Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis

This is a departure from my usual topics, but the news from my home state is too significant to ignore, and I can't stop thinking about it.  Growing up in Columbia MO was a happy bubble for me, a small town with a large state college and a robust public school system.  Even now, there is a public radio station which is still going strong (KOPN!  Check out their history here and a regional public library system that still has a bookmobile.

A trip to St. Louis was always a special event, whether it was to pick up a visiting family member flying into the airport, a trip to the Zoo, or shopping at Famous-Barr.  I have "gone up" in The Arch as a giddy school kid and marveled at the riverboats docked at LaClede's Landing, so I have sentimental thoughts about St. Louis, as it was one of my early and positive "big city" experiences.  I could feel a sense of state pride when I began learning about important figures in literary and music history who were also from St. Louis, like Kate Chopin and Josephine Baker and Maya Angelou.

Learning about Missouri also reveals that it has been rife with contention since joining the Union as a state after the territory was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.  Its role as a battleground state in the Civil  was touched off by the Missouri Compromise, the amendment authored by Representative James Tallmadge of New York and passed by the House,  February 17, 1819, prohibiting further introduction of slaves into Missouri.  Missouri, and St. Louis in particular, is also the site of the infamous Dred Scott trial, which denied citizenship to Dred Scott and his wife Harriet.  Now, you can see all of the court documents about this decision online, hosted by Washington University: .

Perhaps less well known is the East Saint Louis Riot of 1917, which is described clearly here by historian John Buescher, who links to a primary source by African American journalist Ida Wells Barnett, The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century. Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917 which you can also access online:

The 1904 World's Fair was in St.  Louis, the world's attention to the city drawn by art, architecture and events.  One hundred and ten years later, civil rights activists are using every available means to communicate to the larger world the uncivil and dangerous state of St. Louis.

These witnesses and activists need and deserve our national attention.  Their issues are our issues, as we face as a country how to live peacefully together, and what they are saying is crucially important.

I am following events and dialog on twitter, and I hope you will too.  Follow St Louis Alderman @AntonioFrench or just search the hashtags #Ferguson or #MikeBrown.  Follow the Southern Poverty Law Center at @splcenter or the NAACP's magazine The Crisis @thecrisismag.

This post was inspired by poet and popular cultural writer Saeed Jones, on twitter @theferocity,  who asked people to signal boost the situation in Ferguson since it was being ignored by the national media.  In an era of information overload, I do ask that you take some of your divided attention and put it on our heartland, on Saint Louis, and look and listen as openly and as fully as you can.

The heartsick Midwestern raised Bookcharmer.

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