Today, the traumatic histories of Fairground Park lie concealed beneath an active landscape of public recreation frequented by Black St. Louisans. There are no monuments or markers to teach the story of the 1949 pool riot, although the outline of the old pool still reveals itself in aerial photographs. Fairground Park has been witness to the ways in which the state can make bare lives and bare spaces, not through hard laws but through soft powers, practices and exclusions buried in the hidden transcripts and code words of powerful White actors.
What is Christ the King United Church of Christ, then, and how do we understand its history and current form as part of a living narrative of urban segregation? Current members, committed as they are to the progressive political witness and focus on a ministry to the African-American community, are not just about that. The congregation claims all of its history: German, White, liberal Protestant, spirit-filled, and unashamedly Black.
Sound, like a bullet, travels, and at sufficiently high decibels can penetrate the flesh of its target. The damage inflicted by sonic weaponry such as the Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is real and measurable, both physically and psychically, and its racialized genealogy can be traced back to anti-Black White mobs of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in particular the World War I era.
The basketball court in St. Louis Place Park sits just one block east of ninety-nine acres blighted by St. Louis City for the relocation site of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Like the neighborhood that surrounds it, the black-top has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the past several decades. Similar courts have long served as important social and recreational spaces for Black communities in urban areas across the United States, but this particular court in North St. Louis continues to bear witness to the dispersal and erosion of Black community.
In 1912, White residents faced “a negro invasion”: three Black families had purchased homes on the 4000 block of Cook Avenue, including the Hudlin family that May. The action of this Black family moving into “White space” would prompt armed self-defense, police intervention, and changes to the law. The system of de facto segregation that protected property values and racial hierarchies was being legally transgressed.
St. Louis’s urban crisis happened along deeply divided lines of race and class, and so is its economic and spatial reinvigoration happening along those same lines. In many ways, the Cherokee Street district, the neighborhoods surrounding it, and Love Bank Park are unique urban arenas that reveal the pains of growth and decline in St. Louis, but they are also situated at the typical boundaries one might find in American cities of the twenty-first century.
Like St. Louis Place as a whole—a neighborhood so beleaguered and yet so beloved—the grassy lot at the 2300 block of Mullanphy on the near side of North St. Louis manifests many characteristics that can also be found in other predominantly Black neighborhoods across the St. Louis region, from the Ville to Howard-Evans Place to Kinloch, each of which has been subjected to threats from those who would seek to extract their value and expunge their negative associations. At this particular site, the negative and positive have become fatefully entangled, and yet residents have found ways to express its emancipation-heritage significance.
The only physical reminder that Howard-Evans Place once existed is a boulder with a commemorative plaque at the back entrance to The Promenade at Brentwood shopping center, which now stands in the neighborhood’s place. Purchased with Brentwood City funds as a gesture of goodwill, the boulder instead generates hard feelings among some former residents and stands as a cold reminder that a large part of Brentwood’s history was razed for retail.
So what are the tools and ideas that made it ok—at least from somebody’s perspective—to remove hundreds of people from their homes under claims of progress and revitalization? What made it ok to level affordable, multi-family units that were so well-made and so important to the city’s history of industry and labor that they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places? And then to replace them with cheap construction of larger, more expensive, single-family homes? Why does wholesale clearing persist if we know, based on the lessons long learned and documented, from redlining and urban renewals to predatory loans, that clearing and exploitation are forms of racial injustice?
Standing Rock disappeared from mainstream media in the daily deluge of political scandals and outre behavior. But Native Americans had predicted that sparks from Oceti Sakowin’s sacred fire would be carried around the earth, and they could be seen in other Indigenous camps and movements that resisted the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, and the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mt. Mauna Kea.