On Saturday, an overflow crowd gathered in the Lee Auditorium at the St. Louis History Museum for the start of the new series, Class: the Great Divide. The first installment in the series was a presentation by University of Iowa's Colin Gordon on his work Mapping Decline. If you're into maps and St. Louis history, this was the event for you.
Gordon takes his readers through a detailed history of restrictive covenants in St. Louis and the practices of the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange. It shows the history of white flight and ultimately black flight from St. Louis city. It chronicles the depopulation of St. Louis. And it shows the trend continuing in parts of St. Louis County.
The presentation challenges St. Louis about what we do now? The history is well documented. St. Louis was ground zero in terms of white flight and urban dislocation. While there is no question that the downgrading of neighborhood risk by the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange in the 1950s led to much disinvestment in North St. Louis, it is not as clear that restrictive covenants were the cause of white flight.
1950s St. Louis was a place steeped in racism, practicing legalized segregation. Block busting and panic selling caused more white flight than racial covenants or grading of areas by the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange. The challenge for St. Louis is where do we go from here?
STL Rising is hopeful that the sad history of racism and white flight in St. Louis is being rewritten by young people today who do not carry the racial baggage of their parents', grandparents', and great grandparents' generations. Previous generations did not leave a good legacy for our young people. Thankfully they do not seem to be repeating our mistakes.