Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Gateway to EqualityBlack Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis$

Keona K. Ervin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813168838

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813168838.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM KENTUCKY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.kentucky.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The University Press of Kentucky, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in KSO for personal use (for details see www.kentucky.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 23 October 2018

“Jobs and Homes … Freedom”

“Jobs and Homes … Freedom”

Working-Class Struggles against Postwar Urban Inequality

(p.145) 6 “Jobs and Homes … Freedom”
Gateway to Equality

Keona K. Ervin

University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 6 uncovers the links between jobs and public housing. From the vantage point of overlooked historical actors, the chapter examines the massive urban renewal programs that razed black working-class neighborhoods and constructed massive public-housing structures throughout the city. The dignity for which black working-class women struggled pointed to a cluster of trenchant urban problems that St. Louis began encountering in the prewar period and later experienced in much more concentrated fashion. This chapter highlights the lives of public housing tenants and the labor activism of Ora Lee Malone to examine black women’s struggles against urban inequality. It also shows how black middle-class women reformers used their platforms to advance black working-class women’s causes. The work of the women featured in this chapter directly led to the 1969 rent strike, in which public-housing tenants struck against the St. Louis Housing Authority. In one of the first and largest rent stoppages in the nation, strike participants made tenant control a centerpiece of their platform.

Keywords:   Public housing, Welfare rights, Urban decline/inequality, Black working-class women, Urban renewal, Rent strike, Urban inequality

St. Louis Argus staff members silenced Sarah Wallace’s voice in their story about her living conditions and the squalor that defined the neighborhood and residences of the city’s poor and working-class black population. Instead of providing Wallace with a platform from which to speak about her lived reality in her own words and on her own terms, they just presented a vivid description of her living quarters to depict life in St. Louis’s most notorious slums. A widow and a welfare recipient, Sarah Wallace was also unemployed and the sole breadwinner of her household, but this critical dimension the writers omitted. Writing in the tradition of some journalists who in the 1950s used sensationalism to raise awareness about the need for urban renewal, the Argus writers rendered Wallace mute and her breadwinning status illegible. The fact that she was an economic actor, albeit a marginalized one within the scope of St. Louis’s paid labor landscape, failed to make it to the record. Although Wallace’s voice did not find a place in the newspaper, voices like hers found expression through the alternative channels that emerging forms of activism opened in post-1945 St. Louis.1

Shifting the lens to black working-class women’s lives and political labors in a city better known for its postwar failures, this chapter rewrites the history of urban decline. Black working-class women were situated and situated themselves at the center of the overlapping battles that constituted St. Louis’s contribution to the debate over the long-term vitality of American cities. Caught between municipal officials who wished to drum up public support for “slum clearance” and black community leaders who had been advocating for years for safe, affordable, and quality (p.146) housing, black working-class women became the face of urban poverty. They were not only symbols, however; they also reshaped postwar American cities into arenas of struggle for economic dignity. Refusing to accept outsider status or to be cast as victims of the fallen American city, these women threw light on the many challenges they faced as low-income black urbanites and became active participants in challenging the deep structural problems that threatened the Gateway City’s postwar progress. The cluster of economic issues that their working-class politics made public anticipated and marked the core elements of the city’s decline.2

During the 1950s and early 1960s, public housing, urban renewal, economic opportunity through welfare reform and jobs, and trade union leadership emerged as key battlegrounds. In this era, black working-class women measured economic dignity in terms of the quality of life of low-income residents in St. Louis city proper. For public-housing tenants, jobs and homes were interconnected; they made no easy divisions between access to decent public housing and acceptable employment, rent and a living wage, or clean and safe buildings and working conditions that mirrored their self-respect. Housing matters were deeply crucial to black women’s economic experience and working-class activism because women determined through their politics that the fight for affordable and decent public housing was a critical component of a workers’ rights political agenda. Residents of the city’s newly erected housing developments worked to build new communities of solidarity and support that would later make it possible to engage in effective political action. As Ora Lee Malone quickly emerged as a leader of the trade union movement, her political labors echoed public-housing tenants’ emphasis on urban life and economic rights. Her political labor matched that of better-known labor and civil rights activists such as Theodore McNeal and David Grant of the MOWM. One might compare Malone’s trade union activism to that of the Teamsters’ Harold Gibbons and Ernest Calloway, who pioneered “total person unionism,” a practice that aimed to address the totality of workers’ living concerns. Malone used the platform of her political leadership in organized labor to address a wider set of issues pertaining to black working-class life in the inner city.3

As the leadership profiles of public-housing tenants and Ora Lee Malone grew, so too did the visibility of black middle-class women, who (p.147) also took on the fight against urban inequality. Working in the tradition of the black women social workers who had led the St. Louis Urban League’s Women’s Division during the thirties and forties, Marian Oldham, a CORE leader; Frankie Freeman, a civil rights lawyer with a national presence; and DeVerne Lee Calloway, the first African American woman to win a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives, built their careers around working to improve black working-class women’s quality of life. Their advocacy for low-income black women, in particular, served as a means to raise the status of their own credibility as civil rights workers. Black professional women’s leadership drew upon and extended the worker mobilizations led by black women during the thirties and forties. In St. Louis, workers’ issues were front and center in civil rights struggles, with most falling within the scope of the fight for housing and jobs.

This chapter examines how black low-income women figured into the politics of urban renewal, the actions that public-housing tenants took to change the condition of their lives, the trade union activism of a figure like Ora Lee Malone, and the advocacy work of black professional women to demonstrate the connections between public housing, unionism, jobs, and working-class women’s living conditions. All are examples of how black women labored for economic dignity, or how they sought work and access to expanded economic opportunities, and how their economic conditions, particularly their housing and living conditions, became constitutive material for discourses of urban poverty.

“We Talk about ‘Decay’ in St. Louis”

By 1950 St. Louis was a city in free fall. The process of steady decline had started long before, but even as sociologists, urban planners, and municipal leaders noted the crisis during the interwar period, people still held a glimmer of optimism. As the grim realities of the postwar economy gripped the city, however, even the rosiest of observers could not deny that things had gotten progressively worse over the decades. Having lost its turn-of-the-century bid to become the railroad center of the Midwest, St. Louis had relied for years on an outdated river economy that kept it from emerging as a major regional hub, a failing that became more evident daily. The city’s dramatic population decline indicated its shortcomings. (p.148) The fourth-largest city in the United States in 1900, it had fallen to eighth by 1950. It dropped to twenty-sixth by 1980. While this outmigration characterized many great American cities, including Chicago and New York, the trend began far earlier in St. Louis and thus could not be attributed merely to a failure to sustain postwar economic gains. The city’s problems were far deeper than that. In a 1950 series called “Progress or Decay? St. Louis Must Choose,” Richard G. Baumhoff of the local Post-Dispatch expressed a fear that “St. Louis would take a back seat among American cities.” Trenchant problems in race relations, housing, education, and transportation marked the city’s peril.4

St. Louisans were concerned about their city’s notoriety. Our World writer David A. Hepburn, an African American journalist for John P. Davis’s national lifestyle magazine, published “Shocking St. Louis” for the February 1950 issue. Hepburn called St. Louis a “shank” and a “juicy town” because of its “vice, corruption and high crime rates.” To compose his exposé, Hepburn spent time at the Homer G. Phillips Hospital over one weekend, where he cited more than one hundred patients under care for “shootings and cuttings.” The seedy element’s members likely procured their weapons through transactions conducted in nearby East St. Louis, Illinois, Hepburn told readers. Photographer Wilbert Blanche complemented Hepburn’s scathing commentary with photos of blood-splattered women and men caught in the crosshairs of urban violence. Blanche captured the wounded James Williams, “his head … a mass of blood,” being escorted by a police officer after an altercation in a car; seventy-eight-year-old Mary Little being handled by a police officer and three hospital attendants, with twelve stiches from a strike to the head with a metal rod by her husband; a woman “screaming in agony from [a] compound leg fracture” after a cab driver struck her with his vehicle; black youths embroiled in violent retaliation against white youths who themselves had used violence to resist the integration of the Fairgrounds Park swimming pool; pictures of men shot, stabbed, and cut; and sex workers “clandestinely carrying on in [the] tradition of a hot time.”5

“Slum, squalor and filth is the housing story. Toughest, most menial jobs go to Negro workers,” read the title of the section following the first, which covered “the allied diseases of graft, vice, the rackets, gambling and corruption.” “You’ve never seen slums if you haven’t seen those of (p.149) St. Louis,” Hepburn wrote. “The river shanties, the Biddle Street hovels, the shacks in ‘the Patch’ around Chouteau Street” vied for top billing as the worst slums in the country. Readers learned that while black residents comprised approximately 14 percent of the city’s total population, they accounted for half of those in the city’s housing. In “Biddle patch” “slums,” residents had to shell out the high price of “12.65 a month for two dank rooms in a rickety firetrap without heat, water or toilet.” Photos depicted overcrowded, “rat ridden” dilapidated structures and the families inhabiting them. “This city is bulging at the seams and crying for low cost housing, to no avail,” Hepburn wrote. While the black population waits for city leadership to fix the housing problem, local officials “cannot make up [their] mind[s] whether it should be entirely jimcrow or not.” On a concluding note, Hepburn argued that Jim Crowism, “fear, hunger, unemployment, ghettos, [and] squalor” had created the conditions for the underground economic activity and vice to thrive.6

