One Reason Why Ferguson Burned, and New York City Didn’t, Part 3

When Missouri was granted statehood, it was part of the “Missouri Compromise,” in which Maine and all future states above the parallel 36°30′ were admitted as free states, while Missouri, as well as all future states below the latitude, was admitted as slave states. Although many German immigrants who settled in Missouri opposed slavery, their views failed to carry the day. In the 1850s, when the issue of whether or not Kansas would enter the Union as a slave state or free state became prominent, and the territory turned into a war zone, many Missourians worked vigorously to make Kansas a slave state. One such figure was Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison, a Kentucky transplant who urged Missourians to “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district” if it was necessary to make Kansas a slave state. Missouri did not join the Confederacy during the Civil War, but over a hundred thousand people were enslaved in the state as of 1860, and many Missourians supported the Confederacy, including Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson. When Missouri Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the Confederacy in 1998, he was simply following in the footsteps of Atchison and Jackson. Missouri became an early flashpoint of the controversy over whether or not emancipation was an appropriate war measure for the North, as Union General John C. Fremont implemented martial law in the state in 1861 and ordered that all slaves of Confederate residents be free. Abraham Lincoln, who abhorred slavery but feared that Fremont’s order would lead Missouri and other “border states,” to secede, overruled Fremont and ended up firing him. As Missouri did not secede, it was not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation, and slavery remained legal there until the state legislature finally abolished it in 1864.

After the Civil War, Missouri established itself as being part of the “Jim Crow” belt. Andrew King, a Congressman from the 9th district, feared that the new Fourteenth Amendment would eventually lead to interracial marriage bans being declared unconstitutional and unsuccessfully tried in 1871 to pass a constitutional amendment against interracial marriage. In 1916, St. Louis voters approved a referendum requiring that neighborhoods be racially segregated. This event helped radicalize Roger Nash Baldwin, a white St. Louis resident who had moved there from Massachusetts and went on to help found the ACLU. Missouri native Mark Twain supported the pro-civil rights Radical Republican faction during Reconstruction and wrote the anti-racism classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but the exception proves the rule. Twain had grown up in a slaveholding community, and in his novel, Jim is enslaved in Missouri, not Mississippi. Certainly, some Missouri politicians took liberal stances on civil rights. Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer tried several times to pass federal antilynching legislation in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1956, Senator Thomas C. Hennings was only of the five Senators who voted with Paul Douglas in the case described in the previous blog. Stuart Symington had strongly favored integration as Secretary of the Air Force, and when he attempted to capture the Democratic Party’s 1960 presidential nomination while serving as a Senator, he refused to speak to segregated audiences. JFK had no such compunctions. Yet Dyer was elected in a predominantly African American district, and the election of Hennings and Symington reflected the high level of voter indifference on civil rights in Missouri rather than the state’s egalitarianism. Harry Truman, the first Democratic president to show much interest in civil rights for African Americans, was from Missouri. However, he used the n-word throughout his life, labeled interracial marriage a sin in 1963, and lambasted both white Northern abolitionists and white Northern protesters in the Civil Rights Movement as outsiders sticking their noses in other people’s business. In the case of activists in the Civil Rights Movement, Truman hypothesized that they had not been spanked enough as children and should be paddled by police. In 1938, the Supreme Court heard a case in which the state of Missouri was sued by an African American resident named Lloyd Gaines. Gaines wished to attend University of Missouri’s law school and had been denied admission, as the law school was not open to African Americans. Since Missouri had no state law school for African Americans, it offered to pay Gaines to go to school in another state. In a ruling that helped lay the groundwork for Brown, the Supreme Court declared that in the absence of an all-black law school, University of Missouri had to admit Gaines. Missouri state law required that all public schools be segregated until after Brown v. Board of Education. Interracial marriage was illegal in the state until the Supreme Court intervened in 1967. When the House of Representatives considered legislation that would ban racial discrimination in housing in 1966, 70% of Missouri Representatives voted against it while only 14.3% of Iowa representatives and 25% of Illinois representatives did. In recent years, Missouri has elected Republican Senator John Danforth, who at times defied party leadership from the left on civil rights but has also elected the aforementioned Neo-Confederate John Ashcroft. Interestingly, one of the few areas where Missouri showed a liberal streak on civil rights was organized labor. When Progressive Era Illinois reformer Jane Addams set up Hull-House as a settlement house for immigrants, she ran into a dilemma. Addams, who was both anti-racism and pro-union, preferred to employ only unionized workers at Hull-House. When she hired a black chef, she discovered that no union in Chicago would let him join and addressed the issue by finding an integrated union in St. Louis for him to join.

Skeptical readers may ask the question: does Ferguson perhaps have less racial animosity than Missouri as a whole? This scenario is theoretically possible, but it seems unlikely. While Ferguson is about two-thirds black, its police department is only about 7.5% black. New York City is about one-quarter black, and the NYPD is about 16% black. Minneapolis is less than one-fifth black, and its police department is about 9% black. San Francisco is about 6% black, and its police force is about 10% black. Ferguson has never had a black mayor, while all of the previously mentioned cities have. These figures are not absolute proof of large amounts of racial tension in Ferguson, but taken alongside Missouri’s history, there do constitute strong evidence. Looking at the facts, it is difficult not to conclude that the fact that violent protests have swept Ferguson but been mostly eschewed by New Yorkers in the past few weeks is partly because of New York City having less racial animosity.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “One Reason Why Ferguson Burned, and New York City Didn’t, Part 3

  1. Great write-up! You have covered many influential Missourians, but as a McGovern guy, I’ve got to ask- where does Tom Eagleton fit into this calculus?

    • Thanks for the compliment! Perhaps I should have covered Eagleton. The reason I didn’t is that, while he was certainly a liberal on race issues, he didn’t get in a position to influence public policy much until the late 1960s; his previous offices had required him to respect the wishes of the Governor of Missouri. By the time Eagleton came into national politics, his liberalism on race issues was typical for the Democratic Party. On the other hand, Symington and McIntyre were unusually liberal Democrats on race issues due to the era they served in. But I definitely consider Eagleton an admirable figure and think what happened to him in 1972 was quite unfortunate.

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