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Gateway to EqualityBlack Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis$
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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

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The Legacies of Black Working-Class Women’s Political Leadership

The Legacies of Black Working-Class Women’s Political Leadership

(p.179) Conclusion The Legacies of Black Working-Class Women’s Political Leadership
Gateway to Equality

Keona K. Ervin

University Press of Kentucky

Jean King, a St. Louis transplant from Osceola, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, in the fall of 1968 spotted a young Andre Smallwood eating a piece of bread he found on the snow-covered ground outside of their Darst public-housing development located just south of downtown. King soon learned that Smallwood’s mother had a monthly welfare check that amounted to less than the newly stipulated rent increase. The contrast between King and Smallwood’s mother could not have been more striking, although both resided in the same housing project. King and her husband, employed and married with one child, had the means to avoid routine visits from caseworkers, fluctuating welfare payments, and rent schedules that continually increased. But negotiating these realities was typical for most other black women, many of whom functioned as their family’s breadwinners. Public-housing tenants had already been meeting regularly to discuss the possibility of conducting a rent strike when King attended a tenants’ meeting at the nearby Blumeyer Housing Project in midtown St. Louis. After King shared the story of her encounter with Smallwood’s mother, tenants elected her president of the Citywide Rent Strike Committee. Like many “organic intellectuals” who emerged as leaders of grassroots social movements, King came out of a local movement that was already organized when the time to strike arrived. King, along with other black women community organizers, went on to spearhead one of the nation’s largest and earliest rent strikes in the postwar era. Women’s militant mass action garnered national attention and later influenced public policy reform. Because of the long and distinguished activism of black working-class women, a groundswell of grassroots organizing on a national scale, and federal action in support of antipoverty ...

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