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That St. Louis Thing, Vol. 2: An American Story of Roots, Rhythm and Race

That St. Louis Thing, Vol. 2: An American Story of Roots, Rhythm and Race

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That St. Louis Thing, Vol. 2: An American Story of Roots, Rhythm and Race

801 pages
13 hours
Oct 7, 2016


That St. Louis Thing is an American story of music, race relations and baseball. Here is over 100 years of the city’s famed musical development -- blues, jazz and rock -- placed in the context of its civil rights movement and its political and ecomomic power. Here, too, are the city’s people brought alive from its foundation to the racial conflicts in Ferguson in 2014. The panorama of the city presents an often overlooked gem, music that goes far beyond famed artists such as Scott Joplin, Miles Davis and Tina Turner. The city is also the scene of a historic civil rights movement that remained important from its early beginnings into the twenty-first century. And here, too, are the sounds of the crack of the bat during a century-long love affair with baseball.
Oct 7, 2016

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That St. Louis Thing, Vol. 2 - Bruce R. Olson




VOL. 2

An American Story of

Roots, Rhythm and Race


Copyright © 2016 Bruce R. Olson.

Cover art Copyright © 2016 Louis IX on Art Hill by Marilyn Ciafone Olson

Index sponsored by Roger Hudson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of both publisher and author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

ISBN: 978-1-4834-5799-4 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4834-5798-7 (e)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Lulu Publishing Services rev. date: 09/16/2016


Volume Two:

The Forties To Ferguson

Prologue: Cultural Diversity And The Burning Fuse

19. The Forties: War And Racism, 1940-2014

20. An Iron Curtain: Shelley, Pruitt-Igoe And The North Side1945-2015

21. Jazz In The Forties: Clark Terry, Miles Davis1941-1950

22. The Rhythm Of The Fifties: Ike And Tina At The Club Imperial

23. The Chuck And Johnnie Show: Trying To B. Goode

24. Mill Creek Destroyed, Gaslight Square, Laclede Town1959-1974

25. Civil Rights In The Sixties: Core To The Black Liberators, 1960-1969

26. Jazz Remade: The Black Artists’ Group 1968-1972

27. The Sixties: Albert King And The Integration Of Music 1955-1968

28. Baseball: Browns, Blacks And Birds1927-1968

29. Quid Pro Quo: Missed Opportunities1965-1993

30. On The Mississippi: The Clubs And The Performers1970-2007

31. The First Annual Blues Festival: Just Call The Song 1986-2014

32. Johnson V. Berry: Why Can’t You Be True 2000-2015

33. Baseball: Five Decades With The Cardinals1969-2015

34. A Musical Safari On The St. Louis Scene 2012

35. Ferguson: White and Black at High Noon, 1993-2015

Chapter Notes


A Note to the Reader

The research for this two-volume story began with interviews with St. Louis musicians and musically connected people conducted during 2012, 2013 and 2014. Information also came from contemporary newspapers and magazines, especially the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (P-D) and The New York Times (NYT) and also including the Riverfront Times (RFT), the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (G-D) and the St. Louis Blues Society BluesLetter.

Most of the periodical information was obtained in the St. Louis Public Library, the Missouri History Museum and through Internet access to the original items. Some also comes from private collections generously provided by people I interviewed.

I’ve consulted dozens of books, including first person accounts, diaries, scrapbooks and other sources. I’ve also used encyclopedias (especially the Encyclopedia Brittannica, 1971), catalogues and discography material, much of it accessed in the stacks at the Gaylord Music Library at Washington University in St. Louis as well as in the St. Louis Public Library’s St. Louis Room and Special Collections section. Official government data was found on the Internet and in the files at the St. Louis Public Library.

Blogs and Facebook commentary have been pretty much ruled out, but the Internet has been used for access to original sources, especially books and newspapers. I’ve also used websites posted by musicians and bands, corporations and officials for basic biographical and historical information of a non-controversial nature.

The citations provided at the end of Volume One and Volume Two are intended to give the reader the opportunity for further reading. Everything inside quote marks comes from the above-mentioned sources. Objective truth in history walks along in a context that includes the eye of the beholder. I’ve tried to keep as much subjectivity out of my story as possible. But sometimes, I can’t resist entering the book myself.


The Forties to Ferguson

It’s always been a polarized town. But people like it like that. North Side, South Side; fine. We’ll see you at the club. And we did. White folks would drive to East St. Louis and frequent the black clubs. There was no problem.

— Jimmy Hinds, St. Louis musician

Prologue: Cultural Diversity and the Burning Fuse

We’ve got a good scene in St. Louis. In general, we’ve got a scene that is musician friendly. I hear that from other people who come here. We are just friendly. We are cool about letting others sitting in. Here, we don’t have the cutthroat, paranoid attitude that you’re going to take away my gig. Everybody knows everybody.

Rich McDonough, Blues guitarist

St. Louis grew steadily in population and stature from its founding in 1764 into the middle of the twentieth century. As we saw in Volume One, its position at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers created an economic dynamo that produced everything from hats to shoes, from airplanes to streetcars, from beer to bricks. Against this growth, the city also saw a cultural cavalcade of musical innovation -- ragtime, blues, jazz -- second to none in America.

But while its factories roared and its coffers filled with cash, political development lagged. Most of the big questions of government were settled by the end of the nineteenth century, its borders firmly drawn, its economic hierarchy entrenched. By 1940, a racial divide between black and white had been carved along the streets of the city. The old lines of the 1916 segregation vote stood firm.

The second volume of That St. Louis Thing sees the perpetuation of a governmental system that resulted in a ragged hit and miss pattern of stop and start urban development and the general failure to deal equitably with race relations. At the same time, we still see plenty of progress in the culture -- an increase in quality and quantity. Out of this period comes rock and R&B, two more innovations that add to the city’s musical credentials. Here, a music scene second to none in the nation is formed.

In the years after 1940 we can also sense the presence of the fuse of racial conflict burning ever closer to an explosion.


