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4 times segregation laws hit home for black St. Louisans

Lotus Avenue in the Kingsway West neighborhood of St. Louis was mostly white until the "white flight" era of the 1960s and 1970s.
Holly Edgell | St. Louis Public Radio

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney once said a “white noose” encircled American cities, effectively trapping black families in neglected neighborhoods, while white families moved to thriving suburbs.

The phrase may be 50 years old, but it still fits. Housing discrimination and segregation persist in the metro St. Louis area, long after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which signed into law a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King. 

At the annual St. Louis fair-housing conference on April 25, fair-housing advocates, experts, lawmakers and others will consider the reasons metro St. Louis remains among the most-segregated regions in the country and what the public and private sector can do to break the cycle.

RELATED: St. Louis conference 'celebrates' 50 years of Fair Housing Act

While there are untold numbers of cases, here are a few that illustrate how laws and prejudice have conspired against efforts by African-Americans to access the American dream.  


"Residents of Arlington Avenue, in the neighborhood of Cote Brilliante Avenue, will hold a meeting Thursday night at Hart’s Hall, Easton and Semple avenues to decide on action to prevent a Negro from moving into the neighborhood.

"A house is being built at 1625 Arlington Avenue for the occupancy of a Negro family named Hoffman. The head of the family, a teacher in a Negro school, owns the lot. Plans for buying Hoffman out will be considered by the owners of adjoining property. The house has now progressed as far as the foundations.

"John Faust, Henry Grone, Charles Bossilier and John Madden are among those interested in the meeting. It was stated Thursday that only peaceable and lawful measures will be considered at the meeting."

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 10, 2010


"J. D. Shelley, his wife, and their six children migrated to St. Louis from Mississippi to escape the pervasive racial oppression of the South. For a number of years they lived with relatives and then in rental properties. In looking to buy a home, they found that many buildings in St. Louis were covered by racially restrictive covenants by which the building owners agreed not to sell to anyone other than a Caucasian.

"The Shelleys directly challenged this discriminatory practice by purchasing such a building at 4600 Labadie Avenue from an owner who agreed not to enforce the racial covenant."

— National Park Service, "We Shall Overcome," Read more. 


"Howard and Katie Venable, an African-American couple, purchased a residential lot in Creve Coeur. The Venables applied for, and the town approved, the necessary permits to build a home, and construction had begun when town residents discovered that the purchasers were black. A hastily organized citizens committee raised contributions to purchase the property, but could not pressure the couple to sell. The city then condemned the property for use as a park and playground. The couple challenged the condemnation, but a Missouri appeals court ruled that courts could not inquire into the motives for a condemnation, provided its purpose was for a public use, which a park and playground surely were."

From "The Making of Ferguson," by Richard Rothstein; Read more.


"Joseph Lee and Barbara Jo Jones wanted a four-bedroom home in the suburbs. They toured the new Paddock Woods subdivision near Parker Road, saw a model they liked and picked a lot on Hyde Park Drive. They went to Alfred H. Mayer Co., the county's biggest homebuilder, and offered $28,195. No deal, said the sales agent, who was blunt about his reason — Joseph Jones was black."

MORE: St. Louis Post Dispatch

"In the landmark Jones v. Mayer case, the United States Supreme Court went far beyond the decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, which had limited only the state’s enforcement of restrictive covenants. In Jones v. Mayer, the Supreme Court determined that the Mayer Company, developers of a private subdivision in St. Louis, could not deny the Jones family the opportunity to purchase a home based solely on Mr. Jones’ race. Justice Stevens decision for the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 13th Amendment include “the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man can live. If Congress cannot say that being a free man means at least this much, then the 13th Amendment made a promise the nation cannot keep."

MORE: EHOC St. Louis


Holly Edgell is lead editor for Sharing America, a collaborative covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Holly on Twitter @hollyedgell.

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

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