WELLSTON – Business was booming in Wellston on Saturday. Music blared. People came and went.
Years ago, that was a common occurrence on the once-thriving strip along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive (formerly Easton Avenue).
Now, in comparison, it’s nearly a business ghost town, though some signs of resiliency protrude. A few of the longtime businesses remain, and some new ones are settling in.
In any event, once a year locals get to take somewhat of a nostalgic trip down its once-happening memory lane.
That’s thanks to FarraKhan Shegog. His Young Voices With Action nonproft presents the annual Black Wall Street Festival: From Ashes to Glory. Saturday marked its fourth year.
The festival commemorates the enterprises of Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Okla., and its hopeful counterpart in Wellston.
Here, businesses set up shop along the 6100 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
Shegog said he knew that blacks did not own the property in the Wellston Loop, but the majority of his parents’ and grandparents’generations went there to spend money.
“So we want to be able to use the circumstances of today and let this community know that the Wellston Loop can and will be a Black Wall Street here in St. Louis,” Shegog said, adding that “the only difference now is that everything is owned and operated by black folk.”
Shegog said the goal was to see every business and vendor that has participated own its own storefront on the strip.
Some revelers and shoppers described the decline of Wellston’s heyday as a result of gentrification, while others blamed white flight and subsequent disinvestment.
Vendor Zakaria Israel, owner of Amber Books, compared Wellston to wealthy Black Wall Street in Tulsa. The independent, all-black epicenter thrived with hotels, restaurants, taxi service, clothiers, a hospital, a bank and stately homes.
It was burned down in one night. The year was 1921.
According to The Ringer.com’s National Affairs, white Tulsans not only destroyed the homes and businesses, they killed hundreds of black people.
“We have had our towns and in one way or another bad white people have come in and destroyed them,” Israel said. “But we always pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.”
Black Wall Street festivalgoer Joy Marbley was all smiles when The NorthSider approached her.
“This is awesome,” said Marbley, who lives nearby. “It reminds me of how it used to be. I really had a good time.”
The festival included vendors selling furniture, books, arts, jewelry, food and paintings. Others offered valuable information. There was also a car show and a children’s corner with a bounce house and games.
A blues concert got underway midway through. It featured singers Marquise Knox, Big George Brock and the Newhouse Rockers and Ms. HY-C and the Fresh Start Band.
“I mainly came to hear the blues and use it as therapy, but I also want to see if there’s something I can buy,” said Darryl Williams, who grew up in the area but now lives in south city.
“This is really good because the community gets to know what businesses are out here to help and support,” said Jessica Washington of Hi-Tech Charities, a mental health clinic.
Leslie Byrd said, “It’s in an area where the people need it.” Byrd is a youth specialist and activist. Her booth offered free children’s games, Lego blocks, bracelets, chess and nutritional foods (instead of candy).
“I’m just trying to help change the mindset of kids and glad to be able to do it at an event like this,” Byrd said.
If Diana Hutson has anything to do with it, Wellston will rebound.
“The revitalization of Wellston is coming,” said Hudson, project manager for the Hamilton Heights Plaza Project, which will include a commercial kitchen, garden and concert hall. She also helps to run Circle of Friends Learning Academy, a daycare in the area.
Of the festival, she said, “It’s good to see the community come together and help one another; Wellston is an unspoken gem that the rest of St. Louis needs to see.”