Among the names of those who have been most involved in advancing civil rights in St. Louis, Frankie Muse Freeman’s is one of the most prominent.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the life and legacy of the civil rights lawyer. Freeman died Jan. 12 at age 101. She worked to address and end cases of discrimination in St. Louis and nationally.
Joining the discussion were community activist Percy Green, St. Louis City NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt II and James Buford, former president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
“What I think about when I see Frankie is stature, courage, power, carriage – the way I would want my kids, anybody I know, to carry themselves as a leader in the African-American community,” Buford said. “She was magnanimous. She was holistic.”
While Green’s political approach differed from Freeman’s, he said Freeman was personable. Green said he disagreed with some of Freeman’s political decisions, like her support of former Mayor Slay, but later came to understand her decision making.
As a lawyer, Freeman heavily believed in using the existing political system to change discriminatory legislation. Her philosophy was “solve the problems through law, and they stay solved.”
“I was on the other side: disrupt, disrupt, disrupt,” Green said. ”I could not get on board with [Freeman’s] philosophy. That’s why I had to continue to carry on civil disobedience … just because we had a law in our favor, we had to still pursue inklings of racial discrimination.”
Freeman’s accomplishments impacted St. Louis, spanning across segregation, public housing and education. Pruitt said Freeman resembled her “resume.”
“What you read and see about her and what you understand about her work and what she accomplished, it fits directly with her personality and the way she went about taking care of business,” Pruitt said
Freeman fought in the courts to uphold the rights of people from all backgrounds. She did not shy from controversial cases and once represented a group of black Muslims who had to sue their mosque’s landlord. Multiple black lawyers refused to represent the group – except for Freeman. She took on the case and won.
“She was just that type of person. She was just that tough,” Pruitt said. “The issue for her was – right or wrong. If she felt that it was the right thing to do and she had that sort of convention, then she did it. She didn’t care who was on the other side of it.”
Freeman received multiple recognitions from organizations in St. Louis for her work and push for people to further civil rights – including a statue near the Old Courthouse and star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
“We all need to work for more diversity and recognize the value of each of us and do something to help the people who need help. Do more,” the late Freeman said. “There are organizations who are working very hard; there are companies that are doing a lot; but still, individuals, we need to do more.”
The Missouri History Museum will hold a public visitation for Freeman at the Grand Hall between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 19. Her funeral service will be at 9:30 a.m. the following day at the Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church (3200 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63103). Her burial at Calvary Cemetery will follow the service.
Listen to the full discussion:
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.