After Bosley and Harmon, city hasn’t had Black mayor in 20 years
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968, St. Louis Mayor Alfonso Cervantes was serving his first term as the city’s Democratic leader.
While racial unrest, protests and riots broke out through the country, Cervantes — who was white — is credited with helping to keep the peace in the city by frequently meeting with Black leaders, while also working to add Black people to city government positions and commissions.
Cervantes also walked in the 20-block long interracial march honoring King’s life in 1968, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Even so, it would be another two-and-a-half decades before St. Louis would electits first Black mayor, Freeman Bosley Jr., on April 20, 1993, after Bosely’s father had unsuccessfully run for mayor in 1985.
“The voters in this city created one of the most electric moments we have ever seen,” Bosley wrote in The St. Louis American in 2013.
Bosley did not win re-election four years later, likely due to his dealings with an investigation of allegations that people in his administration were stealing money from a program to keep youth off the streets.
The city’s only other Black mayor, Clarence Harmon, was elected in 1997 for one four-year term.
So, as St. Louis heads into an election to choose its 47th mayor this April, it’s been 20 years since a Black person — or any person of color — has held the office.
This time around, three of four primary candidates are Black: St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Andrew Jones Jr.
Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who is white, is the fourth candidate.
Reed became the first Black alderman elected in Ward 6, which covers parts of Midtown, Downtown and the near south side of St. Louis, in 1999. He became the first Black aldermanic president in the city when he was elected to that position in 2007.
“Well, it means a lot to me to be running in this race and I understand that the challenges are still real, right?” Reed said. “And some of the people that have spent their working careers holding back African Americans are still involved yet today. … I think that kind of thinking is the type of thinking we don't need anywhere around politics in the city of St. Louis — or anywhere.”
And while Spencer is white, she said she represents Ward 20, a racially diverse and majority Black part of the city — which she finds to be a great honor and a humbling experience.
Ward 20 covers the area west of Interstate 55 from about Cherokee Street to South Grand Avenue down to Gasconade Street.
“It’s about listening and about serving people and I think that as we talk about who’s going to be our next mayor some of the most important qualities that leader needs to have is an unwavering desire to listen and hear concerns from across the city, from all residents,” she said. “And to be able to work hard for the best interests to move our city forward.”
A self-described moderate and businessman, Andrew Jones Jr. hopes Black voters begin to embrace their diversity and continue to exemplify Black excellence for younger generations.
“We are following in the steps of some great people and I think that if nothing else is taken into consideration, we are capable of doing everything and being out front and being part of the components of this system and maximizing it,” he said. “And first and foremost, I want to see our children … taught in school that we have outstanding examples of Black excellence and we need to keep striving.”
Tishaura Jones said running for mayor means a lot to her because she was born and raised in St. Louis and she has watched neighborhoods experience economic downturns.
“I often think of the shift in MLK’s movement, just before his death, which was about economic mobility,” she said. “Changing civil rights to silver rights and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to not just survive but to thrive.”
She pointed to one of her favorite King quotes as inspiration for her public office.
“We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free market capitalism for the poor,” King said in a speech at the Minister's Leadership Training Conference in Miami on Feb. 23, 1968.
The primary mayoral election will be held March 2 and the general election will be held April 6.