Christine Metz Howard
KU News Service

St. Louis Civil Rights Era expert can provide historical context to Ferguson protests

Tue, 08/12/2014

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas African-American studies professor can provide historical context to the events surrounding the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri.

Protests, vandalism and looting broke out over the weekend after a police officer shot Michael Brown multiple times in the St. Louis suburb. Clarence Lang, an associate professor of African and African-American studies, has researched black urban communities in the 20th century Midwest. In 2009, he published the book “Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-1975,” and he is an expert on the city’s Civil Rights era.

Lang can speak to St. Louis’ deep history of intentional housing segregation, including a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that did away with restrictive housing covenants barring people of certain races from occupying property. Historically, Ferguson was a predominately white, inner-ring suburb. Today, 67 percent of the city’s residents are black, and one-fourth of Ferguson’s population lives at or below the poverty level.

Lang can point to similar instances in and around St. Louis to what transpired this weekend. In September 1962, unrest occurred in Kinloch, Missouri, which neighbors Ferguson, after an African-American youth was shot during a traffic stop. In summer 1964, more unrest followed after an altercation involving St. Louis police and local black residents. Due to political leaders and local media, the events didn’t receive the same attention as the race riots in New York, Chicago or Detroit.

“When you have an isolated community with concentrated poverty, police and community relations are often times the match that strikes the fuse," Lang said.

To arrange an interview with Lang, contact Christine Metz Howard at 785-864-8852 or via email.

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