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1917: Race riot erupts in East St. Louis

July 2, 2010 Metro East 2 Comments
ABOVE: "Mob Stopping Street Car, East St. Louis Riot, July 2, 1917" Image: BlackPast.com

Ninety-three years ago today was a horrible day in our region:

The city of East St. Louis was the scene of one of the bloodiest race riots in the 20th century. Racial tensions began to increase in February, 1917 when 470 African American workers were hired to replace white workers who had gone on strike against the Aluminum Ore Company.

The violence started on May 28th, 1917, shortly after a city council meeting was called. Angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrations to the Mayor of East St. Louis. After the meeting had ended, news of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man began to circulate through the city. As a result of this news, white mobs formed and rampaged through downtown, beating all African Americans who were found. The mobs also stopped trolleys and streetcars, pulling black passengers out and beating them on the streets and sidewalks. Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden eventually called in the National Guard to quell the violence, and the mobs slowly dispersed. The May 28th disturbances were only a prelude to the violence that erupted on July 2, 1917.

After the May 28th riots, little was done to prevent any further problems. No precautions were taken to ensure white job security or to grant union recognition. This further increased the already-high level of hostilities towards African Americans. No reforms were made in police force which did little to quell the violence in May. Governor Lowden ordered the National Guard out of the city on June 10th, leaving residents of East St. Louis in an uneasy state of high racial tension.

On July 2, 1917, the violence resumed. Men, women, and children were beaten and shot to death. Around six o’ clock that evening, white mobs began to set fire to the homes of black residents. Residents had to choose between burning alive in their homes, or run out of the burning houses, only to be met by gunfire. In other parts of the city, white mobs began to lynch African Americans against the backdrop of burning buildings. As darkness came and the National Guard returned, the violence began to wane, but did not come to a complete stop….

A year after the riot, a Special Committee formed by the United States House of Representatives launched an investigation into police actions during the East St. Louis Riot.  Investigators found that the National Guard and also the East St. Louis police force had not acted adequately during the riots, revealing that the police often fled from the scenes of murder and arson.  Some even fled from stationhouses and refused to answer calls for help.  The investigation resulted in the indictment of several members of the East St. Louis police force. (Source: BlackPast.com)

In the decades since the riot, East St. Louis has gone from having a white population of nearly 100% (1920) to 50% (1960) to  5-10% (1980) to less than 5% (2000).  The 1920 population was 66,585 with a 1950 peak of 82,366.  In 2000 the population totaled only 31,542.

The devastation from the loss of population (and work) can be seen throughout most of East St. Louis.

ABOVE: Murphy Building, East St. Louis IL 2009 Photo by Chris Andoe
ABOVE: Murphy Building, East St. Louis IL 2009 Photo by Chris Andoe
ABOVE: East St. Louis, 2007
ABOVE: East St. Louis, 2007

When I moved to St. Louis from Oklahoma I was shocked when I heard their garbage collection had ended.  The Casino Queen has helped provide some revenue to the city for basic services. But efforts have been underway to improve conditions.

ABOVE: Parsons Place, East St. Louis
ABOVE: Parsons Place, East St. Louis, 2007

Parsons Place has been a positive addition to East St. Louis:

Parsons Place is a multi-family rental mixed income community in the City of East St. Louis’ Emerson Park neighborhood. This important project has been embraced by the regional efforts of St. Louis 2004 and represents a key initiative in the redevelopment of this distressed community. It is sited just blocks from the new 15th Street Emerson Park MetroLink Station and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club. Phase I consists of 174 units of affordable rental apartments. Phase II was completed in summer 2005 and consists of 102 units. (Source: McCormack Barron Salazar)

Much work remains to be done to improve the city.  Like St. Louis, getting past the issue of race will be key.

– Steve Patterson

 

A nice surprise on the east bank of the Mississippi River

June 22, 2010 Metro East, Parks 7 Comments

One task facing the selected teams in The City * The Arch * The  River Competition to incorporate the Illinois side of the Mississippi River into their solutions. Last month I took my wheelchair across the Eads Bridge to check out the situation.

ABOVE: pedestrian sidewalk on the Eads Bridge

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of pedestrians crossing the river on foot. Granted, it was a very nice afternoon.

ABOVE: East St. Louis rverfront May 2010
ABOVE: East St. Louis riverfront May 2010

From the bridge you can see the casino and the grain elevator on the east bank of the river.

ABOVE: Cargil grain elevator, East St. Louis IL
ABOVE: Cargil grain elevator, East St. Louis IL

Up close the industrial nature of the working facility is pleasing but just as you pass the view changes dramatically.

