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Missouri congressmen Lacy Clay, Smith push bill to preserve Civil Rights Movement sites

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, speaks at a congressional forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at Christ Church Cathedral in July of 2016.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Places that were crucial to the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century are starting to deteriorate, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay says, which is one of the main reasons why he’s pushing to preserve them.

Clay’s other angle: He has Republican support, including U.S. Rep. Jason Smith of Salem, Mo. The two are co-sponsors of a bill that passed the U.S. House on Wednesday that would establish the African-American Civil Rights Network.

“I’m truly gratified by this rare moment of bipartisan cooperation,’’ Clay, a Democrat from University City, told St. Louis Public Radio. Smith and his staff did not immediately comment on the legislation, but Clay said Smith was key in helping get the measure passed.  

Clay described the bill as something that “would authorize the National Park Service to establish a program to preserve and protect the memory of the people and places that were significant in the struggle to secure equal rights for African-Americans.”

The bill goes to the Senate next. If it becomes law, the park service would select the sites.

Clay’s bill focuses on sites related to civil rights protests from the 1930s through 1968, when the Civil Rights Act was passed. In the St. Louis area, that would be near Jefferson Bank, which saw marches in 1963.

Clay also said his bill is modeled after an earlier law that seeks to preserve sites from the 1800s crucial in the fight against slavery, such as Underground Railroad stops in East St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.

Clay added that his chief goal is to see history preserved, “and to teach the lessons to all Americans of the struggles that got us through the civil rights movement and made us a more equal society.”

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.