The Forties: War and Racism,


(On the road to Berlin) there were Russians riding in 2 1/2-ton American trucks. There were Russian troops riding in two-wheeled carts, phaetons, in old-fashioned pony carts, in gypsy wagons and surreys with fringed tops … The wagons were filled with hay and soldiers rode on top of the hay like an army taking a holiday and going on a great mass hayride … the fierce fighting men of the Red Army in their tunics and great boots … singing their fighting songs, drinking their vodka.

— Virginia Irwin, Post-Dispatch, April 27, 1945

St. Louis, filled to its boundaries with over 800,000 people by 1940, had taken a severe punch in the Great Depression. The manufacturing level was 70 percent of what it had been when the stock market crashed, well below a national average that had crawled back to 84 percent of the 1929 level. There was a decline in population after 120 years of growth. Where St. Louis was once the fourth largest city in the country it now stood eighth.

But despite the Depression, St. Louis in 1940 was a vibrant, diverse, vital metropolis. Over 200 different industrial classifications were represented in the city’s boundaries. It was still the world’s largest fur market; it was the biggest producer of brick on the planet and led the world in the production of terra cotta, stoves, sugar-mill machinery, woodenware and hats. It was one of the biggest U.S. grain markets, had numerous shoe and boot factories and retained its central position as the home of Big Beer as well as a major maker of steel, textiles, iron, drugs and chemicals.

In 1940, St. Louis was a mighty transportation hub, served by two dozen railroad lines, 30 bus lines, by airlines and steamboats. There were now four bridges over the Mississippi. No less than 65 hotels served thousands of visitors. There were 90 movie theaters, 13 public swimming pools, a golf course and 116 public tennis courts. Two major league baseball teams shared Sportsman’s Park. There were stadiums for college football, midget auto racing and track meets. And there were ice hockey rinks, boxing and wrestling rings, softball fields, handball courts, amateur baseball diamonds, cricket fields, a ski jump, a toboggan slide and 22 picnic grounds.

The city was (and remains) confined in the boundaries established in 1876, about 18 miles from Carondelet north along the Mississippi to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and some seven miles west from the Gateway Arch on the river out to the intersection of Delmar and Skinker at the city line.

Major streets went westerly, like the veins of Marie Chouteau’s fan, still following the Osage trading trails and the routes of the initial French trappers. More modern, straighter streets sliced across the city north to south trying to enforce a grid. There were also dozens of place developments (Portland Place, Westminster Place), made of large brick and stone houses each sealed off from traffic by a large gate. These were white-only enclaves with many restrictions, cut off from what the rich residents more and more came to fear as slum encroachment.

The commercial core in 1940 was much where it had always been, down by the river. Over the years it had moved slightly west and spread north and south, away from the zone that was about to be demolished along the riverfront. Still, the area within a mile or two of the river was packed with large department stores, restaurants and soda fountains. Here were also shoe repair stores, dime stores, wholesale dealers, printers, banks, and professional offices. Tenement housing was interspersed along with saloons and juke joints, especially on the northern edge of this area.

By 1940 there was a new shopping area, the Central West End, featuring expensive imports, toys and unique, handmade clothing, goods that sometimes came from France and England. Another shopping area outside the city center was the Wellston district in the northwest corner of the city, featuring cut-rate products, extending east. Here the middle class could find flowers, vegetables, chicken, geese, fish, clothing, furniture and a host of second-hand items. Its central core was Easton Avenue, crowded with dozens of fortunetellers, astrologers and faith healers. Further south near the city’s boundary was the Delmar/DeBaliviere neighborhood of small shops, large supermarkets and restaurants catering to the middle-income residents, black and white.

Black housing ran around and through the central district of the city, both north and south. German neighborhoods, containing half the immigrant population, were also both north and south, next to segregated black areas. South along the river lay the old Soulard district of mixed-ethnic working whites. On the South Side, heading away from the city center, were Czech, Bohemian and Italian neighborhoods.

On the Hill south of Shaw many of the Italians still spoke their native tongue in 1940 and corner taverns were ripe with fresh spaghetti, ravioli and red wine. Not far away north on warm evenings in black districts closer to downtown, residents took to their front stoops or sat in rocking chairs along the street. One guide commented that along Chouteau south of the railroad tracks in Mill Creek Valley, sidewalk vendors sell spicy chunks of barbecued meat, hot fish or great slices of iced watermelon, and the air is rich with laughter and the soft drawl of conversation.

The end of the nation’s economic catastrophe was nearing, but at the start of the forties, America and St. Louis remained in the Depression. The New Deal had run aground on the rocks of Republican opposition and Roosevelt’s failed attempt to change the make-up of the Supreme Court from nine to 15 justices.

The 1940 census that showed a decline in St. Louis’ population was coupled by news that in the previous five years 80 percent of new construction in the metro area took place in St. Louis County. The population there jumped 12 percent to almost 275,000. Small towns outside the city continued to grow during the war and boomed afterward. Flight away from the city center, by both black and white, was underway.

Planners saw rot in the central district and reacted by backing riverfront demolition, hoping the smoke abatement plan would slow the westward movement. The city decided that the movement to the suburbs was a result of decaying central housing (the worst of the nation’s biggest cities) and began thinking of wholesale demolition of the downtown. Developers looked to federal tax subsidies to build large tracks of new housing quickly.

The stage was thereby set for further riverfront clearance in the forties and the demolition of the near North Side and Mill Creek Valley in the fifties. The war, however, delayed the process until late in the decade, except for the riverfront demolition for the Jefferson park, completed in 1942. That area devolved into an empty space of mud and gravel all through the forties and nothing was done at the site until 1950 when Harry Truman dedicated the ground for the new federal park. The city finally managed to plant grass in the mud.

That was all, however, for the riverfront. Another war, this time in Korea, diverted funds. For another 11 years the 40-block area stood empty. Excavation for the Gateway Arch finally began. The giant steel structure was completed in 1965, 30 years after the plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was first pitched.

