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Valley Park doubles down on rejecting lynching monument

John Buckner was hanged from a bridge over the Meramec River in 1894. While the original bridge is gone, a new bridge was built near the same site.
Danny Wicentowski
John Buckner was hanged from a bridge over the Meramec in 1894. The original bridge is gone. A new bridge was built near the same site.

When a mob lynched John Buckner in 1894, hanging him from a bridge over the Meramec River, newspaper accounts described the reaction from the residents of Valley Park. They were unbothered by the killing of the 21-year-old Black man.

“Whenever the lynching of John Buckner is talked of,” one story noted, “it is discussed as a good work well done.”

Nearly 130 years later, cities across the country, including in the St. Louis region, are reckoning with the legacy of the lynchings that swept the nation after the Civil War. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, which is leading a national effort to establish memorials to lynching victims, Buckner was one of at least 68 Black people lynched in Missouri between 1863 and 1950.

“Missouri had the highest number of lynchings of any state outside the South,” said Geoff Ward, a professor of African and African American Studies at Washington University. He is also a member of the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis, which is working with the Equal Justice Initiative to place local memorials.

Their effort to memorialize John Buckner in Valley Park has hit a roadblock.

“The response we received from Valley Park was that they were not supportive of us placing a marker in the boundaries of the city,” Ward said, “because their conclusion is that the lynching did not occur within the city of Valley Park.”

Valley Park, as reported last month by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, rejected the coalition’s request to place a memorial on the northern side of the riverbank. Although the coalition cited 1894 news accounts of the mob’s movement through Valley Park — as well as the residents’ reported approval of Buckner’s lynching — the city has stayed firm.

After the issue was covered by the Post-Dispatch, Elizabeth Simons, Great Rivers Greenway’s community program manager, reached out to Valley Park in hope of restarting the conversation. The nonprofit had been rejected when it sought a permit from Valley Park to put Buckner’s memorial near the Arnold’s Grove Trailhead of the Meramec Greenway.

The response to Simons, issued by Valley Park City Attorney Tim Engelmeyer on Sept. 29, stated that, “We are willing to listen to ideas on this marker,” but still repeated the city’s opposition to the proposed location. Engelmeyer maintained, despite multiple newspaper accounts of the lynching naming Valley Park, that Buckner was not actually lynched there, but in St. Louis County on the other side of the river.

Engelmeyer also noted that a Valley Park resident had objected to the memorial because Buckner had been accused of sexual assault. Buckner was never formally charged before a mob dragged him out of a jail in Manchester and transported him through Valley Park on the way to his hanging. No one was ever prosecuted for the killing.

“We cannot pretend that our history is perfect and sugarcoat these events,” Simons said Monday on St. Louis on the Air. “That makes people think that things weren't a big deal, or can never happen again.”

To hear more from Geoff Ward and Elizabeth Simons, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

John Buckner lynching memorial rejected in Valley Park
Listen to Geoff Ward and Elizabeth Simons 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."