas City opened their restaurants and cafes to all segments of the public. That was as a result of organized demonstrations against the policy of a number of restaurants which practiced discrimination, particularly in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

In 1962, a company operating an excursion steamer on the Mississippi River near St. Louis was forced to withdraw its suit against the city's anti-discrimination law and opened its trips to Negroes.

In that same year, Kansas City's law barring discrimination was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. The ordinance stated that no one could be barred from hotel, motel or restaurant because of his race or color. In the next year the city council of St. Joseph, Missouri, which had been a Klan stronghold in the state, voted to adopt an ordinance ending racial discrimination by hotels, motels, restaurants and places of entertainment. Kansas City forbade trade school organizations that permitted racial discrimination in apprentice training to operate night programs in Kansas City public schools.

The 1960's saw a concerted nationwide movement by blacks and liberal whites to gain civil rights for Negroes. Black college students at A. and T. College of Greensboro, North Carolina, started it with "sit-ins" in white restaurants. Missouri's blacks eagerly joined the movement.

In 1963, a Kansas City cafe owner who had operated at the same location for 43 years maintained a practice of not serving Negroes. About 10 Negroes staged a sit-in, forcing the owner to close the establishment for the day. It never reopened.

In St. Louis, during 1963, there were many protests organized against racial injustice. One of those was made up of 250 Roman Catholics, about one-third of them priests and nuns, who marched in protest on October 29,1963.

In 1963, also, St. Louis Negroes effected a successful boycott of city stores and banks. Since Negroes constituted approximately two-thirds of the unemployed in the St. Louis area in 1963, the 'economic' withdrawal was conducted to protest racial inequality, particularly unequal job opportunities.

Yet there were some other areas in Missouri in which things were not changing. Segregation was still as firmly entrenched in the Bootheel as it had been generations before. In 1963, black children were still going to school in the summer to make up for a two-month recess in the fall for picking cotton.

To get to school, many of those Negro pupils boarded buses as early as 6:00 a.m., then traveled as many as 35 miles, through towns with all-white schools, to black schools in the dilapidated sections of small agricultural towns.


In addition, public accommodations were still closed to blacks, and, except for menial tasks and teaching in segregated schools, jobs for blacks were limited to part-time field work in rural areas.

The height of protest and disaffection among Missouri blacks was reached in the period immediately following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Blacks in Missouri, and throughout the country, reacted violently.

On April 9, 1968, in Kansas City, where most of the Missouri violence occurred, authorities were compelled to call out the entire 900-man police force, 1700 National Guardsmen, and 168 state troopers to quell the disturbance. On that day, two persons were killed, 44 injured and 175 persons were arrested. A curfew as imposed and National Guardsmen remained in the city for more than a week. In Jefferson City and St. Louis, there were protests, but with few incidents of violence.

Today the status of black Missourians is far from encouraging. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960'S has lost a great part of its impact. Disagreement among black leaders themselves as to the optimum strategy of achieving equality of citizenship, the conservative tide that has swept the country since 1968 together with the dilemma of liberal whites, who uncertain whether their assistance is desired by some blacks, all have acted to dim the bright hopes of the 60's.

Economically, socially and educationally the picture is dark. As of 1970, the Negro population of Missouri stands at 480,172, in a total population of 4,676,501. Blacks constitute 10.3 per cent of the State's inhabitants according to a study by the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.

But, while the black segment gained more than 90,000 persons over the decade, l960-1970, the economic gains were not commensurate. Compared to Missouri whites, unemployment rates are twice as high for black men and women. The black population is unevenly distributed, with 86 per cent living in the two metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City. St. Louis with 254,191 is 41 per cent black; Kansas City, with 112,005 is 22.1 per cent black. The other fourteen per cent of the Negro population is scattered through the Bootheel counties, in Central Missouri and a few in other counties.

Economically, the situation is worse than in 1960. Discrimination is still so pervasive against blacks in Missouri, according to the annual Report of the Missouri's Commission on Human Rights for 1971-72, of the 3,353 complaints to the Commission, 78.3 per cent came from persons who had been refused employment because of race. Because they are concentrated in the lowest paying jobs, it is generally necessary for both the black parents to work.

Although some blacks have entered skilled or better paying jobs, the income of the Negro family is still twenty-five per cent lower than that of white workers. This probably helps to explain the fact that more than 95 per cent of Missouri's black population compared to 67.7 per cent whites live in urban communities.

Better employment opportunities and services are the urban magnetic forces. Still the unemployment rate for black men is almost three times as high as for white males, 8.3 per cent and 3.4 per cent respectively. On the other hand, white women, 16 and over, show a higher unemployment rate than black women because of the higher income of the white male.

Housing is still a problem as are health services, legal protection and education for the blacks. Re-segregation caused by housing restrictions still handicaps the Negro worker and renders him unfit, or handicaps him, for higher paying jobs. Relatively few blacks are able to move to the suburbs as the whites flee the inner city, leaving behind problems of burglary, dope peddling, drug addiction, assault, murder and other crimes.

Educationally the picture is not bright for black Missourians. Nearly 20 years have passed since the United States Supreme Court handed down its historic decision declaring segregation in public education in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet for black youth the situation has changed little in the inner cities where more than 86 per cent of black Missourians live.

Discrimination in housing and low-income are basic causes of this de facto segregation. Of the total 161,149 black students, three years of age and older, in Missouri schools. 153,147 live in urban areas mostly in St. Louis and Kansas City. The former employs 1,884 black teachers out of a total of 4,733 teachers where 41 per cent of the population in 1970 was black. In Kansas City there were 980 black school teachers out of a total of 2,938, and 35,034 black students during the 1972-73 school year. The net result of the failure to offer equal opportunity for quality education to all children has been disillusionment, irritation and racial confrontations which occasionally result in violence.

Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia and other school districts are in process of eliminating segregation under court order.

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