Black male professional St. Louisans were unhappy with Hepburn’s read. Henry Winfield Wheeler, described in the St. Louis Argus as “this city’s ‘Mr. Civil Rights,’” said the piece was “a slanderous falsehood embellished by half-truths and gin-soaked … mumbo-jumbo.” A St. Louis American editorial argued that the article was so misguided and inaccurate, the product of not only “a malicious job, but a lazy, inexpert one,” that it did not warrant the respect of a rebuttal. Attorney John W. Harvey, president of the Mound City Bar Association, pulled the popular magazine from his office. “If they had said the shocking slums of St. Louis, I could have understood, … but to indict an entire city after spot checking it for a few days seems to me to be in journalistic bad taste.” Former state legislator J. Claybourne Bush urged every St. Louisan to discontinue support. Sidney R. Redmond, a former Urban League staffer, pulled away from the pack, arguing that the article offered an opportunity for leaders to implement reforms. Redmond said, “Unfortunately much of the article is true. I hope it serves as a challenge and makes us overcome some of our deficiencies. They are as the grains of sand.” Urban League industrial secretary Chester A. Stovall found the middle ground, citing two recent Supreme Court decisions with origins in the Gateway City—the 1938 Lloyd Gaines case and Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)—as evidence suggesting local progress on the racial front. Wheeler offered a long list of (p.150) the city’s accomplishments: “We challenge them [“the writers of “Shocking St. Louis”] to name a city in America that has in the last ten years made as noble a fight for human, dignity, equally [sic] of opportunity and Christian fellowship as St. Louis.” Although Wheeler overstated the case, it was true that city leaders had passed measures that supported integrated auditoriums and city buildings, that activists had battled against discrimination in private lunch counters, and that the black voting public had helped to elect residents from their communities to citywide, state, and national political office. Stovall suggested that Hepburn had succumbed to a northeastern bias among the upwardly mobile black professionals “who probably a few years ago migrated from the deep South into the new found freedom of New York and could not see our trends of progress in St. Louis.” Whether black St. Louisans lived harsher lives than their counterparts was a question open for debate, but that the central city’s concentrated poverty was a deep problem and that leaders across the color line needed to demonstrate substantive progress through clearing black low-income neighborhoods was a widely held belief.7

To convey the urgency of the matter, writers, thinkers, and policymakers portrayed black low-income women as the face of urban blight and poverty. “St. Louis, like any other Big Town is rotting in its core,” asserted Argus writer Odell W. Morris. While Morris identified city inhabitants as “Negroes and poor whites,” he, along with Argus staff photographer William B. Franklin, visually represented urban deterioration with a large photograph of a black woman and her children and three additional pictures of dilapidated homes. Sarah Wallace, a widow and a welfare recipient with four children, “typifies the plight of thousands in stricken area,” the caption read. The family lived in cramped, two-room living quarters with no electricity, using a kerosene lamp instead. Without access to child care and as the sole breadwinner of her family, Wallace had to remain home, because only one of her children was of school age. Another photo of “ramshackle outside privies” had the caption, “Woman on back porch was determined to get in on the act [by standing within the frame of the photograph]—one man ducked camera.” Black children were also a focus. Photos and captions depicted and described a young boy “dumping food scraps into uncovered garbage can,” and others showed “children play[ing] cowboy in pool of stagnant water,” “a (p.151) dead dog which children had been dragging around while playing,” and “a group of children playing on the roof of a rickety shed” who “swarmed to the edge when the photographer and the reporter appeared.” Depicting urban poverty through portrayals of unemployed black women and ostensibly abandoned black children became the main currency of arguments for the erection of public-housing units. “A tour of the area … revealed people desperately in need of housing and in many cases, of food and clothing.” “Sharecroppers of the Machine Age,” low-income black women were symbols pointing to the need to turn “the wheels of politics and common sense.” With federal funds and private capital commitments, St. Louis mayor Joseph Darst green-lighted the razing of Wallace’s home, which sat in the DeSoto-Carr region, bordered by Franklin and Cass and Eighteenth and Jefferson Streets; the mayor promised to fix the problem of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.8

“Mother, Five Children Face Street Eviction,” read a front-page Argus headline. This time, the newspaper featured Mary Smith, a Carr Square public-housing resident, who had recently broken her leg on the way to a court hearing. Smith, mother of five children, faced eviction by the SLHA, who charged her with “fraudulent claims” and alleged that she had lied about her husband’s employment status by failing to report that he had a full-time job at an electric plant. Under Housing Authority policies, Carr Square residents submitted monthly rent payments based on a family’s total income. Smith explained that her husband’s economic status was unpredictable and unreliable since his employment fluctuated and that, for a time, she was the sole breadwinner who made ends meet from the fifty-four dollars she received from Aid to Dependent Children and the thirty dollars a month her husband provided. Like Sarah Wallace, Mary Smith was looking for a new place with a lower rent scale and better conditions, but St. Louis’s severe housing shortage meant that both were trapped. Photography, too, was a crucial component of telling the woman’s story. With a forlorn expression, Mary Smith, wheelchair-bound with a fractured leg and a dislocated foot, stared longingly into the camera lens while her five children, standing, surrounded her with eyes fixed on their mother. Sarah Wallace held a similar pose for an Argus photographer.9

The deplorable living conditions of residents like Sarah Wallace were the result of choices that municipal leaders had made. Overcrowding (p.152) stemmed from city officials’ failure to accommodate black migrants. The racial makeup of St. Louis shifted during this period; its black population swelled when southerners relocated to cities across the nation to take advantage of wartime industrial jobs as part of the second Great Migration. Before this wave, drawn to the city after the 1904 World’s Fair were “maids, cooks, porters, all of whom stayed,” and between World War I and World War I, “rough farm-hands from Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee” moved to the city hoping to make more money by securing jobs in “the steel mills, textile factories, packinghouses and leatherworks.” This black migration was as much labor migration as it was anything else. Whites, meanwhile, fled to newly created suburbs that were financed by state and federal subsidies. The outward migration of capital left the cities with a decreased tax base just when the World War I economy was grinding to a halt. Segregated from almost all of these emerging suburban communities, many African Americans found homes in the city’s just-built public-housing projects clustered in areas north of downtown that were increasingly holding a sizable percentage of city residents. Substandard housing plagued St. Louis’s eastern, northern, and central districts, where blacks were contained and isolated by policies such as restrictive covenants, redlining, and zoning laws. These areas also suffered from high unemployment rates and segregated schools.10

Thus, when local advocates envisioned and implemented urban renewal schemes in hopes of stemming the tide of decline wracking St. Louis, they targeted African American neighborhoods. Far from the panacea that municipal planners imagined, however, urban renewal drastically worsened systemic problems. Programs supposedly designed to revitalize the city instead removed low-income black people from zones targeted for commercial development. At their heart was an unstated belief by city leaders that for St. Louis to rebound, it would have to limit the mobility and access of poor and working-class people of color. The urban renewal movement exposed rather than ameliorated the antagonistic relationship between city politicians and African American residents, as blacks were removed from prime locations without their consent. One plan, for example, displaced by the end of the 1950s approximately twenty thousand residents, more than 90 percent black, from centrally located Mill Creek Valley, just west of Union Station and bounded by Twentieth (p.153) Street, Olive Street, Grand Avenue, and Mill Creek Valley, when city officials deemed the community blighted. In mid-February 1959, demolition on the 465-acre area began. Mayor Raymond Tucker and other officials looked on as workers for the R. E. Harder Contracting Company, which received a $125,000 contract from the city to demolish 275 buildings in ninety days, took a “headache ball” to the tenement at 3818 Laclede Avenue. “The result would be an impressive belt of rejuvenation through the heart of the city along thoroughfares traversed daily by thousands of people on the way to work and by visitors arriving at Union Station,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist Harry Wilensky explained. Redevelopment through erection of commercial and industrial properties was a kind of reconstruction that “logically lends itself” to the area, and “should serve to reinforce and stabilize the central business district,” Tucker surmised. Because of the concentration of black residents in the soon-to-be razed area, Tucker appointed an impressive array of black community leaders to sit on an advisory committee, including Valla D. Abbington of the St. Louis Urban League, the only woman. The destruction of Mill Creek Valley meant that African American families lost homes, businesses, and community institutions; an area that once had been a hub for working-class life was destroyed by this forced dispersal. Mill Creek Valley had long been an area where low-income black women and their families and friends found ways to make a life despite crushing poverty.11

One would be hard pressed to find one resident who disagreed with the notion that major public intervention was necessary. A study found that nearly 90 percent of the mostly black residents living in the area, which extended over more than three hundred acres, had no private flush toilets or baths, and just over 50 percent had no running water. Nearly 90 percent of the residents were tenants, more than 75 percent were renters, and the vast majority of them qualified for public housing. Overcrowding and dilapidation produced hazardous conditions for low-income black Mound City residents. Across the city, not just in Mill Creek, black residents’ homes were death traps. In early 1950, for example, an explosion killed four, including a two-year-old child and a ten-year-old child, and injured seven of the thirty-two persons crammed into a building designed to house four families. The “ancient structure” “stands as grim testimony to the evils of Jim Crow housing and the vicious pattern of the ghetto (p.154) system in St. Louis,” read a St. Louis American caption. The “two-story building” was “a shocking indictment of our economic system.”12

