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Tour will explore legacy of The Ville, other historic neighborhoods

THE VILLE – Julia Allen, who was born at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in 1949, has seen The Ville neighborhood at its best and at its worst, and now is excited about the possibility of its renewal. 

On Saturday, Feb. 29, she and others who share that love and pride in their neighborhoods will help locals to remember the area, its importance and its historical significance. 

On that day, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., a bus will embark on the Story of Black St. Louis Tour, which will include the nucleus and campus of The Ville and other historic black neighborhoods. 

The Ville tour includes the old, but still standing, Homer G. Phillips Hospital building (now renovated into senior apartments). Allen worked in the hospital’s mail room, then in the radiology department, from about 1970 until the hospital closed in 1979. 

Some of Allen’s other old stomping grounds are on the initial list of The Ville campus tour. They include both of the Turner Middle School buildings (formerly Stowe Teachers College), Charles Sumner High School, St. James A.M.E. Church (once the location of iconic black businesswoman Annie Malone’s Poro College), St. Philip’s Lutheran Church and Antioch Baptist Church. 

Allen lived across the street from the Baptist church, where many of the people in The Ville at that time worshiped. It was on that block that famed educator Julia Davis, namesake of a St. Louis Public Library branch, lived.

Allen described how Davis would stay on her about doing well in school. Davis graduated from Sumner High and Normal schools and Stowe Teachers College, and raised awareness about black culture.

Icons such as Davis are worth knowing, remembering and a tour, Allen said. 

“The Ville has produced so many famous and worldwide known people; and, like, they completely ignore that, especially with communication and educational outreach,” she said. 

“I think that people have forgotten the sacrifices and great things that great people in The Ville did, and I think we need to start learning to preserve and cherish our history, because this is really important stuff,” Allen added. “So we’re just trying to keep the name and accomplishments of this neighborhood out there.” 

The bus tour is a collaboration of 4theVille and the Missouri Humanities Council, in collaboration with Lois Conley of The Griot Museum of Black History and Alana Marie, producer and director of “The Kinloch Doc.” 

Touring will begin and culminate at the museum, 2505 St. Louis Ave., where lunch will be served. 

Along with areas along the Mississippi River where slaves were brought into Missouri, the tour includes the former Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, which was situated in the city’s Central Corridor just west of Downtown. 

Sam Moore, alderman of Ward Four, which includes The Ville, lived in Mill Creek before being forced to relocate. His family was among 20,000 blacks who were displaced by the demolition in 1959 as the area was being gentrified. 

Also included on the tour is the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. The complex included 33 high-rise buildings, each stacked to 11 stories. While it was known for tough, close-knit families, in its declining years the complex had become internationally known for its racial segregation, poverty and subsequent crime. It was razed in 1972.

In the county, the municipality of Kinloch is scheduled as a stop. Developed in the 1890s as a commuter suburb, it incorporated in 1948 as Missouri’s first all-black city. Its downturn began in the 1970s when Kinloch High School closed. High school-age students then attended Sumner in the city. 

Kinloch inched closer to demise in the 1980s as the city of St. Louis started buying out property there, including homes, to expand St. Louis Lambert International Airport. In the next two decades, Kinloch lost nearly 80 percent of its population because of the social and economic effects of the buyout as well as gentrification.  

Kinloch is the hometown of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; comedic actress Jenifer Lewis; and actor and producer John Cothran Jr., best known for the 2008 movie “Yes Man” and for roles on “Star Wars: The Next Generation.” 

Alana Marie, whose family is from Kinloch, is a director and producer and recently completed her documentary short, “The Kinloch Doc.” In the short, Marie, who grew up in nearby Hazelwood, calls Kinloch home. 

“Our community was self-contained. … I miss what we had, and I know I could never get that back, but hopefully, we can still be good; hopefully, they won’t wipe us off the map,” Marie said. “There’s still good people that work here and live here, and we’re trying to rebuild the city from this rubble that was left behind, because this is home.” 

A woman interviewed in the documentary said: “Black people are targeted, all the black people are moved out and then gentrification happens and the black community with businesses, schools, churches and networks of human relationships that sustains human beings – that just gets thrown to the wind.” 

Master Developer Laura Hughes of Fleur De Lis Development Corporation, who plans to attend the tour, told The NorthSider, “I am elated to learn more about our very own Black Wall Street that existed in The Ville.  Knowing more about our history will assist in renovating and recreating the grandeur that existed.”

Tickets for the tour are $40, which includes lunch. To register and purchase tickets, visit www.4theVill.org. Refunds are available up to one day prior to the event. Registration will end once the capacity is reached. Those unable to register will be contacted for the next citywide tour.

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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