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Opinion: Bill Clay Sr. — Lucas Kunce Is Standing Up To Racist Institutions. That’s A Good Thing.

—Editorial Note: This is an Opinion-Editorial sent to The Missouri Times from William “Bill” Clay Sr. Clay is a trail-blazer for the Black community in Missouri. He was Missouri’s first Black Congressman and represented Missouri’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House for over three decades from 1969-2001.

Right now in Missouri, the Veiled Prophet has entered the political discourse. And that’s a good thing. It’s long overdue.

Democrats haven’t always been on the right side of American history, particularly when it comes to race.

I remember being a young man in St. Louis.

Tenement houses. Segregated schools. Taxation without representation. One of 11 Black people at college.

That’s how I grew up in Missouri. It’s how most of Black America grew up in the 30s and 40s. Before the Civil Rights movement, neither political party seemed too hellbent on ending racism.

The fight for civil rights fell to Black Americans. Not politicians. And so we fought.

Now our country and our party have both come a long way. When we founded the Congressional Black Caucus, I was one of the 13 founding members. And as Missouri’s first Black Congressman, I served my city for over 30 years. Sit-ins. Marches. We organized for a more just Missouri.

Former Congressman William “Bill” Clay Sr. Clay and his son Lacy both represented Missouri’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Courtesy of Bill Clay Sr.)

And that fight for a more just Missouri is very much at the forefront of our Democratic Senate Primary right now.

In my party, two people are vying for the nomination. Trudy Busch Valentine, heiress to the Anheuser-Busch fortune, and Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran.

And then there’s the big elephant in the room — the Veiled Prophet. This is an organization rooted in white supremacy, founded by former Confederate officers. And to this day, it remains a stain on St. Louis. It was founded not only to harm Black people but to snuff out workers’ rights.

In Thomas Spencer’s The St. Louis Veiled Prophet Celebration: Power on Parade, he writes how the Veiled Prophet was meant to fight back against workers’ demands for fair pay — really for their very rights.

So why bring this up? It’s ancient history, no?

Well, like many things in our country, our past will become prologue if we are not vigilant.

Much of the white high society in St. Louis has supported the Veiled Prophet for years. No surprises there. That’s how power works. It is inherited, rarely redistributed, and rarely shared with people who aren’t white.

The Marine veteran Lucas Kunce has brought up Trudy Busch Valentine’s decades-long involvement with the organization. I’m sure some wish he hadn’t. The consultant class talks of uniting the party and never saying a critical thing about another Democrat.

But let me say this as plainly as possible — as Black Americans, we rarely see white politicians take a firm stand against institutional racism. Yes, of course, many pay lip service. But to be unequivocal in the condemnation like Lucas Kunce has is, well, refreshing.

I’m sure some people are uncomfortable hearing it, but I urge them to think through their discomfort. We’re tired of politicians like Trudy Busch Valentine who do one thing in the shadows, and then come begging for our votes when it’s convenient with a choreographed apology.

Today, the people of my party face a stark choice in the contest for U.S. Senate.

Shouldn’t we all want to push past institutions that have demonstrably harmed Black St. Louisans for decades? Shouldn’t every Democrat, of every race, condemn racism? Shouldn’t we strive for a more inclusive party that celebrates diversity?

I may not know a lot, but I know this. The Civil Rights movement I lived through isn’t over. It continues to play out in this very primary election.

But our fight isn’t just a Black person’s fight. It should be every American’s fight. The arc of justice is long, but justice cannot be felt until it’s more than just Black people calling for justice.

That’s why what Lucas Kunce is doing matters. He is demanding justice. The choice couldn’t be starker.