Low-income black women welcomed municipal projects to improve living conditions in the city’s central corridor, but not without concern for what would happen to them once modernization was under way. Although Mayor Tucker promised Mill Creek Valley residents that they would be among the first to enter the newly constructed public housing, and that in the meantime the city would provide access to affordable temporary housing, many of the neighborhood’s black residents, whose families had lived in Mill Creek Valley for generations, were skeptical. One writer put it in these terms: “The visions that have floated through the city this week of towering, modern residences with beautiful parks and playgrounds, set off by underpasses and elevated expressways, have been received by Negro citizens with something less than the bubbling enthusiasm of those who dreamed them up.” While the Post-Dispatch failed to cover black residents’ concerns about urban renewal, the St. Louis Argus and the St. Louis American, the city’s two black newspapers, provided thorough coverage in this respect. A study conducted by journalists for the Argus found that residents worried about their futures and were more likely to understand urban renewal as “Negro removal” instead of beautification. Resident Frances Williams told researchers, for example, “We need new building in the area. So long as they’re making plans for the people in the area, I think it’s a good plan.” Another resident, Eugene Thomas, echoed the sentiment of many women when he said that he was in favor “so long as ‘poor people are taken into consideration.’” St. Louis leaders had already established a municipal pattern that equated urban reform with black dispersal and displacement, yet a most recent example drove home the need for black skepticism. “Recently,” penned one editorialist, “St. Louis leaders became greatly elated at the prospect of city beautification” with the building of Aloe Plaza, which replaced poorly built properties occupied by low-income black tenants. In this case, “there were speeches, radio talks, pictures, news stories, pamphlets, all trumpeting the merits of this urban redevelopment,” but when black citizens demanded demolition and construction jobs, members of the Urban Redevelopment Corporation and other officials associated with the project failed to respond. What is more, black residents raised the (p.155) critical question of whether officials would establish public housing on a segregated basis. All indicators pointed to the likelihood that it would, despite the recent Supreme Court ruling in Banks v. Housing Authority of San Francisco (1953). The Court had upheld the lower court’s ruling that found the San Francisco Housing Authority guilty of violating a black couple’s Fourteenth Amendment right when it denied their application to the North Beach Place project. NACP lawyers cited Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) as evidence of the court’s shift away from the “separate but equal” edict of the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling. While some were skeptical, Kinloch city residents unequivocally celebrated the news that they would receive six hundred thousand dollars in federal money for construction of “a 200-unit public housing project, which will house 2,000 persons, an ultra-modern shopping center, new civic buildings, including a City Hall, and churches, parks and playgrounds.” The city hosted celebratory activities for three days, culminating with a parade “through the all-Negro community.” An all-black city subject to its own municipal governance, Kinloch had residents who had far greater control over public grants than their black counterparts in St. Louis city.13

“The Modern Miracle of Public Housing”

While public policy by no means fully addressed the housing and job crisis plaguing low-income black women and their families, it brought improvements. The 1937, 1949, and 1954 Federal Housing Acts, issued under the Eisenhower administration, included a nondiscrimination clause stipulating that a certain percentage of units should be reserved for black dwellers. Of the new construction authorized by the 1949 Federal Housing Act, officials theoretically set aside just over half for black residents. “Not only has the low-rent housing program provided decent, safe and sanitary homes for Negro families economically unable to rent or buy housing in the private market, but it has also provided employment for both skilled and unskilled Negro workers,” read one report, viewing the program from a national perspective. A Public Housing Authority study estimated that three-fourths of black public-housing residents moved out of their apartments on a monthly basis at a rate of less than 2 percent for every one hundred units, and only 2 percent moved out at a rate higher (p.156) than 5 percent. Approximately 17 percent of black families across the country secured jobs in new public-housing construction during the first half of 1954. The question of integrated public housing was a more complicated one. Housing authorities in Wilmington, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, among others, agreed to operate on an open-occupancy basis, but the reality belied such commitments. Of the rental units across the country reaching full occupancy by June 30, 1954, only 14 percent were “operating on a completed integrated basis.”14

Carr Square, the first public-housing project opened for black residents in St. Louis city, was originally intended to house families with relative means. The thinking was that low-income residents with families could make affordable rent payments and over time save enough money to afford a down payment on a home of their own. Because the massive housing shortage, coupled with chronic black unemployment and urban renewal projects, had unleashed a wave of black displacement, dispersal, and dislocation, low-income black women and their families, some from Mill Creek Valley and others from similar poorer black districts in the central corridor, flocked to Carr Square, hoping to secure a better place to live. When the Carr Square Village Public Housing Project first opened in 1942, more than four thousand black families, who hoped to escape ramshackle, overcrowded tenements with no electricity and with privies just outside the buildings, were on the waiting list. Moving into the village was a definite improvement. Unable to afford rent payments in middle-income black neighborhoods like the Ville, low-income families who moved to Carr Square had private bathrooms, running water, multiple bedrooms, and two and three stories. Located just northwest of downtown, Carr Square’s nineteenth-century inhabitants had included German Protestants, Italians, and Orthodox Jews, who shaped the neighborhood into a diverse, ethnic-immigrant enclave. African Americans began moving into the area during the Great Depression and the World War I period as white ethnic communities moved to inner- and outer-ring suburbs. The public-housing project came to define the Carr Square neighborhood, with its 658 buildings spread across approximately twenty-four acres.15

Initially, black working-class women and their families took pride in their new homes; public housing was an unqualified improvement over (p.157) the tenements or “cold water flats” that they had once occupied. Carr Square resident Imani Mtendaji (formerly Rhonda V. Johnson) lived in the public-housing project for most of her life. Born in 1956, Mtendaji lived there with her four siblings and her parents, Katie Johnson, a seamstress, and Smith Johnson Jr., a mechanic. Katie and Smith’s first home in the city was a small, two-room unit, where they lived with their three older children; they moved to a larger unit in the “long rectangular type buildings” of Carr Square in the 1950s. Evelyn Jones’s family moved to Carr Square for similar reasons. The house that her family had rented previously was overcrowded and unsanitary, and the ash pits used for trash disposal, located behind the house, attracted vermin. Jones’s mother, Dorothy Johnson Ridley, had a best friend, Hazel Davis, who urged her to consider public housing. The two had become friends in the early 1930s, when both frequented a health care clinic on Laclede Avenue. Davis moved to the village in the early 1940s and talked Ridley into applying. Unable to secure a place, however, around the mid-1940s Ridley wrote a letter to President Harry Truman for assistance. The record does not indicate whether it was because of the letter, but Ridley and her family soon moved into an apartment. The family occupied a three-bedroom, one-bath townhouse with the living room and kitchen located on the first floor and bedrooms on the second. The family’s new home was “just enough to really live decent [sic],” Jones recalled. In the new setting, she had “space to … do something, to have a little privacy.” Her old house, by contrast, had two large rooms, where “everybody sees what everybody else [is] doing” but in the village, she said, “We did have rooms with doors to them and we could close them.” Carr Square residents believed that their new living situations were a substantial improvement. When friends and relatives visited the village, they tended to remark that residents had it good, citing, for example, the ample space, privacy, and the indoor facility. “They would think that you had something ’cause you stayed in Carr Square Village,” Jones recalled. Carol Strickland Ray recalled that her family and friends felt “pride just living in Carr Square.” Their new homes had “running water, the inside toilet … I mean there was no shame in this,” Ray remembered. Water fountains, parks, and playground equipment were scattered around the areas between and directly outside of buildings. Imani Mtendaji’s family welcomed the amenities (p.158) of the new apartment. They owned an automatic washing machine, and, like all other tenants, Mtendaji and her sister took the family’s freshly laundered clothing to one of the “drying yards,” located between buildings, for drying. “In those days,” Mtendaji recalled, “the management was very regimented.” There were strict policies regarding maintenance, upkeep, and occupancy, but despite restrictions on the numbers of dwellers in households, which limited occupancy to members of an immediate family, tenants routinely hosted friends and family in need of temporary housing. After a brief stint as a resident at the Phillis Wheatley YWCA, Mtendaji secured a Carr Square apartment of her own in the mid-1970s.16

Publicly funded social welfare programs facilitated social bonding, creating the conditions for community development. The Tenant Management Association, partnering with Plymouth House community center, managed by the United Church of Christ, sponsored community activities for children, and recreational facilities provided an outlet. Sixteen years older than Imani Mtendaji, Evelyn Jones also lived in Carr Square Village for most of her life. She recalled having access to an abundance of recreational opportunities both inside and outside the village community. She regularly attended dances held at recreational centers including Poro College; the Neighborhood House; the Phillis Wheatley YWCA; the Carr Square Community Center; Footlong (a restaurant on Franklin Street with a jukebox), where patrons “danced, did the bop”; and Cook’s on Eighteenth Street (a small facility managed by a married couple). Jones and her Carr Square friends skated at the Palace Garden Rink at Vandeventer and Finney. Carol Strickland Ray, another resident of Carr Square, likewise recalled multiple opportunities for rich leisure. She swam at the Fifteenth Street Park swimming pool, participated in volleyball tournaments, and participated in the Phillis Wheatley YWCA’s programs. Jones went to a baseball game at Sportman’s Park on Grand, once home to two major league baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. Ordinarily, however, Jones stood in long lines to secure baseball tickets for her parents, who, like many black locals, were eager to see their home team play the Los Angeles Dodgers and their black star player Jackie Robinson. Local residents baked goods and sold them to neighbors. A pair of older sisters sold homemade ice cream, and one tenant managed a small confectionary. The same two sisters also organized (p.159) a drum and bugle corps for children, “and all the kids would want to go there [“on Biddle Street”] and learn how to” play instruments. After worshiping at Washington Tabernacle Baptist Church, where they arrived usually by streetcar, Evelyn Jones and her siblings and friends often went to the Marquette, Comet, or Carver Theater to watch a film. Carr Square Village residents Carol Strickland Ray and Betty Thompson, who later became a state senator, recalled riding the streetcar on Sunday afternoons as a special highlight. Their families would load onto a streetcar, ride the line all the way to Wellston, get off to purchase popcorn, and ride the car back home. Even camping out in the back yard or on a porch to keep cool during sweltering summer months became an important way to build community.17

