Ԫ Percy Green, II

Percy Green II: A Man Of A.C.T.I.O.N.

A RiverCity Examiner Exclusive
Told To Byron Lee

The Daddy of Them All: Activist Percy Green has fought for 4 1/2 decades for equality and Black inclusion in St. Louis, Missouri. He has inspired countless activists, laborers, professionals and executives alike. Incredibly, Percy is most recognized for his deep thinking, high intellect and reasoning skills.

"Why is it that black people can't get equal opportunity?"

Percy Green II is asking the question that has driven one of the most storied careers in Civil Rights history. For this edition of the River City Examiner, we will delve deeper into the accomplishments that have made him such a revered figure.

Green, a St. Louis native of the Compton Hill area, became widely known as an activist when he, along with Richard Daly, scaled the Gateway Arch in July of 1964. "The more progressive element of the organization [CORE-the Congress On Racial Equality] decided to do that because we were protesting the fact that the city was using federal money to build this monument without blacks getting a fair share of the contracts or the jobs." he says, between sips of Root Beer at the Majestic in the Central West End. [For this reason, Green is known in some circles as "The Man Who Held Up The Arch," with an iconic photo making this designation even more poignant.]

The new organization would be known as ACTION, and they would have what many feel was their biggest achievement when targeting the exclusive Veiled Prophet organization. "We were advocating for better jobs for black males. We were targeting companies such as Wonder Bread, Southwestern Bell, Laclede Gas and Union Electric. The CEOs of these organizations belonged to the Veiled Prophet organization. We figured that since they're all gathered here, why not attack them all?"

"We thought that [the organization] was racist, sexist & elitist," Green continues, maintaining that the group's existence went beyond social lines. "How a person socializes has a baring on how these individuals run their companies. If they belong to an all-white social setting, then it stands to reason that they won't have a conscious in terms of how they run their companies as it relates to race. We believed that this type of racism needs to be abolished altogether. If the city was going to truly integrate, they should not be having a Ku Klux Klan-ish event. And that's why we attacked it. None of these companies did what they should have done in terms of hiring black men into better paying jobs, we didn't think that it was appropriate for them to be auctioning off their daughters in that manner and we thought that it was elitist, that they were flaunting their riches in front of poor folk."

ACTION's attack on the Veiled Prophet organization would culminate with an infiltration of the Veiled Prophet ball in December of 1972. The gathering was symbolic with regard to ACTION's crusade because it had wealthy white men auctioning off their daughters to younger rich white men, while the titular masked figure presided over the proceedings. The endgame of the plan was to unmask this person.

In order to achieve this goal, ACTION was well-armed. First, as an interracial organization, ACTION had white members sympathetic to their cause. [The plan of attack would be executed by two of them: Jane Sauer and Gina Scott.] Secondly, ACTION was aided by some of the debutantes themselves, who provided ACTION with tickets to the gathering. "The debutantes were beginning to have associations with integration, so they felt that the ceremony was outdated," explains Green.

The plan would unfold, once the members were inside the event. "Jane was on one end of the lower balcony, dropping pamphlets. That was the diversion," recalls Green. "Gina then made her way from behind the balcony, down to the lower floor, behind the curtains. One of the cables snapped, and she dropped 6 feet. It nearly knocked the wind out of her, but she got up, maneuvered her way behind the VP and snatched the veil from behind. The VP that year was John K. Smith [then-Vice President of the Monsanto Corporation.]"

The reaction was immediate, citywide. "After that, we were in great standing in the community," Green says. "Some of the Veiled Prophet members were reprimanded because it showed that their security was not up to snuff, but what really blew their minds was that a black-run organization orchestrated a protest demonstration utilizing whites and for it to be effective."

The most long-lasting change Green made came, he believes, as a byproduct of the Gateway Arch protest. "I worked from 11 to 7. People at [McDonnell-Douglas] were amazed that, after hearing about the arrest, I was able to get bonded and get to work on time," he recalls. "A month later, they decide to have layoffs. It was a non-union job, so they could pick and choose who they wanted to layoff, if they had to layoff anybody. I don't think they had to. I think they just wanted to get rid of me due to my Civil Rights activities and, in doing so, would sacrifice a few whites and hire them back, once I was out the door, so I was let go. Throughout 1964, I'm seeing ads in the paper for radio and electrical technicians. The Civil Rights Act was ratified in 1964, but the employment portion of it was not put into effect until 1965. Two weeks afterwards, I went down there to apply for the job that I held. They would not hire me back and eventually we went to trial."

"The judges at that time were definitely not supportive of blacks having equal rights," he continues. "We lost, we took it up on appeal and [in May 1973] some of the counts went my way. It wasn't beneficial to me in the way that I was reinstated with back pay, or anything of that nature, but it made case law. Before then, for someone to win a discrimination lawsuit, the employer would have to admit it, and the chances of that happening were next to none. Now, you can prove circumstantially that you were discriminated against. If you can prove that you were the color you said that you were, that you had qualifications and that there was a job vacancy in that area, the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that you did not get the job for reasons other than racial discrimination." In "The Significance of the Case Percy Green vs. McDonnell-Douglas Corporation," attorney Louis Gilden champions Green's victory for many reasons, writing "the new requirement under Green made it easier to give the black person an entry into the courtroom... Most recently, the Green case has become the foundation for cases in which the acts of discrimination by the employer are so strong as to cause the victim of discrimination to quit his or her job... Green rode the horse alone, and all the rest of the persons suing with allegation of discrimination ride his coattails. Another attorney, Leland Ware, encapsulates the effect of the case by writing in "The Legal Significance of McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green," that the case "is a monument to [Green's] efforts to secure equal employment opportunities for African-Americans."

