Bernie Hayes

The strategy for the upcoming mayoral race in St. Louis African-American community appears to be again divide and conquer.

Criss Jami wrote, “The problem is politics is made a sport, almost as much a sport as football or baseball. When it comes to politics, adults and politicians do more finger-pointing and play more games than children ever do.” 

Can you imagine in the race to become the mayor of St. Louis we have seven Democrats, three Republicans, one Libertarian, and one Green Party candidate? Five of the Democrats are African-American, as well as one African-American Republican contender and the Green Party nominee.

It is an inexcusable misfortune occurring in the City of St. Louis. Each mayoral candidate has promised a brighter future for the city, but none has promised hospital beds in North St. Louis. I assume we will have to wait and see, but it is a preconceived notion that the city will be divided, and in all probability by race.

I wrote about these sorts of divisiveness 12 years ago in this column, by remembering some stories published in The American. You know it is African American History Month, so let us revisit.

In the March 17, 1977 publication, the big story was that 1st District Congressman Bill Clay and John Bass announced their write-in candidacy for mayor and comptroller, respectively.

The January 5-11, 1989 edition reported that mayoral candidate Michael Roberts scored a victory stemming from a lawsuit he filed in March 1987 against the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.

The January 23-29, 1997 edition of The American gave an account of the Harmon-Bosley campaign that again nearly tore the city apart. Police Chief Clarence Harmon and Bill Hass challenged Bosley in a bitter, highly emotional contest.

Today, in 2017, most black people are still demanding the right to vote, but somewhere along the way it seems the struggles of past eras have been forgotten or the conflicts had no meanings. The dignity and self-respect that developed from the struggles of the sixties, in many instances, have seemed to have evaporated.

The voting rights and voter registration movement was self-motivated and energetic, with many cities electing African-American mayors and other officials. Fannie Lou Hamer got “sick and tired of being sick and tired” so she and other members of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party set out to integrate the Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Las Vegas. 

In 1965 the murder of voting-rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney that disappeared June 21 from Philadelphia, Mississippi gained national attention.

Also, we remember Bloody Sunday, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, 15,000 blacks were eligible to vote in Selma but only 355 were registered. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led by Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis, had been working in Selma to increase black voter rolls for over a year. Eventually they invited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Nation of Islam’s Malcolm X, to help in the effort.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. This piece of legislation encouraged thousands across the nation to surge to the polls seeking ways to correct the injustices that had been a way of life for decades.

Locally, we must thank so many who sacrificed so much for residents of the St. Louis area to gain many civil and human rights, and the list begins with Ernest and De Verne Calloway.

In 1959 Ernest Calloway orchestrated the campaign of Reverend John J. Hicks who became the first black elected to the St. Louis Board of Education, and in 1960 he spearheaded the crusade of Theodore McNeal who became the first black elected to the Missouri Senate. In 1962 De Verne Calloway became the first black woman elected to the Missouri Legislature when she won a seat on the House of Representatives.

In April 1993, Freeman Bosley Jr. became the first African-American mayor of St. Louis and in 1997, in a hard-fought race former St. Louis Police Chief Clarence Harmon defeated incumbent Mayor Bosley. 

The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Let us hope the people of St. Louis will be able to do so also.

Please watch the Bernie Hayes TV program Saturday night at 10 p.m. and Sunday evenings at 5:30 p.m. on KNLC-TV Ch. 24. I can be reached by fax at 314-837-3369, e-mail at berhay@swbell.net or on Twitter @berhay.

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