Carr Square Village was not a utopia, however. The area had the highest population density in the city, at twenty-six families per acre, and concerned citizens urged municipal administrators to carefully consider density when planning future projects. It was an area of concentrated black poverty. From 1940 to 1980, more than 90 percent of its inhabitants were tenants, not owners. The median income was $11,523 (1997 dollars) in 1960 and dropped to $9,929 (1997 dollars) twenty years later. Low-income black women outnumbered black males, reaching one thousand more in 1940 and nearly two thousand more in 1960. From 1940 to 1960, black working-class women never exceeded the labor force participation rates of black working-class men, but they came close to matching them, and by 1980 they exceeded them. Such conditions, coupled with a Housing Authority that consistently earned the lowest performance ratings year after year and a gradual withering of public concern for the poor meant that Carr Square Village would soon follow the fate of public-housing structures across the country.18

The most potent symbol of detrimental urban planning in St. Louis was the Pruitt-Igoe public-housing project, which opened in 1954. Consisting of thirty-three high-rise buildings that held 11,500 residents, it was made possible by the Federal Housing Act of 1949, which provided direct funds to cities for urban improvements, slum clearance, and public housing. Although at first Pruitt-Igoe did provide an upgrade in housing stock for many of the city’s black residents, the project also served to remove and warehouse poor and working-class African Americans from (p.160) communities clustered around valuable downtown areas that were being primed for redevelopment. For families living in abject poverty, however, living in Pruitt-Igoe was an improvement. Opened in October 1954, the Wendell Oliver Pruitt housing project opened to its first group of residents, Frankie Raglin, aunt and guardian of four children whose parents had recently died. Raglin, “the head of the first family,” moved “into a brand new three bedroom unit including a living room bath and kitchen.” Evelyn Jones, a Carr Square Village resident who witnessed Pruitt-Igoe’s construction as a teenager, said, “I don’t think it was a good idea when they stacked everybody up on top of each other. … But it was pretty. … It was nice. You could, you could walk straight through there at night. They had bands, people playing … [an] outdoor band … and they had a community center where you could dance. … We used to walk up there. Nobody bothered us.” The Neighborhood Association–Pruitt Nursery held an open house in April 1956. Children in the public-housing project participated in educational, cultural, and social activities led by a staff of women teachers. Funded by the United Fund, the nursery had just over thirty students with more than twenty on the waiting list. A photo essay of the nursery in the St. Louis Argus featured women leading students in art classes, Jimmie Jenkins preparing a meal, Darlene Peterson overseeing naptime, Lucille Thomas “eating the nutritious lunch provided daily,” and staff worker and civil rights activist Pearl S. Maddox leading a tour of the facility. Betty Thompson lived in Pruitt-Igoe in the years immediately after its construction. As a teenager, Thompson observed her father’s work as a leader of the community-organized White Caps, a voluntary security team of black men who patrolled the community.19

Over time, however, the housing development dramatically deteriorated. The subject of considerable national attention, Pruitt-Igoe soon marked the height of municipal negligence, and it quickly deteriorated in the face of inadequate funding. While much public discourse blamed residents for the project’s misfortunes, a more accurate and honest assessment of Pruitt-Igoe’s failure points to systemic problems, including declining municipal revenues, a poorly managed and poorly financed local housing authority, the mass exodus of factories to the suburbs and cheaper labor markets of the Deep South, strict racial segregation, depopulation, and a shortage of good jobs located close to where residents lived. The project’s (p.161) demise, including the nationally televised implosion of one of its buildings in 1972, marked a spectacular end to the use of high-rises to house low-income residents, and it found many African Americans in St. Louis searching for effective and appropriate responses to problems that the city seemed unwilling or unable to solve. Gateway City residents, as historian Joseph Heathcott notes, witnessed nothing short of “the formation … of a new urban vision” that “set about redefining the terms of the debate over the future of the city itself.”20

Chronic unemployment was intimately linked to the housing crisis. A lack of adequate income made it nearly impossible to improve one’s living conditions. “Apart from a few needle trade jobs,” writer David A. Hepburn accurately noted about black working-class women’s employment prospects, “the kitchen is the only thing open to most women.” Two-headed households gripped by poverty demanded that able-bodied adults and children generate income, but this was no simple task. In August 1949 black unemployment was 33 percent, much higher than the rate for white residents, and by the end of September 1948, fewer blacks, approximately thirty-five thousand, were employed than the year before. For black working-class women, the postwar era was not one in which women benefited from postwar economic gains, with unemployment rates for blacks on the rise. A major St. Louis Urban League study, “The Negro in the St. Louis Economy, 1954,” completed with research conducted by staff members, Washington University professors, and other volunteers, found that even though black workers had access to greater educational and training opportunities, the group still lagged far behind white workers, “whose economic status is rapidly improving.” Put another way, the economic status of black workers at the end of 1953 had not yet matched that of white workers in 1950. Black unemployment was 2.5 times the rate for whites, according to the report. “An indication of this [problem],” journalist Otis N. Thompson summarized, was “the large number of non-white married females taking part in the labor force, obviously to supplement the insufficient earnings of the male worker of the family.”21

Writer Hattye Thomas penned a poignant story based on her young life, titled “Help Wanted.” Published in the St. Louis Argus in March 1950, the story ruminated on “where we [black working-class women] stand in the white man’s world.” Exploding the myth of postwar prosperity, (p.162) she pointed out that while a small number of black women graduated and secured positions in teaching, nursing, and other professions, “We can’t all be nurses or teachers.” Thomas argued that the fight to desegregate theaters and other public and private facilities was subordinate to the fight for fair employment. “Can’t they all understand that those things are small and unimportant?” “All the papers are screaming of the right to go here or there and some of the papers have gone so far as to discuss interracial marriages. But they don’t mention jobs at all.” There were thousands, and more, young black women graduates from college, universities, and vocational training schools who were barred from economic opportunity. “We were just two of the thousands of Negro girls all over the world,” Thomas wrote, referring to herself and a friend, “who had worked, studied, and tried so hard to prepare for this hard outside world.” But in every city and town, there were far too many instances of employers passing over young black women for less qualified white women, she lamented. Depicting a daylong, unsuccessful search for employment, Thomas revealed that she and her friend had met economic rejection three times. Thomas arrived home only to be asked “the dreaded question” of whether or not she had landed a job. Native son Harry S. Truman’s civil rights platform missed the point, Thomas maintained:

  • I do not beg for entrance into your household fair
  • Nor do I envy you, your treasured heirlooms there.

“I only pray for a chance to prove that there are tools in my brain shop to build for the human race.”22

For public-housing tenants, public grants provided not only an outlet but also a much-needed employment opportunity. Roughly between the ages of twelve and fifteen, Imani Mtendaji worked as a camp counselor for the United Church of Christ Tenant Management Association, and she later worked for the Carr Central Gateway Center, a community organization that provided services to children, young adults, and senior citizens. Betty Thompson lived in three public-housing projects, Carr Square, Darst-Webbe, and Pruitt-Igoe, from the early 1940s through the mid-1960s, and over the course of those years she worked for the Human (p.163) Development Corporation (the headquarters of the city’s welfare offices) for twenty-six years, from the mid-1960s to 1980, after a brief stint in the early to mid-1960s of working for the health center of Teamster’s Local 688. As an employee of the HDC, Thompson began as a “neighborhood worker” or “housing specialist” and later became a branch manager at the Pruitt-Igoe Center. Darby Robinson described her work history as “hustling,” by which she meant that she had held numerous jobs, sometimes more than one at a time, to make ends meet. A widow who cared for her biological children and others in need of a home, Robinson worked as a barmaid for Gully’s Lounge, was later one of ten of the first black women to secure jobs as operators at the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, performed day work as a domestic while attending Hadley Technical High School to “take a trade,” labored as a nurse’s aide at Jewish Hospital, and worked as a short-order cook and waitress at Geno’s Restaurant at Union and Maple. Like her mother, who worked for the HDC in the child care department for twenty years, Robinson took a job as a secretary for the McCormack Realty Company, which managed the Bluemeyer Village Housing Project. In this position, Robinson “handled rent suits, executions of rent, and typed up suits, and you know [performed] the whole nine yards that had something to do with the legal part.”23

“A Life of Struggle”: Ora Lee Malone’s Trade Union Activism

As public-housing tenants began fomenting collective struggles to address the jobs and housing crisis, other black working-class women were using the apparatus of the trade union to advance the similar cause for economic dignity. Convinced of the merits of worker organization, Ora Lee Malone developed a critical unionism that pushed organized labor to adopt an expansive social justice platform. One of postwar St. Louis’s most important black freedom and economic justice activists, she capitalized on and advanced black working-class women’s activism during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Born in 1918 in Brooksville, Mississippi, and raised in Mobile, Alabama, as the eldest of nine children, her organization of and involvement in antiapartheid and transnational movements, women’s counterpublics, and civil rights organizing were (p.164) as much a part of her trade union organizing as was labor activism itself. An activist who was “mixed up in all these causes,” Malone fashioned a cutting-edge activist ethos that merged the struggle for economic justice with that for civil rights and gender equity and the aspirations of poor and working-class persons, people of color, and women.24 The organizer from the Deep South situated her various calls for reform against the backdrop of the social and political upheavals that gave shape to the post–World War I era. Her critical unionism challenged working-class activists. Black women labor activists like Malone tended to eschew the narrow issue of wage consciousness; their more expansive perspective included workers’ broad concerns about living conditions.25 Malone represented a multifaceted social justice vision that forcefully critiqued certain civil rights, feminist, and labor movement discourses and practices even as it drew from some of these.

