Bosley, Freeman Jr. 1954–
Freeman Bosley, Jr. 1954–
Neighborhood Pride Was Ingrained
A Family Interest in Local Politics
Freeman Bosley, Jr., the great-grandson of a slave, was elected mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, and sworn in early in 1993. Bosley is recognized in St. Louis as a consensus builder who was able to garner votes from both the white and black residents of the city on a platform of fiscal belt-tightening and economic development in urban neighborhoods. A second-generation politician whose father has served St. Louis as an alderman for more than a decade, Bosley is the first African American mayor of that important Midwestern city. As a lifetime resident of the city he now runs, he achieved the top office by dedicating himself to the proposition that citizens of all races must work together to improve urban conditions.
Just prior to his election, Bosley told the St Louis Post Dispatch: “It takes both black and white keys to play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’… My father taught me that.” That theme—of blacks and whites existing in harmony like the keys on a piano—has reverberated through Bosley’s campaign and tenure as mayor of St. Louis. He has faced challenges from nature, with the devastating Mississippi floods of 1993, as well as the more controversial political challenges of curbing school busing programs and allocating more money for neighborhood school systems. In addition, he has sought to increase black participation in business and government. During his campaign, Bosley spoke repeatedly about the need for change in St. Louis, and his admonishments found an enthusiastic audience. St. Louis Post Dispatch correspondent Florence Shinkle noted that Bosley, a “temperate, mainstream” character, “begins hopefully with the expectancy that he will indeed effect unity in a polarized city.”
Neighborhood Pride Was Ingrained
Bosley is a third-generation St. Louisian. He grew up in a series of tightknit, urban neighborhoods, where his family and the others around him took great efforts to keep their properties clean and attractive. The mayor told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that in his younger days: “First you cleaned up the front yard, then the back yard, then your part of the alley. And if you didn’t get your part of the alley cleaned up before your mother came out to inspect, you had to do the neighbor’s part, too. Cleaning up doesn’t take a lot of money, and I’m going to emphasize that.”
At a Glance…
Born Freeman Robertson Bosley, Jr., July 20, 1954, in St. Louis, MO; son of Freeman (a businessman and city alderman) and Marjorie (Robertson) Bosley; married wife, Darlynn (a special education teacher); children: Sydney (daughter). Education: University of St. Louis, B.A., 1976; University of St. Louis School of Law, J.D., 1979.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, St. Louis, attorney, 1979-81; Bussey & Jordan (law firm), associate, 1982; Circuit Court of St. Louis, clerk of the court, 1983-93; mayor of St. Louis, 1993—. Chairman of St. Louis Democratic Central Committee, 1990-93.
Addresses: Office —City Hall, Room 200, 1200 Market St., St. Louis, MO 63103.
Bosley’s family members were also recognized as energetic and resourceful people who depended upon their ties to an extended group of relatives and in-laws. The patriarch was Preston Bosley, the son of an ex-slave in Arkansas who moved north to St. Louis at the turn of the century. Preston Bosley found work with the Railway Mail Service and later the U.S. Postal Service, where he was eventually promoted to a management position. Although he never held political office himself, the elder Bosley was committed to serving his neighborhood. He was a founder of the Yeatman Community Development Corporation and its accompanying Yeatman Community Health Center. Shinkle wrote of the mayor’s grandfather: “The elder Bosley was a towering figure in north St. Louis.… The message of [his] life was that you had to work with whites; progress depended upon it.”
Freeman Bosley, Sr., inherited his father’s interest in community service. He too was seriously involved with the maintenance of his urban neighborhood, but he also became an advocate for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s, when American society seemed to be drifting toward further polarization. Freeman Bosley, Jr., was born in 1954 into a family that pressed for fairness and equal treatment in a city that had yet to lose its manpower resources—both black and white—to suburban relocation. Bosley grew up in an urban neighborhood with movie theaters, businesses, and schools; he could walk to and from his classes through tidy streets. He shared his father’s pride in the community’s accomplishments and the subsequent concern over the city’s deterioration as the 1960s progressed.
A Family Interest in Local Politics
When Bosley was a youngster, his father founded a record company and then later managed a mattress factory. His mother, Marjorie, was a schoolteacher. Bosley attended public schools in St. Louis and, after graduating, took both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of St. Louis. By the time Bosley had finished his schooling in the mid-1970s, his father had decided to enter politics formally.
Bosley recalled in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the first time his father ran for alderman in 1973, “we lost by 135 votes. And oh, my father wanted it so bad.… We knew we could win next time with a little bit better organization.” The next chance came in 1977, and sure enough, Bosley, Sr., won the Third Ward alderman slot. He got 85 percent of the vote. He proceeded to forge a colorful and somewhat controversial career in St. Louis city government, making as many enemies as friends and creating what some observers felt was a political liability for his son. Such predictions proved ill-founded, however, when Bosley, Jr., later garnered political support from some of his father’s former adversaries in St. Louis government.
With his father comfortably situated in City Hall, Bosley turned his attention to his own political career. He worked first as an attorney for the indigent with Legal Services for Eastern Missouri. Bosley’s supervisor there, Richard Teitelman, remembered the young lawyer as “just like the rest of his family: he’d take on General Motors if he thought there was cause.” In 1982 Bosley ran for his first elected office—clerk of the St. Louis Circuit Court. He won the position and served in that capacity for a decade, supervising 200 employees and an annual budget in excess of $35 million.
