Former U.S. Congressman William “Bill” Lacy Clay Sr. served 16 terms as the first Black person to represent the state of Missouri in Congress. Today is Congressman Clay’s birthday, and we look back at his life and career.
Clay was born in St. Louis, Missouri on this day in 1931. He graduated from Saint Louis University and then joined the U.S. Army. Clay began his foray into politics in 1959 and served until 1964. Aligning himself with the labor movement and unions across the St. Louis region, Clay was elected in 1968 to represent Missouri’s First District while running on a platform to work on the behalf of unionized workers.
From 1969 until 2001, Clay worked on labor issues, protecting the environment, and social issues important to the largely African-American voting bloc he represented. Clay’s congressional career was not without some controversy as he faced ethics charges for billing the government for false travel charges. Clay was also named in the House banking scandal of 1992. Despite this, Clay was praised for helping pass the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993.
In 2001, Clay resigned and his son, Lacy Clay, took the seat and continues to occupy the post to this day. The elder Clay also penned a book, “Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans In Congress, 1870-1991,” which highlighted the election of Congresswoman Maxine Waters among other notable names.
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