An Introduction to the Segregation in St. Louis Report
In 1948, the Shelley family in St. Louis became the subject of a national court case known as Shelley v. Kraemer. Three years prior, the family purchased a home on the city’s Northside. Due to 1911 covenant that restricted “persons not of the Caucasian race” to live on property in the area, the Kraemer family attempted to remind the city’s courts of the decision in an effort to prohibit a Black family from moving into the neighborhood. The Shelley’s won the case in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the covenant was against the 14th amendment. In 1968, the federal government passed the Fair Housing Act, which was intended to make race-based housing and discrimination policies illegal. The act was to prohibit deed covenants such as those barring the Shelley family from purchasing their home, as well as redlining (a race-based practiced implemented during a survey between 1933 and 1940 that rated neighborhoods in cities from best to hazardous, using characteristics such as a ‘high population of Black residents’ to denote it as an area with low value). However, despite such monumental shifts to overturn discriminatory practices, throughout the years many have found loopholes in the act, resulting in pervasive and persistent segregation in cities.
The St. Louis region is among the 10 most-segregated cities in the country, one of the many stifling facts mentioned in a report recently released by For the Sake of All. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, For the Sake of All published a 115-page report revealing that housing discrimination is just as present today as it was during the Shelley v. Kraemer case, causing disparities largely affecting Black and low-income residents in the city. For the Sake of All is a community-based organization dedicated to overcoming racial inequities to improve the health of all people in the region. For the report, they worked with a wealth of partners and participants including University of Missouri – St. Louis, Saint Louis University, Forward Through Ferguson and Colin Gordon, author of “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” which documents a great deal of the city’s historical housing discriminatory practices.
The report begins its dive into unpacking segregation as early as 1857, with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, in which the Supreme Court declared that slaves were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in federal court. It goes on to discuss landmark events that reveal the consequences of the systematic practices that the city has upheld for several decades that have resulted in many of the hardships faced today by the city’s Black residents. According to the report, schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1960s, albeit the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that mandated the nationwide integration of schools. Today, some of the most harrowing effects of segregation in St. Louis include lack of accessibility to equitable schools, job opportunities, health care, sufficient public transportation, and food. From the East St. Louis Riots—which caused several Black people to flee to St. Louis to take up residence–to the recent and ongoing displacement of residents in North St. Louis due to the announcement of the 96-acre National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency site set to build in area, the report pieces together a history that unearths the urgency to dismantle the city’s racism.
The disparities mentioned in the report manifest into anecdotal interviews with city residents who have been affected firsthand by the city’s segregation. One resident speaks about her arduous commute to obtain groceries due to the lack of a major grocer in her North St. Louis neighborhood. Another resident, who lives in substandard affordable housing in Wellston (noted as one of the poorest cities in the nation), has children who suffer from asthma that is often triggered by the rodents and insects in the apartment. Another anecdote discusses the inequitable issues facing eviction, as some residents are subject to homelessness due to not having proper legal representation.
Despite the lengthy experiences that the report outlines about the city’s segregation that has become a part of St. Louis’ DNA, the report opens with a tagline that pushes the city to use its history to change its present: “Conscious choices created our geography of inequity in St. Louis. Conscious choices can also help reshape it.” In the concluding pages, For the Sake of All has outlined recommendations for dismantling segregation. The list includes recommendations for affordable housing (including an affordable-housing trust fund for St. Louis County), equitable development and allocations resources, and housing and neighborhood stability.
For the Sake of All is encouraging city residents to get involved. They have drafted a set of tweets that people can share, using the hashtag #dismantlingthedivide. Those interested in reading the report in full can visit For the Sake of All’s website.
Photo by Tuce.