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Margaret Bush Wilson

NAACP leader, activist attorney Margaret Bush Wilson was born Margaret Bush on January 30, 1919, in St. Louis, Missouri. Wilson’s father, a railway postal clerk, James Thomas Bush was a 1900 Prairie View A&M graduate and her mother, Margaret Bernice Casey Bush taught kindergarten. Both of Wilson’s parents were active in the local NAACP, with her mother serving as an executive board member. Wilson attended grade school on the grounds of Sumner High School where lifelong friend Julia Davis mentored her. After graduating from Sumner High School in 1935, Wilson enrolled at Talladega College where she was awarded a Juliette Derricotte Fellowship to study at Visva-Bharati University in India, and where she met Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tragore. Wilson graduated in 1939 with her B.S. degree in economics. A beneficiary of the Gains v. Canada law suit, Wilson enrolled in Missouri’s newly created Lincoln University Law School, graduating and passing the bar in 1943. Wilson was in the second class which had one other woman enrolled; she was the second woman of color admitted to practice in Missouri, joining Dorothy Freeman, Edith Sampson, Frankie Freeman, Sadie Alexander and other female law pioneers.

Starting as a clerk/secretary for attorney David Grant, Wilson was soon hired by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Electrification Administration. Marrying Robert E. Wilson in 1944, Wilson joined her husband in Chicago as he finished Kent College of Law. In 1946, Wilson returned to St. Louis and started the law firm Wilson and Wilson with her husband. Wilson’s specialty was real estate law, which complimented her father’s profession as a realtor. Wilson served as counsel for the black Real Estate Brokers Association, initiated by her father, and was instrumental in Shelley v. Kramer, a 1948 Supreme Court ruling that held housing covenants unenforceable. Active in the St. Louis NAACP, Wilson became St. Louis NAACP branch president in 1958 and worked cooperatively with Marion Oldham of CORE. During Wilson’s presidency, the NAACP won several civil rights cases including the Rankin Trade School Case and the Jefferson Bank case. In 1962, Wilson became president of the Missouri NAACP. During President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, Wilson served as deputy director of the Model Cities Program. As head of Lawyers for Housing in 1966, Wilson proposed the creation of one thousand new units of housing. In 1975, Wilson became chairman of the national NAACP board, serving nine terms.

During the 1980s, Wilson served as chairman of the board of the Mutual Insurance Company of New York, Real Estate Investment Trust. Wilson was also past board chairman of two historically black colleges, St. Augustine's College and Talladega, in addition to serving on numerous boards for national companies and nonprofit organizations. A trustee-emeritae of Washington University and Webster University, Wilson served as chair of Law Day 2000 for the American Bar Association.

Wilson, whose hero was Celie, the victim in a nineteenth century Missouri slavery trial, raised one son and was continuing to practice law in St. Louis at the time of her HistoryMakers interview.

Wilson passed away on August 11, 2009 at the age of 90.

Accession Number

A2006.177

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/17/2006

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Bush

Schools

Charles H. Sumner High School

Lincoln University School of Law

Talladega College

First Name

Margaret

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

WIL33

Favorite Season

All Seasons

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Favorite Quote

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Missouri

Birth Date

1/30/1919

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

St. Louis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

8/11/2009

Short Description

Association branch chief executive and real estate lawyer Margaret Bush Wilson (1919 - 2009 ) was formerly St. Louis NAACP chapter president and a Missouri NAACP president, and served nine terms as chairman of the national NAACP board. An accomplished attorney, she was instrumental in Shelley v. Kraemer, a 1948 Supreme Court ruling that held housing covenants unenforceable.

Employment

Department of Community Affairs

Model Cities

Lawyers for Housing

Favorite Color

Lemon Yellow

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Margaret Bush Wilson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her mother's childhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes segregation in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her father's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers the vendors in her neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes herself as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers St. Louis baseball teams

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers Annie Malone, founder of Poro College

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers meeting W.E.B. Du Bois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her mother's NAACP involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her teacher, Julia Davis

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls attending St. James A.M.E. Church in St. Louis

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her academic and extracurricular interests

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls attending Charles H. Sumner High School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers the teachers at Charles H. Sumner High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her pastimes as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the impact of the Great Depression on her family, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the impact of the Great Depression on her family, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson compares St. Louis, Missouri to Talladega, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson explains how she paid tuition at Talladega College

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls her experiences at Talladega College

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers being awarded a scholarship to travel to India

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls studying at Visva-Bharati University in India

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers meeting Rabindranath Tagore

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her reception as an African American in India

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes the caste system in India

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers meeting Mahatma Gandhi

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls meeting Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her return to the United States from India

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her mentor, Hilda Davis

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her activities at Talladega College

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls her decision to attend law school

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the case of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 1938

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls her education at Lincoln University School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls her experiences at Lincoln University School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers passing the bar exam in Missouri

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers trying her first case

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls working for the Rural Electrification Administration

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers living briefly in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes the case of Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes the case of Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the Real Estate Brokers Association of St. Louis

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes the legal proceedings of Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson speculates how the case of Shelley v. Kraemer was won

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the historic designation of the Shelley house

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers her campaign for U.S. Congress

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls becoming president of St. Louis' NAACP chapter

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls integrating St. Louis' Ranken Trade School, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls integrating St. Louis' Ranken Trade School, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers working with the St. Louis chapter of CORE

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers attending the March on Washington

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson shares her criticism of the March on Washington

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers Roy Wilkins

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers Benjamin Hooks' leadership of the NAACP

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the case of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 1982

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson reflects upon her conflict with Benjamin Hooks