Green's drive to help blacks was rooted in his search for the cause of their suffering. Answers, at least ones that resonated with him, were not quick in coming. "The ministers said that it was because of sin. Kane killed Able, or Able killed Kane, or some character turned black and there was a curse on black people. That didn't make any sense to me. The scholars would say that it was because blacks were uneducated coming out of slavery and that if blacks got educated, America would respect them. That didn't make any sense to me, either, because I knew blacks who were educated and they weren't respected. Finally, A white dude named Eugene Tournour [of CORE] told me that it was because the white power structure profited from racial discrimination and that they would continue to do so," he continues. "I asked him who the white power structure was, and he told me that it was the Presidents and CEOs of these large companies. They control the politicians because they control the money and they support the politicians who push the issues that they think are important. That made all the sense in the world to me. I had done an informal survey of my peers, asking them why they thought that they weren't doing well. We wanted the same things everyone else wanted: to have a decent-paying job, to take our girlfriends out on dates, to eventually own a home. I realized that poor people didn't choose to be poor."

Convinced of the nature of the problem, Green wasted no time attacking it. "I put together a plan to help the black man get decent paying jobs. I chose the black man because the black man is viewed as the primary breadwinner in the community. If a man has no job at all, or a poor- paying job, he's forced to steal, or what have you, to make up the difference. If you give the black man a good paying job, you get rid of the idea of a black man getting involved with that kind of stuff."

Green was also sensitive to the class struggle within his own community. "All of these organizations were fighting for black men with degrees, but no one was fighting for black men with common sense. There were a lot of good-paying jobs that only required common sense. In the military, you have eight weeks of basic training where they teach you to put a weapon together in darkness and fire it and all kinds of stuff. So, on the job training works for blacks in the military, but when it comes to civilian life, employers expect you to be superhuman."

Green's penchant for speaking out against injustice has not come without a price. Like many activists of his era, he was targeted by the government's Counter Intelligence Program [COINTELPRO]. "They would send poison pen letters to spouses, saying that someone was seen at this place with this person," he recalls. "They would make phone calls, saying that they were calling from the morgue and that they needed someone to identify the body. Things like that. We knew what was going on, but we didn't know that the F.B.I. was behind it." Green blames activities such as these for the break up, amicable though it was, of his first marriage. [to Betti Ann Ruffin] "It was done mainly because of the safety issue. She was too good of a person to be caught up in that." (Percy is now married to Jamala Rogers and Percy Green III, born out of his first marriage, is a firefighter.)

ACTION ceased operations in 1985, both due to many members moving on with their lives and concern that the community was viewing them as an on-call protesting service as opposed to the information resource they preferred to be.

Green, a graduate of Vashon High School, continues to be active. He ran the minority and women-owned business utilization program for the Bosley Administration. In this capacity, he made sure that no "front" businesses (where a women or minority posed as the owner of the business, while a white man ran it] were given certification and he controlled the certification process, itself. He was retained by the Harmon Administration, but his role was reduced to certification.

He was terminated outright by incoming Mayor Francis Slay in 2001. The way Green sees it, the reason was clear. "[Slay] didn't really care whether women or minority-owed businesses received contracts," he says, in a separate phone interview. "We had the certification process down to a science. I had a reputation for being fair to all groups. No one was more qualified to run that office than I was." [As of late, Green has turned his consulting services towards making sure the Northside development is handled fairly and that a Civilian Review Board is instituted to oversee matters concerning the Police's treatment of citizens.]

Green feels his termination is but one example of what he calls Slay's "racist ideology." Green also cites the removal of Fire Chief Sherman George. "[George] was concerned about safety and wanted all of his staff to be concerned about it, too. That's more than just true or false [in reference to the testing potential firefighters would have to undergo]. You have to exemplify cautious procedures and processes. For [George] to be ousted says that [Slay] not only doesn't care for the safety of the Fire Department, but also doesn't care for the safety of the city, in general. Slay is one of the worst mayors this city has seen in modern times. People had hopes for him when he came into office because he was seen as a young person, but that person he hired as Chief of Staff, Jeff Rainford, and the lady who's his Economic Development person, Barbara Geislan, that trio is a menace to the growth of St. Louis. Until we throw them out and get some people with some different values, St. Louis will continue to be a place of stagnation."

Back at the majestic, Mr. Green and I part company with his leaving one piece of advice for our readers. "Always challenge authority, because people in authority will always abuse it unless you challenge their decision making to see whether or not they were thoughtful in it. Otherwise, you'll have them just telling you anything. 'Do it because I say do it.' I think that that's the worst kind of decision-making."

Percy Green is clearly someone who will still speak up when he feels that ACTION needs to be taken.