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The Rev. James F. DeClue: Headed Local NAACP, Worked For Employment

Undated Family Photo

In 1983, James DeClue beat James DeClue for the position of president of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. The Rev. James F. DeClue, a Baptist minister and corporate executive, led the city NAACP for much of the 1980s, despite a serious challenge from his cousin, the late Dr. James A. DeClue. The Rev. DeClue died last week at the age of 86.

The Rev. DeClue had been in declining health for the past three years said his daughter, Pamela Chatman of St. Louis. He died of pneumonia on Monday, Feb. 24, at Christian Hospital in North County. He had lived in Florissant for nearly 30 years.

His funeral services will be today (Tuesday, March 4) at New Sunny Mount Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.

With a life devoted to one charitable organization or another, “he gave so much,” his daughter said.

Beyond broken dreams

At first, he didn’t have much to give. He was cloaked in poverty and discrimination growing up in Depression-era north St. Louis. The oldest of three boys whose father left the home when they were young, he told others he lived in a world of broken dreams that he was determined to escape.

Straight out of Sumner High School, he entered the U.S. Army and served overseas during World War II.

When he returned to St. Louis, he married the former Lois G. Foxwell and they began to raise their family. After receiving his “calling” to become a minister, he was ordained in the Baptist Church in 1958. Five years later, he was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

He became a traveling minister, preaching at churches in small Missouri towns: Pacific, Washington, Union and Mexico. While serving as pastor in Mexico, he moved his family to Jefferson City. In 1968, while working full-time, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education at Lincoln University.

“Daddy graduated with honors,” his daughter said proudly.

He gave up being an itinerant preacher and returned to St. Louis. He began putting his new degree to use at Emerson Electric Co. where his 32-year career ended as corporate director of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity.

He succeeded and so did his brothers. He wrote of their success in an essay titled Beyond Broken Dreams that “We believed we could make it and we rose above poverty.”

Activist preacher

During the ‘80s, the Rev. DeClue returned to his Baptist roots and became pastor of one of the area’s most prominent churches, Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. He later led New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church until his health began to fail about three years ago.

In keeping with the black tradition, his ministry went far beyond the walls of his church. He was a life member of the national NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the U.S., and he led the St. Louis chapter for eight years. He used his role at Emerson to create greater opportunities for blacks and he was not above an impromptu effort.

When B.T. Rice, senior pastor of New Horizons Christian Church and first vice president of the St. Louis County NAACP, began a one-man picket of an Amoco gas station that was being built on Natural Bridge, the Rev. DeClue happened by. Upon learning that Rice was there because no blacks were on the worksite, he joined Rice. He later told gas company executives in no uncertain terms that things had to change.

“James would shoot straight from the hip,” Rice laughed. Amoco shut the site down until it could hire some African Americans. It was just one of many times he fought to get blacks a piece of the employment pie or to help them move up corporate ladder.

The Rev. DeClue was the spokesperson when the St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable took on the St. Louis Regional Medical Center and its board chair, Robert Hyland, who headed KMOX radio, over the hospital’s hiring practices, board representation and limited emergency room hours.

He once tangled with the St. Louis Evening Whirl, a publication that seemed to relish lambasting powerful people, including ministers, in vile terms.

In 2006, the online magazine The Believer said that he feared The Whirl was giving a false portrayal of African Americans.

“I tried to convince my members to boycott it, to not buy it,” the Rev. DeClue said, “I wasn’t successful.”

It was one of his few failures.

He and Rice worked side-by-side to get Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man out of black neighborhoods. They worked with Jay Nixon, then Missouri attorney general, and saw all of the tobacco ads eventually come down.

The old friends temporarily came to loggerheads when the Rev. DeClue, along with a number of other prominent African Americans, withheld their usually reliable Democratic support for the party’s 1998 U.S. Senate candidate — their former ally, Jay Nixon.

"I am supporting (Christopher S.) Kit Bond, openly and freely," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Bond, the Republican, won re-election with 33 percent of the black vote.

The poetry man

James Franklin DeClue Jr., the son of James F. DeClue Sr., a minister, and Erspine Johnson DeClue, was born in St. Louis on July 24, 1927. His first marriage ended in divorce. 

Ina Boon, a 26-year NAACP leader locally and regionally, grew up with the Rev. DeClue.

“James was a friend,” Boon said, “There were things we disagreed about (but) In the long haul, we were both were working toward the same goals.”

He was a founding member in 1986 of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, an alliance of ordained African-American ministers, and helped form Concerned Clergy, which allowed the ministers to delve into the political realm. He served on Missouri’s Crime Commission and as chaplain of the St. Louis County Police Department.

He gave time, attention and support to numerous organizations, including Annie Malone Children’s Home, Father Dunne’s Home for Boys, the United Negro College Fund, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the YMCA of Greater St. Louis, Saint Louis University’s Upward Bound Program and the National Alliance of Businessmen Youth Motivation Task Force.

“He was a very passionate man about his ministry and working in the community,” said Earl Nance Jr., pastor of Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church.

The Rev. DeClue made a mean chili, was an accomplished gardener and an adroit portrait painter. But even during his down time, he was often focused on the cause: He wrote poetry – primarily about the struggles of African Americans. 

The Rev. DeClue was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Leslie DeClue.

In addition to his daughter, Pamela (Glenn), his survivors include his former wife, Gloria DeClue; a son, James F. DeClue III, of Arlington, Texas, another daughter, Brenda DeClue of St. Louis; two stepdaughters, Deborah LeVaughn, of Milwaukee, Wis., and his wife’s daughter, Ada; a brother, Gerald DeClue, of St. Louis, and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 4 with funeral services following at New Sunny Mount Missionary Baptist Church, 4700 West Florissant Avenue, in St. Louis.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.