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Clay calls for Justice Dept. inquiry into Chicago incident involving WashU students

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 28, 2009 - U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, says he has asked the federal Justice Department  "to conduct a swift inquiry into an alleged incident of racial discrimination against six Washington University students at a Chicago restaurant/nightclub last week."

Clay's concern is shared by Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton, who earlier sent a letter of complaint to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Clay's letter went to letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his department's Civil Rights Division, in which the congressman related the following:

"On October 17, 2009, six students from Washington University experienced apparent racial discrimination at The Original Mother’s Restaurant & Nightclub in Chicago, Illinois.After having reached a group deal with Mother’s, all 200 Washington University students in attendance gained admission to the restaurant with the exception of six African American males, two of whom serve in high-ranking positions in student government, the organizers of the event.

"These six students, who included the class’s Internal Vice-President and Treasurer, were refused admission by management for wearing “baggy jeans,” a reported violation of the establishment’s policy. Upon hearing this, previously admitted white students displayed the even 'baggier' pants they were wearing to the management. The 6 black students offered both to change their clothes and show proof of enrollment at the University in order to gain admission, just at their colleagues had. These efforts proved futile, as the management declared the young men would still be refused entry.

"Regis Murayi, Senior Class Treasurer and one of the six young men refused admittance, later traded pants with a white student. It should be noted that the white student is significantly shorter than Mr. Murayi, causing the pants to appear even 'baggier' on him.

"The white student then returned to the bar and was admitted by the same manager who had refused Murayi. Such an example solidifies that this event was not simply an exercise in business policy, but rather an incident of racial intolerance.; Subsequent research by the students revealed 8 informal complaints, by previous patrons, of racial injustice at the very same establishment, dating all the way back to 2005.

"In this day and age, it is imperative that action be taken to rebuke those in our midst who continue discriminatory practices and policies. As the home of the first African American President, Chicago’s reputation ought not be desecrated by the illegal and immoral conventions of Mother’s...."

The congressman added that Murayi also has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division  "and I stand beside him in urging a thorough and timely inquiry into the event in question. Long has the battle been waged against racial discrimination, and I applaud the students of Washington University for their perseverance in the pursuit of justice.”

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.

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