Back in the 1960s—it was white and polite
When I was a kid, growing up outside the city of St. Louis, Ferguson was a neighboring village. The Ferguson swimming pool was where I thought my brother was going to drown me as a joke. Another neighboring village, Cool Valley, was just that; cooler than where we lived in Normandy.
On some sweltering nights we would beg my father to drive us there, get an ice cream, and linger at the picnic tables before heading back to our sweat-box of a house.
When I turned sixteen and had my driver’s license, there was one neighborhood that was off limits. My father’s dire warning was enough to keep me out of a town called Kinloch. In my adolescence, whatever was a “don’t do” became a “will do.” But the look on my father’s face and the tone of his voice was sufficient to obey him.
I’m certain my father would not have considered himself a racist. So how then did I know that Kinloch was where the black people lived? How was that message delivered? He would never have used the N- word or any other popular slang that my naively racist maternal grandfather used in casual conversation.
I wondered about Kinloch through my teens and then when I moved away, my curiosity faded. I never went there and had no idea of first, its historic past and now, its tragic present. With Ferguson, Missouri back in the news I wanted to finally “go there.”
Kinloch was the first all-black city in Missouri
Originally an 1890’s commuter outpost of affluent white people, there was a bit of shack-style housing for their servants. A Mrs. “B” and her husband are thought to be the first black family to purchase a home in Kinloch.
Here’s a bit of racial history I bet you didn’t know taken from a 1917 article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Since it was not legal to sell directly to blacks, the Olive Street Terrace Realty Corporation sold the parcels to whites for an average price of $150. The new owners then sold the plots to blacks for an average of $350.”
And as it happens too often even now, the whites fled and the blacks began to move in. It flourished until the City of St. Louis began to buy up property to expand Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Between 1990 and 2000, Kinloch lost more than 80% of its population, and the city became an increasingly violent and dangerous place to live. In recent years, there have been efforts to rebuild the city but there is a long way to go as one of Kayci Merrit’s photo essays shows here:
In 2010 the median household income in Kinloch was $10,156. An estimated 80% of the population (men, women and children) were living below the poverty line. Most notably 82.9% were youth under 18 years of age.
Should we really be surprised that there is a limit to the injustice that people can endure?
If you want to better understand more here’s a link to a well-written article that includes more on Kinloch. “You Can’t Understand Ferguson Without First Understanding These Three Things” by Jeffrey Smith that was published in the New Republic, August 15, 2014. Smith is a former Missouri State Senator and urban policy professor at the New School in NYC.