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers working for the St. Louis Model Cities program

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls being terminated from the Model Cities program

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers working for Lawyers for Housing

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls forming the Land Reutilization Authority

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls organizing the NAACP's first trip to Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers the NAACP's delegation to Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson reflects upon the NAACP's relationship with Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson remembers the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company case

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Margaret Bush Wilson talks about her law firm, Wilson and Associates

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her greatest reward for her life's work

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Margaret Bush Wilson reflects upon her life

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes the case of State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave, 1855

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Margaret Bush Wilson talks about the impact of Celia's story

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Margaret Bush Wilson talks about her family

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Margaret Bush Wilson describes her hopes for the United States

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls hosting Clarence Thomas in her home, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Margaret Bush Wilson recalls hosting Clarence Thomas in her home, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Margaret Bush Wilson narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

4$7

DATitle
Margaret Bush Wilson recalls the impact of the Great Depression on her family, pt. 1
Margaret Bush Wilson recalls becoming president of St. Louis' NAACP chapter
Transcript
Well, let, let me go back to one thing before I take you to Talladega [Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama], just one, one more thing, and that, that's kind of a sweeping kind of thing. But how did the Great Depression affect your family--$$Ooh.$$--and life?$$It, it kind of, kind of did us in. By the time of the Great Depression, my f- my father [James T. Bush, Sr.] was doing very well in business prior to that. And so we moved from Cote Brilliante [Avenue] to Enright [Avenue] into a bigger house, twelve rooms over there, fourteen over here or something (laughter). I don't remember what it was, but it was a huge house, 4149 Enright. I never did like it though 'cause it was dark inside and not enough sunlight. But at any rate, you know, that's where we lived. And business was very good. My father was selling real estate and making loans. And he had a, he had a connection with a group in Denver, Colorado, of African Americans called the American Woodmen [Supreme Camp of the American Woodmen]. And this was per- a fraternal organization that accumulated a lot of resources from the members, I assume, and investments and whatnot. And they had, they had the ability to give lines of credit to, to people, and my father was one to whom they gave a line of credit. And there was a practice here in St. Louis [Missouri] back in those days of selling property to black people for a very small down payment and very small monthly payments for several years and then a balloon at the end. You had to pay it off at the end. And when the balloon came due, instead of these real estate brokers refinancing it so they could continue to pay it, they called in the balloon note, which these people could not pay, of course, and they'd take the property back. And it was, it got to be a racket in the black community. People were you- losing their property right and left. We'd get the small down payment, regular payment, balloon note, couldn't pay, take it back, start a--this, you know. And they were--$$So, so this is a form of predatory lending--$$It was, well--$$--similar to what's going on now, so (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, but it was, it was, it was designed and calculated to make money for them at the expense of the black community. And my father, watching this, decided that he would ask the American Woodmen in Denver to give him a line of credit. I think it was a hundred thousand dollars. I don't remember exactly, but it was a substantial sum. And then he watched the foreclosures in the newspaper, the Daily Record [St. Louis Daily Record]. And when he saw a foreclosure in the black community and a balloon note, he'd call the people and say you wanna refinance? Oh, oh, of course. He would refinance it, and then he'd go down and pay it off, and he broke it up. And the brokers on Chestnut Street, which was a street where all the real estate, couldn't figure out what was going on at first, because their little gig had now suddenly been stopped by whatever, somebody. These people were getting money from somebody. They didn't know where it was coming from. And they finally learned that it was my father and James T. Bush and Company [St. Louis, Missouri], which was his name. And so one of these people called up my father, said, "Mr. Bush, we'd like to talk to you. Why don't you come on down to our office." And Mr. Bush said, "You want to talk to me, you come out here to my office," (laughter). They ain't (unclear) they blew their mind. You come to me; you want to talk, you come to me. And apparently they came, and he told them that, you know, what they were doing was inappropriate, and what he was doing was quite appropriate, in light of what they were doing. And that broke it up.$Now, what were the steps now? In the next four years you become the president of the St. Louis [Missouri] chapter of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], by 1958. So that's--$$Nine [1959], '9 [1959] (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) four years later.$$Yeah.$$What happened in those four years to propel you to the presidency?$$Well, let me--it, it, it wasn't anything that happened in the four years that precipitated that. The NAACP was headed by a very dynamic trade unionist named Ernest Calloway. And he was doing a pretty good job, but there were people who felt very strongly that the trade unionists were trying to capture the NAACP branch and control it. And he was facing this rumble. And I had been active with the NAACP for several years and had started something called the Job Opportunities Council [sic. Job Opportunity Council] with a group that I belonged to. And I was on the exec- executive committee and practicing law. I had no intention of running for nothing (laughter) at this point. And out of the clear blue sky came a small committee. I'm trying to--I can't even remember who the people were now, but they came to my office one day and said, "We'd like you to run for president of the NAACP." Well, now Ernest Calloway and I were very good friends. I said, "What," (laughter)? And I said, "Oh no, I, I'm not gonna run against Calloway; that's absurd." And I left it there. But the next time I saw Calloway I said to him, "I had this delegation come and ask me to run against you for president." He said, "If you will run, I will step down." And I did one of these. I said, "What?" He said, "If you, you will run, I will step down." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I think it's better for you to be president than for me to be president." This is a very wise guy now I realize. He understood what this meant in terms of the, not people, but in terms of the integrity of the branch. So, well, I was just flabbergasted. I mean I, you know, I did not seek this position, but I said, "Well." But he said, "I think you should tell them that you'll consider it," and that's what I went back and did. And then he announced that he was not gonna run. And then they got another person to run against me, a minister of one of the churches. But I beat him (laughter), and that's how I got to be president.