In 1858, Cyprian Clamorgan wrote a brief but immensely readable book entitled The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis. The grandson of a white voyageur and a mulatto woman, he was himself a member of the "colored aristocracy." In a setting where the vast majority of African Americans were slaves, and where those who were free generally lived in abject poverty, Clamorgan's "aristocrats" were exceptional people. Wealthy, educated, and articulate, these men and women occupied a "middle ground." Their material advantages removed them from the mass of African Americans, but their race barred them from membership in white society.
The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis is both a serious analysis of the social and legal disabilities under which African Americans of all classes labored and a settling of old scores. Somewhat malicious, Clamorgan enjoyed pointing out the foibles of his friends and enemies, but his book had a serious message as well. "He endeavored to convince white Americans that race was not an absolute, that the black community was not a monolith, that class, education, and especially wealth, should count for something."
Despite its fascinating insights into antebellum St. Louis, Clamorgan's book has been virtually ignored since its initial publication. Using deeds, church records, court cases, and other primary sources, Winch reacquaints readers with this important book and establishes its place in the context of African American history. This annotated edition of The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis includes an introductory essay on African Americans in St. Louis before the Civil War, as well as an account of the lives of the author and the members of his remarkable family—a family that was truly at the heart of the city's "colored aristocracy" for four generations.
A witty and perceptive commentary on race and class, The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis is a remarkable story about a largely forgotten segment of nineteenth-century society. Scholars and general readers alike will appreciate Clamorgan's insights into one of antebellum America's most important communities.
"This is a theoretically sophisticated and thoroughly documented historical case study of the movements for African American liberation in St. Louis. Through detailed analysis of black working class mobilization from the depression years to the advent of Black Power, award-winning historian Clarence Lang describes how the advances made in earlier decades were undermined by a black middle class agenda that focused on the narrow aims of black capitalists and politicians. The book is a major contribution to our understanding of the black working class insurgency that underpinned the civil rights and Black Power campaigns of the twentieth century."
---V. P. Franklin, University of California, Riverside
"A major work of scholarship that will transform historical understanding of the pivotal role that class politics played in both civil rights and Black Power activism in the United States. Clarence Lang's insightful, engagingly written, and well-researched study will prove indispensable to scholars and students of postwar American history."
---Peniel Joseph, Brandeis University
Breaking new ground in the field of Black Freedom Studies, Grassroots at the Gateway reveals how urban black working-class communities, cultures, and institutions propelled the major African American social movements in the period between the Great Depression and the end of the Great Society. Using the city of St. Louis in the border state of Missouri as a case study, author Clarence Lang undermines the notion that a unified "black community" engaged in the push for equality, justice, and respect. Instead, black social movements of the working class were distinct from---and at times in conflict with---those of the middle class. This richly researched book delves into African American oral histories, records of activist individuals and organizations, archives of the black advocacy press, and even the records of the St. Louis' economic power brokers whom local black freedom fighters challenged. Grassroots at the Gateway charts the development of this race-class divide, offering an uncommon reading of not only the civil rights movement but also the emergence and consolidation of a black working class.
Clarence Lang is Assistant Professor in African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Photo courtesy Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Heavily illustrated by photographs of the damage, The Great Cyclone was compiled from stories in the city’s daily newspapers—the Globe-Democrat, the Post-Dispatch, and, most notably, the old St. Louis Republic. O’Neil points out that "the book’s compilers are not identified, but their glowing praise of the ‘superb descriptive composition’ in the Republic provides a good guess about where most of them worked."
The Civil War revealed what united as well as what divided Americans in the nineteenth century—not only in its deadly military conflict, but also in the broader battle of ideas, dueling moral systems, and competing national visions that preceded and followed. This cultural civil war was the clash among North, South, and West, as their leaders sought to shape Manifest Destiny and slavery politics.No site embodied this struggle more completely than St. Louis, the largest city along the border of slavery and freedom. In this sweeping history, Adam Arenson reveals a city at the heart of the cultural civil war. St. Louisans heralded a new future, erasing old patterns as the United States stretched across the continent. They tried to reorient the nation’s political landscape, with westerners in the vanguard and St. Louis as the cultural, commercial, and national capital. John C. Calhoun, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, and John Brown tracked the progress of the cultural contest by monitoring events in St. Louis, observing how the city’s leaders tried yet ultimately failed to control the national destiny.The interplay of local ambitions and national meanings reveals the wider cultural transformation brought about by westward expansion, political strife, and emancipation in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This vibrant and beautifully written story enriches our understanding of America at a crossroads.
One of Missouri's best-known leaders of the Progressive Era, Joseph W. Folk epitomized the moral reformer in politics. As a crusading district attorney in St. Louis, Folk won national acclaim for his investigations of wrongdoing in municipal government. With the help of muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, Folk revealed for the first time the extent of political corruption then plaguing America's cities and helped bring about a popular demand for the regeneration of municipal government nationwide.