Republicans returned to power in City Hall in 1941 and for the next eight years practiced a policy of no change, letting the war economy roll. The city population grew to its high-water mark of 856,796 in 1950. Congestion in the no-loan, redlined black neighborhoods became tighter, with 88,000 families in pre-1900 housing. The Great Migration continued as more and still more southern blacks chased the job opportunities north. Anything was better than the virtual slavery of share cropping in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

The city made little attempt to improve the housing shortage until 1949, and then the answer involved bulldozers and high-rise apartment blocks. The smoke problem was relieved but that didn’t dissuade city residents who could leave from leaving. The county population, 70 percent white, rose faster than ever to 406,349 in 1950. Laws from the nineteenth century made it impossible for the city to annex anything outside the 1876 line. Ideas like new elephant quarters at the zoo and art museum expansion didn’t attract many new residents.

Whites were able to get housing loans outside the central city and took advantage of the subdivisions built in the suburbs. Blacks making decent wages in the union organized factories, along with a new class of black lawyers and other professionals, joined them in new, segregated townships. New highways gave them a way in and out to their jobs. The city explained the roads were a way to bring people from the suburbs back downtown, but real estate developers knew full well that these roads also led out of town. After 1950, the draining of city residents increased. Those with good paying jobs and housing opportunity took immediate advantage of the loans and opted to ride the newly elevated highways for free standing homes, a patch of lawn and their own garage.

These trends from the forties live on, and by 2010 the process of white and black flight across the city limits hadn’t stopped for six decades. By then, a demographic revolution was a done deal. Many more whites took advantage of their advantages.

Blacks kept the pace of about 25 percent of the growth, not as many could afford the move and the black community crept up to become the majority population inside the city limits, outnumbering whites by over 15,000 by 2010. The black share of the city’s population had gone from 12 percent in 1940 to 49 percent in 2010. In St. Louis County the population by then reached just under 1 million with 76 percent white. And in the region, including the nearby Illinois counties and other suburban Missouri areas, the population of Metro St. Louis nearly tripled from 1940, from 921,000 to 2.8 million, with about 77 percent white.

These demographics added up the quiet changes, people packing their furniture for a more pleasant environment, birds and trees instead of decay and broken streets, crime and fear, the byproducts of congestion, corruption and housing discrimination. For those who were handed disadvantages because of their skin color, however, for those whose low pay -- or a myriad of other reasons -- forced them to stay, the numbers spoke a little louder, especially when they ran up against a segregated movie theater, a white-only club, or the small insults and indignities of racism.

These incidents had a wide range -- from forced seating in the balcony to violent death. There was no doubt the treatment of blacks in 1940 had improved from the years following the Civil War, but it is still stunning to find in 1942, just 150 miles to the south of St. Louis, an incident out of the pages of Reconstruction, an incident that jolted any complacency about the fair treatment of a large and diversely talented pool of people.

The shock was one of the last incidents in the long history of the lynching of blacks in the South -- those particularly vicious and incendiary racist killings that left nearly 3,500 African-Americans dead over an 80-year period. This killing took in the town of Sikeston, Mo., a tidy city in a historically volatile area of the state, just above the boot heel where Missouri meets Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky, 10 miles west of the Mississippi River.

The town, founded in 1860, had a population of about 8,000 in 1940, some 2,000 black. Early in the Civil War, Confederates planned to link forces in Sikeston and drive up the river for an attack on St. Louis but by 1862 had been thwarted by forces from the Union army contingent active in the area commanded by U. S. Grant. The South tried again to take the town in 1864 but again was thrown back by the Union army.

The Sikeston lynching occurred Jan. 25, 1942, just seven weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, bringing the United States into World War II. The victim, Cleo Wright, was not strung up on a tree in the usual style of black lynching but rather his death fit the wider definition of the term. He had been jailed for allegedly assaulting a white woman in her home, but before facing a judge or jury, he was broken out of the jail by a white mob, hauled into the black community and burned alive.

The reaction from black civil rights groups was intense and the lynching led the federal Justice Department to become embroiled directly in such a case for the first time. President Roosevelt, after all, had just entered the war and at least part of his argument against the anti-war isolationists was the necessity to stop Nazi and Japanese aggression against democracy. Protection under of the rule of law – shattered in Europe and Asia -- was at stake in Missouri.

Wright, 26, a black man who worked in the local oil mill, was thought to have broken into the house of the white woman, Grace Sturgeon, 29, who was severely slashed with a knife in the early morning attack. Wright, his pants spattered in blood, was found two miles away by a local policeman, Hess Perrigan. Wright resisted arrest and attacked Perrigan with a knife. Perrigan shot Wright four times before both men collapsed from their wounds and were taken to a local hospital.

Wright was briefly released from the hospital without being charged and went to the home of his in-laws and pregnant wife. But he was soon captured and jailed in the City Hall lockup, charged with the stabbing. About 700 whites gathered in front of the jail, demanding Wright. Just two men, a state trooper and the local prosecuting attorney guarded the jail. They offered some resistance, the prosecutor’s ribs were broken, but it didn’t take long to get Wright, nearly dead from the bullet wounds, and pull him out of his cell.

His legs were hooked over the rear bumper of a car and dragged for several blocks into the black community, then soaked in gas and burned to death in front of the Baptist church on the block between Lincoln and Fair streets. Grace Sturgeon survived a severe knife wound to her stomach and lived to identify Wright as the attacker.

But while the man’s guilt was not in question, the process and violence of the assault came under fierce attack by the NAACP. The injured prosecutor, David Blanton, put the lynching case before a state grand jury but no indictments resulted. The Justice Department then took a historic step to intervene in the case and a federal grand jury also heard the case. But again no indictments were forthcoming. The case was closed and Sikestonians, black and white, attempted to get on with their lives. But the NAACP publicized the lynching across the country. Outrage was felt particularly strongly in the black community of nearby St. Louis.

A New York Times editorial published two days after the killing under the headline Sikeston Disgraces Itself, asked:

What does it do to the … white people who did not act with the mob but who are contaminated by this abuse of justice? What does it do to schoolchildren, who ought to respect human rights? And how sadly do such events tarnish the cause of democracy at war! There are few happenings in the United States that can afford more comfort to the Nazis than evidences of lawlessness.