When she moved to St. Louis in 1951 at age thirty-three, Malone related that she was not personally pulled by any utopian dreams about a “promised land.” On the contrary, she moved to be with her family, who had migrated a year earlier. Disenchanted with the lackluster reality of economic opportunity in the celebrated postwar era, Malone believed that in any new setting, “you had to make your opportunities wherever you go,” because “nobody gives you anything.” She was conscious of white public discourse that created myths of lazy, desperate, hands-outstretched mobs of blacks begging for federal and state aid, but Malone denounced the notion that she moved because of the promise of help: “Black immigrants had nothing, we just wandered on in and people set up, everyone did the best they could. They had to go to work; they had to find a job on their own. We didn’t get any help, no aid or anything.” There was little in Malone’s historical memory or gathered knowledge from family or friends to suggest that life would become radically different. Wherever she moved, “it was a constant battle.” The phrase “a constant battle” crept into most of Malone’s recollections. This was a central filter through which she viewed most of her professional interactions.26

Moving away from her husband, Sturdivan Malone, a merchant marine and National Maritime Union member, who remained in Alabama, Malone boarded a train at the Gulf Mobile and Ohio railroad where her uncle worked, and she traveled overnight in the front car, where blacks (p.165) were forced to sit because, should the train derail, white lives would likely be saved. When she arrived, Malone moved into a four-family flat where her mother and younger siblings resided on St. Louis Avenue, a street that at the time housed mostly white families. Receiving word from a female cousin who knew the St. Louis job market fairly well, Malone applied to two open positions, one at a paper company on the south side of the city, and the other at the California Manufacturing Company, a predominantly black shop that manufactured men’s jackets. She was offered both jobs but chose the California Company because it was closer to home.27

Malone’s early work experiences matched those of other recent black southern migrants in the mid-twentieth century. She and her coworkers labored under the constant dual threat of economic reprisal and job termination. Though she had the ability to do the more skilled jobs, such as sewing contents tags on jackets, her boss, Joe Berra, often relegated her to the “lowest and dirtiest jobs,” perhaps because of her outspokenness. Even so, he periodically elevated other black women workers to positions in which they could oversee clothing orders and record the shop’s business with local and state companies. Berra also hired a black woman supervisor to distribute work duties; this position was paid significantly more. But these cases were exceptions. Most employees worked on the shop floor. Because of her dexterity with sewing machines, Malone earned her wage by the piece and took home greater pay than time workers locked into menial wage rates. Paid one penny per jacket, she earned between ten and twelve dollars per day and often made overtime, skirting around the Missouri law that prohibited women from working more than nine hours per day by “clocking out” and then returning immediately. The employees at the manufacturing company received three regular breaks per day, two ten-minute breaks and one lunch break. The employees were mostly black females, but there were also small numbers of black men, Latino women and men, and white men and women.28

Because no union had been organized, Joe Berra had complete control over the shop and could cut benefits and fire employees at will. Most of these workers were reluctant to publicly challenge authority, and the area’s garment unions were slow to organize shops predominantly populated by persons of color. Yet Malone’s ability to do most of the jobs at the shop, coupled with her involvement in the Alabama civil rights movement, (p.166) placed her in a unique position to lobby on behalf of her coworkers. In Alabama she had campaigned against the Boswell Amendment, passed by the state legislature in 1945 and ratified the following year, which allowed registrars to disqualify aspiring African American voters who “failed” to interpret the US Constitution satisfactorily. It was swift and effective in disenfranchising black voters. In response, the Birmingham and Mobile chapters of the NACP, as well as the Voters and Veterans League, a black Mobile-based group working to protect the right of African Americans to vote, filed a lawsuit in 1948. A year later the federal district court deemed the amendment unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Fifteenth Amendment. The success of this post–World War I campaign bolstered Malone’s belief in the efficacy of collective effort.29

After witnessing Malone’s willingness to challenge daily indignities, one female worker, upset that Berra had just fired her for no apparent reasons and with no advanced notice, asked if it was possible to unionize the shop. Malone remembered it this way: “A woman came to me one day and said she’d been fired. It was an all-black shop; no union was interested in organizing black workers in the men’s clothing industry.” Not yet well acquainted with the labor movement scene in St. Louis but knowledgeable about national labor leader A. Philip Randolph and the National Maritime Union in Alabama—her husband was a member—Malone was somewhat prepared for the task at hand. She suggested that her coworkers travel to the downtown union office on Washington Street to ask about membership. Malone and others had heard of previous failed attempts to organize black workers in St. Louis. But her opening moves fortunately occurred just as the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union was undergoing a jurisdictional dispute with the Garment Workers Union, which meant that both organizations now vied for the workers. An organizer for the ACWU, a white woman, leafleted the company despite calls from management to desist. After months of preparation, union officers permitted the workers to join but were unwilling to pay the cost of bussing all the company’s employees to the union hall downtown. Malone and others funded the trip, and the workers were organized in 1956.30 The new unionists elected Malone shop steward of Local 463, which meant that she served as an advocate for employees by informing managers (p.167) about workers’ grievances and then took the issues to a business representative if matters could not be settled on the floor. As shop steward, Malone interceded for single and married workers whose pay was docked because of unannounced bus schedule changes and sick children, workers who felt the brunt of discriminatory practices based on seniority, and time workers who received significantly smaller wages than pieceworkers. Her efforts as a shop steward, after nineteen years, mushroomed into an international business representative position with the ACWU, where she represented nearly forty shops and stores in St. Louis and southern Missouri, a region with a strong tradition of interracial worker coalitions but considered by many urban African Americans a racial backwater. Malone was among the first generation of black women who came to the fore when women and blacks struggled to secure “decision-making roles in unions.” She later became a founding member of local chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, two organizations at the forefront of black workers’ organizing for racial and economic justice.31

Ora Lee Malone was also heavily involved in local politics. She campaigned for DeVerne L. Calloway in 1962 when he ran for the state legislature. She recalled, “In any campaign that was going on that I agreed with that particular person’s philosophy, I worked on his campaign.” While Malone likely agreed with Calloway on the need for legislative solutions to the problem of urban inequality, she sharply diverged with the state senator when it came to the culture of office-holding. About politicians, Malone remarked, “They get up and make a glorious speech … many of them leave. They are so far removed from the people.” Her criticism of the local NACP, also Calloway’s domain, fell along similar lines: “I’m just kind of tired of the sorority and fraternity crowd being in charge, setting [sic] at their table … going to banquets and lining the stage with their things. … I just hate their tables.” Locating the NACP and state and local politicians in the same elitist camp, Malone instead wanted leaders to “be at the table with the people who they represent, trying to find out what their problems are.” She supported the NACP’s legal work but rejected the organization’s classism. Her political focus was on identifying with people who held no titles. She conducted sessions on voter education, discussing local issues with residents and instilling (p.168) the importance of grassroots civic participation, which she felt was a more valuable use of her time than board meetings or awards dinners.32

Housing for low-income women was an issue of special importance for Ora Malone. With colleagues, she generated a list of “suggested action for solutions” to the housing crisis. Included were education and public awareness, advocacy, and leadership development. Groups suggested that they form a working relationship with the Human Development Corporation’s staff person, understand and prepare to explain the details of the Fair Housing Act, investigate the “female rent strike” of 1969 to find ways to assist tenants, and “stimulate building of new low- and middle-income housing in the metropolitan area.”33 It was this kind of advocacy that led to various recognitions and promotions. For example, the board of directors of the Greater Saint Louis Committee for Freedom of Residence, an organization founded in 1961 to support integrated housing, nominated Malone to serve on its board, along with other higher-profile leaders in St. Louis’s labor and housing scene, including welfare-rights activists Sylvia Miller and Eddie Mae Binion, Ted Gatlin of Clinton-Peabody Tenant Management, and Richard Baron of McCormack & Associates.34 Members of Black Women’s Community Development Foundation, based in Washington, DC, nominated Ora Lee Malone for its Sojourner Truth Award, which the organization “designed to honor the unpraised Black woman who has struggled ‘in the Spirit of Sojourner Truth.’”35

