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Ruben Yelvington, Civil Rights, Part II

Hello Martha.

For many years, I was involved in the YMCA -- the college Y at Missouri
U and as chairman of the East St. Louis YMCA board. Over my objection,
because he was not YMCA certified, the board hired Ray Sonnenberg, a St.
Louis University grad and athlete as executive to fill a vacancy. He
became the best Y secretary (executive) in Illinois. In the most torrid
times of the racial revolution he proposed a building program for the
YMCA, found the site. We had to raise a bunch of money from white folks
for a building that would serve blacks as well as whites. I helped in
the fund drive and called on a prosperous black attorney (and
politician) in East St. Louis who always won in city court. (In those
days, the city court had the full authority to handle all kinds of
cases.). The lawyer would not contribute, charging that the Y was
segregated and the new building would be.

But we chatted and he explained that his success in East St. Louis was
that he capitalized on the exalted feeling that whites held in
themselves. So he would approach an all white jury with the vision that
here was this little black boy defendant who had all possible obstacles
who made a mistake, whose future is dependent on the understanding and
kindness of the jury. He would tell them he knew they as community
leaders would help the defendant to turn his life around etc. And the
"honkies" always freed the black out of their whiteness.

He also showed me the files he had kept on me and my background,
including at Mizzou. And a file on Bill Boyne, then the editor of the
Journal, including Boyne's personal debts! I never before told anyone
about Boyne's file.

Soon after an East St. Louis attorney took me to a monthly dinner
meeting of the power structure in greater St. Louis -- I don't remember
the group's name, but the CEOs of all the utilities were among those
there. the attorney had turned me down for money, saying the Y could
not raise the funds with the racial concerns involved. But he agreed to
introduce me to this power group. I made my speech, and held out my
hand in conclusion, saying something to the effect "I come to you in
humility but in confidence in you, the business leaders of the greater
St. Louis area, out of your generosity and respect for what we are
trying to accomplish, will want to be contributors. My hand did not

On my way home, with my attorney friend, he wrote me a check for the Y
building fund of $5,000.

I don 't know whether anyone else did. But the black lawyer's appeal
system worked.

We built the Y, and Ray ran an integrated program, under very trying
circumstances. Eventually he merged the East St. Louis Y with the
Belleville Y, then helped organize and eventually merged with the
Collinsville Y.

Then there was the year -- I disremember which -- when Look Magazine
named East St. Louis an All American City, and what a celebration we had!


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