Running for Mayor
The first Bosley to bid for the post of mayor of St. Louis was Bosley, Sr. He ran for the office in 1985 with his son’s help but was defeated by the incumbent, Vincent Schoe-mehl. Soon after, father and son began to consider the younger Bosley’s chances of achieving high office. Bos-ley, Sr., had never missed an opportunity to be flamboyant; occasionally he was controversial, as when he led a boycott of white-owned businesses in St. Louis. On the other hand, Bosley, Jr., had been an activist in college but had since established a more conciliatory policy that would be attractive to St. Louis’s white population—still slightly more than 50 percent of the whole.
Both Bosleys viewed St. Louis’s changing fortunes with dismay. While the population declined by almost 200,000 people and the neighborhoods became dilapidated and abandoned, money was allotted for improvements to the downtown district along the riverfront where tourists and conventioneers congregated. Bosley, Jr., accepted this cosmetic urban renewal as beneficial for the St. Louis economy, but he also felt that prosperity should extend into the residential neighborhoods—both white and black— where people actually lived.
According to Debbie Howlett in USA Today, Bosley’s success as a candidate for mayor was seen “as a repudiation of Schoemehl, who pushed to rebuild downtown. Though largely successful, the redevelopment produced mostly service jobs, not the high-paid assembly line work once so prevalent [in St. Louis].” Bosley put it more succinctly in the same article: “Development is great, but if you don’t have people in the city, it all goes to pot.”
Freeman Bosley, Jr., was one of five democratic candidates who chose to run for the mayor’s seat in 1992. He was considered an underdog, especially after Thomas A. Villa, the president of the city’s aldermen, filed for candidacy. While Villa proceeded to amass a million dollar campaign fund, Bosley, his wife, Darlynn, and his daughter, Sydney, hit the streets, knocking on doors in all parts of St. Louis and making inroads with white constituents.
The race for mayor was essentially decided during the Democratic primary election—a Republican had not served as mayor of St. Louis for almost 50 years. To the surprise of some longtime political observers, Bosley won the primary in a close election. Later in 1992 he defeated a Republican challenger by a landslide. Assessing his victory in Ebony magazine, Bosley said: “The key… was having a wife who was supportive enough to allow me to go through all this. It puts a lot of stress on a family to run for an office of this magnitude. So just having Darlynn there working on the campaign and managing phone banks has been extremely important.”
Bosley was sworn in as mayor of St. Louis on April 20, 1993, becoming the first African American to hold that office in the history of the city. During his inaugural address—held during a rain storm—he pledged that his administration would listen to the wishes, hopes, and dreams of all St. Louisians. He also promised to reform an outdated city bureaucracy and to wrest control of the urban police force from the state of Missouri. He called for a unity of purpose in the city that would help to facilitate genuine change. “It takes blacks and whites, all ethnic and cultural groups, to make this city great,” he concluded.
Bosley planned to begin his tenure as mayor with an aggressive 100-day program of reform. His intentions were waylaid by a natural disaster of epic proportions—the summer flooding of the Mississippi River that inundated parts of St. Louis with water and caused widespread power outages and shortages of drinking water. Most of Bosley’s earliest days as mayor were consumed by the pressing problems created by the flooding. Only when that crisis lifted was he able to begin to formulate an agenda.
The Issue of Busing
After years of legal wrangling in the 1960s and 1970s, a school desegregation law was passed in Missouri that led to the busing of inner-city students to the suburbs for their education. Today, children from St. Louis proper might ride 30 minutes each way to school, while the facilities in their own neighborhoods stand closed or underused. Bosley sees school busing as a poor use of public funds for education. He wants to discontinue the program and pump extra money into the neighborhood schools, even if they would be segregated as a matter of demographics.
“What has busing done for the black community?” Bosley asked in the Los Angeles Times. “We still have 47 all-black schools (in St. Louis) after 11 years of integration (out of 50 city schools), we’re losing some of our best minds to the suburbs, and we can’t afford to pay for basic improvements and equipment at most of our schools. It’s time to try something else.” He added: “We’re never going to trust our own schools and our own neighborhoods as long as we keep sending our kids off to the suburbs every morning.”
The mayor of St. Louis sees the busing issue as one cornerstone of a sweeping plan to restore and rehabilitate St. Louis’s residential neighborhoods—the central issue upon which he based his campaign. According to Bosley, aü of St. Louis’s citizens must work together and accept sacrifices in order to revitalize the city. During his inaugural address, as reprinted in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Bosley stated: “Being the mayor of this great city is going to be my greatest challenge. And I promise to rise to the occasion with unrelenting drive and energy. But just as I am going to work hard, I am going to challenge you. Your challenge is to meet me halfway as we travel this road together.” He concluded: “The work we have to do together will be hard, tedious, complicated, and trying. It will require sacrifice, not only from City Hall, but from all of you.… Let’s pull together, St. Louis.”
Black Enterprise, May 1994, pp. 64-66.
Chicago TribuneD, 4, 1993, p. 10.
Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 1993, p. 3.
Ebony, July 1993, pp. 40-41.
Emerge, March 1994, pp. 52-55.
Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1993, p. A-1.
St. Louis Post Dispatch, December 30, 1992, p. A-3; April 11, 1993, p. C-1; April 21, 1993, pp. A-1, C-1.
USA Today, April 5, 1993, p. A-6.
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