You come upon the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.  The park contains two elements that can be seen from Missouri.  First is the overlook:

Statue of Malcolm W. Martin at the top of the overlook.

The other feature is the geyser.  Four times per day the geyser shoots water into the air, provided it is not too windy.

Most of the time the water is still.
Four small foutains around the edge start before the main jet of water.
The geyser is very impressive but it only runs for 10-15 minutes at a time
Unfortunately getting to and from the Eads Bridge on foot (or wheelchair) is less than ideal

I suggest visiting the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the next nice day we have. I hope the design teams come up with a good way to get from the Eads Bridge to the park.

– Steve Patterson

 

Pro Sports Teams in St. Louis

St. Louis has a long history with professional sports teams, but, except for the Blues and the Cardinals, there’s also been a lot of changes over the years. The Browns, the Hawks and the football Cardinals have all left town. We invested heavily to get the Rams. We were once the epicenter for professional wrestling, and we currently support, among other sports, roller derby (ArchRivalRollerGirls.com).

Supporters of pro sports view them as being critical to a major city’s identity and for attracting new businesses. This is backed up with public investments like those in the Jones Dome, Busch III and Scottrade Center. But there are always groups advocating for more and different. One thing St. Louis lacks, in the traditional sense, is a pro basketball team. The Hawks were here from 1955 to 1968, but they were sold and moved to Atlanta. There are also “newer” pro sports leagues that are growing around the country, in sports that appeal more to the younger generations, sports like soccer and lacrosse.

With some regularity, we’ll see proposals, many times in Illinois, to build a new pro sports facility to support one of these new leagues. The Rams continue to make noises about the need to improve or replace the Jones Dome.  We just had a successful weekend of bike racing and the possibility of bringing the Olympics back to St. Louis is always a remote one.  There are those of us who would like to see a bigger investment in expanding our trail system, and there are others who value motorsports like NHRA and NASCAR.  Heck, there are even people willing to spend money watching monster trucks or lawnmower racing.

This all boils down to priorities.  We can’t be everything to everybody, so choices have to be made.  The Cardinals and the Blues seem to be relatively satisfied, for the time being, which leaves everyone else.  Should we focus our efforts on keeping the Rams or should we try to get an Arena Football team?  Would pro soccer be a better investment than pro lacrosse?  And should St. Louis work to keep any new facility in or near downtown, ar should we let other cities in the region share in both the glory and the headaches any pro team brings?

– Jim Zavist

 

The Corner Bakery

September 2, 2009 Books, Metro East, Retail 26 Comments

Few things are more urban than walking down the street to the corner bakery to buy a loaf of bread that came out of the oven just an hour before. Sadly, few of us live in places where doing so is still possible.  This post is, at the same time, a discussion of urbanity and a book review.  Not a book on urban life, but a cook book on baking bread.  The subjects are related.

Jeff Hertzberg, co-author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, wrote the following in the introduction:

I could finish half a loaf of very fresh, very crisp rye bread by myself.  The right stuff came from a little bakery on Horace Harding Boulevard in Queens.  The shop itself was nondescript, but the breads were Eastern European masterpieces.  The crust of the rye bread was crisp, thin, and caramelized brown.  The interior crumb was moist and dense, chewy but never gummy, and bursting with tangy yeast, rye, and wheat flavors.

The handmade bread was available all over New York City, and it wasn’t a rarefied delicacy.  Everyone knew what it was and took it for granted.  It was not a stylish addition to affluent lifestyles; it was a simple comfort food brought here by immigrants.

I left New York in the late 1980s, and assumed that the corner bread shops would always be there, waiting for me, whenever I came back to visit.  But I was wrong.  As people lost interest in making a second stop after the supermarket just for bread, the shops gradually faded away.  By 1990, the ubiquitous corner shops turning out great eastern, central and southern European breads with crackling crusts were no longer so ubiquitous.

Great European breads, handmade by artisans, were still available, but they’d become part of the serious (and seriously expensive) food phenomenon that had swept the country.  The bread bakery was no longer on every corner — now it was a destination.  And nobody’s grandmother would ever have paid six dollars for a loaf of bread.

St. Louis, like Queens NY, once had bakeries on corner after corner.  Today our choices are very limited.

Vitale’s Bakery, pictured above, is one of the few places left in our region where you can buy bread made on site.  Sure we have St. Louis Bread Co. (known to Panera Bread to readers outside the St. Louis region) but a publicly traded franchise company, even if local, is not what I have in mind.  Of course Vitale’s bread is trucked to our supermarkets as well.  Companion used to have retail sales at their bakery on Gustine before they opened high-end shops in Clayton and the Central West End.

Three years ago today I visited one of the few small bakeries built in the image of those from decades earlier:

222 Artisan Bakery, Edwardsville, IL on 9/2/2006

222 Artisan Bakery on Main Street in Edwardsville, IL is the corner bakery reborn.  Here is how they describe their bread:

Our fresh baked breads are crafted in the style of the French masters. We use a levain to create long fermented sourdough and rustic culinary masterpieces. Our breads are started days before they go into the oven using natural stone ground flour and the finest ingredients.

Most breads are ready by 9 am but there are no rules when dealing with naturally leavened bread-some days the dough wants to rest and some days it’s ready to roll. If you are having a party and would like to order something special,be sure to let us know 72 hours in advance so we can get started early.

Sounds good, but I’m not going to drive to Edwardsville IL for fresh bread.  Those in Edwardsville are fortunate.

For the last month I’ve been trying my hand at baking my own fresh bread, following the simple process described in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

I learned of baking bread this way after my friend Dustin Bopp posted a link to an article from Mother Earth News on his Facebook wall. Note, if you follow the recipe and use yeast in packets you need to use two packs to get the required 1-1/2 tablespoons.

I’ve emailed with the other author, Zoe Francois.  My plan is to make the Mennonite Zweiback rolls like my grandmother used to make.

Image source: Wikipedia (click image to view source)

These were the bread I loved as a child.  The last time I tried was 20 years ago. Way too time consuming.   I recall my Mom saying how, as a child of the depression, store bought bread was a luxury they couldn’t afford.  Today home baked bread is a luxury we all have time to afford.  If you live close to one,  please support your local bakery.

– Steve Patterson

 

The Trash of St. Louis County

Two stories related to trash in St. Louis County keep making regular appearances in the paper and on the news. One is the story about the county plan to create eight (8) trash districts with each getting a contract with a private trash hauler. The other story is of opposition to a trash transfer site to be operated by Fred Weber Inc in South County. The trash transfer site, per the Post-Dispatch, would “handle 500 tons of trash a day.”

St. Louis County is geographically large with more than eight times the land area of the City of St. Louis, yet it has barely more than a third the current density. Still, parts of the county are quite urban while other parts are very rural (for now at least). Much of the county is just a mass of ugly auto-centric sprawl. The County is also divided into 91 municipalities in addition to areas that remain unincorporated. For those of you native to St. Louis, St. Louis County has about 85 or so more municipalities than is considered normal. However it is the unincorporated area that is getting divided into trash districts for the purposes of hiring contractors to collect trash and recycling.

Subdivisions within the unincorporated section of the county can opt-out of the plan — instead hiring their own trash service or potentially letting each resident within the subdivision deal with their trash individually. From the Post-Dispatch:

Opponents say the districts would take away householders ability to choose their own haulers. The districts would lead to a monopoly of large haulers and put small haulers out of business, opponents say. The result, opponents declare, would be higher costs.

The county argues they doubt that one hauler would get all eight contracts that are out to bid. Furthermore, they’d like to see a reduction of the number of trucks on all their roadways with every resident hiring their own service.

The other issue is that of a transfer site, where the local trash trucks bring the trash for it to be loaded onto larger trucks (or is it barges?) to be hauled away to some unlucky place.

On the East side there has been controversy over a landfill that seeks to expand closer to a state park. Despite measures to ensure that landfills don’t leak, they do end up polluting ground water that is used for recreation, fishing and as fresh water sources.
Here is the deal folks, we generate far too much trash!!! It has to get picked up and it has to go somewhere. Don’t like it? Don’t produce so much of it. Even those that recycle are still often buying items with too much packaging. Add a water filter system to your sink rather than buy all those plastic bottles of water. The amount of money we spend on hauling off our trash, the space it consumes, and the damage to the environment is all shameful.

Yes, I have trash too and it pains me every time I toss something out — I think how can I go about reducing this excessive packaging? One solution is to buy products that don’t have packaging — such as fresh fruits and veggies. Skip the individual plastic bags in the produce section and use your own canvas bag at checkout. Better yet, buy at a local farmers’ market.  When you have two near equal choices pick the one with less waste packaging.

Imagine, for a moment, that we all had to dispose of our own trash. Trash collection is just a government service we expect to be paid out of our taxes or in some cases it is something that a resident just writes a check for each month. Still, the consequences of our actions are so far removed from our everyday lives we don’t give it much thought.  We haul the bag out and someone takes it away.  Poorer countries are now accepting trash from wealthier nations. Your old pizza box just might end up in Africa!
In all the opposition to landfills, transfer sites or how trash is collected I’ve not seen one suggestion on actually reducing the volume of trash/recycling.

 

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