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Post Offices Named After Two Prominent St. Louis African Americans on Closure List

Financial trouble at the Postal Service will soon hit the St. Louis area:

A number of St. Louis-area post offices have landed on a list of 3,700 retail offices the U.S. Postal Service is studying for possible closure to help cut its budget deficit.

The Postal Service, which has 32,000 retail offices nationwide, lost $8.5 billion last year and has already cut its payroll and closed retail locations. (Source)

Two of the St. Louis area post offices are located in depressed neighborhoods in north St. Louis. I had seen one before, but not the other.  I decided to see both up close.

ABOVE: Jordan W. Chambers, 63106 post office

My first question was, who are the people these locations are named after? I had seen the Jordan W. Chambers Post Office (above) in the last few years, although I didn’t know the name at the time.  Here is the answer for this one:

Chambers, Jordan W. — of St. Louis, Mo. Democrat. Delegate to Democratic National Convention from Missouri, 1944, 1952 (alternate), 1956, 1960. Presumed deceased. Burial location unknown. (Political Graveyard)

I checked Find-A-Grave and found more information, Jordan W. Chambers (1896-1962) is buried at Saint Peters Cemetary in Normandy:

Chambers was active in politics for many years. He worked in Ward 19 to organize precinct captains to ensure that all in his ward got out to vote. He organized the Young Democratic Club. Chambers owned the Peoples Undertaking Company in St. Louis–his political headquarters were next door. He was elected Constable and Democratic Committeeman of the 19th Ward in 1963, making the first Black Committeeman in St. Louis. He worked to get the Black vote for Harry S. Truman. Chambers worked tirelessly for better jobs for Blacks & was instrumental in the integration of the Circuit Court & the St. Louis Housing Authority. He owned Club Riviera–a meeting place for many big name stars and prominent politicians. He never retired from politics or civil rights work and when he died, Governor John Dalton gave the eulogy. President Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson sent telegrams of condolence.

Impressive! The 4,000sf post office bearing his name, at 901 N. Garrison Ave, was built in 1959, three years before his death. Was it named for him while still living?  This post office is located in the 19th ward where he was politically active. Chambers Park is located to the west.

ABOVE: The Gwen B. Giles (63112) post office is on the closure list

One of the first things I noticed when I visited the Gwen B. Giles post office located at 1409 Hamilton Ave was the nameplate attached to the building, likely covering the original name. City records online do not indicate the year the building was built, I’d guess sometime in the late 1930s based upon the detailing.

ABOVE: Gwen B. Giles from Missouri State Archives

Gwen B. Giles was born in Georgia in 1932, so the post office was named for at least one person before her:

Gwen B. Giles was the first African American woman to serve in the Missouri Senate. She lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and was elected senator in 1977. Giles was also the first woman and the first African American to be appointed St. Louis city assessor, a position she held from 1981 until her death. Gwen Giles devoted her life to public service. She worked steadfastly to secure civil rights and improve living conditions for the citizens of St. Louis. (Source)

Giles died in 1986:

During her distinguished career in politics served as Missouri’s first African American female senator, representing the Fourth District, where she chaired the Interstate Cooperation Committee and was a member of several other legislative committees. She was also the first woman and the first African American to be appointed St. Louis city assessor, a position she held from 1981 until her death. She devoted her life to public service working steadfastly to secure civil rights and improve living conditions for the citizens of St. Louis. She came to St. Louis in 1935, later graduated from Saint Louis University. Beginning in the 1960s, she promoted involvement of St. Louis religious leaders in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the Archdiocesan Commission on Human Rights. In 1973, St. Louis Mayor John Poelker appointed her commissioner of human relations. In this position, she updated a city ordinance to protect women, the elderly and people with disabilities, and promoted passage of the 1976 Comprehensive Civil Rights Ordinance. Among her accomplishments was the appointment by President Jimmy Carter to a task force to assist in selecting talented women for positions in the federal government. She died in her St. Louis home in 1986 from lung cancer. A park and a U.S. Post office have been named after her to honor her achievements and involvement in the community. She will continue to be a pioneer as well as a role model for women in generations to come. (Find-A-Grave)

Also very impressive! Senator Giles was part of the fight to keep the Homer G. Phillips Hospital open:

On August 17, in a massive display of force, city officials sent 120 policemen in riot gear to Phillips Hospital to deal with approximately one hundred protesters during the final transfer of the remaining forty-seven Phillips acute-care patients to City Hospital. Police arrested seventeen pro- testers under charges of failure to obey a police officer when at least fifty people sat down in the main hospital driveway to prevent transfer vans from leaving. Pearlie Evans, aide to U.S. Repre- sentative William Clay, was present at the protest; her sentiments, quoted in the Post-Dispatch, captured the feeling of that day: “the squad was brought in to overpower poor, helpless people whose only concern was that they have some place to go near their homes when they get sick.” Missouri State Senator Gwen B. Giles, also quoted in the Post-Dispatch, took note: “Conway declared war on black St. Louis today.” (Source: ‘‘To Serve the Community Best”: Reconsidering Black Politics in the Struggle to Save Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, 1976-1984)

“[Virvus] Jones was appointed assessor in April 1986, after the death of Gwen B. Giles” per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch November 23, 1988.