Community-oriented unionism that merged civil rights, feminist, and labor agendas and prioritized empowering women’s voices was a guiding principle that often put Malone “on the cutting edge of the struggle for economic justice for workers and the struggle for civil rights,” said two contemporaries. The trade unionist was known for expansive unionism, which centered on “social causes.” For this, she “ruffled some feathers” within the labor movement, which Malone did not hesitate to criticize. Unions were crucial, “but their focus is often too narrow[;] they don’t reach out enough,” she explained. “They concentrate too much on wages, hours and working conditions, which is a part of the job, but they should also be concerned about transportation, and health care, which to most workers are really more important. Most workers are fired over transportation and child care issues.” Malone focused on including the voices of women workers. “Women need to learn to fight the unions and (p.169) make their demands heard,” Malone admonished her constituents. For the southern transplant, unionism offered an unprecedented opportunity to speak against injustice with impunity. “I didn’t like not being able to have a say when you were treated wrong,” she explained. “They would tell you, ‘If you don’t like it, go home.’ It makes you feel better inside when you can say you’ve been treated wrong, even if you don’t get anything else.” Bill Hall, leader of the southwest region of Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), headquartered in St. Louis, said of Malone, “She wants to run sometimes when you have to walk. A lot of people called her a rebel, but what she was saying was right. You don’t have to be radical just because you’re ahead of somebody—you’re leading.” Joyce Miller, vice president of the ACWA in New York and member of the AFL-CIO executive council, said Malone was “one of the labor movement’s early pioneers in terms of civil rights and women’s rights—long before it was fashionable and before we had all the formal organizations we have now.” These comments came after Malone retired. One would have been hard pressed to locate such positive comments during her heyday.36

Black Professional Women’s Working-Class Activism

The growing ferment of black women’s working-class discontent over jobs and housing in the 1950s and 1960s cannot be fully understood without a discussion of social justice activism among black professional women in housing, law, and politics. As key architects of freedom agendas, black middle-class activist women used their posts to focus on the structural causes of racialized poverty as they exposed the deleterious and compounding effects of “white flight,” deindustrialization, decimated tax revenues, public-housing fiascos, and rigid lines of racial segregation affecting black working-class women living in a city hard hit by urban decline. During the 1950s and 1960s, Marian Oldham, Frankie Muse Freeman, and DeVerne Calloway fought locally, challenging urban inequality and traditional civil rights leadership. Their contributions to black working-class women’s struggles were a reflection of the larger work of a critical mass of African American women who led the St. Louis struggle for racial and economic equality. They devised strategies to confront (p.170) the Gateway City’s two most trenchant challenges: the fight for fair employment and greater economic opportunity, and the fight for decent, open, and affordable housing.37

The tradition of black women’s economic activism with respect to employment access and the right to consume extended into the immediate postwar period with the political work of Marian Oldham. Early models of black leaders participating in direct-action protests and education proved key to awakening Oldham’s activism. Her first memory of witnessing a picket line was in the late 1930s, one organized by the Colored Clerks’ Circle. Outside a black neighborhood store located near Oldham’s home was a small group of picketers demanding that the store owner integrate his workforce. By the time she reached young adulthood, Oldham had already witnessed and helped bring about a successful civil rights campaign with the Supreme Court ruling in the 1948 Shelley v. Kraemer case. As a Sumner High School student, Oldham worked with scholar Herman Dreer, who, as chair of the Citizens Committee–Shelley Restrictive Covenant Case, had been conducting research for the suit. After school and in the evening, Oldham typed legal briefs for Dreer, and the long hours taught her ways to assist the black freedom struggle. With this experience came the realization that black communities needed basic resources—namely, education and employment, to wage effective campaigns for equal opportunity. Reflecting on her long career, she recalled that “job security” often determined who participated in civil rights efforts. She identified “many, many blacks who wanted to change the situation” but were not “fortunate” enough to have “the ability to speak out.”38

While Oldham attended Stowe Teachers College, which Dreer helped establish, her political consciousness was raised further by her practicum assignments at schools in some of St. Louis’s most poverty-stricken sections. She observed directly the ways economic deprivation affected educational opportunities and school attendance, as she encountered children whose families lived in squalor. They had no plumbing and no heat and scraped by on family budgets of a few dollars per month; the women sometimes had to engage in prostitution merely to make ends meet. For many of the children in these neighborhoods, school was out of the question. Seeing these people struggle to maintain their dignity amid the most abject of conditions and observing the effects of poverty on their (p.171) children had a profound effect on Oldham. They didn’t lack character. They weren’t psychologically unequipped to succeed. They hadn’t any less interest in formal education or intellectual engagement than anyone else. Poverty prevented the children of these families from engaging with their schooling seriously. These memories Oldham recalled when she later joined collective struggles for fair employment.39

Following a stint with Maddox’s CCRC and with NACP activists who conducted boycotts outside the American Theater, which restricted black concertgoers to the “pigeon roost” (balcony seats), Oldham helped establish the St. Louis chapter of CORE. August Meier and Elliott Rudwick described it as one of the most visible and active chapters in the country, known as “an unusually energetic and stable group with a labor union orientation instead of a pacifist one.” The St. Louis CORE framed direct-action campaigns against segregation in public accommodation as a part of the battle for basic economic rights that generally inflected the city’s black freedom struggle. Oldham had once said that employment in the Gateway City was the sector that made racial segregation most powerfully evident. A key activist who helped mold the chapter along such lines, Oldham distinguished herself through negotiating skill and an adeptness at facilitating discussions. The late 1940s through the early 1960s marked the high point of Oldham’s CORE activism, when she involved herself in several important direct-action campaigns. These included negotiations with city drugstores to serve black customers and hire black workers, resulting in African Americans being employed in sales positions and as lunch-counter servers. She also took part in one of the most important and widely covered civil rights protests in St. Louis history: the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company demonstrations of 1963. Oldham and her colleagues demanded that the bank, which was located in a black neighborhood, hire African American tellers. After seven months of protest, during which Oldham was arrested, managers relented and hired five black workers. The quest for economic dignity functioned as the hub of her social activism; she fought for years so that working-class people could improve their situations through living-wage jobs and access to a fuller experience of downtown leisure culture. Echoing the sentiments of Carrie Smith, Cora Lewis, and others, Oldham argued that the core of the injustice for black women was the “feeling of being less than human.”40

(p.172) Frankie Muse Freeman’s story, like Oldham’s, is a microcosm of historical narrative of the modern civil rights movement in the United States; hers is a narrative that especially weaves together the essential threads of legal activism, black institution-building, and the role of state and federal government. Born in the early twentieth century in the last Confederate city—Danville, Virginia—Freeman, along with her family, resisted the segregation laws that required black citizens to sit in the balcony of theaters, ride in the back of streetcars, and stay away from businesses owned and operated by whites where service—in restaurants, at lunch counters, in hotels, and the like—was the main commodity. Educated at two of the premier black educational institutions in the country, Hampton Institute and Howard Law School, Frankie Freeman collected tools to combat Jim Crow. As one of only a few black women to graduate from Howard University Law School, Freeman had worked with Thurgood Marshall, some of whose cases eventually wound their way all the way to the US Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. After she moved to St. Louis in the 1940s, Freeman fine-tuned the method of civil rights activism to fit the border South city of St. Louis, a battleground for struggles over jobs, housing, education, and equal opportunity.41

Freeman opened her own law practice in St. Louis, a rarity for women in that period, and black public-housing tenants found their advocate in her. Because the St. Louis Housing Administration failed to practice open occupancy, black activist women like Freeman, who pursued civil rights work on a full-time basis and were leaders of the St. Louis civil rights movement, waged war. Lead attorney Freeman and attorney Constance Baker Motley argued on behalf of a group of black tenants and veterans. Freeman argued that the SLHA had violated black tenants’ Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, their right to purchase property stipulated by US Code Title 8, section 42, and their rights established by the Federal Housing Act of 1939. Freeman claimed that black tenants had been denied rental units at the Cochran Gardens projects because of racial discrimination. Black journalist Howard B. Woods called the case “the most important and significant … to be heard from this area since the 1948 decision in Shelley v. Kraemer or the 1857 decision in the historic Dred Scott case.” Filing the suit Ted Davis et al. v. The St. Louis (p.173) Housing Authority in June 1952, NACP lawyers Freeman and Motley argued their plaintiffs’ case in the US District Court in October 1954. In response to the case filed by the NACP, the SLHA issued a brief in which it admitted to barring black tenants, defending its actions by arguing that it held a special power and responsibility to ensure safety and peace, and enforcing an open-housing policy could jeopardize “the obligation and duty to avoid any conflict which might arise from racial antipathies.” Counsel for the authority called for dismissal of the case, claiming that the seminal 1954 Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme Court decision did not overturn its “separate but equal” 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. The Housing Authority claimed that no law existed to force the body to integrate and that “no discrimination exists when the Authority follows existing neighborhood patterns in selecting tenants as between white and Negro applicants.” Freeman, this time with assistance from Robert L. Witherspoon, filed a new brief in response. They argued that a recent court decision based in San Francisco found the housing authority there making the same “community pattern” argument. One week after the Supreme Court issued the Brown decision, it refused to hear the San Francisco case, Freeman pointed out. In late 1955 US District Judge George H. Moore ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the St. Louis case, agreeing with Freeman’s contention that the SLHA, by practicing segregation, was in effect violating black tenants’ constitutional rights. In a postscript to the story that hardly anyone could have predicted, shortly after defeating the SLHA in court, Attorney Freeman received an invitation to serve as its general counsel, a post she held for fourteen years. She later became the first woman to serve on the US Commission on Civil Rights, a post she held for sixteen years. In this position, Freeman took the lessons she learned as an advocate for black working-class women in St. Louis and applied them on a national scale.42

