Georgial Tallier Rusan, an advocate for the poor and fighter in the struggle for African American rights has been selected as St. Louis County’s honoree for Women’s History Month. Mrs. Rusan passed away this January at the age of 96. She embodied the values and spirit that move St Louis County and our entire region forward.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, she attended Lincoln and Columbia Universities before moving to St. Louis in 1945 with her husband Dr. Thomas E. Rusan, Jr. a native of Richmond Heights. Mrs. Rusan earned her Master’s in Social Work at Columbia as a Rosenwald Fellow and later became one of the first African American social workers at Family and Children’s Services. When the War on Poverty began she joined the Human Development Corporation, a social services agency as director of services in St. Louis County and later as Chief of Family Services. Mrs. Rusan’s work initially focused on the isolated poor communities of St. Louis County, where she helped residents secure greater resources and access to vital services such as sewers and water. When she moved to HDC headquarters she launched their energy programs, public-private partnerships that ensured citizens would have heat in the winter and air conditioners and fans during the hot summers.
In the early 1950s, the Rusans led the effort to establish a modern middle-class subdivision for African Americans in Richmond Heights. At the time, structural and legal housing restrictions meant that few communities were open to black residents. By 1951, after overcoming fierce opposition from white residents and local governments, the couple had acquired the property that is today Laclede Station Road and Bennett Avenue and began developing it into a successful enclave of black professionals. That community provided a home for Arthur Ashe the year he completed high school. Ashe would go on to be the first African American male to win the Wimbledon Tennis tournament. In 2008 the National Park Service placed the “Bennett Avenue Historic District” on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of the pioneering efforts of Thomas and Georgia Rusan.
Mrs. Rusan was described as “soft spoken, but a fighter.” She brought this spirit to a number of civic activities including leadership in The Links, a civic and social organization for black women, as well as 40 years of service on the Board of Adjustment and Appeals for the City of Richmond Heights.
Mrs. Rusan received a number of awards and recognitions including being named a Women of Achievement in 1975, receiving the Rabbi Heschel/Reverend King Award in 2009, and becoming the first woman and first African American to receive the Charles Braithwaite Community Leadership Award from the Missouri Association for Community Action in 2001.