The federal intervention in the Sikeston case was part of an increasing role by the national government to involve itself in civil rights. Nonetheless, race riots erupted shortly thereafter in Detroit, first in 1942, then in 1943, and again in 1943 in Harlem. There were no riots in St. Louis, but in August 1942, 9,000 people rallied to support desegregation of war plants.

Across the South and in industrial centers like St. Louis, African-Americans workers, always first fired during the Depression, found themselves last hired as war contracts began to revive the economy. Hitler’s armies had marched into Belgium in 1939 and even before Pearl Harbor was attacked by Imperial Japan, the United States was getting ready for war.

This war economy began to take shape at places like the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company, which had combined the fortunes of two aviation pioneers in 1929 and began building fighter planes near Lambert Field in the late thirties. In 1940 the company landed a $16 million contract to build cargo and training planes. American Car and Foundry and St. Louis Car, builders of the city streetcars, received orders for tanks, and Atlas Powder Co. got a deal that soon made it the biggest producer of TNT in the United States, operating in Weldon Springs, 30 miles from the city.

By November 1941, with the U.S. still not officially at war, 60,000 defense contracts had been awarded in the metro area, an outlay of $3 million a month. These contracts meant jobs, but not for black workers, still facing 20 percent unemployment as the Depression began to disappear.

Particularly enraging to black workers was the new factory on the far northwest side of the city, the St. Louis Ordnance Plant at 4300 Goodfellow near The Ville. In December 1940, the government announced plans to build the plant and groundbreaking took place in January 1941 for the 291-acre complex. The cartridge plant became the world’s largest producer of the .30-caliber and .50-caliber ammunition for rifles and machine guns. The Post-Dispatch showed prescient timing by running a photo spread on the new plant on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack in the Pacific.

Production of ammunition began a week later at the $110 million facility, with only a few black workers. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week during World War II. At the peak of production in the summer of 1943, the factory had 35,000 workers in 300 buildings making 250 million bullets a month. The plant produced 1 billion cartridges by October 1942, and its second billion six months later.

St. Louis had been a leading center of the civil rights movement throughout the twentieth century. The movement for black equality dated back to the Civic League reforms in 1910, to the rise of the NAACP following the 1917 race riot in East St. Louis, through the Woolworth lunch counter protests from the Colored Clerks Circle during the Depression. By 1940, Jordan Chambers, the black Democrat, had become a powerful figure in city politics. The war set the stage to take on Jim Crow once again.

In May of 1942, just five months after the Sikeston lynching, the cartridge plant became the focus of one of the first civil rights fights of the forties. Tension had been building at least since January of 1941 when A. Phillip Randolph, the president of the nation’s strongest black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a July 1 march on Washington to demand jobs. The Urban League and the NAACP, two black groups growing stronger as the Depression faded, pledged support. President Roosevelt did not want to see 100,000 marchers in the capitol demanding jobs while he was getting ready for war and agreed to set up a commission to seek the end of segregation in defense plants if Randolph would call off the march on Washington.

The federal Fair Employment Practice Committee was established and set up regional offices, including one in St. Louis, to enforce the ban on segregation. Randolph and his allies started setting up local organizations under the umbrella of the March on Washington Movement. The group in St. Louis included the familiar figures, David Grant and Jordan Chambers, along with other veterans of the civil rights protests in the thirties plus union organizers from the porters union and the new president of the local NAACP chapter.

But neither the federal agency nor the black coalition had much success against the industrialists until the cartridge plant on Goodfellow laid off 300 black workers, including a prominent Communist Party veteran, in May 1942. Of the 20,500 employees at the plant only 600 were black and there were no black women workers at all among the cartridge plant’s 8,000 women employees. This was at a time when the company was hiring 1,000 new workers a week.

A month later, on June 20, some 400 protesters, including many unemployed and a large contingent of women, walked silently around the factory’s eight buildings for two hours, each carrying a picket sign. A man carrying an American flag led the silent march. Another man carried a sign displaying the Washington March slogan, Winning democracy for the Negro is winning the war for democracy. The company hired 75 black women the next week and placed ads seeking war production jobs for colored, male workers. Wages were raised for blacks, those who had been laid off were hired back by July.

The St. Louis Ordnance Plant, unlike many other plants, continued hiring blacks of both genders during the war until it closed June 27, 1945. By then the plant had made 6.7 billion cartridges. It reopened for Korea and Vietnam and in 2014 still housed about 2,000 fully integrated government employees for Social Security, Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies.

The March on Washington Movement did not stop at the cartridge plant. Randolph pushed the coalition’s double victory campaign across the country, urging the defeat of Germany, Japan and Italy and the end of racial segregation on the job, linking the African-American battle against racism with America’s fight against fascism. In New York, 18,000 filled Madison Square Garden, in Chicago 12,000 rallied at the Coliseum. And in St. Louis, one of the strongest movement centers in the nation, 9,000 people packed the Municipal Auditorium Convention Hall for five hours of speeches, music and rousing cheers on Aug. 14, 1942.

In his speech, movement lawyer David Grant reviewed the gains blacks had made during the Depression and the legal status they had achieved. The fight against black oppression was a world-wide one, he said, and the audience passed a resolution supporting Gandhi’s rebellion against the British in India as well as his nonviolent approach. Grant also said the Depression had given blacks in America federal protection and a new attitude of being entitled to fair treatment in their demands to end segregation imposed by industrial racists.

At the time of the rally 75 percent of the defense plants in St. Louis had hired no blacks at all. Two weeks after the March on Washington rally, the coalition was back on the streets, this time against the practices of the Carter Carburetor Co., a defense contractor operating on the North Side near The Ville with no black workers among 3,000 employees.

On Aug. 29, 1942, a crowd estimated as high as 500 gathered next door to Sumner High then marched past the tidy brick houses that lined St. Louis Avenue in a working class white neighborhood for five blocks to the Carter plant. The protest failed, however, and the company continued to refuse to hire blacks throughout the war, resisting all legal efforts to change its policy.

