St. Louis’ Racial Oppression


I grew up in a family with strong ties to the civil rights movement. There have always been family discussions about St. Louis inaction during the civil rights movement. Even growing up in that type of environment, I didn't always recognize racism.

After my first year of college during the mid 1980’s, I met up with friends who were away at school in other states. Some of my friends expressed the sentiment that they weren’t coming back to live in St. Louis after they graduated. My friends hadn’t realized how racist St. Louis was until they left and saw how different the treatment was in other places.

Until that discussion, I hadn’t realized myself just how oppressive St. Louis was; but then I started paying closer attention. Not that there wasn’t racism in other places, it just wasn’t as oppressive as  in St. Louis.

Racism  today is covert, disguised and subtle, rather than public or obvious. Concealed in the fabric of society, covert racism discriminates against individuals through often unnoticeable or seemingly passive methods. Covert, racially-biased decisions are often hidden or rationalized with an explanation that society is more willing to accept. These racial biases cause a variety of problems that work to empower the suppressors while diminishing the rights and powers of the oppressed. Covert racism often works subliminally, and often much of the discrimination is being done subconsciously. The article, "Racism is so insidious, even black people underestimate it", makes the same argument.

A former St. Louis police officer's essay published in the Washington Post titled, "Being a cop showed me just how racist and violent the police are. There’s only one fix.", talks about his experience as an officer and that police often abuse their authority because they know they won't be held accountable for their actions.

Team Four Plan

In 1973 the City of St. Louis hired Team Four, Inc., to assist with planning. What has become known as the Team Four Plan, basically called for virtually abandoning the North Side of St. Louis and heavily investing on the South Side. The City has always maintained that the plan was not implemented, but in show me state spirit, the proof is in the pudding. Antonio French wrote an article, "Quiet Conspiracy: The Team Four Plan and the Plot to Kill North St. Louis"; six years later congressional hearings were held in St. Louis that focused on the Team Four Plan and North St. Louis.  Here's the congressional report in PDF format, it's 112 pages.

St. Louis appears on several lists, polls and studies as being among the most racist and racially segregated cities in the nation. This fact had even received international attention even years before Ferguson; see the BBC report “Crossing a St Louis street that divides communities”. The institutional racism in St. Louis is so subtle and common place that many people became accustomed and immune to it.

For example:

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, the estimated 2012 population of St. Louis was 45.9% white and 48.5% black. However, public events sponsored by tax supported institutions hold events that are demographically geared to attract a mostly white crowd. One of my favorite public events is the Missouri History Museum’s Twilight Tuesdays, however, they rarely have more than one concert that appeals to the black demographic. Another great concept in Forest Park is the St. Louis Art Museum Outdoor Film Series, which doesn’t seem to offer movies geared to the City’s majority population. The Muny is another public venue that tends to ignore the city’s majority demographic.
  • Forest Park does not contain a single basketball hoop or court, but just about every other sport, including Rugby is represented. A tactic of removing basketball facilities has been used in other cities to discourage attracting certain groups; does this explain the absence of basketball in our city’s largest park?
  • The VP Fair was held in Forest Park for the first time in 2014 and ended on Saturday July 5th. The musical acts targeted to mostly white demographic where held in the evening or night on the main stage. Musical acts geared to Black or Hispanic audiences where held during the afternoon during the hottest part of the day and were not held on the main stage. Even  though this was not technically a city sponsored event, better consideration should have been given to the city's largest demographic. Additionally, police blocked south bound Kingshighway at Delmar and other south bound streets leading to the park. Maybe north bound Kingshighway at Oakland was also block; if not maybe the city was trying to prevent people north of Delmar from attending.
  • As a child and teenager, I visited Steinberg Skating rink many times during the summer and winter. Steinberg attracts a mostly black crowd of roller skaters during the summer and a mostly white crowd of ice skaters during the winter.  Years ago the city began covering the rink with sand, turning the rink into a volley ball court; volley ball incidentally attracts a mostly white crowd. The city will most likely explain that anyone can participate, but before the first grain of sand was laid, the demographics were known. Certainly there are other areas within Forest Park that can accommodate volley ball. Steinberg could easily be turned into basketball courts with portable goals at very little cost, certainly much cheaper than the installation and removal of sand.
  • The City of St. Louis had an ordinance that required street performers to audition and pay a $100 permit fee. It is suspected that the audition process was to limit or eliminated certain people and types of performance from occurring. Additionally, the $100 fee was high enough to discourage low income, particularly black performers from obtaining permits, similar to poll taxes in the South to prevent blacks from voting. The ACLU took the City to court and a Federal Judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional and prevented the City from requiring auditions or charging a permit fee.
  • The recently completed Phase One of Ball Park Village received approximately $17 Million dollars in local and state incentives. Future phases of the project could receive up to $183 million in subsidies. Prior to opening to the public, several Ball Park venues developed dress codes that appeared to be based upon racial demographics to exclude black fans.

    • This is a travesty considering the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that black resident comprises 48.5 percent of the St. Louis city population.
    • Using tax dollars to subsidize private projects that then attempt to exclude a significant portion of the taxpayers that funded the subsidies, certainly run counter to the Hancock Amendment.
    • The Ball Park Village project already had racially demographic exclusion built in.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals was in the running for the 2012 National League Championship Series. In response to an announcement about free parking meters for baseball fans, I emailed the following message.

“October 17, 2012

Dear Mayor Slay,

As a St. Louis resident, providing greater access by relaxing enforcement of parking meters for events such as the NLCS is a first step in the right direction, in my opinion. It promotes good will and prevents the inconvenience of leaving the stadium to feed meters. Although, I’m not an avid baseball fan, I am planning to watch the game and rooting for the Cardinals to win.

Hopefully the City of St. Louis will begin showing the same courtesy to others that it is providing baseball fans today. For example, when the National Baptist Convention and other similar groups were in St. Louis, parking meters were aggressively enforced, leaving a negative impression for many attendees.

According to a demographic study of baseball fans by Scarborough Sports Marketing, baseball fans attending games are overwhelmingly white with higher than average incomes. The National Baptist Convention attendees were overwhelmingly black with a high percentage of older and senior attendance. Let’s give the same consideration to this group and others in the future when they choose St. Louis as their venue of choice. If we can provide TIFFs, Stadium Funding and other concessions to millionaires and billionaires who seem to hold fan’s loyalty hostage; then certainly we can help prevent spoiling the convention experience for attendees who struggled to pay for hotel rooms, eat at St. Louis restaurants and help boost the St. Louis economy.

Below is a link to Scarborough’s Demographic Data:

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