A photo of the Jubilee Housing from the Washington University Archives.
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John M. Olin Library, Ginkgo Reading Room

“Our Only Hope”: Black Women and the 1969 Rent Strike

“A rent strike is our only hope.”

Edna Thompson, Chairman of the Carr-Central chapter of the League for Adequate Welfare.

At its inception, public housing in St. Louis intended to provide “decent, safe and sanitary dwellings” for the poor, yet by the end of the 1960s, living conditions had become unendurable. This exhibition tells the story of the Black women-led rent strike that fought for tenants’ rights to dignity in affordable housing and reshaped the landscape of urban public housing.

The “Our Only Hope” exhibition is organized by Candace Borders for Washington University Libraries as part of the Community Curator Program.

About the Community Curator Program

The Community Curator Program invites guest experts and local community members to engage with and interpret various collections and materials housed in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries. This program is designed to intentionally incorporate the voices of those historically underrepresented in archival work. This program provides a platform for alternate interpretation of items and collections and seeks to build relationships with individuals and groups that will enhance the understanding and effectiveness of the work of Special Collections.

Guest Curator Spotlight: Candace Borders

Candace Borders is a PhD Candidate in American Studies and African American Studies at Yale University. Borders received a BA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis in 2017 where she was also a Mellon Mays Fellow. Her research considers how African-American women experience and theorize their lives at the nexus of race, gender, sexuality, and the state.

Borders’s dissertation, “Remaking Place: Black Women and a Politics of Refusal in St. Louis,” tells an interdisciplinary history of Black women’s quotidian and large-scale public housing activism. As an arts educator and curator, Borders has worked in various roles at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Her published writing on the public housing rent strike of 1969 can be found in the edited volume Living Room: Architecture, Gender, Theory, forthcoming from gta Verlag Zürich in Fall 2024.