Why Ferguson Was Ready to Explode

Gerald EarlyGerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, professor of English and of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences

The late Tom Eagleton, longtime Democrat Senator from Missouri, in speaking to a group of NFL owners some years ago referred to St. Louis as “a raucous Des Moines,” despite its Southern pedigree (St. Louis had slavery); its role as portal to the American West (St. Louis proudly calls itself “the gateway city”); and its reputation of being more refined and “eastern” than its bigger western sister, Kansas City. Perhaps St. Louis, in its heart, is something of a mid-sized, Midwestern burg, a bigger, more lively, and urban version of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. St. Louis has always thought itself as current in a benign way, hardly avant-garde, but a charming, if declining, metropolis with a glorious past, when, in the 19th Century, the nation ran through this city.

It’s a past that is ever receding in history’s rearview mirror. Race relations here have been managed on the seemingly civil principle of slouching away from the worst, most benighted, aspects of the past in tolerable increments that comfort the white establishment and infuriate white liberals and leftists. There was no riot here during the 1960s, when they were almost a radical rite of passage for American cities. Some might even think that St. Louis was ahead of other cities in the political progress African Americans made here in the 1960s under Bill Clay, Percy Greene, and the Congress of Racial Equality.

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