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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

STL NAACP celebrates centennial

June 20, 2013
In The News

The St. Louis City NAACP's Centennial Gala held Friday, June 7 in the Khorassan Ballroom at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel was not merely the branch's largest fundraising event of the year. It also served as an opportunity for 700 gala attendees to support one of the oldest NAACP branches nationwide, one that has been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights since its inception a century ago.

"Ameren has been around since 1902," said Thomas Voss, chairman, president and CEO of Ameren, "so we understand the challenges and obligations a century-old organization may face." Voss and his wife, Carol, served as Centennial Campaign co-chairs.

Those "challenges and obligations" date back to a time when the national NAACP was involved in hundreds of court cases. These cases garnered several U.S. Supreme Court victories and the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. The important contributions St. Louis City NAACP attorneys made to that legacy were detailed in a documentary shown at the gala.

Like the case of Lloyd Gaines, an honors graduate of LincolnUniversity, who was denied admission to the University of Missouri School of Law in 1936. The decision was based solely on the grounds that the Missouri

Constitution called for "separate education of the races." The St. Louis City NAACP filed suit on his behalf, challenging the university's admissions policies. Gaines won his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, paving the way for Brown v Board of Education (1954) outlawing segregation in public education.

"Clearly, this fine organization has played a major role in improving relations between various groups and advocating for equality," Voss said of the NAACP.

In January, the St. Louis City NAACP launched its Centennial Campaign with hopes to raise $500,000 by December 31.Presenting sponsors include Ameren, Centene, Edward Jones, Express Scripts and Monsanto. As campaign co-chair, Voss thanked lead sponsor Stifel and diamond sponsors BJC Health Care, Wells Fargo Advisors, Emerson and Anheuser-Busch, Inc. for their contributions.

Adolphus M. Pruitt II, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said further advancement of the organization's mission will require greater financial support from the St. Louis community. These contributions, he said, will aid efforts to grow the branch's membership and increase the effectiveness of its programs.

Freedom Riders honored

At the gala, the Margaret Bush Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to two of the original 13 Freedom Riders, Charles Person and Henry "Hank" Thomas. There are only three surviving Freedom Riders left.

"Charles and I went to Anniston [Alabama] in the springtime of our lives," Thomas said of the Freedom Rides organized to challenge the segregation of public facilities and services.

"In 1961, we were so young and optimistic," said Person, who at 17 was the youngest member of the Freedom Riders. "Today, we're not so young, but we're still optimistic."

Thomas said, "When we must, we'll cross that river and go dancing with our ancestors of the Middle Passage. And if they ask us why we went on the Freedom Ride, we will simply say, ‘We saw something wrong and we done something about it.'"

The Frankie M. Freeman/Norman R. Seay Commitment to St. Louis Award was presented to James H. Buford, retiring president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; John P. Dubinsky, president and CEO of Westmoreland Associates LLC.; and Richard J. Mark, president and CEO of Ameren Illinois.

The award honors exemplary service, distinguished leadership, and commitment to improve the cultural, social and economic growth and development of the St. Louis community.

"To receive this award from the oldest civil rights organization named for two of the most prestigious civil rights leaders is an honor beyond belief," said Buford, in reference to Freeman and Seay.

The gala was hosted by native St. Louisan U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who was honored with the Public Servant Award.

"Since the early ‘60s, we've seen tremendous improvement as it relates to tearing those walls down and opening up doors of equality and opportunity for all," Pruitt said. "But, there are still vestiges of discrimination. Our job is to make sure that we don't slide backwards."

The Centennial celebration concluded on Saturday with a variety of family-friendly events at Forest Park that included an antique car show, social justice rally, golf tournament and concert.

Pictured from left to right are Adolphus M. Pruitt II, James H. Buford, Hattie R. Jackson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), John P. Dubinsky, Richard J. Mark, Carol Voss and Tom Voss. Photo by Lois Ingrum

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