Margaret Bush Wilson was born into a hyper-segregated St. Louis in 1919. Jim Crow laws and rampant racial discrimination were at their post-Civil War peak. The deadly East St. Louis riots had occurred just two years earlier.
Mrs. Wilson passed this earth on August 12 and racial justice within the region remains a future aspiration, not a present reality. But substantial progress has been made in the ensuing ninety years and Mrs. Wilson was an extraordinary leader in making that happen.
Restrictive racial covenants, a practice begun near her birth and enforced by the State of Missouri courts, making them public policy and not solely private acts of discrimination, were the largest cause of residential segregation. As a young lawyer, Mrs. Wilson was instrumental in the U.S. Supreme Courtís declaring the covenants unconstitutional in 1948.
Indeed, there is not a major milestone in the regionís struggle for racial justice that does not have Mrs. Wilson playing a significant role. The Jefferson Bank sit-ins, the growth of civil rights advocacy organizations, breaking the color barrier on major corporate boards ó she was there.
Margaret Bush Wilson was a gentle giant, soft spoken but firm, unassuming but determined. The St. Louis region can best honor her life by building on her legacy. The journey to full racial justice still has many miles to go.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.