– Steve Patterson


Thoughts After a Food Drive

August 4, 2011 Economy, Homeless 22 Comments
ABOVE: Food collected in first 2 hours on Saturday July 31st

I spent two hours Saturday morning collecting food donations. Overall it was a rewarding experience, helping others often is. But I have some mixed emotions. First the bad.

Some people couldn’t be bothered. Saying “no thanks” as a response to my “good morning, I’m collecting food for the hungry.” Really? No thanks? WTF!?! Yeah, a 39¢ can of tuna or a $1 can off green beans is asking way to much. How dare I trouble them to help others eat?

While I was upset by how uncaring some were, I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and generosity of others.

ABOVE: Flyer for Saturday Jubilee held on July 31st

Early on a security guard put cash into the collection jar. An hour later he put in some more, probably $4-$5 total for both times. When I thanked him the second time he said something that really made an impression, something like “I may need help myself someday.” He was paying it forward.

One mom had her daughter, who was probably 4-5, put the items they purchased in the donation cart. It was so sweet and a good lesson for the little girl about the joy of helping others.

Some donations came from visitors who were downtown for a convention. How great is that? People that don’t even live here were willing to donate food to help our hungry citizens.

The store was very busy, I wasn’t able to talk to every person as they entered the store. As one woman was leaving she came over to ask what I was doing, so I explained. She already had 3-4 bags of groceries and was on her way out the door. I told her I’d watch her bags as she went back in to get cash. A few minutes later she came back and deposited a crisp $20 bill. She said she was fortunate and wanted to help others. I was astonished!

It seemed the most generous were the once who didn’t appear they could afford to help others. Conversely, those who seemed most able to afford to buy an extra item didn’t.

I hope that none of the people I talked to ever need a free meal or food from a local pantry, but the odds are they just might.

The Saturday Jubilee collected food to help pantries throughout the region. I bought $4 worth of stuff before 9am to put into the cart to get the ball rolling, I was afraid the cart would be empty at the end of my two hour shift. The food & cash collected at Culinaria and three Schnuck’s locations in St. Louis County went directly to The Bridge.  A long list of organizations benefitted from the event.

Many voted in Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” contest the next day as Operation Food Search won a new Toyota on day 84 of the contest, beating out 4 other worthy organizations. Here was how they planned to use a new vehicle:

Our dietitians and their volunteers currently travel within a 75 mile radius around the bi-state region with food and cooking supplies to provide nutrition information to more than 4,000 low-income families. Our Cooking Matters team needs reliable, secure transportation, with ample space for their gear and staff, to continue their hands-on outreach program in our community. The families and individuals we reach rely on our team to learn how to keep their children healthy on a tight budget. Our current vehicle has nearly 190,000 miles on it and is falling apart. A new vehicle would be an asset to not only Operation Food Search, but to strengthening our community as a whole.

The positives certainly outweighed the negatives, looking forward to next year!

– Steve Patterson





Small, More Fuel Efficient, Vehicles Gaining Popularity

ABOVE: New Fiat 500 on Washington Ave, in front of The London Tea Room

I’ve long been a fan of European cars. I was just 4 when an older brother got a “New Cars for 1971” magazine, for years I’d thumb through the pages skipping over the Mavericks and Novas to reach the foreign section.  There it was, the new Peugeot 504 sedan.   I’ve never had a Peugeot, but I have had 3 Volvos, 2 Saabs, 1 VW and 1 Audi.

I loved each of these European cars even though they weren’t fuel savers, or cheap to operate.  When the Mini Cooper came out nearly a decade ago I test drove one, same for the smart four two, and just recently, the Fiat 500. All cute, stylish and fun.  But the fuel economy just isn’t what you’d expect in such a small package. This will change:

After decades of fighting higher federal gas mileage standards, the big automakers have agreed to new standards that will require a average of 54.5 MPG by 2025.

High gas prices, new energy-efficient technologies and strong sales of small, high-MPG cars this year may have convinced the companies that the new standard — which is being announced today and will affect all vehicles an automaker sells in the Untied States — was both desirable and feasible. Automakers are already on their way toward meeting a 35.5 MPG average for 2016.

One reason Ford, GM and Chrysler may have gone along with the new regulation is that they got a lower standard for their profitable pickup trucks. The cumulative 2025 standard for cars is 60 MPG. But the lower truck requirement brings the overall average down to 54.5. (The White House had originally been pushing for a 62 MPG overall average, but Ford, General Motors and foreign automakers managed successfully lobbied for the lower figure.) (CBS MoneyWatch)

Auto makers already have vehicles and engines that will help them meet the new standards, they just aren’t sold here yet. Not everyone is happy though:

Volkswagen AG didn’t sign the agreement to support the Obama administration’s proposal, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based carmaker said in an e-mailed statement. The “positive impact” of so-called clean diesel, used by the company’s mid-size Passat TDI, which can get 43 mpg on the highway and travel almost 800 miles on a tank of fuel, doesn’t receive consideration in the proposal, Volkswagen said. (Washington Post)

Maybe in 2030 I can buy a used 2025 model of something with great milage? In the meantime I just might buy a lottery ticket now and then so I can get a new Fiat 500.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Missouri Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday a Good Idea?

