The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr.

A civil rights activist and labor leader, William Lacy Clay, Sr. built a strong following as a local politician in St. Louis before coming to Congress. During his more than three decades in the U.S. House, Clay, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was a leading spokesperson for African Americans in his district and across the country.

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Role of the Congressional Black Caucus

Role of the Congressional Black Caucus
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. describes the potential power of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative of Missouri (January 3, 1969-January 3, 2001)

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, William (Bill) Lacy Clay Sr. grew up facing racial discrimination and inequity. In this interview he describes the tenement houses and segregated playgrounds in his neighborhood. Clay discusses his early mentors and how their work to promote civil rights in St. Louis led to his own activism including organizing and participating in sit-ins and marches. His role in the movement precipitated his interest in politics when he realized the potential of making laws to end racial bias. Clay successfully ran for an alderman position in St. Louis—his five years in local politics and his work to integrate labor unions created a powerful base which helped him win election to the U.S. House in 1968.

A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Clay provides insight on the early days of the CBC and its mission to form a collective legislative voice for Black Americans. He also recalls how the CBC boycotted President Richard M. Nixon’s State of the Union Address in 1971, the organization’s outreach efforts in the Black community, and how members of the CBC worked to end apartheid in South Africa. Clay worked closely with many House colleagues, but he describes the special bond he shared with Congressmen Gus Hawkins of California and Lou Stokes of Ohio. Clay’s spot on the Education and Labor Committee—one he held for each of his 16 terms and initially had to fight to secure—provided a potent vehicle to draft legislation to assist his district and to improve the plight of Black Americans.

Biography

CLAY, WILLIAM LACY, SR., (father of William Lacy Clay, Jr.), a Representative from Missouri; born in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Mo., April 30, 1931; B.S., St. Louis University, 1953; United States Army, 1953-1955; real estate broker; manager, life insurance company, 1959-1961; alderman, St. Louis, Mo., 1959-1964; business representative, city employees union, 1961-1964; education coordinator, Steamfitters Local No. 562, 1966-1967; elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-first and to the fifteen succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1969-January 3, 2001); chairman, Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service (One Hundred Second and One Hundred Third Congresses); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Seventh Congress.

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Audio

Early Years in St. Louis

Early Years in St. Louis
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. reflects on the discrimination he faced during his childhood in St. Louis.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Filing for Congress

Filing for Congress
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. recounts the day he decided to run for Congress.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

"We Want Our Rights, and We Want Them Now"

"We Want Our Rights, and We Want Them Now"
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. talks about the sense of urgency building in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Labor Unions

Labor Unions
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. describes his relationship with labor unions when he first came to Congress.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Close Friends

Close Friends
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. discusses the close friendship he shared with Representatives Louis Stokes and Gus Hawkins.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

"Just Permanent Interests"

"Just Permanent Interests"
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. shares his ideas about the political agenda of the African American community.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Role of the Congressional Black Caucus

Role of the Congressional Black Caucus
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. describes the potential power of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

"It's the Plan, Not the Man"

"It's the Plan, Not the Man"
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. explains the roots of the Congressional Black Caucus philosophy.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Congressional Black Caucus Outreach

Congressional Black Caucus Outreach
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. describes how the Congressional Black Caucus sought to create a collective voice and develop plans to work closely with community leaders.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Congressional Black Caucus Victory

Congressional Black Caucus Victory
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. recalls how the Congressional Black Caucus helped Representative Ron Dellums make history as the first African-American Member to serve on the Armed Services Committee.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Protesting Apartheid

Protesting Apartheid
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr. describes a memorable trip to South Africa to protest apartheid.
The Honorable William Lacy Clay Sr., U.S. Representative of Missouri
Interview recorded September 10, 2019 Deed of Gift

Images & Artifacts

Representative Bill Clay Sr.
<i>Representative Bill Clay Sr.</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_claysr_portrait.xml
Congressman Clay Sr. represented Missouri in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 2001.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
William Lacy Clay Sr. Lapel Pin
<i>William Lacy Clay Sr. Lapel Pin</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_claysr_pin.xml
William Lacy Clay Sr. used the support he built as a civil rights activist and alderman in St. Louis when campaigning for Congress.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Black Lawmakers in Congress Fan
<i>Black Lawmakers in Congress Fan</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_claysr_fan.xml
Representative Clay Sr. appeared on this cardboard fan, distributed in North Carolina in 1971, showcasing the unprecedented number of African-Americans Members in Congress that year.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Congressional Black Caucus
<i>Congressional Black Caucus</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_claysr_cbc.xml
The 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus posed for a photograph. Standing left to right are: Parren Mitchell of Maryland, Charles Rangel of New York, William L. (Bill) Clay Sr. of Missouri, Ronald V. Dellums of California, George Collins of Illinois, Louis Stokes of Ohio, Ralph Metcalfe of Illinois, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, and Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia. Seated left to right are: Robert Nix Sr. of Pennsylvania, Charles Diggs Jr. of Michigan, Shirley Chisholm of New York, and Augustus (Gus) Hawkins of California.
Image courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
At His Desk
<i>At His Desk</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_claysr_desk.xml
Representative Clay Sr. sat on the Committee on Education and Labor for sixteen terms.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives