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Then & Now: Racial Segregation

May 3, 2012 Featured, North City, Politics/Policy 15 Comments

A century ago whites went to great lengths to keep out non-whites, including deed restrictions:

On February 16, 1911, thirty out of a total of thirty-nine owners of property fronting both sides of Labadie Avenue between Taylor Avenue and Cora Avenue in the city of St. Louis, signed an agreement, which was subsequently recorded, providing in part:

‘* * * the said property is hereby restricted to the use and occupancy for the term of Fifty (50) years from this date, so that it shall be a condition all the time and whether recited and referred to as ( sic) not in subsequent conveyances and shall attach to the land, as a condition precedent to the sale of the same, that hereafter no part of said property or any [334 U.S. 1 , 5] portion thereof shall be, for said term of Fifty-years, occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property for said period of time against the occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purpose by people of the Negro or Mongolian Race.’

The entire district described in the agreement included fifty-seven parcels of lamd. The thirty owners who signed the agreement held title to forty-seven parcels, including the particular parcel involved in this case. At the time the agreement was signed, five of the parcels in the district were owned by Negroes. One of those had been occupied by Negro families since 1882, nearly thirty years before the restrictive agreement was executed. The trial court found that owners of seven out of nine homes on the south side of Labadie Avenue, within the restrit ed district and ‘in the immediate vicinity’ of the premises in question, had failed to sign the restrictive agreement in 1911. At the time this action was brought, four of the premises were occupied by Negroes, and had been so occupied for periods ranging from twenty-three to sixty-three years. A fifth parcel had been occupied by Negroes until a year before this suit was instituted. (Source)

The above was part of the majority decision of the US Supreme Court on May 3, 1948 when they ruled it was unconstitutional for the state to enforce such deed restrictions.

ABOVE: This house at 4600 Labadie was at the center of the case Shelley v Kraemer. Click for map.

Today the situation is reversed, some African-Americans are trying hard to keep whites out of north St. Louis.

In March the BBC did a video report on the dividing line:

Delmar Boulevard, which spans the city from east to west, features million-dollar mansions directly to the south, and poverty-stricken areas to its north. What separates rich and poor is sometimes just one street block. (BBC)

I was recently told that whites shouldn’t be involved north of Delmar because it’s not their community. Whites that move north of Delmar are gentrifiers. North St. Louis is sparsely populated and and incomes are substantially less than south of Delmar.  Clearly more people with higher incomes are needed in north St. Louis to reduce this disparity.

When I was in real estate I had a middle-class African-American family looking to move from St. Louis County to the city but they made it clear to me — they didn’t want to live in the ghetto. I represented them in the purchase as  a fully renovated home in McKinley Heights. We did look at property in north St. Louis, but only for rental purposes, not for them.

Some see whites as a threat, gentrifiers that will cause rents and sale prices to go up.  Maybe, but more people with greater income will mean more jobs as businesses spring up. Some of the new entrepreneurs  could be current African-Americans.

My interest in St. Louis doesn’t stop at Delmar. My interest in the region doesn’t stop at the city limits. If a white person wants to live north of Delmar then go for it.  It was wrong last century for whites to attempt to exclude nonwhites and it’s wrong today for African-Americans to attempt to exclude whites from the same area.

I didn’t like being told to butt out of areas north of Delmar.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. imran says:

    If this goes on, eventually these communities will crumble to almost nothing and then someone like Mckee will come along as a savior, raze what is left and propose a brand new neighborhood. They could either gentrify now or in 50 years.

  2. Rick says:

    There needs to be a St. Louis (*city*) Chamber of Commerce.  If there was such a thing, white owned businesses and black owned businesses (and everything in between) would work and socialize together in one city wide organization, regardless of the north or south side of Delmar.  

  3. Rick says:

    The scenario described by imran would not be considered gentrification.   

  4. RyleyinSTL says:

    While there are a number of exceptions, on the whole, large sections of north city appear to be post apocalyptic.  Blight attracts the desperate, dangerous and displaced.  A neighborhood with a $17,000 average home value is not a good thing.  As Steve said , for any hope of improvement this area of the city needs to attract more middle income individuals, white, black, orange, pink or otherwise.  This means “gentrifiers that will cause rents and sale prices to go up.”  

    The alternative is the continued decline, a decline of which has nearly reached it’s bottom in same areas.  I can’t imagine these residents want more crime and more squaller just to keep it black…or perhaps they do.

    • Eric says:

       The North St Louis community includes some law breaking individuals (who make the area dangerous and undesirable for the rest of humanity) and many law abiding individuals (who can’t afford to leave the neighborhood). Without getting into the question of who caused what, these two phenomena (poverty+crime) are very strongly linked, and often appear in the same family, not to mention the same community. If North St Louis gentrifies, the poor will have to leave the neighborhood, and the criminals will come with them. So you would not be solving the problems of North St Louis, just moving them elsewhere. Urbanism itself does not have much effect on crime – many NYC neighborhoods are horrible slums despite being urban. If there is a single solution for the problems of slums I’d like to hear it, but unfortunately so far I haven’t.

  5. jimb says:

    Sins of the father…

    • Chris says:

       Sins of the father is bullshit.  I never owned slaves, nor lived in St. Louis when it was segregated.  While I feel I have a responsibility to help end the injustice that blacks faced in America, I’m not taking responsibility for a bunch of bigots that died before I was born.

  6. singdave says:

    I think this is more of a class issue than a race issue. Remember, not only have whites fled north city, but lots of middle class blacks have fled as well. As long as St. Louisans continue to have the “city = ghetto” and “suburbs = better” mentality the disinvestment will continue.

    • Eric says:

       My impression is middle class blacks prefer suburbia more than middle class whites, because they (the blacks) have recent memories of living in the ghetto and don’t want to go back to anything like it.

  7. Smdyb40 says:

    I haven’t lived north of Delmar, but I have owned rental property. I imagine some residents feel this way, but on a human relations level, I felt most of the people I met were friendly, and would have welcomed me had I chosen to live in N St Louis. I saw the documentary, and felt it is an accurate but incomplete representation. There are plenty of rehab props north of Delmar (west end neighborhood it looked like), but take a drive down West Cabanne for example. Nice looking houses on that street.

  8. Chris says:

    Is that house leaning horribly, or is it just me?

  9. Douglas Duckworth says:

    They have a point. Some African Americans living on the North Side are quite poor. Can they afford increases in property taxes? What if they don’t want to sell? Renters are also hurt the most through this process. Increasing land values absent equitable access to jobs and education is discriminatory. Given decades of marginalization, their reactions are understandable. Moreover, they can’t really stop ‘gentrification’ from happening. They are not bankers lending to whites and moreover banks are not helping them invest in their own communities. It would be nice if we could all get along, but there’s a definite power imbalance which shouldn’t be dismissed.

  10. sam says:

    segregation should of never ever happened in the first place u here ok blacks and white are all the same (people) doesnt matter if ur diffrent colored or not we are people and we hve feelings


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