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St. Louis is spending the summer talking about reparations for Black residents

Bee Harris for NPR

A St. Louis commission has convened monthly this summer to confront the vast and layered damage of slavery, segregation and discrimination. Established by executive order late last year, the St. Louis Reparations Commission will meet for its fourth public meeting on Wednesday.

Under the order, the commission’s nine-member board is mandated “to explore the history of race-based harms in the city; reveal the present-day manifestations of that history; and, ultimately, propose a method and potential funding resources for directly repairing the harms that have been inflicted.”

For Kayla Reed, the commission’s chair, the mandate means taking on a long history of racial discrimination in St. Louis. That includes the erasure of neighborhoods under “urban renewal” policies, as well as the use of racial covenants to keep homes from being sold to Black people.

“That material gap has impacted our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods, our safety,” Reed said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air. “That's a robust conversation to start around reparations.”

Other cities also are taking steps to consider what a reparations program might look like. In 2019, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the U.S. to create a reparations program for Black residents who had been restricted by racist housing policies.

St. Louis had its own rules that kept Black residents from living in certain places. Banks refused to lend to aspiring Black homeowners, and racially restrictive covenantsblocked homes from being sold to Black people in certain neighborhoods. Over time, the result was the creation of a dual housing market — and a loss of generational wealth.

“Black people were blocked from the opportunity to actually own a home,” said Missouri Historical Society curator Gwen Moore, a member of the commission’s board.

“I wanted people to understand,” she continued, “why there's this gap, this wealth gap, and why Black homeownership is so much lower than white homeownership. It was by design, right? It wasn't by accident, [and didn’t] have anything to do with some flaw in Black people. But it was actually government policy, and private policies and practices.”

The commission’s work is in its early stages. After gathering community input, the group aims to release a report with recommendations by March 2024. Future public meetings will include additional opportunities for public comments and expert presentations on different aspects of the harms endured by St. Louis’ Black residents.

The public meeting on Wednesday will focus on health disparities.

“You can't go back into the past and correct what was happening. There has to be redress,” Moore stressed. “I think history proves that public policy and private practices are responsible for current conditions.”

The commission's previous three public meetings — held April 24, May 22 and June 24 — are available to view on the city’s YouTube page. Wednesday’s meeting will be livestreamed on the same page.

Related Event
What: St. Louis Reparations Commission public hearing
When: 6 p.m. July 26
Where: New Northside Conference Center, 5939 Goodfellow Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63147

To hear more from Kayla Reed and Gwen Moore, including a discussion of the history of redlining and the modern efforts to memorialize Black communities erased by “urban renewal,” listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Kayla Reed and Gwen Moore on "St. Louis on the Air"

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."