A firm believer that the law was a weapon with which to check political corruption and restrain powerful special interests, Folk popularized the "Missouri Idea," the doctrine that public office is a public trust, not merely an opportunity for private gain. Elected as governor of Missouri in 1904, Folk orchestrated a remarkable record of legislative accomplishment. He established himself as one of Missouri's outstanding governors and one of the nation's leading progressive reformers.
In asserting that traditional moral values could be applied to politics, Folk became known among friends and enemies as Holy Joe. His refusal to make any distinction between public and private morality, however, alienated some Missourians, while his disregard for party organization angered politicians. His idealism cost him political advancement and ultimately a place in national politics.
Whereas some studies of the Progressive Era have minimized the moral dimension of Progressivism and downplayed the importance of reformers like Joseph W. Folk, Holy Joe establishes him as a major leader of the Progressive movement. This biography will be a welcome addition to the literature on the subject.
Despite St. Louis’s mid-twentieth-century reputation as a conservative and sleepy midwestern metropolis, the city and its surrounding region have long played host to dynamic forms of social-movement organizing. This was especially the case during the 1960s and 1970s, when a new generation of local activists lent their energies to the ongoing struggles for Black freedom, lesbian and gay liberation, feminist social transformations, environmental protection, an end to the Vietnam War, and more. This volume, the first of its kind, offers fifteen scholarly contributions that together bring into focus the exceptional range of progressive activist projects that took shape in a single midwestern city during these tumultuous decades.
In contrast to scholarship that seeks to interpret the era’s social-movement initiatives in a primarily national context, the works presented in this expansive collection emphasize the importance of locality, neighborhood, community institutions, and rooted social networks. Documenting wrenching forces of metropolitan change as well as grassroots resilience, Left in the Midwest shows us how place powerfully shaped agendas, worldviews, and opportunities for the disparate groups that dedicated themselves to progressive visions for their city. By revising our sense of the region’s past, this volume also expands our sense of the possibilities that the future may hold for activist movements seeking change in St. Louis and beyond.
As a teenager, Lake joins her grandparents in Missouri and spends her youth seeking answers to her questions about the past, trying to understand the complex pattern of betrayals that shaped it. Only when she herself becomes party to a betrayal as devastating as any committed by her mother does Lake begin to understand.
Passanante writes with a keen eye for the details of behavior that reveal the yearnings and fears beneath the surface. She shows us that the path to understanding is never a smooth one, and that love is often far more complex than we can imagine. Western Literature Series.
How did tourism gain a central role in the postwar American Rustbelt city? And how did tourism development reshape the meaning and function of these cities? These are the questions at the heart of Aaron Cowan’s groundbreaking book, A Nice Place to Visit.
Cowan provides an insightful, comparative look at the historical development of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore in the post–World War II period to show how urban tourism provided a potential solution to the economic woes of deindustrialization. A Nice Place to Visit chronicles the visions of urban leaders who planned hotels, convention centers, stadiums, and festival marketplaces to remake these cities as tourist destinations. Cowan also addresses the ever-present tensions between tourist development and the needs and demands of residents in urban communities.
A Nice Place to Visit charts how these Rustbelt cities adapted to urban decline and struggled to meet the challenge of becoming an appealing place to visit, as well as good and just communities in which to live.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, thousands of former slaves made their way from the South to the Kansas plains. Called “Exodusters,” they were searching for their own promised land. Bryan Jack now tells the story of this American exodus as it played out in St. Louis, a key stop in the journey west.
Many of the Exodusters landed on the St. Louis levee destitute, appearing more as refugees than as homesteaders, and city officials refused aid for fear of encouraging more migrants. To the stranded Exodusters, St. Louis became a barrier as formidable as the Red Sea, and Jack tells how the city’s African American community organized relief in response to this crisis and provided the migrants with funds to continue their journey.
The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters tells of former slaves such as George Rogers and Jacob Stevens, who fled violence and intimidation in Louisiana and Mississippi. It documents the efforts of individuals in St. Louis, such as Charlton Tandy, Moses Dickson, and Rev. John Turner, who reached out to help them. But it also shows that black aid to the Exodusters was more than charity. Jack argues that community support was a form of collective resistance to white supremacy and segregation as well as a statement for freedom and self-direction—reflecting an understanding that if the Exodusters’ right to freedom of movement was limited, so would be the rights of all African Americans. He also discusses divisions within the African American community and among its leaders regarding the nature of aid and even whether it should be provided.
In telling of the community’s efforts—a commitment to civil rights that had started well before the Civil War—Jack provides a more complete picture of St. Louis as a city, of Missouri as a state, and of African American life in an era of dramatic change. Blending African American, southern, western, and labor history, The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters offers an important new lens for exploring the complex racial relationships that existed within post-Reconstruction America.