The company didn’t hire African-Americans for another decade. It went out of business and closed in 1984, leaving a toxic mess. The neighborhood near the plant slowly changed over to mostly black families during the 30 years following the war. These families joined environmentalists during the late eighties to complain about pollution at the property, which was owned by local developers and leased variously to a metal fabrication shop, an auto repair shop, plastics and storage companies. The complaints about pollution grew, however, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency placed the property in the Superfund toxic clean-up program in 1993.

The EPA found 30,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with cancer-causing PCBs, as well as TCE, a toxic solvent that cleans carburetor parts, and discovered the building materials were laced with asbestos. Neighbors, including the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, were still waiting in 2015 for a final cleanup. Meanwhile, one of the North Side’s most important neighborhoods decayed, its value lowered by an empty industrial giant looming along a major shopping street. The factory became an eyesore, some of its windows smashed and others filled with oddly colored glass.

The American Car and Foundry Co., Carter’s parent company after 1922 and the corporation most responsible for the cleanup of the factory, had longtime ties with St. Louis. Based in suburban St. Charles, ACF remained a giant American corporation, controlled by billionaire Carl Icahn. The company built the first New York City subway cars as well as many of the streetcars in St. Louis. The company president was once William K. Bixby, a Gilded Age industrialist who became a full-time philanthropist and rare book collector.

In 1907 he became head of the Missouri Historical Society and in 1909 was the first president of the St. Louis Art Museum when the World’s Fair Palace of Fine Arts was taken over by the city. His manuscripts are especially concerned with Jefferson and the Civil War, and remain a core collection of the Missouri History Museum.

In 2013 the EPA announced a five-year plan for finally cleaning up the site. AFC was still liable for most of the $27 million cost. The main manufacturing building was donated to the city by developers Tom and Kathleen Kerr, with the idea they go to the Boys & Girls Club next door. The plan was to demolish the old building and develop the property after the AFC cleanup, probably not before 2021.

Meanwhile, back in 1942, the Washington-March organization was not discouraged by the failure to integrate Carter. It began holding weekly meetings. It staffed an organizing office, gathering complaints it delivered to the federal committee. It peppered city newspapers, getting good response from the two black papers but no coverage at all in the three white dailies, including the liberal Post-Dispatch. There the editor, Joseph Pulitzer’s son, felt private businesses had the right to hire as they pleased. But the March on Washington Movement (also known as MOWM) did not weaken and Randolph came to St. Louis again, drawing another enthusiastic crowd May 9, 1943.

The next day 30 white women walked off the job at U.S. Cartridge Co., protesting the replacement of several white floor workers with blacks. The company immediately backed down to the whites and removed the black workers. Blacks threatened a strike but agreed instead to meet with management. The company promptly promoted a white foreman ahead of a black worker with more seniority. Confrontation seemed inevitable.

The March-Washington negotiators, led by Grant, urged calm from the work force. But rank-and-file members of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America took a different approach and both the midnight and day shifts staged a wildcat strike June 3, getting 100 percent support from the plant’s 3,600 black ordnance workers.

The company met again with Grant, MOWM leaders and United Electrical officials and agreed to hold training classes to prepare blacks for foreman jobs. Again, Grant had a found a compromise, one that brought the immediate return of 1,200 strikers. The rest of the workers trickled back shortly thereafter and by month’s end 32 black foremen were on the job and the strike was over.

On another front in June 1943, at the Southwest Bell telephone exchange downtown, as many as 300 picketers circled the company headquarters on Pine Street off the Memorial Plaza, asking for more black telephone operators. The protest included a Sept. 18 pay-in where 200 members of the MOWM coalition paid their bills by dumping pennies at the Southwest office. After three months of action, the company gave in and hired the operators.

The peaceful St. Louis protests didn’t change the world for African Americans in the city that summer and fall, but progress was made, the movement grew larger and companies began watching their practices, even if it was just to give evasive answers to blacks seeking jobs when the companies were advertising for workers.

As the peaceful protests took place in St. Louis, Detroit exploded. There had been a relatively peaceful protest there in 1942, over housing. Whites in the all-white Polish neighborhood stopped black families ready to move into a new federal project. Thousands of police intervened and the families were eventually housed in the project after fights between white and black mobs left 40 injured and more than 100 arrested.

But 1943 brought a very different scenario, a riot about jobs that lasted three days and left 34 dead and nearly 700 injured.

Three weeks before the June 20 riot, 25,000 Packard autoworkers walked off their jobs when three blacks were promoted to work the assembly lines. Over a company loudspeaker came a voice with a southern accent, I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work next to a nigger. The tension built, as it had over two years of intense immigration of both black and white into Detroit from the rural South. These were mostly young men without much education looking for war contract work.

Fights between black and white youths started that humid June 20 night before midnight on Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River where young people partied on an integrated swimming beach. A black man apparently insulted a white sailor’s girlfriend and a fight broke out. In the excitement a white youth said he’d seen a black mob throw a mother and her baby into the river. By 4 a.m. whites began beating blacks on downtown streets as they got off streetcars from the park. Looting spread into the black section of downtown, buildings were burned and police began attacking gangs of blacks, killing at least 17 blacks.

Over three days of rioting, 1,800 people were arrested. Federal troops finally brought the fighting to a stop. Eighty-five percent of those arrested were black and police made arrests in only four of the killings of African-Americans.

The riot prompted MOWM to again threaten to make good on its original plan to stage a mass march on Washington, but this time the focus was on civil disobedience training and the slogan We are Americans, too.

Following the deaths in Detroit, black organizers in St. Louis found that fear of riot dominated the city government’s thinking. Republican Mayor William Becker, who won office in 1941, eagerly met with Grant and the other black leaders to try to avert another Detroit. The mayor agreed to establish the city’s first civil rights commission to seek peaceful solutions to the city’s race conflicts. Both sides agreed this was a step forward. Unfortunately, Becker was unable to take part in the creation of the group.

