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Percy Green: The Man Who Climbed the Gateway Arch

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Percy Green

Throughout the history of civil rights activism in St. Louis, certain names stand out for their courage, strength, and commitment to justice. As we reflect on Black History Month and the significant role our city played in African American history, we honor Percy Green, whose daring act of protest at the Gateway Arch remains a significant milestone in the legacy of our park, city, and nation.

Percy Green grew up in a racially segregated America, where discrimination and inequality were widespread. Determined to challenge the status quo, Green became involved in civil rights activism at a young age. He co-founded the Action Committee to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION) in St. Louis, advocating for fair employment practices and an end to housing discrimination.

However, it was Green’s climb of the Gateway Arch on July 14, 1964 that catapulted him into national prominence. Along with fellow activist Richard Daly, Green scaled a 125-foot construction ladder on the then-incomplete north leg of the Gateway Arch to protest the lack of African American inclusion in the Arch’s construction workforce. The 6-hour climb attracted a great amount of media attention and eventually led to Green and Daly’s arrest.

Following Green’s climb, the Federal Government went on to file its first suit for discrimination in hiring under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1966, the National Park Service was spurred to change their hiring practices and employed the first African American firm to work at the Arch visitor center.

Percy Green’s legacy extends far beyond his scaling of the Gateway Arch. He continued to fight for civil rights both in St. Louis and on a national scale throughout his life. Today, Green stands as a living testament to the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the face of insurmountable odds. 

We are proud to feature Percy Green's incredible story, amongst many others, in our 'Building the Dream' exhibit at the Gateway Arch Museum. You can visit this free museum to learn more about our shared history and the iconic people who shaped the Gateway Arch. Plan your visit today.

Photo courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.