Courtesy Luizzo Family

The city of East St. Louis, Illinois, has a long and proud history of Black activism. From the early days of the Civil Rights movement to the present, East St. Louis has been home to many Black activists who have fought for equality and justice. 

Viola Luizzo

Viola Luizzo was a civil rights activist in East St. Louis during the 1960s. She was a member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and worked tirelessly to promote civil rights in the city. Luizzo was a strong advocate for the rights of Black people in East St. Louis and took part in a number of civil rights demonstrations and marches in the city.

She was also a strong proponent of the Freedom Ride, which was a series of organized bus trips designed to challenge the enforcement of segregation laws in the south. Luizzo was tragically murdered in 1965 while on her way back from participating in a freedom ride in Alabama. Her murder remains unsolved to this day and her legacy as a civil rights pioneer has been remembered globally. 

Dr. Maple Roberts

Dr. Maple Roberts was a renowned civil rights advocate in East St. Louis during the 1960s and 70s. She was the first Black woman to teach in the St. Louis public school system and went on to become the first Black woman to gain tenure in the District.

Dr. Roberts was a powerful voice for social justice in East St. Louis and the surrounding area and was instrumental in the fight against housing, education and employment discrimination.

She was a founding member of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was a passionate speaker and advocate for civil rights. Dr. Roberts died in 1986 but her legacy continues to be honored. 

The East St. Louis 49

The East St. Louis 49 were a group of Black civil rights activists in East St. Louis, Missouri who were arrested during the protests against police brutality in the summer of 1966. The members of the East St. Louis 49 had been protesting police brutality, voter suppression, housing discrimination, and educational segregation.

The group was made up of men and women of various ages and occupations and included a number of prominent civil rights figures such as Jesse Jackson and Edward Said. The 49 were arrested and tried for their protest activities in 1966, but were ultimately found not guilty in a highly publicized trial that attracted national attention. This event is considered a major milestone in the civil rights movement in East St. Louis. 

The Eugene Talmadge incident

In 1972, a group of East St. Louis Black activists were protesting against the candidacy of Eugene Talmadge, a far-right candidate in the Missouri gubernatorial election. Talmadge had made a number of racist statements and was considered an enemy of Black civil rights. The protest, which was organized by members of the Black Panther Party and the National Congress of Black Women, was met with violence and dozens of protesters were arrested. The incident is remembered as an example of police brutality and repression and is considered a major event in the civil rights history of East St. Louis.

The Ann Harvey Peace Protest: In 1985, a group of East St. Louis activists led a peaceful protest against poverty and inequality in the city.

The protest was organized by Black activist Ann Harvey and attracted thousands of people to the city. The peaceful protest was initially met by jeers and violence from the police, but it eventually brought much needed attention to the issue of poverty and inequality in East St. Louis. As a result of the protest, the city’s poverty rate decreased dramatically and the city saw a rise in economic development. The Ann Harvey Peace Protest continues to be remembered as an important event in the history of Black activism in East St. Louis.

The city of East St. Louis has a long and proud history of Black activism.

From Viola Luizzo to the East St. Louis 49, a number of famous Black activists have made a difference in the lives of East St. Louis citizens and beyond. From fighting against police brutality to advocating for social justice, these activists have helped to pave the way for a better future for Black people in the city. We owe them a great debt for their courage and dedication to the cause of civil rights and justice for all.

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