Becker, born in East St. Louis in 1876, a grad of Harvard and St. Louis Law School, had served for 24 years on the St. Louis Court of Appeals when he was elected. He was the political beneficiary of Barney Dickmann’s downfall. Dickmann fell out of favor among business leaders for accepting the influence of Jordan Chambers and his black supporters. City Republicans seized the opportunity, grabbing the clean government platform.

Becker won in a rout, carrying all but four wards. But he surprised veterans of City Hall by keeping several Democrats in his administration. He set up a civil service system based on merit and vowed to enforce the smoke reforms adopted under Dickmann. He pushed a merger of city and county. And he was willing to work with Grant and the black coalition on the interracial committee, pledging to promote job desegregation in the war industries.

Roosevelt integrated the Post Office before the Detroit riot and a new set of Fair Practice Enforcement Committees were established to replace the ineffective originals. Left-liberal whites in St. Louis, as elsewhere, pushed for the city committee and the Republican Becker seemed all ready to cooperate. But first he decided to enjoy a Sunday outing at Lambert Airfield aboard an Army glider of the type used in the recent invasion of Italy.

A patriotic crowd of 4,000 people turned out at the airport Aug. 1, 1943, to watch the Army glider perform, waving flags and singing the national anthem. Stunned silence soon replaced the cheers when the glider crashed, killing the mayor and all the other nine people aboard. Among the dead was the president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, the head of the Public Utilities Department, the presiding judge of the St. Louis County Court and the city’s deputy comptroller. The pilot and co-pilot of the glider, both Army Air Corps flyers, and the Army commander, also died.

Also killed were the president and founder of the company that built the glider, Maj. William B. Robertson, as well as his chief engineer. The company, Robertson Aircraft, was a St. Louis firm founded in 1918 and Robertson was the first man to land an airplane at Lambert. In 1920, he started the first airmail service between St. Louis and Chicago and employed Charles Lindbergh as a pilot before his New York to Paris flight in 1927.

The glider was built in St. Louis and Robertson and Becker were using the occasion to trumpet the city’s crucial role in the war. The tow plane from the 71st Troop Carrier Command pulled the glider up easily on a clear afternoon and circled the airport twice over the heads of the cheering crowd. But when the glider was let go to fly on its own, it was quickly clear that something was horribly wrong.

The wings could not carry the weight of the craft and folded up. There was nothing anyone could do. There was no time to use parachutes as the right wing fell off and the glider plunged straight down 2,000 feet, falling in the middle of the airfield, just short of the crowd.

At the moment the crowd was absolutely silent, wrote the Post-Dispatch reporter. Then there was a sound it is impossible to describe. It was something between a sigh and a gasp. The craft lay on the ground a twisted jumble of steel tubing, plywood and fabric. An Army officer ran to the wreckage and said, they are all gone.

A pair of lucky relatives stood by. Becker’s wife had been scheduled to join her husband but because she was a woman was barred by the Army. Robertson’s son, a 17-year-boy, had already flown in the glider that morning as the pilot gave it its last test before the fatal failure. He stayed on the ground with his mother.

Less than two years before the crash, Republican Aloys P. Kaufmann, had been elected the head of the Board of Aldermen, his first public office. With Becker’s death the 40-year-old political novice suddenly became mayor. On Kaufmann’s first day in office, his grief over the crash was brought short by the headline in the afternoon Post: 6 Killed in Harlem Rioting. If he had doubts before, he knew civil rights would be on his plate as he filled out the remaining two years of Becker’s term. Harlem was the fourth race riot of the year, the second in the North.

Would St. Louis be next? No one could forget blacks hanging from lampposts in East St. Louis during the previous war.

By September 1943 Kaufmann appointed 65 members to the committee Becker had approved before he died, hoping to mollify angry blacks. Grant, Sleeping Car Union leader Tom McNeal, and members of the NAACP and the Urban League were appointed. But whites dominated the Race Relations Committee with a 40-25 majority. Some of the whites were liberal, like Edna Gellhorn, a long-time progressive who had fought to get the women’s vote, and Fannie Cook, another suffragette who was active in the fight to get Homer Phillips Hospital located in The Ville. But the less progressive elements of the committee held the majority.

In November 1943 U.S. Cartridge slashed its third shift and Curtiss-Wright cut its black work force by half. In March 1944, white workers at General Cable walked out over the hiring of blacks and white union members at the St. Louis Car Company struck over a non-discriminatory clause in a new United Auto Workers contract. Dozens more strikes and wildcat walkouts, mostly by whites, flared when whites were fired along with blacks to reduce the work force on an equal basis.

War orders were cut all across the nation after massive supplies had been stockpiled for D-Day. Grant estimated that by June 1944 there were 25,000 unemployed blacks seeking jobs in the city. The newly formed federal Fair Employment Practices Committee cited eight firms including Carter Carburetor and U.S. Cartridge, along with big contractors like Wagner Electric, McDonnell Aircraft (which was founded in 1939) and St. Louis Shipbuilding and Steel for discrimination. Workers complained that raises were promised but never given and that the blacks in the big defense plants were assigned only to low-paying jobs as janitors, cooks and maids.

Over 100 workers jammed a courtroom in August 1944. The companies said their policies were simply a reflection of community patterns; segregation was needed to avoid trouble and keep the assembly line moving. Black and white activists, however, filed dozens of reports showing animosity between black and white workers was infrequent, especially in the higher paid production jobs. The fair practices committee, finally showing its teeth, told the industrialists they must take affirmative action to reverse hiring practices that were the root of the problems. All workers might not have been fully satisfied, but St. Louis saw no running battles in the streets like those in Detroit or New York.

Outside the factories, the Jim Crow system of segregation suffered a series of blows. The Republican mayor proved to be a sluggish ally but an ally nonetheless. Jasper Caston, the first elected black alderman and a friend of Jordan Chambers, held a secret session to discuss a bill seeking desegregation in the lunchrooms of the city courts and City Hall. When the bill was introduced, Pulitzer Jr.’s Post-Dispatch called the measure too hot to reach a vote. But on April 6, 1944, less than a year after the Detroit riot, the bill passed the Republican controlled board by a surprising 22-4 vote, the first such law in Missouri.

