A Most Hated Man

Percy Green and Richard Daley (bottom) clinging to the ladder on north leg of the Gateway Arch to bring attention to demands  for jobs for African Americans. Missouri History Museum Photograph and Print Collection. St. Louis Post-Dispatch Collection

In the 1960s, no St. Louis civil rights leader was more hated than Percy Green.  Many hated Green for his headline-grabbing street theater. Others said it was just what was needed to end discrimination and open up jobs to African Americans. The liberal Post-Dispatch called Green “St. Louis’s most outrageous man.” The conservative Globe-Democrat called him “St. Louis’s non-stop racial agitator.”  Both were right. Because of his style and his effectiveness, Percy Green is one of 80 people portrayed in The Colorful Characters of St. Louis.

In 1963. Green helped lead demonstrations against racial discrimination in hiring at a local bank, the Jefferson Bank & Trust. Then he and others turned their attention toward jobs at the federally-funded construction of the Gateway Arch. On July 14, 1964,  Green and white activist Richard Daly scurried 125 feet up ladders on the north side. It made local civil rights history.

In 1965, Green became the leader of a new group called ACTION.  That group organized protests against an old local institution, the Veiled Prophet Parade and Ball. In 1972, a woman in an evening gown snuck behind the Veiled Prophet, snatched his veil, and tossed it away.

Green kept at it, getting arrested, making enemies and friends, and generally doing outrageous things. He’s now 81 and still fighting. Looking back, it’s easy to see that sometimes it’s best to do the outrageous thing.



Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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