As Marion Oldham broke down barriers in the consumer and labor sector and Frankie Freeman did the same in law and civil rights, DeVerne Lee Calloway worked in St. Louis city and Missouri state politics. Before moving to St. Louis, Calloway had been active in her native Memphis and in Atlanta and Chicago, organizing the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and CORE, campaigning to equalize teacher salaries, and working at a settlement house. Married to labor leader and St. Louis NACP head (p.174) Ernest Calloway, she moved to St. Louis in 1950, emerged as a political candidate, and in 1962 became the first black woman elected to the Missouri state legislature. It was in St. Louis that she “really began to participate in things.” She played an instrumental role, as Pearl S. Maddox had, in drawing people to the St. Louis NACP and in gathering information about black life in the city. She edited the New Citizen (later renamed the Citizen Crusader), a left-liberal, community-based periodical that directly captured the turning tide of local black politics. The short-lived New Citizen had its finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing 1960s political scene in black St. Louis, as primaries heated up, grassroots factions formed, gerrymandering and redistricting efforts were introduced, new African American leaders emerged within the Democratic Party, and campaign rhetoric for black freedom and liberation escalated. In the middle of all this was Calloway.43

Calloway’s victory in 1962 to become the state senator from the Fourth Ward’s 13th District was nothing less than a political coup in the eyes of African American Democratic Party insiders, who viewed her with deep suspicion. Black opponents criticized her refusal to work within the city’s Democratic Party machine, that she “has no Church Affiliation” and “brags about her negative attitude towards God,” and her reluctance to affiliate with any particular church; they urged voters to find someone who “would have been more acceptable to the body politic,” as a regular political commentator in Calloway’s New Citizen newspaper put it. But Calloway had tapped into the shifting historical moment, and she helped remap the terrain of St. Louis’s black politics, generating a firestorm by bringing a militancy to the local scene that challenged the humdrum patronage of politics as usual. Her impact illustrated the significance of having veteran social justice activists sworn into office, as she took the progressive stances she had honed in the rough-and-tumble world of outsider organizing to the halls of the state legislature.44

Calloway built her platform around the idea of social welfare for marginalized people—the poor, the working class, single mothers, and racial minorities. She focused particularly on building the industrial strength of the state, especially in Kansas City and St. Louis, ending racial discrimination in the workforce, and reforming the state’s educational system. Eventually she expanded her campaign platform beyond these issues to (p.175) include rights for the disabled, the young, and the elderly by supporting a variety of Missouri Old Age Assistance and Aid to Dependent Children programs. She lobbied for the passage of fair housing and fair employment bills, supported the Equal Rights Amendment and stronger protective legislation for women workers and their children, and campaigned for increased rights for unemployed pregnant women, a more comprehensive Labor Relations Act, and the passage of a state minimum-wage law.45

Calloway’s most progressive stances, where she emerged as a leading voice, were in support of reproductive rights and prisoners’ rights. Her unsuccessful battle to repeal Missouri’s ban on abortion required a formidable organizational effort, including petitions, gathering of signatures, and an extensive letter-writing campaign that urged state residents “to recognize woman as a whole and total person—legally deserving and guaranteed the right to assert and defend her womanhood at every level.” In an address to the legislature supporting a family planning bill, Calloway cited repeatedly the needs of African American women, stressing that black women formed a sizable percentage of welfare recipients because almost one-third of them were heads of their households. She also noted that “St. Louis currently has the highest Black infant mortality rate in the nation” and that a disproportionate number of black women died during childbirth. Her advocacy for services and compassion for working-class and poor women emerged at a time when Family Planning Service House Bill 1399 had made it lawful for state-based family planning services “to offer, suggest, or require sterilization,” a provision Calloway had battled against. Calloway also served as chair of the State Institutions and Properties Committee. She commissioned the 1974 “Report on the Human Conditions at Missouri State Penitentiary,” which documented shocking conditions: high prisoner death rates, physical abuse, inadequate medical care, violations of due process, and racial discrimination. Portions of the study were later used in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, and the study set the stage for penal reform in Missouri. Dubbing herself “an advocate for the urban area,” Calloway used poor and working-class African American women’s experiences to imagine a political vision wide and deep enough to encompass economically vulnerable persons across Missouri. Calloway’s 1962 campaign and reform-minded political work (p.176) thereafter operated as a nexus at which liberal, feminist, civil rights, labor, and antipoverty agendas met.46

It may be unsurprising that Marian Oldham, DeVerne Calloway, and Frankie Freeman were not only colleagues but also friends. Bonds of friendship and care undergirded their shared political interests and a commitment to solidarity. It was against the backdrop of support from women with greater power and institutional backing that black working-class women collectively mobilized for greater economic support.

Black women’s working-class struggles against urban inequality in St. Louis took multiple forms in St. Louis. Some challenged negative images by producing counternarratives of urban poverty that blamed structural forces instead of individual behavior. The women who challenged power holders’ managing of state funds, as well as the apparatus of state funding itself, drew links between housing and jobs to show they were the interlocking bedrocks of women’s economic experiences. Public-housing tenants built communities and drew connections between their living conditions and their precarious position as marginalized and excluded urban workers. Other black working-class women, such as Ora Lee Malone, having been steeped in the principles of black trade union activism as a young woman in the Deep South, battled to unionize workers of color. Supported by black professional women with greater access to resources and influence, black women workers in St. Louis gained momentum in their struggles, benefited as they were by a growing ferment of black freedom struggle that centered on working-class experiences.

Through the prism of black women’s economic experience in postwar St. Louis, we can reimagine the history of urban decline in St. Louis. To be sure, postwar St. Louis was a poster child for the fall of the American city. Because of white flight, rapid deindustrialization, population loss, decimating revenues, municipal negligence, and rigid racial segregation, St. Louis experienced a precipitous fall. The postwar period witnessed many urban losses, which St. Louis bore in dramatic fashion. But the lived experiences of women such as Imani Mtendaji, Hattye Thomas, and Evelyn Jones, along with the activism of Ora Lee Malone, Marian Oldham, Frankie Muse Freeman, and DeVerne L. Calloway, suggest that the particular ways in which black women encountered and responded (p.177) to urban decline became fertile ground for an emerging politics. Black women’s activism centered on their experiences as urban residents; their politics underscored connections between employment, housing, and opportunities for a better economic existence for the working classes. Urban inequality made building connections through political work and family and community life a matter of survival. Learning to develop an economic analysis and politics that anticipated and marked the constitutive elements of urban decline, and to also devise ways to negotiate them, black activist women of the 1950s and 1960s laid the groundwork for subsequent struggle. Out of the crucible of intense battles waged over the future of their city, they forged alliances, communities, and networks to help make possible one of the most important working-class struggles of twentieth-century St. Louis, the rent strike of 1969.47 (p.178)


(1.) Odell W. Morris, “Modern Housing to Rise in ‘Worst Slum’ Area,” St. Louis Argus, January 6, 1950.

(4.) Richard G. Baumhoff, “Progress or Decay? St. Louis Must Choose,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 5, 1950; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Table 18: Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1950,” https://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab18.txt; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Table 19: Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1960,” https://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab19.txt; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 20: Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1970,” https://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab20.txt; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Table 21: Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1980,” https://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab21.txt; Gordon, Mapping Decline, 8–10.

(5.) David Hepburn, “Shocking St. Louis,” Our World 5, no. 2 (February 1950): 10–20; “St. Louis Full of Vice, Jim Crow—Our World,” Carolina Times, January 7, 1950; “Deplore National Mag’s Piece on St. Louis, Declare It ‘Untrue,’” St. Louis Argus, January 13, 1950.

(7.) Henry Winfield Wheeler, “Shocking St. Louis: Libelous and Ludicrous,” St. Louis American, January 19, 1950 (“We challenge them”); “St. Louis Full of Vice”; “Deplore National Mag’s Piece” (“If they had said”; “who probably”; “unfortunately much”); “‘Our World’ Hastily Maligns St. Louis,” St. Louis (p.215) American, January 12, 1950 (“a malicious job”); Howard B. Woods, “2 Women Lawyers Make Impressive Scene in Housing Suit Argument,” St. Louis Argus, October 8, 1954 (“this city’s ‘Mr. Civil Rights’”).

(9.) “Mother, Five Children Face Street Eviction: Woman in Wheelchair, Youngers All under 12,” St. Louis Argus, February 17, 1950; Morris, “Modern Housing to Rise.”

(10.) “The Second Great Migration,” Overview, in Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, www.inmotionaame.org/migrations/topic.cfm?migration=9&topic=1 (accessed April 2, 2014); Hepburn, “Shocking St. Louis”; Self, American Babylon; Anne Valk, “Women and Postwar St. Louis,” in Corbett, In Her Place, 283.

(11.) “Mill Creek Valley,” University of Missouri–St. Louis, www.umsl.edu/virtualstl/phase2/1950/mapandguide/millcreeknode.html (accessed April 7, 2014); “Mill Creek Slum Demolition Work Gets under Way,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 16, 1959; Harry Wilensky, “Market Street Area Next Site for Slum Clearance, Industrial Redevelopment Is Major Purpose: Section Bounded by Grand, Olive, 20th Street and Railroad Yards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 8, 1954; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 139–43.

