Margaret Bush Wilson was a St. Louis lawyer and civil rights activist. She was born in St. Louis in 1919 to James T. and Margaret Casey Bush. Both of her parents were active in the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After graduating from Lincoln University Law School in 1943, Margaret Bush became the second woman of color to practice law in Missouri. She soon became an attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Electrification Administration.
In 1944, Margaret Bush married Robert Wilson, a classmate from law school. A few years later, they set up their own practice in St. Louis, where she specialized in real estate law. Wilson was instrumental in the 1948 Supreme Court ruling that ended restrictive housing covenants. The housing covenants kept blacks, Jews, and others from buying homes in certain places.
Wilson became president of the Missouri NAACP in 1962. Starting in 1975, she served nine terms as chair of the national NAACP. She was the first woman to hold this post. An inspiring leader, Wilson once said, “If you’ve got character, you’ve got competence, you’ve got accomplishment, these are the only things that make you somebody in this country. It’s got nothing to do with where you came from or who your parents were.”
Wilson died at the age of 90 on August 11, 2009.
Text and research by Carlynn Trout and Elizabeth E. Engel
References and Resources
For more information about Margaret Bush Wilson’s life and career, see the following resources:
The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Margaret Bush Wilson in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.
- Wesley, Doris A., Wiley Price, and Ann Morris. Lift Every Voice and Sing: St. Louis African Americans in the Twentieth Century. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 128-129. [REF H235.52 W516]
- Lift Every Voice And Sing Oral History Project (S0609)
This collection contains an oral history interview of Margaret Bush Wilson, including a transcript.
- American Lives Project
This digital collection features two oral history interviews given by Margaret Bush Wilson in 2003. The website is hosted by Washington University in St. Louis.
- The HistoryMakers
A short biography on Margaret Bush Wilson can be found here.
This website contains Wilson’s obituary which was published in The New York Times.
- Timeline: The Life of Margaret Bush Wilson
This website was created by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and contains a timeline of Wilson’s life.