Historian Gwen Moore (Left) with friend at SIBA Washington Ave in Downtown St. Louis.
Historian Gwen Moore (Left) with friend at SIBA Washington Ave in Downtown St. Louis.

Historian Gwen Moore, during a Reparations Commission meeting, talks about Jim Crow and how it relates to the St. Louis community today.

We all know that the basic way to achieve wealth in this country is through homeownership. For the average person to achieve wealth is through homeownership. If you do not have access to buying a home, it’s difficult for you to accrue wealth. Furthermore, you cannot pass that down.

In 1862, there was a Homestead Act which basically gave land in the west to anybody that would go on that land and live on it for five years and improve it. All you had to do was pay a small fee, registration fee. But if you are left with nothing after working your whole life, you can’t pay that fee. So black people, for the most part, were not able to take advantage of the Homestead Act.

St. Louis was Jim Crow. It was just as segregated as any city and blacks and whites could not go to school together. Blacks and whites could not marry. The city and the state were complicit in the segregation of the city. I always like to quote Bill Clay because he talks about growing up in St. Louis in this Jim Crow era. He talks about not being able to go to any of the movie theaters, not being able to go to any of the restaurants, couldn’t go to play golf. Well, you could play golf in Forest Park before 12 o’clock and then a bell rang and you had to get off the golf course. You couldn’t play in the tennis courts. Everything in this city was segregated.

We know about the 1949 race riot in St. Louis where blacks were trying to use a pool in Fairgrounds Park. So, yeah, the city was complicit in segregating the city, not just the city government, but of course the private industry and the private sector as well. The city was complicit, of course.

The city was the one that wanted to tear down Mill Creek. So, yeah, the city government, the state government, the federal government, the private industry, the private sector, they were all complicit. And just imagine, you have the small black population and you have all these major entities arrayed against you. The fact that we survived to me is amazing, despite what we’ve had to put up with in this country and in this city.

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