(12.) “Where Four Died in Explosion and Fire” and “12 Living in House Built for Four Families,” St. Louis American, January 12, 1950; Otis N. Thompson, “Advisory Committee Awaits Date for First Meeting,” St. Louis Argus, August 13, 1954.

(13.) Thompson, “Advisory Committee Awaits Date” (“The visions”); Steve Duncan, “Area Residents Ask Fair Share,” St. Louis Argus, August 13, 1954 (“We need new buildings”; “so long as ‘poor’”); “We Will Wait, and See,” St. Louis Argus, August 13, 1954 (“Recently”; “there were speeches”); “2 Women Lawyers”; “Suit on Housing Segregation Heard in Federal District Court,” St. Louis Argus, October 8, 1954; Freeman, Song of Faith and Hope, 57–63. “Kinloch Jubilant over Redevelopment Plans,” St. Louis Argus, June 22, 1956.

(14.) “38 Percent Occupancy in Low Cost Housing,” St. Louis Argus, November 5, 1954.

(15.) “Carr Square” and “Neighborhood Research,” in Through the Eyes of a Child.

(16.) Imani Mtendaji, Tape 1: 4, 5–6, 8–9, 10–11, 18–19, 20–21, 21–22; Tape 2: 3–4, 11–12; Tape 3: 4, 10–11, Part 4: 7, 11; Evelyn Jones, Tape 2: 14–15, 18–19, 20; Carol Strickland Ray, Tape 3: 2, 17, all in Through the Eyes of a Child.

(17.) Evelyn Jones, Tape 1: 12–19; Tape 2: 9–10; Tape 3: 1–3, 10–11; Tape 4: 17; Betty Thompson, Tape 1: 15, Tape 2: 9; Carol Strickland Ray, Tape 1: 17; Tape 2: 17, 19; Tape 3: 10, 13–14, all in Through the Eyes of a Child.

(18.) “League Warns of Increasing Area Density,” St. Louis Argus, January 27, 1950; “Carr Square” and “Neighborhood Research.”

(p.216) (19.) “Pruitt Nursery Announces Open House for Sunday, April 8 (photo essay),” St. Louis Argus, March 16, 1956; Bristol, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”; Evelyn Jones, Part 3: 17–18; Betty Thompson, Part 1: 5–6, in Through the Eyes of a Child; “First Families Move into Pruitt,” St. Louis Argus, October 15, 1954 (“the head of the first family”); Valk, “Women and Postwar St. Louis,” 285.

(21.) Hepburn, “Shocking St. Louis”; Otis N. Thompson, “Survey Shows Negroes Extensively Underemployed: Race Bars Up Despite Ability,” St. Louis Argus, November 12, 1954.

(22.) Hattye Thomas, “Help Wanted,” St. Louis Argus, March 24, 1950.

(23.) Imani Mtendaji, Tape 2: 3, 4, 5, 8–12; Evelyn Jones, Tape 1: 2, 23–26; Tape 3: 9–10; Betty Thompson, Tape 1: 3, 4–5, 19, 20, 21, 22; Darby Robinson, Part 1: 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10–11, 13, 25–26, all in Through the Eyes of a Child.

(25.) Ibid.; “Not Bad for a Factory Worker,” Southwest Progress (Winter 1989); “Women in Organized Labor: Profiles in Labor,” p. 7C; Ora Lee Malone, interview by Keona Ervin, November 11, 2003; Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist.”

(26.) Malone interview, November 4, 2003.

(27.) Ora Lee Malone, interview by Keona Ervin, November 11, 2003; Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist.”

(29.) Malone interview, November 11, 2003; Tenth Annual Women’s Conference Luncheon Program, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Los Angeles, California, May 22, 1992, in Ervin’s collection.

(30.) Malone interview, November 11, 2003; Tenth Annual Women’s Conference Luncheon Program; Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist.”

(31.) Malone interview, November 11, 2003; Tenth Annual Women’s Conference Luncheon Program; Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist” (“decision-making roles”); “Women in Organized Labor: Profiles in Labor,” p. 7C; Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Leadership Training Certificate for Ora Lee Malone, September 23, 1960, sl 670, box 1, folder 1 Awards, 1940–1990, Ora Lee Malone Papers, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, Thomas Jefferson Library, University of Missouri–St. Louis.

(32.) “Women in Organized Labor: Profiles in Labor”; Malone quoted in Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist”; Ora Lee Malone, interview by Bill Morrison, May 3, 1973, St. Louis, MO, pp. 10, 11, 16, 20; Gloria S. Ross, “Ora Lee Malone: Labor Leader Who Fought for Voting Rights, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights,” St. Louis Beacon, https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/27904/ora_malone_obit_110612 (accessed March 11, 2015); Kelley, Freedom Dreams.

(p.217) (33.) “Suggested Action for Solution,” n.d., Ora Lee Malone Papers (s670), box 1, folder 2, SHSM, Manuscript Collection.

(34.) James V. Stepleton to Board member, March 10, 1975, Ora Lee Malone Papers (s670), box 1, folder 2, SHSM, Manuscript Collection.

(35.) Inez Smith Reid to Ora Malone, July 30, 1974, Ora Lee Malone Papers (s670), box 1, folder 2, SHSM, Manuscript Collection.

(36.) Dine, “Trade Group Honors Union Activist” (“on the cutting edge”; “social causes”; “ruffled some feathers”; “she wants to run sometimes”; “one of the labor movement’s”); “Not Bad for a Factory Worker” (“but their focus”; “I didn’t like”); “Women in Organized Labor: Profiles in Labor” (“Women need to learn”).

(38.) CORE Report on Marian Oldham, told by Charles Oldham, interview by Margaret and Irvin Dagen, August 19, 1995, Margaret and Irvin Dagen History of St. Louis CORE Collection, s0661, box 2, folder 19, SHSM; Charles Oldham, interview by Maggie and Irv Dagen, August 19, 1995, s0661, box 2, folder 18, p. 10, Margaret and Irvin Dagen History of St. Louis CORE Collection, box 2, folder 19, ibid.; Oldham quoted in interview by Sister Prince, “I, Too, Sing America Oral History Project,” July 6, 1987, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MO, 16, 30–31; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 81, 114.

(39.) CORE Report on Marian Oldham, 7–8.

(40.) “Marian Oldham Dies at 66,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 13, 1966; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 114, 183; Valk, “Women and Postwar St. Louis,” 289; Meier and Rudwick, CORE, 190 (quote), 49, 74; CORE Report on Marian Oldham, 12–17, 20–21; Oldham quoted in “I, Too, Sing America,” 12, 15; “11 from City, County Appointed to Civil Rights Advisory Panel,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 6, 1977; “Ex-CORE Head Calls Jobs Bias Serious Here,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 28, 1964; Korstad and Lichtenstein, “Opportunities Found and Lost”; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 80–83, 114, 184; Kimbrough and Dagen, Victory without Violence.

(42.) “2 Women Lawyers”; “Suit on Housing Segregation”; “Housing Body Files Its Answer in Legal Battle: Admits Its Barring of Races,” St. Louis Argus, November 19, 1954; “Case Now Ready for Decision,” St. Louis Argus, December 3, 1954; “Housing Authority Plans to Follow Judge Moore’s Ruling: Plaintiffs Will Get Priority,” St. Louis Argus, January 6, 1956.

(p.218) (43.) Calloway quote from interview by Irene Cortinovis, September 9, 1971, Black Community Leaders Project, University of Missouri–St. Louis, 18, 19; Robert Bussel, “‘A Trade Union Oriented War on the Slums’: Harold Gibbons, Ernest Calloway, and the St. Louis Teamsters in the 1960s,” Labor History 44, no. 3 (2003): 49–76; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 123, 125, 127, 145.

(44.) “Big Shop Talk” in “In Our Town,” New Crusader, n.d. (“has no Church Affiliation”; “brags about her negative”), and “Big City Shoptalk” in “In Our Town,” New Crusader, June 5, 1962 (“Would have been more acceptable”), box 1, folder 4, CaP; Calloway interview by Irene Cortinovis, 19–20; Lang, Grassroots, at the Gateway, 100–104.

(45.) DeVerne Calloway Campaign Flyer, n.d., box 1, folder 4, CaP; Marge Cunningham, “Capitol Profile: DeVerne Calloway,” Communicator, April 18, 1977; “DeVerne Calloway Dead at 76,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 1993; Charles E. Burgess, “Unusual Husband-Wife Team,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 23, 1977; “Design-Builders of Democracy: The Calloways of St. Louis,” Labor Today 12 (Fall 1962): 24–25, Ernest Calloway Addenda Papers, box 1, folder 12, SHSM.

(46.) George E. Curry, “Inquiry Sought in Charges of Oppression at Prison,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 17, 1975, box 1, folder 7, CaP; DeVerne Calloway, interview by Kenn Thoms, February 23, 1983, Oral History Program, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, 1–9; Calloway interview by Irene Cortinovis, 27–30; Untitled draft of Calloway address to a legislative committee regarding abortion, box 1, folder 1, CaP; “Family Planning Service House Bill 1399,” Calloway address to House Committee on Family Planning Service—House Bill 1399, n.d., ibid. (“to recognize woman”; “St. Louis currently”).