Although his story has been told countless times--by performers from Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and the Isley Brothers to Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and Taj Mahal--no one seems to know who Stagolee really is. Stack Lee? Stagger Lee? He has gone by all these names in the ballad that has kept his exploits before us for over a century. Delving into a subculture of St. Louis known as "Deep Morgan," Cecil Brown emerges with the facts behind the legend to unfold the mystery of Stack Lee and the incident that led to murder in 1895.How the legend grew is a story in itself, and Brown tracks it through variants of the song "Stack Lee"--from early ragtime versions of the '20s, to Mississippi John Hurt's rendition in the '30s, to John Lomax's 1940s prison versions, to interpretations by Lloyd Price, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett, right up to the hip-hop renderings of the '90s. Drawing upon the works of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison, Brown describes the powerful influence of a legend bigger than literature, one whose transformation reflects changing views of black musical forms, and African Americans' altered attitudes toward black male identity, gender, and police brutality. This book takes you to the heart of America, into the soul and circumstances of a legend that has conveyed a painful and elusive truth about our culture.
Winner, Missouri Conference on History Book Award, 2001
Victory without Violence is the story of a small, integrated group of St. Louisans who carried out sustained campaigns from 1947 to 1957 that were among the earliest in the nation to end racial segregation in public accommodations. Guided by Gandhian principles of nonviolent direct action, the St. Louis Committee of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted negotiations, demonstrations, and sit-ins to secure full rights for the African American residents of St. Louis.
The book opens with an overview of post-World War II racial injustice in the United States and in St. Louis. After recounting the genesis of St. Louis CORE, the writers vividly relate activities at lunch counters, cafeterias, and restaurants, demonstrating CORE's remarkable success in winning over initially hostile owners, manager, and service employees. A detailed review of its sixteen-month campaign at a major St. Louis department store, Stix, Baer & Fuller, illustrates the groups' patient persistence. Kimbrough and Dagen show after the passage of a public accommodations ordinance in 1961, CORE's goal of equal access was realized throughout the city of St. Louis.
On the scene reports drawn from CORE newsletters (1951-1955) and reminiscences by members appear throughout the text. In a closing chapter, the authors trace the lasting effects of the CORE experience on the lives of its members. Victory without Violence casts light on a previously obscured decade in St. Louis civil rights history.
Joseph J. Mersman was a liquor merchant, a German American immigrant who aspired—successfully—to become a self-made man. Hundreds of the residents of Mersman’s hometown in Germany immigrated to Cincinnati in the 1830s, joining many thousands of other German immigrants. In 1847, at the age of twenty-three, Mersman began recording his activities in a bound volume, small enough to fit into his coat pocket. His diary, filled with work and play, eating and drinking, flirting and dancing, provides a unique picture of everyday life, first in Cincinnati and then in St. Louis, the new urban centers of the emerging Midwest.
Outside of Gold Rush diaries and emigration journals, few narrative records of the antebellum period have been published. Illustrated with photographs, maps, and period advertisements, the diary reveals how a young man worked to establish himself during an era that was rich in opportunity.
As a whiskey rectifier, Mersman bought distilled spirits, redistilled or reprocessed them to remove contaminants or increase the alcohol content, and added various flavorings before selling his product to liquor retailers. In his diary, he describes scrambling for capital, marketing his wares, and arranging transportation by steamboat, omnibus, and train. Although the business that he sought to master was eliminated by the passage of the Pure Food Law of 1906, Mersman, like most rectifiers, was a reputable wholesaler. Merchants like him played an important role in distributing liquor in nineteenth-century America.
Mersman confronted serious disease, both as a sufferer from syphilis and as a witness to two devastating cholera epidemics. Unlike other residents of St. Louis, who fled the relative safety of the countryside, he remained in the city and saw the impact of the epidemics on the community.
Linda A. Fisher’s extensive, insightful, and highly readable annotations add a wealth of background information to Mersman’s story. Her professional training and career as a physician give her a particularly valuable perspective on the public health aspects of Mersman’s life and times.
St. Louis contains one of the largest Jewish communities in the interior of the United States. Yet, despite the important contributions of St. Louis Jews to the city's cultural and economic growth and to national and international Jewry, no history of their accomplishments has heretofore been written.
In this masterful book, Walter Ehrlich shows how the St. Louis Jewish community grew in two separate yet intricately related milieux. One was the internal socioreligious community, which centered on relations of Jews with fellow Jews. The other was the broader secular environment, in which Jews individually and collectively interacted with the non-Jewish population, assuming significant roles in the political, economic, social, and religious developments of one of the country's most important urban centers.
Employing many previously unused primary materials--especially congregational archives, organizational and business records, contemporary newspapers, and vivid personal memoirs--Ehrlich presents a fascinating description of how individuals and groups contributed to the growth and development of a major American urban area. He clarifies significant aspects of social and economic structure, mobility, and philanthropy within the Jewish community and integrates them within the broader framework of American society. In the process, Ehrlich provides a unique perspective on St. Louis history, as well as on American urban, ethnic, and immigration history.
Zion in the Valley is an invaluable contribution to the field of Jewish studies. It will appeal to scholars and students of Jewish, urban, and ethnic history, as well as to members of the broader St. Louis community.
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