Missouri’s Back-t0-School Sales Tax Holiday is August 5-7:

During this time, Missourians won’t have to pay the state’s 4.225 percent sales tax on certain purchases made in the state. Alana Barragán-Scott, director of the Missouri Department of Revenue, said the tax break will help those making big purchases the most. (Source)

Our state government even produced a lame video to promote the event:


From the Missouri Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday page:

Certain back-to-school purchases, such as clothing, school supplies, computers, and other items as defined by the statute, are exempt from sales tax for this time period only.

The sales tax holiday applies to state and local sales taxes when a local jurisdiction chooses to participate in the holiday. However, local jurisdictions can choose to not participate in the holiday if they enact an ordinance to not participate and notify the department 45 days prior to the sales tax holiday. If the jurisdiction had previously enacted an ordinance to not participate in the holiday and later decided to participate, it must enact a new ordinance to participate and notify the department 45 days prior to the sales tax holiday.

If one or all of your local taxing jurisdictions are not participating in the sales tax holiday, the state’s portion of the tax rate (4.225%) will remain exempt for the sale of qualifying sales tax holiday items.

The sales tax exemption is limited to:

  • Clothing – any article having a taxable value of $100 or less
  • School supplies – not to exceed $50 per purchase
  • Computer software – taxable value of $350 or less
  • Personal computers – not to exceed $3,500
  • Computer peripheral devices – not to exceed $3,500

Thankfully the site details how these items are defined:

Section 144.049, RSMo, defines items exempt during the sales tax holiday as:

“Clothing” – any article of wearing apparel, including footwear, intended to be worn on or about the human body. The term shall include but not be limited to cloth and other material used to make school uniforms or other school clothing. Items normally sold in pairs shall not be separated to qualify for the exemption. The term shall not include watches, watchbands, jewelry, handbags, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, scarves, ties, headbands, or belt buckles.

“School supplies” – any item normally used by students in a standard classroom for educational purposes, including but not limited to, textbooks, notebooks, paper, writing instruments, crayons, art supplies, rulers, book bags, backpacks, handheld calculators, chalk, maps, and globes. The term shall not include watches, radios, CD players, headphones, sporting equipment, portable or desktop telephones, copiers or other office equipment, furniture, or fixtures. School supplies shall also include computer software having a taxable value of three hundred fifty dollars or less.

“Personal computers” – a laptop, desktop, or tower computer system which consists of a central processing unit, random access memory, a storage drive, a display monitor, and a keyboard and devices designed for use in conjunction with a personal computer, such as a disk drive, memory module, compact disk drive, daughterboard, digitalizer, microphone, modem, motherboard, mouse, multimedia speaker, printer, scanner, single-user hardware, single-user operating system, soundcard, or video card.

The poll question this week seeks to find out what readers think of this annual event. The poll is located in the upper right corner of the blog.

– Steve Patterson



Can St. Louis Learn From Newark NJ & Cory Booker?

I’ve seen Cory Booker  on TV and in the news. Booker is the young mayor of Newark NJ. To some of you, 42 may not be young, but anything younger than me (44) is young in my book.

ABOVE: The Manhattan skyline as seen from the NJ Turnpike on January 15, 2008

I’ve been to Newark once.  More accurately, I saw the highway exit as I was driving to Rhode Island in January 2008. I wanted to stop and visit, but my schedule didn’t permit.

Troubled cities are attractive to me for some reason, perhaps the challenge of reversing negative trends? Newark, like Detroit and St. Louis, has serious issues.  I knew in 2008 that Newark had this new mayor, 37 when he was elected mayor. Booker’s lost to 4-term incumbent Sharpe James in 2002 but when James didn’t seek a 6th term in 2006 Booker won the non-partisan election.

As I watched Street Fight, the documentary of the 2002 race, I couldn’t help think of parallels to St. Louis:


Old urban city with a large African-American population, poor performing public schools, poverty & high crime, entrenched machine politics and the dirty tricks that go along with that to discourage challengers.

Famed urban engineer Harland Bartholomew worked for Newark before coming to St. Louis.  We’d have been better off had he stayed there.

Newark does have some differences from St. Louis. Their elections are non-partisan, their municipal council has only 9 members – five from wards and four at-large. Corruption in Newark is so bad “where every mayor since 1962 (except the current one, Cory Booker) has been indicted for crimes committed while in office.” (Newsweek)

I plan to learn more about Newark’s efforts to reduce violent crime, improve schools and attract jobs. I’ve started watching episodes of Sundance Channel’s Brick City series.

– Steve Patterson