Metro-East News

Civil rights attorney and activist Eric Vickers dies

Handcuffed together, attorney Eric Vickers and East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer on April 14, 1989, leave the courtroom of St. Clair County Associate Judge Sheila O'Brien. O'Brien found them in contempt for missing a hearing on the city's progress fixing sewers that were allowing raw sewage to flood a school and homes.
Handcuffed together, attorney Eric Vickers and East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer on April 14, 1989, leave the courtroom of St. Clair County Associate Judge Sheila O'Brien. O'Brien found them in contempt for missing a hearing on the city's progress fixing sewers that were allowing raw sewage to flood a school and homes. BND file

Eric Vickers, a civil rights attorney and activist who fought for justice for people on both sides of the river, died Friday. He was 65.

East St. Louis contractor Bill Mason, who worked with Vickers for 18 years, said, "I've known him since he was a mere lad. His father brought him and his two brothers to my father's barber shop. I cut his and his two brothers' hair."

Vickers died from pancreatic cancer, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mason described Vickers as "a hard-working, no-nonsense guy when he was working on a case. He was very focused and would listen to you intently when you talked about your case, and then he told you how he was going to handle your case. He was smart, very brilliant.

"He was my personal attorney, and he was the attorney for my organization, the Metro East Black Contractors," Mason said. "When he was a young boy, he lived in the 1800 block of Piggot Avenue and went to school at Dunbar Elementary. Later, he went to Rock Junior High in East St. Louis for two years. Then, his parents moved to University City, where Eric graduated from high school."

Vickers mug.jpg
Eric Vickers

Vickers went on to Washington University, where he earned a political science degree. He got a master's degree at Occidental College in California and then went to the University of Virginia, where he got his law degree.

It was there that he met and became friends with members of the Kennedy family. "He got to know them very well," Mason said.

Vickers had his own practice, Vickers and Associates in University City.

Vickers was known for organizing and shutting down Interstate 70 in St. Louis in the 1990s, when he was fighting to get black contractors and black construction workers jobs on that highway project.

"Since he started working with my organization and me, I've benefited from the stances he took," Mason said.

Vickers also litigated for the city of East St. Louis when Carl E. Officer was mayor. When the city lost a court battle in 1989 in which a judge awarded City Hall to Walter DeBow, a man who suffered brain damage in a beating in the city jail, Vickers called the judge's decision racist.

At one point in his career, Vickers lost his license to practice law. He eventually got it back in Missouri. But, according to Mason, Vickers didn't want to get his license back in Illinois.

Vickers was chief of staff for Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.

"In the 20 years that I knew him, Eric Vickers was a mentor to me. He encouraged me, educated me, but perhaps most important, he challenged me. It was an honor to know him and work alongside him as he fought against oppression wherever it was," Nasheed said.

Vickers and Officer, the former East St. Louis mayor, were friends for a long time, and Vickers was also his personal attorney.

"We were very close," Officer said. "If I were to break him down, I'd say intellectually he had no fear. He could work, read and articulate with the best."

Officer said Vickers loved East St. Louis as he does. Together, "we challenged the St. Clair County Court system. The court found us in contempt. They handcuffed us and took us both to the county jail. In booking, they were taking my pictures, and they asked me who my lawyer was. I looked over at Eric and said there he is. Take his picture," Officer said, laughing about the situation.

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503, @CarolynSmithBND
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