One of those supporting the bill was the first woman alderman, Clara Hemplemann, who said thousands of women working the war factories are doing things they never had to do before. Women, she added, have nothing to fear at the hands of the voters. During the war the city saw its first female streetcar drivers, its first women weather forecasters, its first women zoo attendants. By 1943, three-fourths of the workers at U.S. Cartridge were women.

On April 20, 1944, the Women’s Ad Club held an event on Hitler’s birthday they called the last birthday ever for Adolf Schicklegruber, mocking the German Fuhrer by the use of his grandmother’s name. The club members enjoyed a special Blood and Thunder cocktail (tequila, blood orange juice and dark cherry) and raised their glasses with shouts of Here’s mud in your eye, Adolf!

NAACP organizer Pearl Maddox was in the audience for the lunchroom desegregation vote along with students from Sumner High and black activists from several organizations. Maddox took the City Hall vote a step further and organized a new coalition called the Citizens Civil Rights Committee (CCRC), aimed at forcing downtown department stores to allow African Americans to sit down at their lunch counters. Maddox had heard the story of a black sailor on leave who had tried to get a spot on a stool at a five-and-dime on Sixth and Washington for a cool drink. Instead, a waitress turned him away. I’ve been in three engagements, the Navy vet said before leaving.

That was enough for Maddox and several other women. There was a history of lunch counter protests in St. Louis already -- at segregated Woolworth’s counters in the thirties, some 30 years before such protests helped launch the civil rights movement of the sixties.

Maddox stopped writing polite letters to the store on May 17, 1944, and the St. Louis activists began sit down actions, first at Katz Drugstore, then at Stix Baer and Fuller, and at Famous Barr and Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney.

The visits became routine as the stores still refused to serve blacks. The CCRC women would walk in, sit down, be told to leave, refuse, and then be picked up by the arms by store security and carried out and placed on the street. The stores said allowing black women to order a chicken sandwich in front of white people would hurt business.

Whites joined their black friends, ordered food and gave the African Americans a bite. The stores would then clear the lunch room altogether. This was private property, the owners argued; they could do what they liked. Integration was a good thing, managers said, but could only be allowed after years of education on table manners and proper dress. The black women kept coming to the stores, day after day, month after month. There were no reports in the press that any whites left the stores.

On July 8, 40 black women and 15 white women moved into lunchrooms at three stores. The stores all closed their lunch counters. The Post-Dispatch, for the first time since the sit-ins started, covered the women’s action, giving the story three inches of space. Maddox owned a house and her bank threatened to foreclose.

In August, the storeowners said they would allow the women to eat in segregated counters in their basements, a move the black women found insulting. The mayor stepped in and said he would use his Race Relations Commission to negotiate between the stores and the CCRC. The women called off the protests but the talks fizzled and it was left to another black organization, the St. Louis Committee of Racial Equality (CORE) to win the lunch counter fight in 1954. And it wasn’t until 1961, three decades after the first protests, that St. Louis finally passed a law giving blacks legal access to all public accommodations in the city.

By the last days of the war, as the allies began their final drive in Europe, the civil rights movement, like the St. Louis lunch counter protests, had faded. Winning the fight against Germany and Japan was the overriding concern of all Americans as the civil right actions in St. Louis became part of a forgotten revolution of the thirties and forties. The CCRC disbanded. Most of its members joined the NAACP.

By 1944, the March on Washington Movement also wound down. Nearly 20 years passed before the march was fully realized when in 1963 hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists, black and white, stood on the Mall in the nation’s capital to hear their new leader, Martin Luther King Jr., remind them that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation the Negro is still not free.

Back in 1944, Mayor Kauffman began planning for the aftermath of war. He and a committee on postwar improvements passed a bond issue -- $43.5 million ($563 million in 2012 dollars) -- aimed at creating jobs for returning veterans on small projects such as street and sewer improvements, three new swimming pools, a viaduct over Mill Creek Valley along Grand Avenue and Art Museum repairs. Ironically, Lambert Airfield was on the bond ballot as well, getting a major expansion from the mayor who had been put in office by the glider crash. No new taxes were required, but the bond money was made under the mistaken assumption that the costs would remain at wartime levels.

By August 1944, the city and the nation realized the war was far from over. By then 748 people from St. Louis had died in battle, in the line of military duty and from disease while in the service. A stiff number indeed, but not as high as the 964 workers who had been killed in industrial accidents in city war plants. Indeed, the national numbers also showed an equally surprising 5,000 industrial deaths above combat deaths.

St. Louis played a major role in the invasion of France by the allies on June 6, 1944. That January orders were especially high for landing craft -- LSTs, LCTs, LVTs, and DUKWs. The city’s industries also outfitted the invading soldiers from head to toe, making boots, helmets, jackets, shirts, leggings, sleeping bags and tents. Tanks made at American Car and Foundry and St. Louis Car rolled to Berlin and the ubiquitous bullets continued disgorging from the machines at U.S. Cartridge. The Kilgen Organ Company -- makers of organs (including Carnegie Hall) -- turned its skills to glider manufacture after Robertson gliders were taken out of production.

St. Louis Ship Building and Steel, Stupp Brothers Bridge and Iron, and Mississippi Valley Structural Steel were among the many companies working at a fever pitch to win the war. The DUKW-model amphibious landing vehicles that rolled onto the beaches of Normandy were made at the St. Louis Chevy plant on the North Side. Empire Stove, American Stove and Wrought Iron Range turned from kitchen appliances to bombs. Scullin Steel made giant 12,000-pound bombs dropped by British planes on German cities. Alton Boxboard Co. invented a way to wrap and cushion bombs for transport. Johnson Tinfoil and Metal won awards for its production of parts for the Navy ack-ack guns.

