|“Will Percy Green be invited to the Arch anniversary?” Bernie Hayes asked in an October 8 column in The American. The answer, in the end, was yes, and Percy accepted the invitations – but with a wait-and-see attitude about what he is getting into and how much he wants to be a part of it.|
The invitations came after activist attorney Eric E. Vickers stirred the pot by tweeting about Hayes’ unanswered question and hinting at direct action should Green be left out of the party.
Direct action, of course, is why Green belonged at the Arch anniversary party. On July 14, 1964, Green and Richard Daly climbed 125 feet up the Gateway Arch, using a ladder that was meant for the workers and “stayed up there for five hours as an act of civil disobedience,” as Rebecca Rivas wrote for The American. “Their goal was to make the community aware that no African-American workers or contractors were hired for the Arch project. They succeeded.”
Vickers’ tweet prompted The American to ask event organizers – the CityArchRiver Foundation and the National Park Service – whether Green would be invited to their events on October 24 and 28. Both event organizers said they intended to invite Green but needed his contact information. When it was provided, they did invite Green. And he accepted, but with reservations.
Green knows that his and Daly’s direct action in 1964 succeeded in calling attention to minority exclusion on the original Arch construction project, yet he knows all too well that minority inclusion in workforce and contracting in the St. Louis region remains a work in progress. So he does not want his presence to be seen as an endorsement of progress.
“Since I gave my word, I will be there, but as for my level of participation, I will have to assess the situation,” Green told The American. “I will not be utilized as an instrument knowingly, as if my presence is saying there has been an enormous amount of progress.”
In March, The American reported that minority-owned and women-owned businesses received more than half of the contract dollars for the $33 million Central Riverfront Project of the CityArchRiver renovation at the Gateway Arch, according to Kwame Building Group, the construction management firm monitoring and reporting Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) participation.
For this portion of the CityArchRiver renovation, four DBE firms hold six of 10 contracts that Great Rivers Greenway issued, with a total value of approximately $27 million. Minority-owned businesses (MBE) received 31.8 percent of the work and women-owned businesses (WBE) received 18.7 percent, for a total 50.5 percent DBE participation.
The project was split into 10 smaller project packages to encourage local and DBE companies to bid. CityArchRiver promoted contracting opportunities in The American and organized mixers for minority, women and local contractors in advance of bid due dates. The $380 million CityArchRiver 2015 renovation – which will link downtown St. Louis, the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River riverfront into one destination by connecting and expanding the park’s grounds and museums – attracted national contractor interest.
As for boots on the Arch grounds, workforce diversity goals for the project follow the Department of Labor Federal Workforce Goals for the City of St. Louis, which are 14.7 percent minority workers and 6.9 percent female workers per craft.
The American requested an update on minority inclusion on the new Arch project that it will share with Percy and the public. Great Rivers Greenway, MoDOT and the National Park Service are all tracking inclusion on various portions of the project; their numbers will be reported next week.
Let’s say Percy Green does not like the numbers for the new project or the ambiance when he gets to the celebration events. That itself would be truer to St. Louis and its history than if the activist most famously associated with the Arch were excluded.
“What Bernie knows to be true is that you can’t call yourself celebrating history if you don’t tell the whole history,” Green’s long-time ally Jamala Rogers wrote in response to Hayes’ column. “You can’t just include the parts you like or agree with. OK, you can, but it’s disingenuous and particularly disgusting if you’re white and deleting or revising the contributions of black folks that were made.”
Rogers consulted one official timeline of the Arch and noticed Green’s absence.
“Green and Daly climbed an unfinished leg of the Arch to protest the lack of jobs for black workers. Being that the Arch was a publicly funded project (the majority of the funds came from the feds), the ACTION organization raised the racist hiring practices in a most daring way. The dramatic feat made big headlines across the country and forced the construction management to hire African Americans,” Rogers wrote.
“Yet, when you look at the Arch commemoration website, the timeline skips right over 1964 when Green and Daly made the climb. According to the history keepers at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, nothing of historical significance happened in 1964.”
The exclusion of the fight for minority inclusion from official histories of the Arch is not unusual, she discovered.
“This wouldn’t be the first time Percy Green and ACTION were whited out regarding the history of the Gateway Arch,” Rogers wrote. “Folks have raised their opposition when books and documentaries made about the building of the Arch deliberately excluded the 1964 protesting of jobs.”
Though Green has kept a lower profile in recent years, he remains vigilant about the issues that sent him up the Arch in 1964. He understands that in the 21st century, minority inclusion has itself become a business line – some would say hustle – and those who claim to be representing the interests of minority inclusion must themselves be monitored by activists.
Green spoke critically at a June 2012 public forum on minority inclusion held at Harris-Stowe State university. The front man of that initiative was Michael Kennedy Jr., president of KAI Design & Build and chairman of the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis’ Diversity Committee. The issue of capacity was raised at the forum – which conventionally leads to contractors complaining that St. Louis lacks the minority business capacity for them to meet equitable minority inclusion goals in contracting. (This was why CityArchRiver divided its huge project into many smaller bid packages, enabling more small businesses to bid on contracts that they could fulfill.)
But Green suspects the “capacity” issue needs closer scrutiny in a region like St. Louis where minority inclusion was stifled for so long.
“When you are dealing with contractors who don’t want to do business with black contractors, how do you know they are not downgrading the numbers when they judge the capacity of black contractors?” Green said. “I want to see the raw data so I can judge for myself beyond a reasonable doubt. You also need to go through it and remove front companies. How many ‘minority’ contractors are being counted as fronts and how many are legit?”
This is the skeptical voice that has been invited to the celebration party. He has not been invited to speak. It possible to imagine why. But he will be there. For how long and with what degree of enthusiasm remains to be seen.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Green said. “I thought I would go ahead and put in an appearance and see what happens.”
Percy Green will participate – to some extent – at the CityArchRiver’s Arch 50 Fest, an all-day event at Kiener Plaza on Saturday, October 24 (http://www.gatewayarch.com/50) and at the National Park Service’s Meet the Builders event 11 a.m. – 12 noon on Wednesday, October 28 at Luther
Ely Smith Square, Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse
(www.gatewayarch.com/50 <http://www.gatewayarch.com/50>). Both events are free and open to the public.
The St. Louis American ©October 2015