Grassroots at the Gateway

Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75
Clarence Lang

Offers a new conceptualization of black workingclass participation in the civil rights movement


Breaking new ground in the field of Black Freedom Studies, Grassroots at the Gateway reveals how urban black working-class communities, cultures, and institutions propelled the major African American social movements in the period between the Great Depression and the end of the Great Society. Using the city of St. Louis in the border state of Missouri as a case study, author Clarence Lang undermines the notion that a unified "black community" engaged in the push for equality, justice, and respect. Instead, black social movements of the working class were distinct from—and at times in conflict with—those of the middle class. This richly researched book delves into African American oral histories, records of activist individuals and organizations, archives of the black advocacy press, and even the records of the St. Louis' economic power brokers whom local black freedom fighters challenged. Grassroots at the Gateway charts the development of this race-class divide, offering an uncommon reading of not only the civil rights movement but also the emergence and consolidation of a black working class.

Photo courtesy Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis

Clarence Lang is Assistant Professor in African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Praise / Awards

  • "This is a theoretically sophisticated and thoroughly documented historical case study of the movements for African American liberation in St. Louis. Through detailed analysis of black working class mobilization from the depression years to the advent of Black Power, award-winning historian Clarence Lang describes how the advances made in earlier decades were undermined by a black middle class agenda that focused on the narrow aims of black capitalists and politicians. The book is a major contribution to our understanding of the black working class insurgency that underpinned the civil rights and Black Power campaigns of the twentieth century."
    —V.P. Franklin, University of California, Riverside

  • "A major work of scholarship that will transform historical understanding of the pivotal role that class politics played in both civil rights and Black Power activism in the United States. Clarence Lang's insightful, engagingly written, and well-researched study will prove indispensable to scholars and students of postwar American history."
    —Peniel Joseph, Brandeis University

  • "In Grassroots at the Gateway, Clarence Lange makes a greatly needed contribution to helping us remember what we have been led to forget. This well researched, engagingly written and carefully argued book demonstrates the centrality of working-class politics to the Black freedom struggle in St. Louis in the mid-20th century. He reminds us that in many important ways, the civil rights struggle was a class struggle."
    —George Lipsitz, Professor at University of California Santa Barbara, author of A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition

  • "Lang provides readers with the most significant work on the civil rights movement in St. Louis since George Lipsitz's A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition [and]...will impact the way scholars view the national civil rights movement."

  • "In Grassroots at the Gateway, Clarence Lang has written a remarkable study that puts class back into the history of black urban workers."
    —Erik Gellman, Working-Class Notes

  • "Grassroots at the Gateway directs much-needed attention to the role of working-class formation in the black freedom struggle."
    Journal of Southern History

  • "Lang frames a compelling narrative in which the actors are attuned to class politics and economic forces, not only racial matters; the book deserves our attention." 
    Labor, Kevin Mumford, University of Iowa

  • "Grassroots at the Gateway is a valuable contribution to civil rights literature as well as a noteworthy addition to U.S. labor and urban history. ... Lang's detailed analysis should become required reading for students of African American urban history. His historical account of black working-class struggles will be indispensible to scholars conducting future research on the Gateway City."
    Journal of African American History
  • "...a thoroughly researched, thoughful analysis of the Gateway City's "black freedom struggle" across four decades [that] challenges the notion that the modern civil rights movement's goals were primarily for the benefit of middle-class blacks."
    —Priscilla A. Dowden-White, Missouri Historical Review

Look Inside

Copyright © 2009, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen/Read: Clarence Lang interviewed in KBIA BBC Newshour Radio piece (Link) | 2/21/17

Product Details

  • 344 pages.
  • 11 B&W photos.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02654-8

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $31.95 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 180 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $22.00 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 30 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $12.00 U.S.

Choosing any of the above format options will take you to the appropriate e-retailer to complete your purchase. Pricing may vary by individual e-retailer. Please see e-retailer site for purchasing information.

For more information about our Digital Products, including reading systems and accessible formats, visit our Digital Products page.

Related Products

Add to Cart
  • $31.95 U.S.



  • Civil Rights, Black Power, Black Freedom Movement, social movements, African American, working class, black middle class, urban, black communities, St. Louis, Missouri, labor, border states, Midwest