Brown Shoe came up with a new boot that buckled outside the pants and made extra wide footwear for the Russian army so its soldiers could keep their feet warm with extra socks. Landis Shoe invented fast, portable machinery for the shoe repair units that followed the fighters. Rawlings made special helmets for the men in tanks. Angelica Jacket pumped out 25 million combat fatigue uniforms, Foster Brothers made steel cots, Paul K. Weil made parachutes and as D-Day approached several St. Louis companies began making portable bridges for the run to Berlin.

On June 5, 1944 at about four in the morning, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the allied commander, sat for five minutes at Southwick House on the south coast of England staring at his staff in silence, then glanced up and said, Okay. We’ll go. The invasion was launched that day. The St. Louis made boots hit the French beaches at midnight June 6 – beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. U.S. troops they flew silently into the French countryside on St. Louis made gliders, they rammed the edge of France in their DUKW vehicles (Design, Utility, Front Wheel Drive, Two Rear Diving Axles.)

St. Louis radio picked up the news of the invasion from German stations about a half-hour before the allies announced: This is D Day. Schools held patriotic assemblies, churches gathered the faithful at the Soldiers’ Memorial downtown, and two dozen unions began plans for fighting the inevitable layoffs. Predictions for few immediate job losses quickly mounted to 28,000 layoffs, even as the Nazis battled the allies with fierce resistance across France. Three bond drives were held -- the fourth, fifth and sixth of the war. Boy Scout troops went door-to-door looking for money for the last push.

Twice as many Americans died in the Civil War as died 80 years later in the Second World War. And of the 16 million who were in uniform during this most deadly of all wars, the United States saw 300,000 killed with just 9,000 civilian deaths. Russia, in contrast, lost some 10 million in battle and a whopping 7 million civilians, a total higher than all of those who served the United States military.

But the Russian leader Joseph Stain believed it was the American ability to build weapons that made the difference, not its low death count. Without American production, he said, the United Nations would never have won the war.

In Western Europe in the summer of 1945 as the allies broke the final German stand, there were many people from St. Louis on the battlefield, including three exceptional examples from the field of journalism -- Virginia Irwin, Joseph Pulitzer II, and Martha Gellhorn. Also, like the millions who worried far from battle, was a writer, Ernest Hemingway, with unusual ties to the city, struggling to work in a bungalow in Cuba while fuming over his highly publicized but fast fading marriage.

Virginia Irwin had been hired as a file clerk at the Post-Dispatch in March of 1932, age 24, winner of the Illinois spelling bee in the eighth grade and valedictorian at her Quincy High School class in 1924. By the start of the war she had graduated to a feature writer on the Post, one of the best newspapers in the nation.

The boss of the paper, the son of its founder, was Joseph Pulitzer II, a famous liberal who kept his shop closed to women and blacks. The women writers were generally confined to articles about childcare, divorce and household disaster cleanup. Irwin, however, was not content. She was such a sharp writer she was moved to the staff of the feature section, Everyday Magazine, and managed to become food editor without knowing how to cook. In 1942 she impressed her boss with an 11-part series on women’s roles in the war industries. The series involved a two-week reporting tour around the country and in 1943 she was granted a leave of absence to join the Red Cross, her ticket to Europe.

Irwin knew her stuff and she knew she wanted to be with the invasion of allied troops. By early 1944 she had a job as a Red Cross press relations officer in London and sent stories about wartime conditions in England back to the Post. The paper had no foreign correspondent even as the invasion drew nearer. Pulitzer, still wary of a female reporting the news, asked the War Department for accreditation of a member of the Washington bureau and an editor from St. Louis but one of the credentials went to Irwin, who pestered the office in person, with the other card taken by a Washington staffer, Richard Stokes.

Pulitzer did not regret his decision to accredit Irwin, a feisty, curly-headed woman who always seemed to have a big smile on her face. She got along extremely well in England with the Joes waiting for their ride across the channel to France. But in June, when the troops landed, the Army kept her out of the way, forcing her to remain in southern England interviewing wounded GIs returning from the invasion.

On July 11, however, Irwin slipped in with a Women’s Army Corps contingent. She wore the regular uniform, looking like any sad sack in the American army, and crossed the channel. She remembered to bring her typewriter along with 80 pounds of gear and after the liberation of Paris found herself at the Hotel Scribe with the other correspondents. By the start of 1945, Irwin, itching to see what our Joes were doing at the front managed several trips out of the hotel, nearly killed during a trip with Judy Barden of the New York Sun.

Late in 1944, she hooked on with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army and sent back numerous stories still relegated to Everyday Magazine. She always included the family names and hometowns of the GIs she wrote about and the soldiers welcomed her with open arms. Pulitzer sent her personal notes, usually warning her not to take chances and telling her not to hesitate to come home if she wanted. But she reached the Rhine with the troops in the spring and went into Nuremberg when it fell to the allies on April 25. She was 5,000 miles from home, but just 275 miles away from Berlin. She talked a soldier into giving her ride toward the front lines. Irwin, the Army driver and a reporter from Boston headed for the German capital.

She and her companions left the 69th American Division behind. They passed through the front at Torgau. She was the Amerikanski who had arrived without a map, waving her American flag. Russian infantry in horse drawn wagons mobbed the Jeep, cheering the arrival of the Americans. From there the Jeep traveled north for about 80 miles toward the Nazi capital, moving 10 mph through the war zone.

The three Amerikanskis reached Berlin about eight at night.

Germans lay dead on the sidewalks, in the front yards of the bomb shattered homes of the suburbs. All streets were clogged with Russian tanks, guns, infantry in their shaggy fur hats and everywhere the horses of the Russian infantry ran loose about the streets.

The three Americans found a Russian command post, a shattered house without electricity or running water. The Red Army Guards-Major was an extraordinary host.

The minute I arrived he had his Cossack orderly, a fierce Mongolian with a great scar on his cheek, ready with a dishpan of water. After I had washed my face, the Guards-Major produced some German face powder, a quarter bottle of German perfume and a cracked mirror.

I made myself as presentable as possible and sat down to a flower-bedecked dinner. The candelabra was upturned milk bottles and the flower vase was an old pickle jar.

The Russians served their American allies the best

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